Jun 20, 2024

Chris Hedges: Nero’s Guests

I gave this talk in Blackburn, England during a campaign event for my friend Craig Murray who is running for parliament. Like George Galloway, who was recently elected to parliament, Craig’s central campaign issue is the genocide in Gaza. He calls for a permanent ceasefire, the establishment of a full and independent Palestinian state and backs the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against the apartheid state of Israel.
By Chris Hedges / scheerpost.com

Israel has been poisoned by the psychosis of permanent war. It has been morally bankrupted by the sanctification of victimhood, which it uses to justify an occupation that is even more savage than that of apartheid South Africa. Its ‘democracy’ — which was always exclusively for Jews — has been hijacked by extremists who are pushing the country towards fascism. Human rights campaigners, intellectuals and journalists — Israeli and Palestinian — are subject to constant state surveillance, arbitrary arrests and government-run smear campaigns. Its educational system, starting in primary school, is an indoctrination machine for the military. And the greed and corruption of its venal political and economic elite have created vast income disparities, a mirror of the decay within America’s democracy, along with a culture of anti-Arab and anti-Black racism.

By the time Israel achieves its decimation of Gaza — Israel is talking about months of warfare that will continue at least until the end of this year — it will have signed its own death sentence. Its facade of civility, its supposed vaunted respect for the rule of law and democracy, its mythical story of the courageous Israeli military and miraculous birth of the Jewish nation – which it successfully sold to its western audiences – will lie in ash heaps. Israel’s social capital will be spent. It will be revealed as the ugly, repressive, hate-filled apartheid regime it always has been, alienating younger generations of American Jews. Its patron, the United States, as new generations come into power, will distance itself from Israel. Its popular support will come from reactionary Zionists and America’s Christianized fascists who see Israel’s domination of ancient Biblical land as a harbinger of the Second Coming and in its subjugation of Arabs a kindred racism and celebration of white supremacy. 

Israel will become synonymous with its victims the way Turks are synonymous with the Armenians, Germans are with the Namibians and later the Jews, and Serbs are with the Bosniaks. Israel’s cultural, artistic, journalistic and intellectual life will be exterminated. Israel will be a stagnant nation where the religious fanatics, bigots and Jewish extremists who have seized power will dominate public discourse. It will join the club of the globe’s most despotic regimes. 

Despotisms can exist long after their past due date. But they are terminal. You don’t have to be a Biblical scholar to see that Israel’s lust for rivers of blood is antithetical to the core values of Judaism. The cynical weaponization of the Holocaust, including branding Palestinians as Nazis, has little efficacy when you carry out a live streamed genocide against 2.3 million people trapped in a concentration camp.

Nations need more than force to survive. They need a mystique. This mystique provides purpose, civility and even nobility to inspire citizens to sacrifice for the nation. The mystique offers hope for the future. It provides meaning. It provides national identity. 

When mystiques implode, when they are exposed as lies, a central foundation of state power collapses. I reported on the death of the communist mystiques in 1989 during the revolutions in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania. The police and the military decided there was nothing left to defend. Israel’s decay will engender the same lassitude and apathy. It will not be able to recruit Indigenous collaborators, such as Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority — reviled by most Palestinians — to do the bidding of the colonizers. 

All Israel has left is escalating savagery, including torture and lethal violence against unarmed civilians, which accelerates the decline. This wholesale violence works in the short term, as it did in the war waged by the French in Algeria, the Dirty War waged by Argentina’s military dictatorship, the British occupation of India, Egypt, Kenya and Northern Ireland and the American occupations of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. But in the long term, it is suicidal.

The genocide in Gaza has turned Hamas’ resistance fighters into heroes in the Global South. Israel may wipe out the Hamas leadership. But the past — and current — assassinations of scores of Palestinian leaders has done little to blunt resistance. The genocide in Gaza has produced a new generation of deeply traumatized and enraged young men and women whose families have been killed and whose communities have been obliterated. They are prepared to take the place of martyred leaders. 

Israel was at war with itself before Oct. 7. Israelis were protesting to prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s abolition of judicial independence. Its religious bigots and fanatics, currently in power, had mounted a determined attack on Israeli secularism. Israel’s unity is a negative unity. It is held together by hatred. And even this hatred is not enough to keep protestors from decrying the government’s abandonment of Israeli hostages in Gaza.

Hatred is a dangerous political commodity. The Palestinian “human animals,” when eradicated or subdued, will be replaced by Jewish apostates and traitors. A politics of hatred creates a permanent instability, exploited by those seeking the destruction of civil society.

Israel was far down this road on Oct. 7 when it promulgated a series of discriminatory laws against non-Jews that resemble the racist Nuremberg Laws that disenfranchised Jews in Nazi Germany. The Communities Acceptance Law permits exclusively Jewish settlements to bar applicants for residency on the basis of “suitability to the community’s fundamental outlook.” 

Yeshayahu Leibowitz, whom Isaiah Berlin called “the conscience of Israel,” warned that if Israel did not separate church and state and end the occupation, it would give rise to a corrupt rabbinate that would warp Judaism into a fascistic cult.

“Religious nationalism is to religion what National Socialism was to socialism,” wrote Leibowitz, who died in 1994. He understood that the blind veneration of the military, especially after the 1967 war that captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem, was dangerous. “Our situation will deteriorate to that of a second Vietnam, to a war in constant escalation without prospect of ultimate resolution,” he warned.

He foresaw that, “the Arabs would be the working people and the Jews the administrators, inspectors, officials, and police — mainly secret police. A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 million to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the State of Israel. The administration would have to suppress Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab Quislings on the other. There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Force, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations.” 

“Israel,” he wrote, “would not deserve to exist, and it will not be worthwhile to preserve it.”

Settler colonial states that endure, including the United States, exterminate the native population through genocide and the spread of new infectious diseases such as smallpox. By 1600 less than a tenth of the indigenous population remained in South, Central and North America. Israel cannot kill on this scale, with nearly 5.5 million Palestinians living under occupation and another nine million in the diaspora. They cannot, as many Israelis wish, wipe them all out. 

Israel’s scorched earth campaign in Gaza means there will be no two-state solution. Apartheid and genocide will define existence for the Palestinians. This presages a long conflict, but one that the Jewish State cannot ultimately win.

Run, the Israelis demand of the Palestinians, run for your lives. Run from Rafah the way you ran from Gaza City, the way you ran from Jabalia, the way you ran from Deir al-Balah, the way you ran from Beit Hanoun, the way you ran from Bani Suheila, the way you ran from Khan Yunis. Run or we will kill you. We will drop GBU-39 bombs on your tent encampments and set them ablaze. We will spray you with bullets from our machine-gun-equipped drones. We will pound you with artillery and tank shells. We will shoot you down with snipers. We will decimate your tents, your refugee camps, your cities and towns, your homes, your schools, your hospitals and your water purification plants. We will rain death from the sky.

Run for your lives. Again and again and again. Pack up the few belongings you have left. Blankets. A couple of pots. Some clothes. We don’t care how exhausted you are, how hungry you are, how terrified you are, how sick you are, how old, or how young you are. Run. Run. Run. And when you run in terror to one part of Gaza, we will make you turn around and run to another. Trapped in a labyrinth of death. Back and forth. Up and down. Side to side. Six. Seven. Eight times. We toy with you like mice in a trap. Then we deport you so you can never return. Or we kill you.

Let the world denounce our genocide. What do we care? The billions in military aid flows unchecked from our American ally. The fighter jets. The artillery shells. The tanks. The bombs. An endless supply. We kill children by the thousands. We kill women and the elderly by the thousands. The sick and injured, without medicine and hospitals die. We poison the water. We cut off the food. We make you starve. We created this hell. We are the masters. Law. Duty. A code of conduct. They do not exist for us.

But first we toy with you. We humiliate you. We terrorize you. We revel in your fear. We are amused by your pathetic attempts to survive. You are not human. You are creatures. Untermensch. We feed our lust for domination. Look at our posts on social media. They have gone viral. One shows soldiers grinning in a Palestinian home with the owners tied up and blindfolded in the background. We loot. Rugs. Cosmetics. Motorbikes. Jewelry. Watches. Cash. Gold. Antiquities. We mock your misery. We cheer your death. We celebrate our religion, our nation, our identity, our superiority, by negating and erasing yours. 

Depravity is moral. Atrocity is heroism. Genocide is redemption.

This is the game of terror played by Israel in Gaza. It was the game played during the Dirty War in Argentina when the military junta “disappeared” 30,000 of its own citizens. The “disappeared” were subjected to torture — who cannot call what is happening to Palestinians in Gaza torture? — and humiliated before they were murdered. It was the game played in the clandestine torture centers and prisons in El Salvador and Iraq. It is what characterized the war in Bosnia in the Serbian concentration camps.

Israeli journalist Yinon Magal on the show “Hapatriotim” on Israel’s Channel 14, joked that Joe Biden’s red line was the killing of 30,000 Palestinians. The singer Kobi Peretz asked if that was the number of dead for a day. The audience erupted in applause and laughter.

We know Israel’s intent. Annihilate the Palestinians the same way the United States annihilated Native Americans, the Australians annihilated the First Nations peoples, the Germans annihilated the Herero in Namibia, the Turks annihilated Armenians and the Nazis annihilated the Jews. The specifics are different. The goal is the same. Erasure. 

We cannot plead ignorance. 

But it is easier to pretend. Pretend Israel will allow humanitarian aid. Pretend there will be a permanent ceasefire. Pretend Palestinians will return to their destroyed homes in Gaza. Pretend Gaza will be rebuilt — the hospitals, the universities, the mosques, the housing. Pretend the Palestinian Authority will administer Gaza. Pretend there will be a two-state solution. Pretend there is no genocide.

The vaunted democratic values, morality and respect for human rights, claimed by Israel and the United States, has always been a lie. The real credo is this – we have everything and if you try and take it away from us we will kill you. People of color, especially when they are poor and vulnerable, do not count. The hopes, dreams, dignity and aspirations for freedom of those outside the empire are worthless. Global domination will be sustained through racialized violence

This lie — that the American empire is predicated on democracy and liberty — is one the Palestinians, and those in the Global South, as well as Native Americans and Black and Brown Americans, not to mention those who live in the Middle East, have known for decades. But it is a lie that still has currency in the United States and Israel, a lie used to justify the unjustifiable.

We do not halt Israel’s genocide because we, as Americans, are Israel, infected with the same white supremacy, and intoxicated by our domination of the globe’s wealth and the power to obliterate others with our advanced weaponry. 

The world outside of the industrialized fortresses in the Global North is acutely aware that the fate of the Palestinians is their fate. As climate change imperils survival, as natural resources, including access to water, diminish, as mass migration becomes an imperative for millions, as agricultural yields decline, as coastal areas are flooded, as droughts and wildfires proliferate, as states fail, as militias and armed resistance movements rise to battle their oppressors along with their proxies, genocide will not be an anomaly. It will be the norm. The earth’s vulnerable and poor, those Frantz Fanon called “the wretched of the earth,” will be the next Palestinians. 

“Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths,” the Roman historian Tacitus wrote of those the emperor Nero singled out for torture and death. “Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.”

Sadism by the powerful is the curse of the human condition. It was as prevalent in ancient Rome as it is in Gaza. 

We know the modern face of Nero, who illuminated his opulent garden parties by burning to death captives tied to stakes. That is not in dispute.

But who were Nero’s guests1? Who wandered through the emperor’s grounds as human beings, as in Rafah, were burned alive? How could these guests see, and no doubt hear, such horrendous suffering and witness such appalling torture and be indifferent, even content?

There is nothing hidden about this genocide. Over 147 courageous Palestinian journalists have been murdered by the Israelis because they have conveyed the images and stories of this slaughter to the world, martyred for their people, for us.

We are Nero’s guests. 

The Palestinians have long been betrayed, not only by us in the global north, but by most of the governments in the Muslim world. We stand passive in the face of the crime of crimes. History will judge Israel for this genocide. But it will also judge us. It will ask why we did not do more, why we did not sever all agreements, all trade deals, all accords, all cooperation with the apartheid state, why we did not halt weapons shipments to Israel, why we did not recall our ambassadors, why when the maritime trade in the Red Sea was disrupted by Yemen an alternative overland route into Israel was set up by Saudi Arabia and Jordan, why we did not do everything in our power to end the slaughter. It will condemn us for not heeding the fundamental lesson of the Holocaust, which is not that Jews are eternal victims, but that when you have the capacity to stop genocide and you do not, you are culpable.

“The opposite of good is not evil,” Samuel Johnson wrote. “The opposite of good is indifference.”

The Palestinian resistance is our resistance. The Palestinian struggle for dignity, freedom and independence is our struggle. The Palestinian cause is our cause. For, as history has also shown, those who were once Nero’s guests soon became Nero’s victims. 


NOTE TO READERS FROM CHRIS HEDGES: There is now no way left for me to continue to write a weekly column for ScheerPost and produce my weekly television show without your help. The walls are closing in, with startling rapidity, on independent journalism, with the elites, including the Democratic Party elites, clamoring for more and more censorship. Bob Scheer, who runs ScheerPost on a shoestring budget, and I will not waver in our commitment to independent and honest journalism, and we will never put ScheerPost behind a paywall, charge a subscription for it, sell your data or accept advertising. Please, if you can, sign up at chrishedges.substack.com so I can continue to post my now weekly Monday column on ScheerPost and produce my weekly television show, The Chris Hedges Report.

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