Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Hope for Change in Gaza Today, America's Penal Estate Tommorrow

The analogy is not as ludicrous as it may appear. Gaza has been compared to a prison. Without disrespect to the forms of social, architectural and community life that go on there (a place I have never visited), some analogies can indeed be drawn between a prison and Gaza under the Israeli/Egyptian blockage, namely: collective punishment, overwhelming (and often irrational) security rationalities, and the cycle of resistance that often takes the form of empowering the most violent criminal gangs (which is my view of Hamas for the record).

But the light shone by the May 31st Israeli assault on the Gaza bound flotilla is more about the fatal problems of governing through fear than the conditions of prison life. The Israeli handling of the whole situation, and even much of the critical reaction inside Israel, reflects the limits, indeed the folly, of trying to resolve a political conflict with a "demonize and punish" strategy. Having convinced itself and its public that the enemy inside the "prison" is an irredeemable, unnegotiable threat to its existence, the Israeli political class has trapped itself in a predictable (to its enemies above all) repertoire of military-penal moves that can only inflame internal resistence and degrade the legitimacy of the on-going blockade itself (if not the Israeli sovereignty project as a whole). Meanwhile, its internal political discourse, shaped by the same security logics, can only cycle around the usual technical concerns: were the right troops chosen, tactics utilized, command channels followed, etc.

The end is clearly near for the Gaza prison experiment as Israel finds itself in an unsustainable position. What will happen once the prison gates are open, is of course, not predictable. (But I for one would bet that its better than what we've seen for the last three years of war and conflict).

Would we were so close to breaking out of the US prison experiment. Sadly, on that score the analogy is quite tight. Having convinced ourselves that the prisons hold massive numbers of existential threats, our political class can only cycle around investing ever more of our treasure and legitimacy in a war on crime (and now terror) that cannot ever reduce the fear on which it is based (even if crime goes down, as it has). Meanwhile our internal debate will continue to cycle through issues like re-entry, and alternatives to prison for some non-violent drug offenders, while the reality, that we hold vast numbers of people who could live in their communities without threat to the rest of us disappears in a thousand fragments.

Sadly, on this score, Obama may be as clueless as Bibi

Hope and Change, Hope and Change, Hope and Change


Unknown said...

If Israel's purpose in Gaza were ton contain and control "the other," then I would also believe that Gaza's days as a prison camp were numbered.

Fut, if Israel's purpose in Gaza were to cleanse it of "the other," then I fear that the state of Israel will remain firm in this regard.

Jonathan Simon said...

I just noticed this quote from Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, on the Haaretz website, which completely confirms the mentality within which Israeli leadership (and perhaps public) has trapped itself.

"we live in the Middle East, in a place where there is no mercy for the weak and there aren't second chances for those who don't defend themselves. You were fighting for your lives – I saw it, and I heard it from your commanders."

There is apparently no sense of irony that this "Middle eastern" ethic precisely describes the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians from 48 to the present.