The terror of the terrorized

, by  Boaventura de Sousa Santos

In Europe, the region of the world in which I find myself, within thirty years (between 1914-1945) there were two world wars which resulted in seventy-eight million deaths and at least one horrible genocide, the Armenian genocide; within eighty years there were two more horrible and well-known genocides, one committed against the Jews by the German Nazis and their allies (Croats, Hungarians, Bulgarians, etc.) between 1941 and 1945 and the other, committed by Israel against the Palestinians, from 1948 to the present day. Is this Western Judeo-Christian civilization? Yes, and it all began much earlier and in an equally horrific way. Obviously, it’s not just this. It’s this and its opposite. One particularly dramatic example of this contradiction is enough. The abolition of slavery took place in France in 1794, during the most radical period of the French Revolution (the Jacobin period between June 1793 and July 1794), i.e. the period of greatest political violence against "enemies of the revolution" and "foreign agents" and of greatest guillotine activity. Robespierre, long considered the greatest moral authority of the Revolution, ended his career as an assassin until he himself was murdered.

Linogravure réalisée par Mélanie, volontaire Echanges et Partenariats

The peoples who were colonized by Europeans have known this story since the 16th century, just as the Jews of Lisbon murdered in the pogrom or Passover slaughter of 1506 knew it. The final solutions of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, the peoples of Algeria under French rule (825. 000 Algerians killed since 1830), the Herero people of present-day Namibia at the hands of German colonizers, the peoples who inhabited the colony of Congo (later Belgian Congo) are just some of the most dramatically barbaric acts of a civilization that based its legitimacy on the ideas of equality, freedom, fraternity, popular sovereignty, human rights, nationalism, secularism, democracy, liberalism, individualism, the rational ordering of the world and life, progress, modernity as the ideal of bourgeois life, hostility to extremism, civilian control of military power.
It is important to point out that these ideas, far from being pure traps to fool the unwary, were genuinely adopted and followed by many and sometimes with results that honor humanity. But it is equally important to bear in mind that they were applied very selectively, that they were interpreted and combined in the most diverse ways and that they coexisted with astonishing cynicism with opposing ideas. The norm and the exception were the rule, as were the distance between theory and practice, and the coexistence of peace and war, law and impunity, equality between peoples and chosen peoples, the perfect victim becoming the perfect murderer. Above all, there was the ever-imminent slide of human coexistence into cannibalistic rage and human sacrifice.

I don’t know if this has always been the case in all civilizations, nor do I intend to draw speculative conclusions about human nature. I only know that since the 16th century, a relatively new way of confronting life with death, rationality with irrational horror, has been established. It would be long to give an explanation. For now, I want to try to put myself in the shoes of those who are currently organizing the most grotesque genocide, the State of Israel. Not to condemn it, because I’ve already done that on several occasions, but to speculate on its future and on the basis of what many Israelis may be thinking.

In its current form, the State of Israel is a historical anachronism. It is a colonial state and one of settlement colonialism, i.e. characterized by territorial occupation of a foreign territory (Palestine) and the replacement and/or elimination of all or part of the native population. The traditional colonialism of the metropolis almost disappeared after the independence of the African colonies in the last century. There are some remnants, for example Morocco’s colonial occupation of the Saharawi people. But Israel is currently the most prominent and by far the most violent case. Now, if history is any use, it serves to warn us that historical colonialism will end one day because that has been the historical trend. This suggests that one day Palestine will be free and independent and today’s terrorists will be tomorrow’s heroes, and there will be streets and statues with their names, and school books will tell the heroic story of those men and women who gave their lives for the liberation of their country. In view of this, the Israelis are panicking.
In a letter dated September 4, 1870, Friedrich Engels wrote about the "Reign of Terror" during the French Revolution (1793-1794) "We think that it is the reign of people who inspire terror; on the contrary, it is the reign of people who are themselves terrorized. Terror consists above all of useless cruelties perpetrated by frightened people in order to reassure themselves." The intention to exterminate the Palestinians has become the raison d’être of the State of Israel. Since they know they will never succeed, they rightly fear that the State of Israel will become the most dangerous state in the world. The Israelis are panicking and panic justifies the most extreme and irrational atrocities. They are even possessed by a genocidal instinct that extends to some Jews outside Israel.

Faced with this imminent danger, I even suspect that an exodus will begin drop by drop from now on. And herein lies the great perversion of Eurocentric Modernity. Zionism was a nationalist movement that did not and does not represent Judaism, - even because today many Zionists are not Jewish, Christian Zionism, with its own religious and political objectives (extreme right) - aimed first and foremost to give the Jews their own territory, where they would feel protected from the cruel persecutions they have suffered throughout history despite (or perhaps because of) being the chosen people. The mythical destiny of the chosen people is to be everyone’s target and to have the legitimacy to attack everyone.

The pain of the Palestinians is the pain of today, the pain of the Israelis is the pain of tomorrow. James Baldwin wrote very eloquently: "I imagine that one of the reasons why people insist on hating is because they sense that, once the hatred has faded, they must confront the pain." That immense pain that runs through the collective body of the Israelis and all the Jews who have adopted the Zionist cause. The genocide that the Israelis are committing in Gaza denotes a paranoid panic in which only the blood of the enemy eases the pain and purifies the soul. The delirium lies in feeling that only by killing those who could save them (a life of peaceful coexistence with neighbors) can they be saved. It’s suicide in the form of murder.
Faced with this, all those like me who have always defended Jewish causes and fought against anti-Semites are in a difficult position of having to imagine proposals that cannot be understood by those in a state of delirious panic. They can, however, be discussed by those who will follow them, since political murderers often suffer the fate they cruelly imposed on others. First of all, everything suggests that the historical cycle of Zionism has come to an end. And as the largest Palestinian civil society coalition, BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), reminds us, the priority task, in addition to putting an end to the current genocide in Gaza, is to fulfill three minimum points recognized by international law: an end to the occupation, an end to apartheid, and the right of return for the Palestinian refugee population. Then, faced with this, there are only two imaginable solutions.

The first, and most desirable, is the creation of an intercultural, plurinational state in Palestine-Israel, in which Israeli Jews - the collective currently privileged by the current apartheid system - and Palestinians live together in peace and with equal and horizontally differentiated rights. There will sometimes be tensions over governance, but no more serious than those that often occur between Flemings and Walloons in Belgium or between whites and blacks in South Africa. It won’t be easy, but it will be much less horrible than the genocide we’ve seen in recent weeks. It follows that, after 75 years of failure, the two-state solution is not only not possible, it has never been a just solution.

The second solution is for Europe (now joined by the US) to atone and make amends, albeit belatedly, for its crime. It’s a matter of fulfilling the duty it didn’t want to fulfill in 1933-1936 of taking in the Jews that Hitler wanted to expel from Germany. In the same way that the descendants of the expelled Moors and any other migrants should be welcomed, the Jews should be welcomed in a way that corresponds to Europe’s atonement for the horrendous crime of having perpetrated or consented to the Holocaust. It would be a double historical justice, both for the Jews and for the Palestinians on whom a still imperial Europe imposed the cost and penalty of the crime it itself had committed. The Portuguese and Spanish would play a special role in this return, since they were among the first to deprive themselves of the talent of the Jews and New Christians who were victims of the Inquisition. It would be a magnificent revolution in Portuguese philosophy and politics to be able to claim Espinosa as the founder of modern Portuguese philosophy and politics and draw the consequences!

Apart from these two solutions, I don’t see any others that would defend this part of the world from a new cycle of fascism. It is disturbing that a minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s current government, Bezabel Smotrich, declared last January that he was a "homophobic fascist". Primo Levi’s words resonate with me: every age has its fascism. Ours is not seen only by those who don’t want to see it.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos