A New Round of Birth Pangs

​During Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon—a 34-day affair that ultimately killed approximately 1200 persons, primarily civilians—then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice helpfully described the carnage as the “birth pangs of a new Middle East.”

Palestinians search for victims under the rubble of a house which witnesses said was destroyed by an Israeli air strike during an Israeli ground offensive east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip July 24, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

Of course, some observers may have been at a loss to detect the war’s life-giving qualities. But “birth pangs” admittedly sounds better than, say, the “coat-hanger abortion of the Middle East.”

The blatant Orientalism embodied in Rice’s suggestion is certainly par for the course among U.S. politicians and pundits, for whom the Arab/Muslim world is a backwards region that lacks agency and must be whipped into shape by the “West” and its adopted progeny, the state of Israel.

The 2006 birth pangs were Orientalism 101—the presumed creation of the Middle East according to Western specifications. In this case, Israel’s godlike efforts were facilitated by rush shipments of bombs from the U.S. (Other Orientalist incursions by the empire and its friends have featured Arabs and Muslims in slightly post-fetal stages of development; see, for example, New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman’s depiction of Afghanistan as a “special needs baby”).

Now in the Gaza Strip, the reproductive cycle has once again reared its ugly head, with Israel reprising its role as official OB/GYN and the U.S. as principal funder of homicidal obstetrics. As usual, the mass homicide is justified via tiresome repetitions of Israel’s “right to defend itself.”

This time around, while Israel occupies the position of delivery room doctor, a disproportionate number of Israelis are themselves headed to the delivery room. Haaretz recently reported a significant increase in births on account of the stress that air raid sirens inflict upon the bodies of expectant mothers.

As I’ve noted in a column for Middle East Eye, the bodily repercussions of incoming Israeli weaponry in Gaza tend to be somewhat different. Operation Protective Edge has thus far killed over 730 Palestinians, including at least 161 children.

The operation has, however, produced some unintentional suggestions on how to potentially boost the population of Palestine. Bar Ilan University lecturer Mordecai Kedar, for example, has proposed raping the mothers and sisters of alleged Palestinian “terrorists.”

As journalist Jonathan Cook points out, other Israeli figures prefer a more genocidal approach to Palestinian moms. Politician Ayelet Shaked advocates for the following method:

“They have to die and their houses should be demolished so that they cannot bear any more terrorists. They are all our enemies and their blood should be on our hands. This also applies to the mothers of the dead terrorists.”

If we assume, parsing Rice’s metaphor further, that birth pangs = military devastation, we might conclude that metaphorical motherhood currently applies to all Palestinians—a plus, no doubt, in Shaked’s book. Although Israel’s pretenses to surgical precision would meanwhile seem to enhance its qualifications as metaphorical physician, such precision in the Israeli context is perhaps a more apt description of missile strikes on Palestinian hospitals.  

In the end, it may not be possible to forcibly induce the delivery of a new and improved Middle East. But everlasting birth pangs are apparently just as good.

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Belén Fernández is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine and Ricochet.
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