Eyeless in Gaza

Six kinds of blindness prevalent in modern Israel, comprising denial of Palestinians’ existence, lack of vision of policy consequences, overconfidence in surveillance technology, inability to differentiate the enemy in war, blind rage, and shortsightedness.

By W.J.T. Mitchell

Lovis Corinth – Der geblendete Simson – Google Art Project – Public Domain

Watching the debacle of the war between Israel and Hamas, I was suddenly reminded of a memorable phrase from John Milton’s dramatic poem, Samson Agonistes:

Promise was that I
Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver;
Ask for this great Deliverer now, and find him
Eyeless in Gaza at the Mill with slaves,
Himself in bonds under Philistian yoke;

Samson was the war machine of ancient Israel, a mighty warrior invulnerable to attack, and capable of destroying Israel’s enemies armed only with the jawbone of an ass.  But Samson became complacent:

I walk’d about admir’d of all and dreaded
On hostile ground, none daring my affront.
Then swoll’n with pride into the snare I fell.

The snare, of course, is Samson’s love affair with a Philistine woman named Delilah, who cuts his hair (the secret of his strength), whence he is blinded, and enslaved by the Philistines as a mill worker.

What could this possibly have to do with Israel’s current invasion of Gaza?  Could it be that Israel has lost its commitment to pure Jewish ethno-nationalism?  Twenty percent of its citizens are Palestinians, and many of its Jewish citizens are quite secular.  Or it is simply the arrogant confidence in its military superiority that lulled it into dropping its guard at the Gaza border, allowing Hamas militias to swarm into Israel, murder 1400 Israelis and take over 200 others hostage?

I don’t wish to press the analogy any further, except to dwell on the common theme of blindness that links ancient and modern Israel.  The question is, how many kinds of blindness, with what sorts of effects?  Here is my inventory of the six types of blindness, or refusals to see coupled with refusals to hear:

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1. Blindness to the existence of the Palestinians; deafness to their claims. On my many visits to Israel/Palestine, it has struck me how little Israelis know about the Palestinians who live among them or under their military occupation in Gaza and the West Bank.  When one asks about “those people,” roughly a quarter of the population of Greater Israel, a frequent response is that they do not see them, and they wish they would just be quiet and leave us alone.  We just want peace.  Why do they have to make trouble?

2. Blindness to their occlusion of the consequences of their policies on the Palestinians. Palestinian scholar Saree Makdisi has documented the way Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians constitute a kind of “double blinding,” in two stages: first the erasure of Palestinian towns and villages and the expulsion of their inhabitants; second the erasure of the traces of erasure, and their replacement by forms of reassuring camouflage.  The most conspicuous example of this practice has been the “Trees for Israel” program, which conceals the ruins of destroyed Palestinian villages with the veil of “ecological improvement.”  The myth of “a land without people for a people without land” is the verbal counterpoint to this visual occlusion. Some Israeli officials, decrying the way that Hamas mingles with the civilian population of Gaza, using them as human shields, are now portraying the unfortunate murder of over 8,000 Gazans by Israeli violence as “collateral damage” in a just war.  The next step has been to portray the mass murder of Gazans as a war of liberation from the rule of Hamas.  Perhaps to be followed by a parade through Gaza City?

3. Blindness about the failure of their own surveillance technologies. Israel’s confidence in its invulnerability to attack from Gaza was based in its extensive network of cameras along the security fences and watchtowers that surround Gaza’s border with Israel. Israel’s state of the art intelligence services had supposedly created a system of surveillance so complete that there could be no possibility of a surprise attack.  Hamas “put out the eyes” of this system in the early hours of October 7, using drones and snipers to destroy all the cameras simultaneously, while the supposedly impregnable wall was breached on scores of places with bulldozers.  The spies who were supposed to see everything failed completely, asleep at the monitors.

4. Blindness constituted by the waging of war on an invisible enemy. Hamas is an underground army, operating from hundreds of miles of tunnels under a densely populated urban landscape.  It only emerges to launch rockets or (rarely) sorties into Israel.  Hamas fighters do not wear uniforms to distinguish themselves from the civilian population.  When Israel bombs an apartment building, hundreds of young men gather to dig out the victims.  Are any of those young men Hamas fighters?  Impossible to tell.  As in any asymmetrical war between a regular, uniformed army and guerilla fighters merged with a population, the soldiers without uniforms are denounced as terrorists for refusing to obey the laws of war.  Israel admits that it is “difficult” to distinguish Hamas fighters from civilians.  A better word would be

5. Blindness of rage and the lust for revenge. Perhaps the most important blindness in Israel’s current attack on Gaza is the understandable rage that was provoked by the Hamas atrocities on October 7.  Hamas deliberately staged scenes of mutilation, rape, and child-murder designed to appall anyone who saw or even heard them described.  Israel’s leader, his eyes and ears already shut to the ominous threats from Gaza, promptly became the blind leader of a blind population motivated by instant revenge.  The possibility of negotiating for the release of hostages was consigned to the back burner, to be replaced by fantasies of retribution.  Gaza, its over two million people already under siege for the last seventeen years, its border controlled by Israel, is subjected to collective punishment (a war crime), mass expulsions of people who are already refugees with no place to go (a war crime), and mass deprivation of the basic necessities of human life (a war crime).  The bombing and destruction of entire urban neighborhoods and next, the house-to-house fighting that will take numerous Israeli and Palestinian lives, make it clear that the vengeful policy of “an eye for an eye” leaves everyone blinded.

6. The refusal of foresight. Finally, there is blindness involved in the refusal to foresee the consequences of one’s own actions.  Even the U.S., a thoroughly complicit partner in Israel’s apartheid policies against the Palestinians under its control, tried to suggest gently that Israel think carefully about what it would do next, after it had destroyed Hamas “once and for all.”  Would it try to set up a replacement government for the devastated millions of survivors?  Would it try to recruit the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank?  Would it pay reparations and try to rebuild the cities it has destroyed?  Or would it wash its hands of the entire disaster, rebuild its security walls, reconnect its surveillance cameras, and ask to be left alone?  And what if its actions produced the foreseeable result of setting off a wider war that would bring Hezbollah and other military organizations into the battle?  Israel’s blind leader of the blind tells his followers that it is too early to ponder these questions.  Vengeance comes first; then we will see what follows.

Although I cannot help but be horrified by the actions of Hamas on October 7, I am struck by how perfectly it diagnosed the weaknesses of its enemy.  They capitalized on its blind arrogance, and then put out its eyes with a spectacle of violence designed to produce blind rage.  This leads us to ask how things then turned out for Samson.  The answer is: suicide.  Samson, taken to the Temple of Dagon for a spectacle of humiliation, pulls down the temple, killing himself and the triumphant Philistines. I am reminded here of a visit some thirty years ago to the ancient fortress of Masada overlooking the Dead Sea. The guide informed us that Masada is an allegory of Fortress Israel in its refusal to surrender to the Romans, insisting instead on collective suicide rather than defeat.  The modern meaning, the guide assured us, is embodied in Israel’s nuclear arsenal, which guarantees that if Israel faces defeat, it will not merely commit suicide, but take the rest of the world along with it.  Perhaps it is time for Israel to open its eyes and its ears.

W. J. T. Mitchell is Professor of English and Art History at the University of Chicago and Senior Editor of Critical Inquiry. He is the author of numerous books on media, culture, and politics.

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Views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Information Clearing House.






17 responses to “Eyeless in Gaza”

  1. scrdmgl Avatar

    This time the list of enemies of the Zionist Entity is long and powerful, so chances are that they will be erased from the face of the earth. As for those ignorant or accomplices after the fact, that wish and demand a truce, agreement or peace accord, the answer to them is, shut the frick up and allow nature to take its course. 75 years of death, abuse and torture is more than enough.
    If these monsters wish to resort to the ‘Samson Option’ as they have threatened to do on numerous occasions so be it, it’s worth it, as good old Madeleine Albright put it.

    1. scrdmgl Avatar

      One more thing to put an end to the story. Additionally, for those foolish or bad intentioned souls that try to convince us that Netanyahu is the problem, and that if he leaves office the problems of the world regarding Zionism are over, who can be so stupid to believe such nonsense? Please tell me.

      1. Jack Lomax Avatar
        Jack Lomax

        If the criminal psychopath who is presently ruling Zionist Israel was forced out of office and forced to face the Israeli courts of justice (such as they are) it would be a small but significant step for Israel away from total barbarity. If that were to be followed by the displacement (and im many cases criminal trials) of the ‘settlers’ it would be another significant step . If that was followed by the disarming of the criminal country just leaving it enough to defend itself . Finally a return to the 1967 borders with a long term plan to disperse the innocent Jews to countries willing to take them with those willing to live with and amongst the Palestinians left. Of course. by this time the United States would have broken into four separate ineffectual countries and been forced (along with all the other countries of the world) to disable and then destroy its nuclear weapons and all other WMDs. If this happens in time for global energy to be diverted to saving the future from catastrophic climate change the the future would be long for homo sapiens and all the other animals. If not not.

        1. scrdmgl Avatar

          Canada my own government defines Hamas as a ‘terrorist’ group and considers the Zionist Entity a victim in the present confrontation. Additionally is an unconditional ally and vassal of America, a country once called by MLK from Atlanta, Georgia: ‘The biggest purveyor of violence in the world, my own country the United States of America’. The US is the country that supports Israel over and above its own, which in fact is an act of treason. Still, if we get to 2024 in one piece, the incoming US Fuhrer aka Donald Trump, figures that supporting Israel will make America great again.
          Something is not right somewhere I say.

    2. Jack Lomax Avatar
      Jack Lomax

      To think that the most powerful organization in the world will wither away is wishful thinking indeed. It will lose its power when global capitalism does and that won’t be until the catastrophic climate change caused by the golden eggs of capitalism -fossil fuels- kills it. But then it is liable to kill all of us innocent opponents to capitalism also.

      1. scrdmgl Avatar

        My dear friend: Please don’t be confused since not being American I don’t believe in Santa to begin with. Great Britain the most powerful empire of global reach before the US took the mantle after WWII, was mortally wounded at the end of WWI to mercifully expire in 1945 with some loose ends solved during the sixties. Obviously you don’t keep up with news and developments of a financial and economic nature, because if you did you’d talk differently.
        It so happened that I was 27 and enjoying my honeymoon in NYC, when in 1972 Richard Nixon as a result of the trillions spent in the failed Vietnam adventure, confronted a bankrupted US economy took the only possible escape route, by reneging of the July 1944 Bretton Woods accords, removed the gold backing of the US dollar. Since then America, has dominated the world by force of arms without any real means to do so with a currency not worth the paper that is printed on. Today the US keeps the illusion alive every so often, by artificially extending the debt limit already in numbers that every jackass knows can never be paid, along with the ‘student debt’ and other niceties floating around that I assume you must be informed about. Humanity will always remember and honor the memory of the Biden administration, as the one that gave the coup d’grace to the hegemon. Assuming that we don’t blow up the world to kingdom come, the BRICS New World Order in not knocking at the door of the hollow US empire, but knocking the thing down by force. When Trump takes over power in 2024, with all his foolish and ignorant ranting, he will have no choice than declare nul the US constitution, and govern by decree a country itself on the brink of revolution, such as it was avoided by FDR’s New Deal in his 1932 first period in power. Yes, FDR saved America of a violent revolution at the time, option not available today neither to Trump or anybody else this time around. This Jack, is not wishful thinking but cold historic and present day reality.

  2. Ileana Renfrew Avatar
    Ileana Renfrew

    Yes, I believe Netanyahu and his followers are the problem, not the whole population of Israel, not the Jewish people in other countries. This is a powerful article! I love Israel, but I also see the suffering of the Palestinians and how miserable are the conditions under which they live. I wish with all my heart that the two countries solution could be possible and be enforced. It’s an existential problem given that either faction seem to prefer suicide to compromise. It’s tragic indeed.

    1. scrdmgl Avatar

      I hate to disappoint you Ileana, but there is a thing called Zionism which is a racist political ideology that has nothing to do with Judaism or true Jewish traditions. Non other then Albert Einstein, Hanna Arendt along with many Jewish academics, scientists and personalities, posted an article in the NYT before the foundation of Israel, calling their leaders Fascists. Truer words were never spoken. No matter who rules Israel’s destiny, that vicious ideology will not go away.

      1. shaz48 Avatar

        Judaism is thousands of years old … Actually its that rogue batch of criminal minded Jews who under Herzl in 1897 – 1903 created Zionism … a faction under the supremacist, extremist, rogue criminals banner; to connive with Brit Sh *it to create a niche for them in the land of Palestinians. Torah & Talmud .. and for that matter Bible & Quran.. all books state that Jews are under punishment & will have no home.. they will roam the world to settle down but will be thrown out from there.. They are under the Curse of God…; So, if now by some reason & the betrayal of Palestinians by them FK*ng Brits, them Zionist Jews came into existence in 1903 who knew they will be slaughtered (sadly the holocaust) in Europe .. hence planned it & made life Hell for the Palestinians in their land.

        1. Sam Avatar

          Shaz, why are you afraid to state that the real problem here is the world Jewish Tribe? You lump Brits together, calling them FK*ng Brits, but you cannot say FK*Jews. Why? You say “Zionist Jews,” and in doing so you demonstrate you’re brainwashed like virtually everybody else. Think about this. I guarantee that if we use the same rules of English usage for the noun “Jew” as we do for every other noun in the language, we would expose the true perpetrator behind all this atrocity. The fact that Norman Finkelstein or Mikud Peled speak against Israel means nothing, and the fact remains that the world Jewish community is a Political Entity. Why do you think the western governments are complicit in the war crimes Jews are committing? Are you so uninformed to believe it’s Israel, or only Israel supporters, or Zionists. Wake up. The western governments are led by the Jewish Lobby. Duh. Not the Israel Lobby. It’s the organized political expression of the Jewish community, in the same way those FK’n Brits are the organized political expression of the English people. Wise up.

          1. shaz48 Avatar

            Its them Fkn Brits who made sure that whenever & wherever they left their colonialized domain, they planted seed of animosity, territorial disputes, religious or tribal conflicts ..; thats the character of them Fkn Brits.. Just look around .. Australasia, Africa, their own Scotts-Wales-England & Ireland territorial conflict discourse & mental segregation. So, maybe you need to be ‘Reading & Learning’; to learn the difference between the Jews & Zionists from Europe..; Regarding Jews .. its them Fkn Zionists (Zion Jews & Neocon Christians) who are the scorn & discards of human society. Jews are also being targeted & punished even in Israel (& overseas) by them Fkn Zionists. Go there & see it for yourself.. Maybe you will learn something by first hand experience instead of ‘Listening & Running’ ; Real Jews of Palestine are not those White Criminal Extremist Supremacist Zionists. Just to start with, have you been to the 5 Boroughs of NYC ?? They are openly protesting against this Israeli Zionists atrocities & mass murders in Palestine.. Western Govts & US politicians for their own power are fully corrupt & get Jewish money for getting elected;

    2. Woopy Avatar

      Ileana, please tell the people you love, the ones that you say are not part of the problem to stop moving to Israel and stealing homes from the Palestinians. You know, the ones from New York, New Jersey, Florida, Russia, and other places. The ones that hold guns on homeowners in Palestine and take their homes often killing them. Please tell your friends to stop doing this heinous crime.

      1. Sam Avatar

        Ileana, please tell your fellow Jews.

    3. Jack Lomax Avatar
      Jack Lomax

      ILeana Renfrew says “…. It’s an existential problem given that either faction seem to prefer suicide to compromise. It’s tragic…” It is not true or factual to suggest that the Palestinians prefer suicide to compromise. The Zionists and their powerful captive supporter are not offering any meaningful compromise. This problem does not have two causal sides,just one the immoral presence and action of the fascist zionists and their powerful captive supporter the USA

  3. Prometheus Avatar

    Operation Halloween HolocaU$t is just another Wounded KKKnee Final $o£ution, armed and financed by the same bankers and indU$tria£ white supremacists that fed Adolf, from Ford and Du Pont through Rockefeller to IBM who handled the death-camp logistics.
    Use your libraries and bookshops, or your literacy is withering to atrophy.

  4. Marie-France Germain Avatar
    Marie-France Germain

    Reports of the atrocities “committed” by Hamas on October 7th have now been debunked as Israeli lies. Read the translated version of Ha’aretz and the list of those killed was published along with the ages and genders, civilian or soldier, and how. Many were from friendly fire from the Israeli tanks, helicopters shooting missiles and soldiers opening fire on the hostages and Hamas both without differentiation. So stick to your story if it makes you feel better, but you’ll look like an idiot and that is not a good look for professors.

    1. shmutzoid Avatar

      Absolutely. Research the ‘Hannibal Directive’, which was in place on Oct. 7. Simply put, it requires IDF stormtroopers to kill any and all Hamas fighters, even if it means killing civilians. Missiles from helicopters were fired into many homes on kibbutzim where Hamas were suspected of hiding, killing scores of Israeli civilians. —– i’ve heard estimates of up to 50% killed that day were by Israeli “friendly fire”.