“Remember Koom Valley!” the Dwarves shouted and so did the Trolls. Neither side could remember much about what had happened in Koom Valley hundreds of years before. Terry Pratchett noted, “Every society needs a cry like that, but only in a few do they come out with the complete unvarnished version, which is Remember-The-Atrocity-Committed-Against-Us-Last-Time-That-Will-Excuse-The-Atrocity-That-We’re-About-To-Commit-Today!” [Pratchett, Terry; Thief of Time. New York, HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2001. P. 159]
Ironically, Pratchett wrote that just a few weeks before 9-11 ignited the slogan “Never Forget!”. America’s Desert Storm war and the 1990-91 crusade to get Saddam Hussein and eliminate his (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction was the primary excuse for the Taliban to attack the USA on 9/11 2001. 9-11 led to the war against the Taliban and the successful assassination of Osama ben Laden.
Wars need a war cry.
“Remember, remember the fifth of November….”
“Remember the Alamo”
“Remember Pearl Harbor”
The effect of the cry, however, is usually more war on a greater and less restrained scale.
On October 7, 2023 Hamas, based in Gaza, launched a brutal attack on nearby Israeli settlements, kibbutzim, and notably a music festival. 1400 people were killed by Hamas fighters and 250 were taken hostage. The atrocity was appalling. Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel immediately declared war on Hamas. We are now in the third month of that war which has resulted in almost 19,000 Palestinians killed and 51,000 injured. Of the 2.2 million Palestinians living in Gaza 1.9 are now homeless.
News and political organizations are engaged in campaigns to justify actions by their combatants as responses to atrocities by the other side. Netanyahu insists the goal of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is to eradicate Hamas and prevent its declared goal of eliminating the State of Israel. Hamas’ battle cry is “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” That is a distortion of the original, more-moderate interpretation of the slogan which advocates two states, Israel and Palestine, both free to direct their own affairs. Others suspect Netanyahu will really obliterate Gaza before he declares this war is over. The destruction going on is absolute.
Netanyahu has a slim grip on political power. He is the most extreme right-wing leader in Israel’s 75-year history, but he is caught in the middle between moderates who want the war to stop killing children and radicals who will unseat the PM if he doesn’t achieve a solid victory in the eventual acquisition of all Israel’s perceived historical territory “from Dan to Beersheba.”
Netanyahu and Israel have one main ally, the USA. From October 7, US President Biden has defended Israel’s retaliation with words and weapons. He traveled to Israel as the war was going on and began his visit by hugging Netanyahu. As recently as this week the USA alone in the United Nations Security Council voted against a motion to call for a humanitarian cease fire. The UN General Assembly then voted 153 to 10 in favor of the resolution. That is non-binding but represents world opinion and is a slap at the USA.
One thing Biden and Netanyahu have in common is a slim and fragile majority of political support to hold office. It is beyond doubt that if President Joe Biden should appear to withdraw his support for Israel, he will alienate a substantial number of US Jewish votes and lose the 2024 election. No one dares to underestimate the influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a lobby with a multimillion-dollar bankroll to make or break US political races they target.
On a more nuanced matter, Biden’s continued support of Israel keeps him on-line to influence Netanyahu, as he did in bringing about recent pauses in the war so that hostages could be exchanged and humanitarian food and medical aid could be trucked into Gaza.
So here we are: Netanyahu is set to annex Gaza after it is reduced to rubble and its inhabitants driven into exile or desolation. What the area will be called and how Gaza’s Arab supporters will react remains to be seen. If Netanyahu cannot do it soon, he’s toast.
His nemesis is settlers within his own country who refuse to be restrained as they take over whatever territory they set their eyes on.
Biden is trapped between a rock (need for Jewish votes) and a hard place (need to be recognized as a leader of the USA in international affairs). His one small avenue is to succeed in advocating hostage release, escape for women and children from the war zone, and negotiating limited retaliation from Lebanon, Syria, and Iran. If he can appear to do those things, he may survive.
His nemesis, in addition to the Republican Party, is his own Democrats in Congress who are needing something else to go their way (something about abortion, border protection, jobs, or something that will help them win re-election). Peace in Israel or Ukraine isn’t going to win them votes unless they can get that something.
Hamas perpetrated an atrocity and Israel retaliated with a bigger atrocity. Atrocities spiral.
History is against it, but we can only hope no military alliance emerges in the Middle East to cry, REMEMBER GAZA!
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.