Emilio Jona

Thoughts for a time of infamy

Colomba della pace
Colomba della pace

No, I simply cannot write this article, I’ve been skirting around it ever since  October 7, engulfed and silenced by horror and then by anguish and  desperation, the chaotic gush of atrocious images, of true and false news and  reconstructions, of increasing emotional disarray, and by the complexity of  underlying causes. I jotted events and thoughts in my diary, cut out  newspaper clippings, assembled articles and interviews into files, spoke with  relatives and friends, trying to give order to the facts, to reach a personal  understanding and a response poised between knee-jerk vengefulness and  nearly impossible equanimity amid this eclipse of reason. But everything  seemed insufficient, incapable of conveying or documenting what is perhaps,  after the Holocaust, the most devastating event in the entire history of Israel and its Diaspora. 

20 days have gone by since October 7 had engulfed and silenced me. Today, on  this blank page 20 days later, I’m only able to leave traces of grueling thoughts and agitated monologues, in the guise of phone conversations, with several of my 12 family members living in Tel Aviv, my brother, my sister-in law, their two sons and their wives and offspring, six kids in all, three of whom are in the army. They belong to the Israel which for the past 10 months has  been out on the streets demonstrating every Saturday, persistently and impressively, against the current government’s antidemocratic, racist  decisions. Today, they think that Israel has to retaliate with force and  eliminate Hamas’ military capabilities, and subsequently deal with Netanyahu  and his gang, those who enabled this carnage to happen because of wrong  political choices, guilty omission of knowledge and foresight on behalf of  military and intelligence agencies, which until yesterday were considered the  best in the world.

In response to these choices, and to the air and ground  attacks already underway, I was passionately and vainly arguing for reasons,  or rather reasonableness, with an eye to the future, and unrelated to the  comprehensible yet questionable law of retaliation.  

Of course Hamas is a terrorist organization, I told them, its charter (1988, art.  7 and 11, easy to find online, then in 2017 softened in words but not in deeds) advocates the killing of all Jews and the destruction of Israel, so you say you’ll  eliminate it with war but you’ve got three kids per family and they’ve got nine,  they’ll soon be tripled in hate, and after losing Gaza they’ll have centers and  militants throughout Palestine and in many Arab countries, plus unlimited  arms and funds. In the meantime, they’re thriving inside Gaza’s 400 km of  tunnels while above ground the overcrowded population is in the throes of theocratic dictatorship, and destitution under bombs being dropped by Israel,  which has no way of disentangling military targets from civilian homes. 

At the same time, Israel is experiencing the most dramatic days in its history  since 1948: its cities and fields are being struck from air and land, and its  border areas have been evacuated. It has to reckon on one side with Sunni  Hamas militants ready to kill indiscriminately and die zealously, and on the  northern border with Shiite Hezbollah who have similar goals and ideology, as  well as two million Palestinians simmering within Israel, unhappy untrusted second-class citizens, and three million inhabitants in Judea and Samaria who  hate you, overwhelmed by military occupation, driven out of their lands,  attacked and killed by settlers and fanatical Haredim. To add to the bleakness,  there is a risk of civil war between two irreconcilable value-systems, a  religious racist right-wing currently in power, pitted against a weak, fragmented democratic center and left, while across the globe antisemitism is  on the rise. 

Today’s inhuman death toll has already blurred the memory of the vicious  slaughtering of elderly women and children, the rapes, torture and hostage taking on October 7, by now superseded by daily Israeli bombings that aim to  destroy Hamas, and yet also result in thousands of dead and wounded among the Palestinian population. This inhumanity pervades the media worldwide,  with Arab squares from Islamabad to Istanbul and Algiers teeming with  hundreds of thousands of protesters, infuriated at Israel on the basis of fake  news being taken for truth, of an Israeli bomb that allegedly hit a Gaza  hospital, leaving hundreds killed.  

Many, including myself, believe Israel has fallen into the devil’s trap set by  Hamas, which had planned and intended exactly what Israel would do. Hamas  wanted the thousands of innocent Palestinian deaths, and it wanted these  deaths to inevitably double or triple the number of Israeli deaths. Hamas  wanted Israel to strike the hospitals, mosques, and schools above its huge  network of tunnels filled with weapons and ammunition, so that the world  would be outraged and sympathize with its motives. Hamas wanted to come  across as the sole credible representative of Palestinians’ rights to a sovereign  state in their own territories, killing and expelling every Jew. The October 7  pogrom has been said to contain sparks of the Holocaust. What remains  undeniable, explicitly so in the Hamas Charter, is the ideological thrust of a widely disseminated and esteemed text in the Arab world, The Protocols of the  Elders of Zion, which has been repeatedly exposed as a fraudulent work of  early 20th-century antisemitic propaganda, and notorious livre de chevet of the  Nazis.

I tell my family-members that the Palestinians’ undeniable responsibility in  sabotaging any prospect of peace via guerrilla warfare and terrorism has been  mirrored by Israel’s responsibility, especially throughout Netanyahu’s tenure.  An era marked by disregard of the Oslo commitments, and by continued  suffering of the Israeli Palestinians due to socioeconomic inequality, under the  apparent enjoyment of civil and political rights, yet maintaining in the West  Bank Areas A and B under limited Palestinian sovereignty, and the much  wider Area C under military occupation. In addition, there has been a  disproportionate surge of illegal settlements and attacks by fanatical,  fundamental, racist settlers (currently numbering over 700,000) entailing  land confiscations, home demolitions, and a recent escalation of settlers killing  Palestinian civilians and burning their homes, actions I can describe as  nothing other than small pogroms. The doomed senseless policy of past  governments was to pursue a millennia-old dream by incorporating Judea and  Samaria into an ethnically Jewish state, thus dismantling any attempt to create  two democratic sovereign states, under the illusion that the Palestinian  problem could be bypassed by simply discarding or ignoring it, and instead  pursuing the Abraham Accords, which posit economic-based normalization  with theocratic illiberal Arab states. That this has all been a colossal mistake  and a component of the present situation, is by now obvious. 

It is significant to note that the two religious fundamentalist movements  pitted against each other do not represent the reality and wishes of the  majority of both nations, if one can rely on present-day polls which rate  Netanyahu’s popularity at 19% and conjecture that Hamas would receive only  29% of Gaza’s votes (the last elections were back in 2006). 

Meanwhile, although no solutions are being proposed to resolve the conflict at  its root , all over the world people are protesting and calling for Israel to stop  attacking Gaza and accept a humanitarian truce, leaving Hamas with its war  apparatus intact, ready to plan and carry out more slaughters, as if Israel were single-handedly responsible for the deaths of so many innocent civilians. The  aporias don’t stop here, for even if Israel keeps attacking and succeeds in  destroying Hamas in Gaza, the latter would resurge elsewhere, more  numerous and aggressive than before, among the hundreds of millions of  Muslims in the Middle East and around the world. The devastating outcome  would be a spiral of increasing revenge and universal antisemitism,  threatening the end of Israel and its Diaspora.

The fact remains that Israel, in fighting its enemy, has killed albeit unintentionally thousands of innocent  people, who were used by Hamas as human shields as well as due to Gaza’s  layout and overpopulation, whereas Hamas deliberately killed entire families on a day of rest and joy, striking border kibbutzim of longstanding liberal socialist tradition. Hamas raped and kidnapped hundreds of civilians, and  massacred hundreds of youth at a music festival, pacifists and non-pacifists alike, foreigners and Israelis of different ethnic backgrounds, but nevertheless,  in all Muslim countries and in massive demonstrations all over the world, it is  Israel and not Hamas who is being held solely and fully accountable for the Palestinian deaths, when in fact Hamas had foreseen and planned them, as  confirmed by the statements made by Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh on October  26 on the Al-Mayadeen TV channel, “I have said this before and I say it time  again: the blood of the women, children and elderly… I am not saying this  blood is calling for your help: I am saying that we are the ones who need  this blood, so it awakens within us the revolutionary spirit, so it awakens  with us resolve, so it awakens within us the spirit of challenge, and pushes us  to move forward.” 

Now is precisely the time that Israel, in the darkest days of its history, should muster the courage and utopian insight to exit this infernal deadly  mechanism, and dismantle the paradigms underlying its recent behaviour,  which has been short-sighted and willfully blind regarding the Palestinian  question. Now is the time for Israel to break free, on its own and with an  apparently senseless action, from the trap set by Hamas, and from the  friend/enemy eye-for-an-eye mindset, which has amounted to a schizoparanoid, doomed and grief-wracked position for everyone involved, and instead garner all of its intelligence, its millennial cultural heritage, the  immense force of its depressions and misfortunes, by doing and proposing  something human, unexpected, solemn, resounding, unimaginable, utopically  messianic, thereby disorienting and defeating or dividing Hamas with the force of a paradoxical gesture, seemingly out-of-time and out-of-place, such as  by dropping thousands of conspicuous multi-coloured parachutes onto Gaza instead of bombs, bearing crates of food, water and medicine, and then  offering to care for wounded Palestinians in its hospitals, to save the lives of  simple Hamas militants who renounce war, punishing only their leaders for  the crimes, reviving the two-state solution and formulating a proposal for  reconciliation between all willing Palestinians and Israelis who are utterly tired of conflicts and war. I realized, while I was passionately pitching this  proposal to my brother and a dear nephew who holds an important public  office, how unreal and impracticable it was, alongside its radical disorienting  realistic reasonableness. They answered me with silence and sadness. And  yet, according to an ancient Jewish teaching, it is perhaps just when  catastrophe looms that the Messiah may appear. 

This text is the abridged and translated version of the article that appeared in the Italian journal Ha-Keillah in November 2023. Despite the time passed, it has not lost its relevancy, even if its utopian rationalism has increased. I thank Natalie Lithwick for her rigorous and attentive translation.

About the Author
Emilio Jona was born to an ancient family of the Jewish Piemontese Borghesia, the kind so well described by Primo Levi. He underwent seven years of racial persecution and lost several relatives during the Holocaust. In addition to his work in the legal profession, he has carried out an intense cultural activity, publishing numerous books and essays on social-political culture in Italy, as well as novels, short stories, plays, opera libretti, and poetry. A collection of his essays on Jewish culture, antisemitism, the Holocaust, the State of Israel, has recently been published in a volume entitled "Essere Altrove: scritti sull'ebraismo", published by Neri Pozza 2022.
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