Global Currents article

Eichmann Is Still in Jerusalem


“In the summer of 2014, the police put up a checkpoint at the entrance to the [Bab al-Majles al-Islami] neighborhood. Ever since, all residents have been suffering from severe movement restrictions that interfere with their lives and harm their livelihoods.” Yoav Gross/B’Tselem February 2016, CC 4.0 International.
On May 21, 2021 Hamas and the Israeli government agreed to a delicate ceasefire following Israel’s most recent assault on Gaza, leaving the narrow Strip, which has been under continuous siege for 15 years, to deal with the aftermath of death and destruction. Shortly after the ceasefire went into effect, U.S. officials reverted to framing the situation in Gaza as a “humanitarian” crisis rather than as a site of “nationalist” or anti-colonial struggle. However, this ghettoization of Gaza and its extrapolation from broader Palestinian struggles reinforces a fragmentary colonial logic. This exposes the manifold ways in which European colonial logics and legacies of blood purity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide still underpin the anatomy of Israeli Jewish systematic Palestinian displacement and fragmentation as well as the ever consolidation of the annexationist Jewish supremacist apartheid regime.

Now, in the wake of the assault on Gaza and unrest in Israel, Israel’s Minister of Internal Security and the Police Commissioner Major General have carried out massive arrests as a part of “Operation Law and Order.” The Operation targets Palestinian-Israelis who resisted violence instigated by Jewish vigilante mobs inside the 1948 lines and who expressed solidarity with other Palestinian communities, thereby resisting their own sequestering from the anticolonial Palestinian struggle. The importation of vigilante settler violence from the West Bank, carried out with impunity on Palestinian citizens of Israel in the so-called “mixed cities” (binational cities that are only “mixed” because of the Nakba or the Catastrophe of 1948), exposed that the citizenship status of Palestinian-Israelis is not worth the paper it is written on. This is hardly a surprise considering that, in 2018, the Jewish Nation-State Law legally enshrined what was already the norm. It did so by resolving the internal contradictions between Israel’s identity as both “Jewish” and “democratic” in favor of ethnocracy and as such the Israeli regime no longer seeks to conceal its disregard of democratic norms and international law. This ethnocratic mode denotes convergences between territorial maximalist settler theology and ultranationalist racist ideologies such as the Kahanism of the Religious Zionist Party. The latter has gained six mandates in the recent election cycle, due to Benjamin Netanyahu’s maneuvering but is just one explicit expression of a broader normalization of Jewish supremacist outlooks. In collusion with the state and underwritten by settlers’ organizations, Kahanists are inciting and provoking violence in binational cities and in occupied East Jerusalem. Kahanism is fixated on connecting ideas of Jewish blood purity to ethnoreligious land hegemony, and it seeks to enact those ideas by implementing policies that Judaize space within Israel. This blood- and land-centric Judaism is rooted in the experience of Jewish modernity in Europe.

In this instance, it is worth recalling the German Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt’s analysis of the public trial of Adolf Eichmann, the executioner of the “Final Solution” against the Jews during World War II. Herself a stateless refugee during the war, she had two insights that can aid in analyzing this moment. First, Eichmann was not an evil mastermind, but rather an obedient bureaucrat totally immersed in an antisemitic ideology concerned with de-Judaizing Europe. To this degree, his evil actions were banal. Second, the Nazi machinery intent on dividing people marked for elimination according to an arbitrary scale of valuation enabled the ghettoization and eventual liquidation process implemented in the Nazi death factories. Not only that, the Nazi regime employed Jews in their own execution, whether through populating lists for the next shipments out of the ghettos or loading bodies into the ovens. In the end, while the Nazis stratified Jews into different categories, it did not really matter what your status was; all Jews were affected by the logic of genocide.

The dispossession of the Palestinian residents from Sheikh Jarrah and the violation of al-Aqsa by Israeli police that triggered the escalation into rocket exchanges between Hamas and Israel exposed how the eliminative specter of Eichmann, in an inverse, is haunting Jerusalem and Palestinian lives. A bureaucratic permit regime that permeates the entire space constitutes a fragmentation mechanism not unlike the Nazi’s taxonomy of different Jews. It is indeed an “ongoing Nakba” or a Nakba by other means, which occasionally explodes into massive aerial assaults and other military operations. The Nakba, a project of ethnic cleansing, was an event in time that involved the massive dispossession and displacement of Palestinians. Yet the Nakba is also ongoing through multiple mechanisms, including the bureaucracy of dispossession and of fragmentation. Indeed, Israeli government employees, police, and construction workers routinely carry out legal orders to destroy Palestinian homes inside and outside the 1948 borders and to dispossess Palestinian citizens of Israel to make room for Jews. And using an arbitrary scale of valuation, Israel has assigned different statuses and identification cards to Palestinians. In the end, fragmentation policies enable the trajectory of Judaification of the land through the construction and maintenance of “reservations” or Bantustans for Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority, itself a series of mostly non-contiguous Palestinian islands interrupted by checkpoints and other military barriers, is deeply discredited as a “subcontractor” of the occupation, exemplifying Arendt’s analysis of fragmentation and cooptation of the victims themselves in their erasure.

The truth is that it does not really matter what identity card status Palestinians hold. The recent escalation exposed the links between Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem, Gaza, and Israel “proper” and clarified how all Palestinians are subject to the same logic of apartheid. That Israel is an apartheid state was recently determined by the evidence-based reports of the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem as well as by Human Rights Watch. They show that the Israeli state is worthy of this label because Jewish supremacy underpins the entire geopolitical space from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea and informs the ever-aggressive Judaizing policies that have expanded from the West Bank to the hearts of “mixed cities.” Some analysts call this the Hebronization of Israel, referring especially to al-Shuhada Street in the Palestinian city of Hebron, in which it is now only permissible for Jews to live. Over decades, Israeli government policies fragmented Palestinians, dividing them into an intricate pyramid of categories of identification. The current moment revealed with clarity the anatomy of this colonial logic. Disrupting this logic, we saw on May 18th a general strike across all of Mandatory Palestine, the first since 1936.

What the grassroots organizing in Sheikh Jarrah continues to evoke, in the aftermath of the 2021 assault on Gaza, is how a dispossession from this neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem constitutes a collective Palestinian experience of an ongoing Nakba, regardless of the illusions of autonomy created by the Oslo Accords and the discourse of a (Jewish) democracy within the 1948 lines. The Nakba is ongoing and is manifest in the expansion of the Judaization policies underwritten by settler organizations. The residents of Sheikh Jarrah showed the world the banality of evil operating in every day instances of bureaucratic decision-making, framed by all-encompassing Jewish supremacist ideology. “Operation Law and Order” offers an official show of force that intends to terrorize Palestinian-Israelis back into their apparent domesticity, back into their ghetto, fragmented from other Palestinian experiences in the West Bank and Gaza. It is as if Eichmann’s own tactics and exclusionary and eliminative ideology are alive and well, only now being used against Palestinians. The purist logics of European Christian modernity live on in the land- and blood-centric Jewish supremacist regime which, along with its Palestinian victims, has also imprisoned Judaism and Jews in a militaristic ghetto.

Atalia Omer
 Atalia Omer is Professor of Religion, Conflict, and Peace Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and at the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame in the United States. She earned her Ph.D. in Religion, Ethics, and Politics (2008) from the Committee on the Study of Religion at Harvard University. Her research focuses on Israel/Palestine; religion, violence, and peacebuilding; as well as theories and methods in the study of religion. Omer was awarded an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship in 2017, resulting in Decolonizing Religion and Peacebuilding (Oxford University Press, 2023). Among other publications, Omer is the author of When Peace is Not Enough: How the Israeli Peace Camp Thinks about Religion, Nationalism, and Justice (University of Chicago Press, 2015) and Days of Awe: Reimagining Jewishness in Solidarity with Palestinians (University of Chicago Press, 2019). She is also a co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding (Oxford University Press, 2015). 

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