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Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Imagine peace

I've been trying, more or less, to stay off social media.

Not that I'm managing to ignore anything. The war in Gaza and Israel is a constant drumbeat in my head. it's hard to sleep. Every moment I half-wake in the night, it comes rushing back in.

I've been reaching out to individuals. I've been trying to listen. I've been trying to keep my heart open. But I have had trouble thinking what I could possibly say, in this broad featureless plain of people shouting, that wouldn't get soundbited. That would do more good than harm.

We did the one podcast episode. I've been liking things here and there. If you've been trying to decode my position, I feel like it shouldn't be hard.

My position is: peace. Oh god, peace. For fuck's sake, peace.

Social media is painful to watch. The drift into the most hardened possible zero-sum positions, into fantasies of justified total victory (which is to say, cozy narratives of genocide), is painful to watch. People saying "grieve for both sides" and it seeming so facile and anodyne, is hard to watch. It's hard to know what, in the face of all that, is worth saying, other than: this is a horror, this is not okay, all those ordinary people who are perishing and being set against one another, by cynics and zealots, is not okay. But beyond that? Substantively...?

But let's try this.

Imagine if you will, that a hundred years from now, there is a Palestinian kid whose ancestors where driven out in the Nakba. And there is a Jewish kid: some of the Jewish kid's ancestors were driven from Iraq or Egypt or Algeria in the wake of the Nakba, some from the Czar and the Nazis in the century before, and some, even the Romans never managed to drive out.

And these two kids go to bed each night feeling safe and in freedom. No one is actively plotting to kill them, no one considers them acceptable collateral damage. They expect to grow up into full civil rights and democratic participation. They think of the trauma of their peoples as ancient history, something to tell stories about on holidays.

Let's say they both live in Haifa.

And let's imagine, when both of these kids become teenagers, they get real into history or religion, and -- teenaged drama and developmental self-definition being what they are -- go through a phase where they spout radical slogans and idolize violent, dramatic supposed heroes of earlier centuries, They post -- on the hundred-years-from-now equivalent of social media -- things like "Restore the Kingdom of David! Jewish rule from the river to the sea!" or "Restore the Caliphate! Palestinian sovereignty from the river to the sea!"

And neither of them get set to indefinite administrative detention. Neither of them get recruited to die for a cause. What happens is that there are some awkward parent-teacher conferences, some stern words and anguished moments of self-doubt from their parents, and a lot of relentless teasing from their older siblings.

And eventually, they grow out of it.

Note that I am not specifying whether they live in a confederation of two or more nation-states where getting an apartment over a border is no biggie, or in a binational (or binational-ish) state of Israel, or in a liberated Palestine, or some utopian synthetic anarcho-syndicalist Abrahamia, or a religiously pluralistic LGBTQ-friendly neo-Caliphate, or what. Because, honestly: I don't give a fuck.

I care that they're safe, and that there's a place for them. For them as individuals, and for them as members of their peoples. That they can excitedly, proudly, unselfconsciously tell the story of their ancestors, and their connection to the place they are. That they got to come home, and be home. That, crucially, even if they get caught up for a moment in the echoes of some old bullshit, it will not ruin their lives.

Now here's the point of all this. Put, with me, your worldbuilding hat on. What do we know about this world? If we allow ourselves to imagine it... what can we say, about how it got that way?

I'll tell you one thing we know. We know that at some point, in the backstory of this vignette, people sat down and negotiated with their worst enemies.

We know this because we know plenty of places where age-old hate has been tamed and shifted from mass violence, to occasional violence, to uneasy peace, and eventually, eventually, to real peace.

(I write this on the site of the Hundred Years' War, the Thirty Years' war, the holocausts of the Protestant Reformation. When my kids were in primary school the Swiss teachers were very proud that they had a combined Protestant AND Catholic religious lesson. It seemed silly; but it's a fading echo of something very real, and very dark, that happened here.)

We know that, at some point in the backstory of our science fictional vignette, people sat down and negotiated. In all likelihood, a lot of the people that sat down and negotiated were proud men with guns and blood on their hands, because that's how it usually happens. A lot of them were maximalists, cynics, ruthless people who didn't, themselves, necessarily want peace. Or at least, they didn't really allow themselves to believe in it, not until the moment that both sides said yes, maybe not even then.

(We know there was at least one time. Maybe there were a lot of times. Maybe there were ups and downs: but they led, in this history, to our two safe kids in Haifa.)

So why did they negotiate, these proud hard men? (And women, and men with more mellow and flexible versions of masculinity, and, this being the future, maybe hard cold ruthless nonbinary warmongers, etc.... but let's not distract ourselves from the fact that the people who end up making peace, are the ones who made war.)

Why? Because -- we know this from history -- they were under pressure from their own people, who were sick of war, and who had seen a glimpse of something else possible. Who had some idea of hope. Who were not going to buy the bullshit anymore. Who demanded something new.

This is, obviously, not where we are in this moment. We are at the opposite place.

It is a much easier sell, at this moment, to convince people that total victory is possible.

That Hamas will be militarily defeated and routed from Gaza and the West Bank, and then something something the Palestinians give up the idea of military resistance; that they decide to pursue wanting to elect their governments and go to the nearest hospital when sick and not have their kids jailed without trial for liking a Facebook post and not having fences with armed guards and razor wire put between them and their olive groves, and not be beaten up and murdered by vigilantes who get a slap on the wrist; that every last one of them will decide to pursue those things through wholly peaceful means... even though those Palestinians who have been pursuing those things through peaceful means for the last 30 years have mostly just gotten locked up, killed, or at best, ignored.

That the corrupt Zionist settler-colonialist state will collapse through some combination of shaming and war, and either all the Jews will suddenly remember that they have condos in Miami to go to (as opposed to, millions and millions of them, being ALSO poor displaced people of color with histories of trauma and dislocation, whom the world hates); or that they'll suddenly decide that they want an anti-Zionist revolution themselves and rise up joyfully to join a glorious new liberated Palestine... without, you know, anyone, like, asking them first; or recruiting them to this plan; or having, say, any knowledge of what happened the LAST time they were told that a glorious-if-bloody worker's revolution would abolish anachronisms like antisemitism, and Jews would totally be safe in the worker's paradise.

Or -- here's another easy sell, at the moment -- that your side is just going to kill and drive away everybody from the other side. So you won't have to share. Because it's all yours. The other side's claims are bogus. The other people aren't really a people, they're not a real country, they're not real at all.

Which is, you know... genocide. Not the post-Wannsee Nazi kind of genocide where your conscious, intentional goal is to obliterate the Other at all costs. (The conversation keeps getting confused on this point.) Just garden-variety genocide, like in the American West: where you just kinda make sure those people to die or go elsewhere, you don't particularly care which (or, if you're a particularly progressive genocider, maybe they could even just shut up, obey, and erase all their differences: "kill the Indian, save the man")-- because they're inconveniently on the land you want.


Here's the thing though. I don't think any of those easy sells produce a future in which EITHER of our two imaginary kids are safe.

I think neither of our two kids in Haifa is truly safe unless both of them are safe.

And even if I'm wrong: I do not accept an outcome in which one of them is safe because the other has been forced to permanently submit, to live as a suspect and dangerous Other, or to be driven out, again, into exile.

To get to that future, the future of our vignette...at some point, people sat down and negotiated. Maybe the proud men (etc.) with guns were brought to the table because their donors and sponsors and allies insisted. But, guess what: that would be enough to get them to the table (with an interest in placating their sponsors), but not sufficient for them to actually make a deal or put down their guns. Even if America, Qatar, the Saudis, Russia, and Iran insisted, in absolute harmony and unity, on bringing the folks with guns to the table (again, the opposite of the moment we're in; but analogous, perhaps, to what happened in Northern Ireland in the 90s, or in Rwanda after the genocide)...still, in our story, that wouldn't have been enough to get them to truly make a deal.

They made THAT deal -- the one that stuck -- because their sisters, their aunties, their kids, the workers in the streets of their towns, the mostly-silent folks who mostly keep their heads down and stay out of it until those particular historical moments where they awaken -- because the people, in other words, insisted.

Because the people had seen that there was an alternative to... this.

(Even though it's far away, you can even catch glimmers of this now. The temporary ceasefire happened because the families of the Israeli hostages demanded it. They united to demand, even, an all-for-all swap: all the hostages, for every Palestinian prisoner in Israel. They marched from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and Netanyahu, who absolutely did not want a ceasefire, had to let them in. They forced his hand.

This happened because the idea of a swap is concrete and immediate and urgent. Visions of actual peace are hazy and widely derided as impossible; there's no consensus, there's no unity, the few dreamers still trying to bridge the gap are totally marginalized in this moment; so these ideas, currently, have no force. But the dynamics of power are the same. The power is in the hands of the people. For a brief moment, because the people sided with those families, because the people could imagine the hostages coming home -- the men with guns and bombs were forced to yield.)

This moment when the people rise up and demand a true peace -- we're very, very, very far away from it.

But it's the only way there.

I don't know if there are any peoples in the world you can bludgeon into submission, until they give up their aspirations and their hopes of home. Are there? Maybe?

But not these two peoples.

Not these cousins, these children of Abraham, who seem so different and are so alike.

The Jews were driven out, and yearned for two thousand years to return. You can entertain all the fantasies you like that, if American support dries up, they'll say "oh this was a foolish nationlist project, we'll go somewhere else now"... but you're wrong. They mostly don't have anywhere else to go, and they will fight for every inch, and getting your "the river to the sea" by force will be an utter bloodbath.

And it's not any different for the Palestinians. Have you talked to Palestinians? They will easily ALSO wait two thousand years and never give up. (No surprise there: cousins be cousins.) They will not suddenly decide they're actually Jordanians and Egyptians and that whole Nakba thing was all a big misunderstanding. They will never accept bantustans and permanent second-class citizenship. (Even to Israeli Arabs -- many of whom want to stay Israelis, and identify with Israel -- it's an affront for them to have to listen to how they're a demographic threat, and had better not become too numerous. Come on! You know who you sound like, my left Zionist homies? Like fucking Pharaoh, that's who.)

Nobody is going anywhere. Nobody is giving up. Nobody is yielding or knuckling under. Nobody has anywhere to go.

You cannot achieve peace and safety by winning enough battles. You cannot smash your way to peace.

Go ahead, demand a ceasefire. Palestinians desperately need a ceasefire. Less directly, Israelis also desperately need a ceasefire, since the only likely outcomes of this war, no matter how many battles Israel wins, are a) a temporarily disorganized Hamas with an enormously strengthened popular mandate, or b) actually no Hamas left, after vastly more civilian death (yes, even more than this unimaginable amount); which is to say, a power vacuum in which radicals way WORSE than Hamas arise. (Talk to the Bush and Obama administrations, which "smashed Al-Qaeda and the Taliban" all the way to creating ISIS, who even Al-Qaeda and the Taliban see as nihilistic apocalyptic murder-nutbags. They just kept killing "terrorists" and more and more of the Iraqis turned into "terrorists", how perplexing; the British also found this out in Ireland in the years leading up to 1916). And the people who really benefit from no ceasefire are the extreme minority of Netanyahu and his Kahanist cronies, whose fuckup ALL of this is; who let this happen, in part by consistently and explicitly supporting Hamas... precisely because Hamas helped them make a negotiated peace impossible. They were, very openly, willing to take the risk of an Oct 7, because at least it stifled peace.

But you know what? You can demand more than a ceasefire.

You can resist the urge of treating this like a soccer match, and picking a side to cheer for.

You can resist indulging fantasies of total victory and the bad guys disappearing.

You can resist Godwin's-lawing your way to deciding that the model here is the extremely rare outcome of WWII, in which an absolutely nutso regime which had lost the support of its own people collapsed because literally the entire world saw it as an existential threat -- as opposed to the far, far more common outcome of a negotiated solution between groups that have done some terrible things.

You can resist reducing things to a simple satisfying perfect narrative, like "it's Islamic radicalism" or "it's settler colonialism" as if that magically gives you some other outcome option other than a) a messy, slow, negotiated peace after building broad support among both peoples...or b) genocide.

You can do better than that.

You can actually imagine what a real peace would look like, and you can start trying to believe in it.

[Threads for comments on bluesky, mastodon.]

Posted by Benjamin Rosenbaum at Tuesday, December 12, 2023 at 20:20:24 | Up to blog
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