Bombing the Bookclub


We had a number of people quit The Rumpus Book Club today because I wrote in a Daily Rumpus email that Israel should stop bombing Gaza. One person wrote that I was “ignorant of the history.” But I’m not, actually. I’m not a professor, but I’m reasonably well read on the subject. I’ve also been in Gaza, and Israel, twice. There are a lot of people that have visited Israel; only a very small number of people have been in Gaza as well.

The argument I was making was an argument against history. People will point to history to support the narrative that feels the best. Every group points to history—the liberals, the conservatives, the Israelis, the Palestinians. I’m not against Israel. I’m not advocating for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” I’m not pro-Hamas, or pro-Arafat, or pro-Netanyahu. History doesn’t justify what Israel is doing in Gaza right now, even the most hawkish reading of history. Even if it was only the history on Benjamin Netanyahu’s own bookshelves.121115GazaIsrael_6907073

It is immoral to terrorize tens of thousands of people and kill many hundreds of them. I was in Northern Israel in 2006 when Hezbollah rained rockets from Lebanon. It was terrifying. There were entire towns evacuated. But in Gaza there is nowhere to go. It’s only 30 miles long, surrounded by water and an electric fence, and one of the most densely populated places on earth. What Israel is doing right now is wrong. Gaza is a place populated with human beings. Fifty percent of them are children.

Here is the offending section of The Daily Rumpus email that went out this morning:

And speaking of. I got in a conversation about Israel this weekend with an Iraqi American. I said things like, It’s complicated. Because I used to really know something about Israel and Palestine, not a lot, but something. I mean I paid close attention, and I was there. I visited Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza in 2001 and 2006, and wrote at length. But on further reflection maybe it isn’t. I mean, it is, it always will be. Now Netanyahu is saying Israel will always have a security presence in Palestine. In other words, there will never be a free and independent Palestine. And hundreds of deaths and massive destruction in Gaza and not a single fatality in Israel. And Gaza is already a kind of hell, even before the bombing. A prison colony 30 miles long, one of the most densely populated areas on the planet.

And I did learn something in Israel, which is that it’s nobody’s fault. I mean, if you trace the conflict back in time you’ll consistently find each side saying they’re responding to the other side, you’ll never find anyone who admits to starting anything. Everything is a response. But what is happening right now is inhumane, a tragedy, and immoral. Netanyahu was always a disaster waiting on the Israel right until the political conveyer belt moved him into the center. And Hamas was on the other conveyer belt. And the history is rich with villains.

But this is now. The past justifies something, but not much, and it’s usually misinterpreted and misunderstood anyway. We know that Hamas had nothing to do with the three Israeli teenagers killed in the West Bank. And you can’t draw parallels between what the Palestinians are suffering in Gaza and the Israelis are suffering in Israel. I used to kind of believe you could. Not really. But it seemed the main thing was both sides were forced to live in fear, under attack. That idea no longer holds. And it seems like any chance at anything has been left on the table and the table has been destroyed.

Sorry to get all political. I just wanted to talk about the transcendence of art and how it gives meaning when it seems there isn’t any. But first the bombs have to stop.



p.s. I recognize the last line of that note is heavy handed. It’s poor writing. But I can’t really send the rest without it. So shit. Fuck it.

Stephen Elliott is the author of eight books, including The Adderall Diaries. More from this author →