[taps mic] Is this thing on?
Hello everybody. Some exciting news to follow, but first some thoughts on things happening elsewhere.
Holy Land Blues
For weeks I’ve been watching as Israel has bullied and blundered its way into another war. It seems war has come. At least 30 people in Gaza, including ten children, have been killed in an onslaught of violence by Israeli forces, while at least three Israelis have been killed in a rocket barrage fired by Hamas in reply. Protests are spreading and a full-scale ground invasion of Gaza might be in the offing.
None of this had to happen. The trigger for the current crisis was an attempt by Jewish settlers to seize four Palestinian homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. It’s both a real local crisis and a proxy for the entire conflict going back nearly a century: Who has the right to own the land, who has the right to use force against whom, and who decides.
It might have stayed a neighborhood dispute if it had not been for the incompetence and viciousness of Jerusalem’s Jewish authorities and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, the indicted caretaker prime minister. Israeli police responded to Palestinian protests with brutal force, and then, inexplicably, by attacking the Al-Aqsa Mosque—the third holiest site in Islam—with tear gas, rubber-tipped bullets, and stun grenades, during Ramadan prayers. (As if that were not sin enough, the first Israeli attack on the mosque, which is located at the holiest site in Judaism, occurred during Shabbat.) Hamas responded with rockets from Gaza. Israel responded by murdering Gazan civilians. And now here we are.
I lived and worked as a young Associated Press journalist in Jerusalem during the Second Intifada—a murderous and terrifying conflict that began when another wannabe Israeli prime minister instigated a riot on the Temple Mount in October 2000. That conflict left nearly everyone in the region scarred and worse off than before, resulting in the construction of the Israeli apartheid wall, the deaths of thousands, and the disempowerment of the peace movement on all sides of the conflict.
What is happening now could be the start of a third, of a region-wide war, or of something else. Netanyahu may try to keep escalating as a means of holding onto power, not to mention staying out of prison. Hamas may welcome all-out war as a means of gaining leverage against their other political enemy, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Millions are caught in the middle.
While watching these events unfold from afar, I try to keep two related things in mind. One, as the British journalist Jake Hanrahan astutely tweeted this afternoon, this is “not a football match.” It is not a morality play conducted for our amusement. The horror one rightly feels at the trampling of Palestinian lives and rights should not be assuaged by the suffering of civilians in Tel Aviv or West Jerusalem. Hamas has no more monopoly on resistance to Israeli occupation or apartheid than Netanyahu’s Likud Party and its ethnonationalist allies do on the fight for the survival of Jews. Both can and must be opposed.
The other is to keep in mind the humanity of the individuals involved. The sheer intimacy of the initial fight at Sheikh Jarrah was captured in a video posted to Instagram about a week ago. The Palestinian residents seem to identify the Jewish settler by name. They switch effortlessly between English, Hebrew, and a smattering of Arabic. At heart, this an argument between neighbors in a backyard, and only a common understanding of one another’s humanity and the rights that humanity entails will ultimately end it. Otherwise, there will be only more suffering.
The other news
I’ve been busy for weeks now racing through the final edits and putting the finishing touches on my upcoming book. It is not quite done yet. And though it sometimes feels like it will never be, it now officially has to be … because we have a release date!
Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, the Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America's Empire will be released by St. Martin’s Press on January 18, 2022. It would not be possible without the support and patience of the subscribers to this newsletter. You can pre-order it now at your favorite store.
Oh and it has an extremely rad cover:
More information to come, and I promise to get back on a regular newslettering schedule as soon as I can. Be well in the meantime.
Jonathan Myerson Katz is a journalist and the author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. His next book will trace the life of Gen. Smedley Butler and the making and breaking of America’s empire. Follow him on Twitter @KatzOnEarth.