Tarik Cyril Amar – In the Sewers of History

What is the difference between the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 and the Gaza Resistance of 2023? Very little, except racism, of course.

Tarik Cyril Amar (@TarikCyrilAmar) is a historian from Germany, currently at Koç University, Istanbul, expert on Ukraine, Russia, and Europe, and the author of “The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv. A Borderland City between Stalinists, Nazis, and Nationalists.”

Cross-posted from Tarik’s Substack Blog

More than half a century ago, in 1957, Andrzej Wajda, one of Poland’s most important directors, made “Kanał.” The title is the Polish word for “sewer.” The film was as grim as that would make you expect. It depicts the desperate struggle, defeat, and death of a group of Polish resistance fighter. When their Nazi German enemies force them to seek shelter in the sewers during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 (not to be confused with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943), they descend not only into a world of darkness, excrement, and disorientation, but also despair.

The tunnel system that the Palestinian Resistance has built under Gaza does not, of course, consist of sewers. Instead, it is an underground fortress meant to withstand Israeli invaders and serve as a base for counterattacks against them. Israel is now adding to its truly sterling record of crimes and atrocities by flooding this fortress with seawater. That Israeli hostages are likely to be in these tunnels as well, clearly makes no difference to the Israeli leadership. After all, it is already responsible for killing Israelis during the Hamas attack of 7 October and, in general, just cannot stop lying and murdering. It is impossible not to think of Wajda’s grim study in agony.

For one thing, perhaps the single most poignant – and pointed – scene in “Kanał” is not really about the Polish resistance fighters or their German enemies and murderers. It is about the outside world that could come to the rescue of Warsaw but chooses not to: Reaching the end – a dead end, of course – of a long sewer, two of the insurgents come up against an iron grate they cannot pass. Beyond it they see the Vistula River that separates the center of Warsaw from its eastern districts. Without it being said, viewers know that they know that the Soviet army is there, and it won’t help them.

For Gaza and its Resistance, it is, of course, the West that refuses to help, despite the fact that Israel is conducting a genocidal assault, slaughtering civilians and especially children in pursuit of ethnic cleansing. Indeed, the West is not only refusing to help – which is in clear breach of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention – it even serves as Israel’s accomplice, providing everything that the fascist-Zionist genocide perpetrator state needs to keep going: from weapons and ammunition, via diplomatic cover, to intelligence and the manipulation and suppression of the West’s own more and more critical publics.      

Then there is the sheer symbolism of suffocating and drowning your enemies underground. Whether it’s done in a sewer or a tunnel fortress, it is the kind of death a racist especially enjoys inflicting. It smacks of degradation and dehumanization. Anyone aware of the vile Israeli elite and public discourse on Palestinians, Gaza, and what to do about – or to – both cannot fail to be certain of great, gleeful sadistic joy among them. The type that makes them hop frenetically at the raves they love to hold in the ruins they make. And if you feel that seawater makes all the difference, recall that some of the Gaza tunnels have already once been flooded with, literally, sewage. Only, that that was done by Egypt on behalf of Israel and, of course, the USA.

Consider also that when the Nazis fought the Polish Resistance – lightly armed fighters facing tanks (even some primitive robots with remote controls), artillery, and planes, very much in the manner in which the Palestinian Resistance is now battling Israel’s genocide troops – the Germans were also systematically destroying most of Warsaw and massacring its civilians. Just like in Gaza now, the racist invaders took a fundamentally justified Resistance attack as a pretext to wipe out civilians and the place they lived in. And just as in 1944 Warsaw, those Gaza civilians that survive the Israeli onslaught face displacement under abysmal conditions.

In the case of Gaza, the underground flooding with seawater adds yet another dimension to its long-term devastation. Reminiscent of the Roman slaveholder empire at its worst, Israel is going to salt the earth, just more thoroughly, namely from below. Reaching Gaza’s already badly disrupted aquifers and fresh water supplies, poisoning the soil, and making a desert to last. Add that it is virtually certain that civilians are hiding in the tunnels as well, and the flooding clearly amounts to yet another war crime, as Russia’s UN ambassador has rightly pointed out. No wonder the USA supports it.

Among conservatives, mainstream liberals, and Centrists in the West, the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 has a heroic reputation. And rightly so. Those who suppressed it brutally and laid waste to Poland’s capital are recognized, with revulsion, as the vile butchers they were. But when it comes to Muslims and “brown” people, once again, everything is different: You will wait a long time for an Anne Applebaum or a Tim Snyder to come clean on this and achieve the “moral clarity” they love to preach.

Yet the future will be different: It may take ten years or fifty, but in the memory of the decent part of humanity, the Palestinian Resistance will feature as heroes and the Israeli forces as vile mass murderers serving a fascist regime of apartheid, supremacism, ultra-nationalism, and, last but not least, genocide.

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