Neck Deep in the Big Muddy

Wednesday, January 31st, 2024

By Robert C. Koehler

Read the news, hup, two, three, four!

“Top United States officials prodded Israel on Monday to do more to protect civilians in the Gaza Strip . . .”

Thus began a recent, and oh so typical, piece of war reportage. It was purveyed by the New York Times but it’s something you find in almost any mainstream source. The essence of the news is that the U.S. will continue to support Israel’s right to “defend itself” by bombing the crap out of Gaza and will keep feeding it the military equipment necessary to do so, but it sternly urges Israel to try not to kill too many babies or other civilians. Get it? War must be — and is, when we wage it — a moral undertaking.

And Yoav Gallant, Israeli defense minister — the guy who once declared that Palestinians are “human animals” — assured the world: “Unlike our enemies, we are defending our values, and we operate according to international law. The IDF is operating to minimize the harm to civilian populations.”

Yeah, this is the news! Context-free, reality-free. War is difficult, but war is necessary. When I slog through the verbiage, I can’t help but hear Pete Seeger singing: ‘We’re waist deep — we’re neck deep — in the Big Muddy, and the big fool says to push on.”

Missing from this simplistic, “objective” reportage is any awareness that you cannot kill your way to peace, let alone that humanity is in mortal danger of destroying itself unless we learn to evolve — unless we learn what we already know (except at the highest levels of power). Much of this knowledge is remarkably obvious, indeed, so obvious you’d think the New York Times and other such news outlets would be aware of it and work it into the context of their war reportage.

For instance: “Israel can never have security until Palestinians have security.”

Such a clear, basic truth is almost never part of the mainstream news . . . the Big Muddy. The words are those of Daniel Levy, former Israeli peace negotiator in the governments of Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Rabin, and current president of the U.S. Middle East Project, in an Al-Jazeera interview.

Levy also said: “I hope one day Palestinians, of course, but also Jewish Israelis experience the idea of how liberating it can be to no longer be an oppressor — because when you are oppressing people you know in the back of your mind that you are generating a desire for retribution.”

The point here is not that there’s a simple, quick-and-easy path to peace in any global conflict, but rather that there are obvious, horrific ways to prolong — eternalize — a conflict. In our Big Muddy reportage, the best thing that can happen in a conflict is that it gets “resolved,” sort of, and the violence temporarily stops. You know, a ceasefire is called. What could be better than a ceasefire? This would give surviving Gaza residents a chance to dig corpses out of the rubble in peace. What more could they ask?

Oh God. “Resolving” a conflict generally leaves the opposing sides separate from one another and still in possession of their grievances, or still enduring the hell that they are forced to live in. I would say that creating real peace is a never-ending journey, but can only happen when conflicts aren’t so much resolved as transcended. Another word for this is evolution.

What would that mean with regard to Israel and its ongoing — insane — assault on Palestine? The siege has so far resulted in over 26,000 deaths in Gaza and over 64,000 people injured, not to mention virtually everyone there suffering from hunger, lacking access to clean water, vulnerable to disease. This is madness. But in the context of mainstream reportage, this is nothing more than Israel defending itself — you know, against Hamas, a terrorist organization. Legitimate governments wage war, according to the Big Muddy. Only fringe organizations commit terrorism. Oh, by the way, committing genocide is a war crime, so you shouldn’t do it.

What I’m trying to say here is that war is nothing, nothing, nothing but terrorism and has to be stopped before any sane look at what to do next can even begin. In regard to Israel and Palestine, what might that mean? Certainly it means an end to Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank — and probably a one-state solution in which everyone has fully equal rights, which requires the creation of a society that is trans-Zionist.

As an American, I can’t think about this without deeply, painfully reflecting on my own country’s genocidal actions against the land’s original occupants and the kidnapping and enslavement of Africans. Our painfully slow process of political and social evolution is hardly finished, but we have begun creating a trans-racist society — yes, much to the distress of racist true believers. But there have been changes, which in an earlier period were probably unimaginable.

My point is not to dwell solely on the wrongs of this history, but to acknowledge that history evolves, that social structures change. While war and other forms of violence may be part of the change, lasting solutions evolve nonviolently.

I return to the words of Daniel Levy, who acknowledges, speaking of the war on Palestine: “Things look incredibly bleak.

“I don’t want to spread false optimism,” he goes on, “but perhaps this disruptive moment, where everything has been turned on its head, will cause people to stare into the abyss. Israel has proved how insecure it is when it continues down this path. The hope is that as we stare into the abyss, we can turn this around. That’s not going to happen quickly.”

But it can happen. The future is ours to create, even if we’re neck deep in the Big Muddy.