There are some years when Gramsci’s adage about pessimism of the mind and optimism of the will seems more appropriate than others, and 2014 was a year filled with some pretty awful events, whether it was kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria or a summer in which more migrants drowned in the Mediterranean than ever. In Ukraine the geopolitical test of strength between Russia and NATO triggered a vicious new conflict with the potential to turn into something even bigger and nastier. In Syria there is no end in sight to a war that clearly cannot be won by anyone, but which none of the protagonists or their various backers seem to have serious interest in bringing to an end.
2014 was also a year in which we saw the rise of Isis in Syria and Iraq – a stunningly brutal and savage organization whose startling assault on a corrupt and disintegrating Iraqi state was clearly due as much to the weaknesses of its opponents as it was to its own strengths. These successes were nevertheless used as a pretext for yet another of the West’s strategically incoherent ‘humanitarian’ wars, even as an older intervention in Afghanistan came to an utterly ignominious end, despite the attempts by both the American and British governments to present failure as victory.
When I look back on the mayhem of the last 12 months however, the single most haunting and revolting event for me remains Israel’s crazed assault on the Gaza Strip. I know that more people were killed in other conflicts, most notably in Syria and Iraq, but Operation Protective Edge was so shockingly gratuitous and one-sided, so strategically and morally senseless and so steeped in the most grotesque hypocrisy on the part of Israel and the ‘international community’ which allowed it to take place, that it should never be forgotten, even by the standards of our ongoing age of cruelty.
It was a war that the Netanyahu government wanted to happen, and which it deliberately concocted through a cynical campaign of lies, deceit and manipulation because it wanted to act tough and give the Palestinians a kicking. It was a war which in the end achieved nothing at all except to inflict even more punishment and devastation on a population that has already been pushed to the absolute limit of its resources.
Sure, Hamas and the other armed groups made the Israeli army pay a high price in soldiers when it actually dared enter Gaza, but there was no serious military equivalence in a campaign that was directed against the whole of Gazan society. 2, 145 people killed in seven weeks; 60,000 homes destroyed and more than 100,000 people made homeless; whole neighborhoods annihilated in an assault in 20,000 tonnes of explosives were fired into one of the most densely-populated regions on earth – all this was carried out in plain sight, in full view of the international media and the Israelis spectators who sat in deck chairs and watched/enjoyed the spectacle.
It was a moral disgrace, which no amount of Israeli ranting about ‘terrorism’ and crocodile tears and handwringing by Israel’s powerful supporters can conceal, and it is probably fitting that the year should come to an end with Israel and the United States colluding in the UN Security Council to overturn yet another Palestinian attempt to bring the Israeli occupation to an end through diplomatic means.
In the eyes of the ‘international community’, it seems, there is nothing that the Palestinians can do to ensure even their most minimal rights, and nothing that Israel cannot do to ensure that they never get them.
The huge outpouring of solidarity with Gaza from so many countries shows that many people feel very differently to their governments. And when I look back on 2014, I will remember that too, because without it the Palestinians really would be on their own these days.
And then there would be no chance that a people for whom I feel a great deal of admiration and affection will ever find a place on earth where they will no longer be occupied, and where they will no longer have to live under the bombs again.