Death Spiral Delusions: Behind the New Israel/Palestine Disaster

David Finkel

Posted October 10, 2023

The aftermath of an Israeli air strike on the Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City, Gaza, October 10, 2023. (Mohammed Zaanoun, original available here)

IN A RECENT post “Catastrophe in Jenin and Palestine, continued” (July 8, 2023), I reiterated a previous remark:   “The degenerative spiral in the so-called Israel-Palestine ‘conflict’ is nowhere near reaching the bottom yet.”

First, the immediate desperate priority for supporters of Palestinian freedom, and simple human decency, must be demanding international pressure to stop the Israeli siege of Gaza with its genocidal implications

Not only the Israeli bombing and pending ground assault but even more, the cutoff of food and water, gas and electricity will spell death for tens if not hundreds of thousands of Gaza civilians in the months that the military operation to “crush Hamas forever” and “change Gaza for decades” would likely take.  

As the degenerative spiral descends to a death spiral for Palestinians and Israelis, it’s also become all the more important to be clear about what’s behind it. Without trying to respond to daily headlines where every horror surpasses the previous one, we must investigate the big, bigger and biggest delusions of the present moment and those leading to it.

Since this piece is being written for predominantly Palestine solidarity readers, to begin with, I’m afraid that on the pro-Palestinian side (and perhaps the thinking of the HAMAS leadership), there’s a delusion that the HAMAS raid, spectacular, amazingly organized without Israeli detection – and let’s face it, murderous – would trigger a broader uprising in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Palestinian communities inside Israel.

It will do nothing of the sort – unless the lunatic religious-Zionist West Bank settlers take the occasion to escalate their wave of violence against Palestinian villages (which may be a bit less likely since Israeli army units who protect the vicious settler assaults are being redeployed to Gaza and the Lebanese border). 

Even if feeling some understandable emotional satisfaction that at least someone’s fighting back, the Palestinian population has no ambition to be martyred along with their families, nor do they wish to duplicate the gruesome scenes of ordinary Israeli civilians slaughtered in the streets. (Besides, upsurges like mass strikes or popular intifadas don’t happen because someone “calls” for them.)

If the idea of a Palestinian upsurge in the wake of this horror is one big delusion, a bigger delusion is the Israeli one that’s now been exposed before the world, including the Israeli public.

That delusion was that imprisoning and periodically “mowing the grass” by bombing Gaza, keeping its population on bare subsistence food rations and a couple hours of daily electricity, while expanding West Bank settlements and choking off the hopes for Palestinian self-determination and sustainable economy, would all be made viable by “normalization” of relations with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, etc. 

It’s haunting to consider that so great was Israel’s illusion of safety and “security” that an all-night holiday youth dance party was happening, right down the road from where two million people live in the walled-in Gaza cage. This of course became the scene of the greatest carnage of the HAMAS raid, taking more than 260 kids’ lives at latest count, captured in gory cell phone and televised images. 

That barbarous mass slaughter, and the Israeli delusion of security — which itself has been predicated on the success of ethnic cleansing, dispossession, high-tech repression and killing of Palestinians on no small scale — are inextricably connected. So is the twinning  of Israel’s now-exploded delusion of security with what’s become a blood lust among sectors of the Jewish public to “destroy Gaza, kill them all” – an all-too-predictable response and another turn of the downward death spiral, which the Netanyahu government will exploit to the fullest.

To be sure, the Israeli public’s anger is also targeting their government, which failed to notice the impending danger while it was consuming the country over its moves to disempower the judiciary and expand the reach of religious authorities, all to curb Netanyahu’s prosecution on multiple corruption charges (sound familiar?). What all this might ultimately produce in Israeli politics will be an open question for months to come — depending on the results of the war against Gaza, the fate of the captured Israeli citizens, and the impacts on Israel’s economy among other factors we can’t yet predict.

The Biggest Delusion 

But this brings us to the biggest delusion of all, the American delusion – embodied in National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s recent gloat that “the Middle East is safer than it’s been in decades.”  It’s an extension of the Israeli delusion, but compounded by the arrogance of the imperial overlord.

The U.S. policy presumption is that brokering Israel’s “normalization” with the ghastly Saudi regime and other repressive Gulf states will isolate Iran, bring some Saudi and Qatari money in to pacify the Occupied Territories, solidify the Palestinian Authority as a branch office of the Occupation, and make Palestine disappear as any threat to “stability.”

One may assume that Iran, at some level, was involved  – how directly and operationally, U.S. intelligence either doesn’t know or isn’t saying – in preparing the HAMAS operation, to blow up the pending Israeli-Saudi-U.S. alliance that the Iranian regime sees as a strategic threat. But that’s made possible only because Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine continues without letup.

Unquestionably the U.S. record of permanent betrayal of promises to Palestinian representatives, and two decades of a cynical fraud called the “peace process,” contribute to the growing rage that made an explosion ultimately inevitable. What we now see is the Biden administration pledging more weapons and high-tech air power to Israel — which will only escalate further once the Animal House known as the Republican House of Representatives majority chooses its next Speaker.

In truth, Israel has all the military hardware it needs to obliterate Gaza multiple times over. (Ukraine needs weapons for its defense – Israel doesn’t.) What Israel doesn’t have is the slightest hint of political will for peace, reconciliation and reparations with the Palestinian people – or of any program to do so even if it wanted. Nor does U.S. policy have anything of the sort to offer.

A Road Forward?

No one should mistake the fact that the foreseeable prospects for Palestine, and democratic forces in Israel, are dire. For activists in the United States, our immediate concentration must be on demanding no Israeli siege of Gaza and ending U.S. aid to the racist Israeli state; building the BDS movement; and resisting the drive, which will certainly escalate, to criminalize BDS and pro-Palestinian advocacy.

As regards the struggle for Palestinian freedom, it is necessary both to recognize the right of oppressed people to choose their own means of struggle, and to understand at the same time that the ideology and strategy of HAMAS, with its deliberately murderous method and the colossal destruction it brings on its own population, leads absolutely nowhere.

I urge everyone to read in full the essential new article by Gilbert Achcar “On Hamas’s October Offensive,” and I can do no better to conclude here than by quoting Achcar’s closing paragraph:

“The Palestinian struggle must rely primarily on mass political action against Israel’s oppression, occupation, and settler-colonial expansion. The new underground armed resistance organised by young Palestinians in Jenin or Nablus can be an efficient adjuvant to the people’s mass movement, provided it is predicated on the latter’s priority and conceived in such a way as to incentivise it. The regional support that the Palestinian people should rely upon is not that of tyrannical governments like that of Iran, but that of the peoples fighting against these oppressive regimes. Herein lies the true potential prospect for Palestinian liberation, which needs to be combined with the emancipation of Israeli society itself from the logic of Zionism that has inexorably produced its polity’s ever-expanding drift to the far right.” 

[Other references: 

  • The current Against the Current editorial, “Palestine and Empire” (ATC 226), preceded the new explosion but discusses the U.S. policies that helped cause it.
  • The online magazine +972 from Israel provides critical ongoing coverage and insight.
  • Normal Finkelstein’s book Gaza: An Inquest Into Its Martyrdom was published in 2018 but remains essential, if unbearably painful, reading.]


One response to “Death Spiral Delusions: Behind the New Israel/Palestine Disaster”

  1. David Avatar

    An update: It is emerging more clearly now that Netanyahu is preparing to incinerate Gaza, its people, and probably the Israeli hostages too, in order to save his government and himself from the consequences of its catastrophic intelligence and political failures. Unless there is very rapid international intervention, the resulting genocide will indeed change the Middle East “for generations,” to borrow his words.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *