Hazem Saghieh

Netanyahu's War: Specificities That Are Not Specific

Many politicians have taken a decision, at some point, that led to war or have sparked a war through a policy they pursued that placed a single consideration over all others. However, the vast majority of these wars, which were fought over a piece of land and the resources in it, in what direction a river should flow, or the reception of refugee populations...would end after one side was defeated militarily, if not through the intervention of a foreign actor, or the political downfall of the intransigent politician who had caused the war, with their government's policies replaced by new ones. Often, such defeats open the door to peace between former enemies or lead to reassessments of previous policies, as well as their shortsightedness, rigidity, or both.
With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his deranged partners, we find a different conception of war. For them, war is not merely politics by other means, as Clausewitz once defined it. Rather, theirs is war of the highest and most radical form. In such wars, there is an inherent repudiation of politics, both in the present and future, as reflected by the daily insistence on dismissing "the day after.” Netanyahu doesn't only approach Gaza this way. Indeed, no Palestinians can be lived with, neither in two states nor in one. They are not a people and have no national identity of any kind. The link with them is governed by negation, which is manifested in many forms, such as the land theft known as settlement, their denial of any form of political representation, and even genocide. In this kind of context, the response to an operation like that of October 7th becomes unmitigated retaliation that knows no limits, is not restricted to a particular party, and accounts for no one.
This war, then, "war of existence, not a war of borders," or a "war of survival or annihilation"- phrases that are omnipresent in radical literature of both the Zionists and Arabs. Implicitly, this discourse promotes a way of life inherently destined to be crowned with death; that is, to be genocidal in intention if not the action, often in response to a call that is usually portrayed as a combination of religious sanctity and the weight of an ancient mythologized history.
In the face of such essentialist notions, it seems frivolous to speak of establishing a state, reassuring a community, a piece of land, or the course river, as it is "either us or them." One of the matters this calls for is dehumanizing the enemy, so that we can kill them like we crush an insect by stepping on it, and that they be treated as a monolithic whole akin to a herd of cattle or a swarm of rats.
However, if this consciousness draws on tribal pasts, the ideology of the modern era has ensured that it flourishes. Liquidation, eradication, and extermination were never used as much as they have been used by Fascism, Stalinism, and their offshoots. The enemy, in the tradition of these movements and their adherents, does not become an enemy because of an action they had taken, an action whose recurrence could be prevented, or for which they could apologize or compensate, with normalcy restored after that. Rather, the enemy is born an enemy; the are enemies because of what they are. Their inherent essence makes coexistence with them impossible, and it will remain so until the end of time. Thus, if one is Slavic or Jewish, he is an enemy in the eyes of the Nazis, and the same holds true for someone who is bourgeois or "kulak" in the eyes of Leninists and Stalinists, and for the Palestinians in the eyes of Netanyahu and his friends. Moreover, we find efforts to associate the pure self with God and adversaries with Satan, as Khomeinists have emphasized. The function of covering oneself with these triumphalist "messages" is to facilitate killing enemies and maximize their deaths, while making our own deaths bearable and the reason for rewards granted by history or God. However, even in the case of a just cause whose ideology is engulfed by such transcendental ideas, victory would amount to nothing more than a despotic independence or liberation that is brimming with prisons and prison cells, suffocating the population- the kind of liberation and independence movements that the “Third World” was rife with.
With the contemporary rise of populism, we are seeing these phenomena among politicians in democratic societies, which is reflected by, among many other things, defamatory rhetoric and personal enmity. Politicians who could be categorized as respectable are losing influence and declining in number in favor of another category of politicians, one that has now taken center stage.
As for ridding ourselves of total war, it has, to a large extent, become contingent upon ensuring the decline of populism and absolutist ideological movements, be they nationalistic or religious, right-wing or left-wing. Nothing has a stronger presence within them than perpetual war, and it is certainly first thing they promise to their base, in the form of victory for them, and for their opponents in the form of eradication and genocide. Netanyahu and his associates are nothing more than an advanced unit in this army of generalized criminality.