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Dec
1
2023

Aparna Gopalan (news editor): This week, I read perhaps the most important piece of journalism that has been published during Israel’s recent war on Gaza: “A mass assassination factory’: Inside Israel’s calculated bombing of Gaza” by +972 Magazine and Local Call, which uses interviews with Israeli intelligence sources to give readers an inside look at the death-dealing apparatus that has killed over 15,000 Palestinians in seven weeks. The investigation clearly establishes that these killings were not even the slightest bit accidental. “We are not Hamas. These are not random rockets. Everything is intentional. We know exactly how much collateral damage there is in every home,” one source told reporter Yuval Abraham in a chilling quote. “When a 3-year-old girl is killed in a home in Gaza, it’s because someone in the army decided it wasn’t a big deal for her to be killed.”

The investigation found that civilians were targeted not just knowingly but deliberately, with one source telling Abraham that Israel specifically targets high-rises in order to “[scare] the population” into creating “civil pressure” on Hamas—a logic as ludicrous as it is inhumane. Israel even has a special name for targets chosen specifically to maximize civilian casualties rather than due to militants’ presence: “power targets,” a grisly euphemism concealing massive loss of life.

The investigation also reveals how Israel has been using artificial intelligence (AI) to generate an ever-increasing number of bombing targets (a finding The Guardian has since separately confirmed). “In the past there were times in Gaza when we would create 50 targets per year,” one source told Abraham. “And here the machine produced 100 targets in one day.” With the AI machine, “we prepare the targets automatically and work according to a checklist,” the source told Abraham. “It really is like a factory. We work quickly and there is no time to delve deep into the target. The view is that we are judged according to how many targets we manage to generate.”

These findings read more like dystopian science fiction than reality; the AI machine being named Habsora (“the gospel”), or numbers of civilians likely to be killed appearing on bombers’ screens under a “collateral damage” column, all add to this feeling of unreality. And yet this is reality, and it is one we need to urgently grasp and spread the word about for there to be any hope of stopping it, which is why I highly recommend reading, re-reading, and widely sharing this crucial article.

Fargo Nissim Tbakhi (artist-in-residence): Henry Kissinger has died peacefully in his home at the age of 100. The flurry of online celebrations and jokes, however, were tempered by the realization that a man who was a “war criminal” by any objective sense of the phrase was able to live a long and peaceful life of prosperity and renown. What does it mean to understand Kissinger as a “war criminal” when that framing ultimately had no material consequences for him? Rabea Eghbariah’s damning essay on the failures of the legal framework of “genocide” as applied (or not) to Palestine, published in The Nation last week, speaks directly to this question.

Much of the attention paid to the piece had to do with the circumstances of its publication: the Harvard Law Review’s board nixed its publication in a decision described by an editor as “unprecedented.” Aside from serving as yet another example of the rampant repression exerted against Palestinian speech, Eghbariah’s piece itself is a vital corrective to how our discourse has appealed to frameworks of international law in the belief that they might finally do what they claim to do, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Eghbariah argues that the case of Palestine “brings to legal analysis an unmasking force: It unveils and reminds us of the ongoing colonial condition that underpins Western legal institutions.” Genocide, supposedly, is the gravest crime a state can commit; entire legal frameworks are dedicated to its identification, its prosecution, and ostensibly its prevention. Yet Eghbariah questions whether such a designation has any meaning when its victims are colonized, non-Western Others and its perpetrators a colonial power. Like calling Kissinger a war criminal, calling Israel’s actions genocidal fails not because it isn’t accurate, but because it has failed thus far to do anything.

So what terms, legal or otherwise, might do something against the structural forces dispossessing, starving, and murdering Palestinians across the span of a century? Eghbariah points us towards the language used by Palestinians themselves: “If the Holocaust is the paradigmatic case for the crime of genocide and South Africa for that of apartheid, then the crime against the Palestinian people must be called the Nakba.” Such language demands a more holistic turn that genuinely listens to Palestinian analysis, testimony, and theorizations. What that turn might make possible, hopefully, is a more responsible legal framework that can genuinely reckon with, address, and eventually end the perpetual violence of Zionism.

Alex Kane (senior reporter): In the wake of Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7th, and Israel’s subsequent bombardment of Gaza, US President Joe Biden was one of many figures who warned Israel not to repeat America’s “mistakes” after 9/11. Biden’s description of the Bush administration’s global killing and torture spree—however sanitized—are nevertheless prescient: Just as the United States couldn’t wipe out the Taliban in Afghanistan, Israel is not going to be able to “eradicate” Hamas. The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, of course, was not the only “mistake” the US made after 9/11. The invasion of Iraq was perhaps an even bigger mistake.

I recently read Robert Draper’s book To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq to better understand the genesis of that invasion. Draper’s Washington insider tell-all draws on interviews with hundreds of US officials to explain how factional infighting, bureaucratic turf wars, ego, and hubris drove George W. Bush to invade Iraq. It is decidedly not a history of Iraq, of US imperialism in the Middle East, or of neoconservatism; those factors are certainly mentioned, but they are not the central focus. Instead, Draper explores the minutiae of how various government actors came to push Bush to reach the decision to invade Iraq. For instance, the book explains how CIA head George Tenet indulged the desire of the administration’s pro-war faction for evidence that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, or was linked to al-Qaeda and 9/11, in order to regain access to the president that he lost under Bill Clinton. That evidence, of course, was cherry-picked and from dubious sources, but Tenet did not mention those important caveats to Bush, helping lead the president to conclude that Iraq was a dire threat. As Israel’s assault on Gaza continues, Draper’s book is a reminder of the contingencies of history, and the danger of letting crass concerns over political careers take precedence over issues of war and peace.

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