Gaza Strip: body bags

Full-spectrum complicity

By ‘suspending’ funding, the west’s diversionary campaign against UNRWA gives the lie to bourgeois cant about ‘genocide prevention’, argues Paul Demarty

In our untrusting age, people live in fear of the psy-op - that some major news event should turn out to be somehow manufactured by the powers that be. People identify ‘ops’ seriously, or in jest. Covid lockdowns were an op; Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide was an op; Taylor Swift’s latest boyfriend is an op; it’s all gravy.

For a state with a formidable record of, let us say, aggressive reputation management, however, Israel seems to be losing its touch. The ops are so blindingly obvious that only bourgeois journalists, state department spokesmen and presidents of the United States could possibly fall for them. The increasingly threadbare assertions that this or that hospital is a “Hamas headquarters” were laughable to start with - the evidence cited after the fact obviously planted. The beheaded babies story lasted just long enough to make a tit out of Joe Biden.

Allegations of sexual assault and rape - surely at least partly true, on the evidence of every war ever fought in human history - were rendered fantastically implausible by cartoonish exaggerations and a total refusal to provide evidence beyond the say-so of the Israeli state and state-connected charities. Beyond that, so little has been found that even The New York Times has had to shelve a special podcast episode based on its own, entirely Israel-backed, coverage of the affair, because its journalists can no longer sell it to themselves.1 Here, truly, is an Israel without guile.


It is in that light, of course, that we should view Israel’s allegations against UNRWA, or to give it its full name the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Israel claims that a dozen or so of UNRWA’s employees took part in the October 7 attack. This is not wholly unbelievable: UNRWA, a specially created organisation for aiding Palestinian refugees, employs thousands of people in Gaza; Hamas is a mass organisation and so are some of its allies; and so on. But really. Before taking this allegation seriously, given the relentless flood of readily and rapidly disproven lies coming from such quarters, any honest individual will want a few things in hand. Who confessed to this? When will they be brought before the public? Will they be permitted to tell the world how their ‘confessions’ were extracted? How come this was discovered conterminously with the International Court of Justice’s finding that Israel has a case to answer on charges of genocide?

We are long past expecting such minimal exertions of scepticism from our rulers and their paid persuaders, however. The response instead was to give the genocidaires exactly what they wanted - create an absurd, hysterical media circus to distract from the ICJ ruling. If only it had stopped at the media: US-aligned governments began pulling funding from UNRWA, one by one. It is now the best part of a billion dollars short of funding (it has long been running on basically zero reserves). It is also, to put it mildly, rather busy at the moment.

No reader of this paper needs to be told that the US, UK and allied countries are complicit in the Gaza genocide. Israel drops our bombs on Gaza, fires our dumb artillery shells; we will go to bat to shield it from the consequences of its provocations, in Yemen and who knows where else, by the time you read this. (We should never have called Biden ‘Sleepy Joe’ - it seems that every day under his presidency brings a new and exciting adventure in the near east!) What is remarkable here is how quickly and breezily Israel’s western backers will abandon what idiotic fig leaves they can be bothered to adopt. Remember when Biden’s people endlessly leaked that the administration was doing everything it could to avoid regional escalation? Remember when they then bombed Yemen?

And all along, the line has been that we are working so hard, so very hard, to make sure that vital humanitarian aid gets into Gaza, so Palestinians can patch up the wounds caused by our weapons. (”We cut them in half with a machine gun and give them a Band-Aid,” mused Martin Sheen in Apocalypse now - plus ça change … ) It is UNRWA that provides the aid. So we are now, I suppose, down to urgently insisting that wholly notional aid gets in, to be replaced with real aid when Israel is finished torturing ‘confessions’ out of its captives. What we have achieved is full-spectrum complicity: we give Israel the munitions to slaughter and maim Gazans, and we ensure that the victims cannot be treated or even fed.

There was an additional irony at work, of course, in that, in the midst of this despicable manoeuvre, we were all solemnly called together to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The date commemorated is the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most prolific and long-lived of the Nazi death camps, and, though a relatively recent innovation - put in place by the UN in 2005 - fits into a larger narrative about the meaning of World War II.

That meaning is, roughly, that the good guys won, and we were the good guys; that the bad guys lost, but in doing so committed incomparable crimes. We must ensure that such crimes are not repeated: ‘Never again!’ ‘Nie wieder!’ Its naivety, of course, is based on a reality - that such crimes were committed, according to a chilling bureaucratic rationality, with all the instruments of modern ‘civilisation’. Though holocaust memorialism took a while to get going, the impact of the liberation of the camps was quite real, and broadcast - itself - with the state of the art in communications. Soldiers who conquered such camps faced horrors even the general slaughter of the Eastern Front could not have prepared them for.


The peculiarity of this memorialism is found in the dispute today over what it is supposed to mean. For pro-Palestinians, ‘Never again’ means stopping what is going on now, with the Palestinians as the European Jews of the moment. All communists uphold this interpretation, naturally. Our enemies, however, take on a rival interpretation: that the lesson of the holocaust pertains specifically to anti-Semitic slaughter, and therefore the appropriate action - given that they accept, by and large, the claim of Israel to be the state of the Jews per se - is to wipe out Hamas - which signalled its genocidal intention on October 7 - at any cost. Thus European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen (clearly auditioning for Jens Stoltenberg’s job at the head of Nato) went on her autumn solidarity tour of Israel with the slogan ‘Nie wieder ist jetzt’ - ‘“Never again” is now’.

The paradox of memorialist ideology is that, though it gains its legitimating force from the premise that we must be made alert to the crimes of the present by knowledge of the crimes of the past, its use as an ideology means that it must be made to blind us to (some of) the crimes of the present by the same means. Holocaust memorialism achieves this by emphasising the singularity of the Nazis’ extermination campaign, and angrily rejecting all attempts to ‘relativise’ it. If this was taken seriously, we would have no coherent concept of genocide at all.

Perhaps we do not. The responsible authorities decided long ago that Serbia was guilty of genocidal acts during the Bosnian wars in the 1990s. In the three years of conflict, Serbia and its Bosnian-Serb proxies notched up some 60,000-odd casualties, half and half military and civilian, in a country with roughly double the population of Gaza. Some 2.2 million people - about half the population - were displaced. In a few short months, Israel has displaced over 90% of Gazans, and killed, proportionately, three-quarters as many as Serbia killed among the Bosnians - mostly civilians. The Americans and their allies created entirely new international institutions to ensure that the G-word was fixed on Serbia. Today, it denounces the successors of those institutions for even allowing for the possibility it might be fixed on Israel.

The truth is that acts of genocide, according to the usual law of semantics, are comparable. They have things in common, as well as specific differences. There is, above all, an indissoluble relation to war. The Armenians were slaughtered by the Ottoman Turks as ‘revenge’ for allegedly betraying an important military operation in World War I. The mass slaughter of Rwandan Tutsis was the nadir of a long-running civil war that spilled over into neighbouring countries. Despite the oppression, pogroms and other outrages of 1930s Germany - indeed, despite the first bureaucratically directed extermination of the Nazi regime (of the disabled) - it was not until the war that German policy alighted on wiping out the Jews, in areas they conquered (the rationale given was the suppression of partisans, which Jews were assumed to be).

The policy became something quite different with the corpse-factories of Auschwitz, Treblinka and Majdanek. The singularity of the holocaust is striking in this way; if I may be forgiven for a grammatical error, it is more unique than its comparators. In a certain way, this makes it a better blinder for those who do not wish to see contemporary crimes. Because of its horrendous human toll, the holocaust naturally takes place as the pre-eminent example of genocide. To hear the word, therefore, is to picture the holocaust - camps, guards, gas chambers, ovens. That already does not look much like the machete-wielding mobs of Rwanda, never mind the combined-arms onslaught of Israel in Gaza, the shutting off of food, water and medical supplies. It certainly does not if one does not wish to see it: it is right, more or less, for people to describe Gaza under the blockade regime of recent years as an open-air concentration camp.

Never again

That is the state of the backers of Israel, even beyond the interpretation of ‘Never again’. Politicians, confronted by the few journalists who can be bothered to do their jobs with evidence of some new outrage, avoid comment - I haven’t seen it, these allegations are serious, we’ll raise it in our conversations with Israel. Pinned down by a Scottish nationalist in a parliamentary committee to say whether turning off Gaza’s water was a genocidal act, David Cameron refused to answer - “I’m not a lawyer”. (His ‘Sir Humphrey’ was later asked the same question, and gave the same answer initially, before half-conceding the point in a low, incoherent mumble: so whose job is it at the foreign office to understand international law then?)

Between their long records of pompous, ‘Never again’ chest-beating (and their present intention to ensure that, indeed, ‘Never again’ happens again now) our rulers are reduced to silence, kettle logic and nonsense. Unfortunately, however, despite their bad faith and moral self-injuries, they still have the power to bomb, to starve and to scatter entire populations.

  1. theintercept.com/2024/01/28/new-york-times-daily-podcast-camera.↩︎