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Zola In Gaza

January 13, 2009

By coincidence, this morning – no it is already yesterday morning, I was talking in a class (Transitions From Communism) about Emile Zola’s famous serious of articles entitled `J’Accuse’ (I accuse). In them, the 19th Century French novelist accuses the French government of the time of falsely blaming one of its Jewish officers – Alfred Dreyfus (according to my mother and aunt a distant relative of our family) of passing military secrets to the Germans and as a result causing the dramatic French defeat by Germany in the Franco Prussian War of 1870.

The thread I was trying to develop entailed explaining the uprising in Paris – known as `The Paris Commune’ `one brief shining moment’ in the history of France in which the working class of that great city along with its allies rose up, seized power and ran the place about as well and as democratically as it had been run both before and since. For its brief experiment economic and social equality – the Commune was crushed by the combined efforts of the defeated French Army greatly helped by its German conquerors. Thousands were killed, many of them lined up against a stone wall at Pere LaChaise Cemetery in the east part of the city, an extraordinary place, where many famous people – from Jimmy Hendrix to Richard Write to Chopin are buried. Nancy and I visited to spot a few years back and spent a few moments looking at the graves of the `communards’ and at the wall where 135 year old bullet holes remain.

I was steering the lecture towards how carefully Lenin, the Russian Revolutionary and founder of Russian Communism, had studied the Commune experience, that the Commune’s failure played large in Lenin’s vision of the structure and goals of the Russian Communist movement, when a student, knocking me off track (again) asked a question about Dreyfus: Didn’t that case have something to do with the birth of Zionism? And indeed it did. I spent a moment talking about how Theodore Herzl, the Austrian Jewish journalist, had covered the trial for the Vienna based newspaper he worked for. Herzl saw in Dreyfus a certain reflection of himself, a Jewish European trying to assimilate to the mainstream of European life, cut off at the knees in a contrived case. French anti-semitism, Herzl concluded had never died, lay lurking with the bowels of French society (still does at certain levels) and this was more or less the case for the rest of Europe. Apparently the case played large in Herzl’s reasoning that Jews would never really be assimilated to European social and political life. Thus began his search for a Jewish homeland. Other Jews drew other conclusions from the Dreyfus case, indeed the opposite conclusion, that Jews could be assimilated and that anti-semitism could be successfully combatted. Zola (and others) efforts did result in publicizing the case, and Dreyfus in prison exile in French Guyana in S. America was freed as a result. Then I returned to the main theme I was trying to address in the lecture – the social and historical conditions in which Russian Communism took hold.

But I was tempted to continue, to go on to make some comment, some link between these historical events, and the current carnage Israel is committing against Gaza, and one could feel – or I could imagine that I could feel the student interest and hope that I would make such a link. I didn’t. I try to complete a theme within the lecture time, and while I don’t mind wandering a bit, usually come back to the main theme. But my mind wandered most of the day between what the French did to Dreyfus to the war crimes the Israelis are committing in Gaza and I toyed with the eye of developing this theme in some way. Then I noticed this piece by a history professor at the University of North Carolina who made the connection very nicely, better than I could do really, accusing the US Congress for its cowardly resolution in support of the Israeli crazed assault on Gaza, so I thank her for saving me the time and trouble of doing likewise.

The text begins here…for the whole text click at the end of the excerp

Sarah Shields writes in a guest op-ed for IC:

I accuse you, the US Congress, of having voted for US House Resolution 34 by an overwhelming margin, 390-5. In the name of protecting Israel’s security, this Resolution instead protects Israel’s “right” to hold a whole population accountable for the violations of a few. By condoning Israel’s behavior over the past two weeks as self-defense, HR 34 condemns one and a half million Gazans to capital punishment without trial for crimes they have not committed. By publicly acknowledging and approving Israel’s behavior, you now share responsibility for the outcomes.

I accuse you of having the blood of hundreds of innocent children on your hands. I accuse you of the death of Shahd Abu Halemeh, an infant of 18 months, whose corpse was found badly burned in the wreckage of Gaza. I accuse you of the deaths of the four Salha children, Rola (1), Baha (4), Rana (12), and Dyia (14), who died when the Israelis dropped a missile on their house. I accuse you of the deaths of those killed while seeking refuge from constant bombardment, people who sought protection at a school run by the United Nations. Despite the clear UN markings and flags, Israelis attacked the sanctuary, killing 30 and wounding 50. And I hold you responsible for the lives of the 252 other children killed in the first sixteen days of Israel’s attack on Gaza, and the deaths of those who will be killed as a result of your encouragement. (for the entire text click here)

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