Tag Archives: War

What has to be said – and who has to say it

Germans are entitled to opinions and to the choice of whether or not to voice them. We should welcome it when they do – even regarding Israel.

Günter Grass

This post is about the Günter Grass poem “What must be said”. If you haven’t read the poem yet, please do so before reading the rest of this post (German/English/Hebrew).

Lisa Goldman shared a NYT piece about how the poem has made more Germans speak up about Israel, sometimes even in ways that make Israeli lefties feel uncomfortable.1

One commenter on Lisa’s post responded: “the creators of Holocaust should keep their mouth shut for the sake of decency”. This would, in and of itself, be a reasonable comment, except that at this point in history, the people actually behind the Holocaust are for the most part dead – a fate far more pleasant than they deserve, as it were – and this kind of comment aims simply to silence all German criticism of Israel. Oddly enough, you don’t hear it when Germans voice opinions supportive of Israeli policy. Continue reading What has to be said – and who has to say it

Footnotes

  1. This is not to say that Israeli lefties are used to offensive comments about Israel – but that some of the comments Germans are making may be beyond what we accept as honest criticism. []

Chris Hedges: “Murder is not an Anomaly in War”

I find myself, for once, at loss for words. Despite growing up in what is essentially a warzone, I have had the ridiculously good fortune of never experiencing the horror of war first hand. In a thoughtful and powerful piece of writing, Chris Hedges has managed to transport a small taste, which I can only implore you to read if you haven’t yet. And you’ll want to sit down first, I think.

Chris Hedges: Murder is not an Anomaly in War (TruthDig)

A Hebrew translation, along with some discussion, is available over at Idan Landau’s blog (his post alerted me to the existence of this piece. H/t.)

Meta comment: I haven’t been posting lately – these link posts don’t count – not for lack of ideas or words, but mainly because I’m spending a very big chunk of my waking hours in (academic) writing and having a hard time finding the time to properly formulate blog posts. I hope and assume that I’ll get posting again at some point soon, but no promises.

Links: Harry Potter and Terrorism, Apes and Englishes, and more

I’m in Jerusalem with my family right now, and we’ve just returned from the annual extended-family vacation. I used the past days on the seaside to catch up on my feed reader, and I have a bunch of goodness to share which might help tide an eager reader over until I actually write something again.

PEACE: Harry Potter and the Politics and Terror

Dan Nexon over at The Duck of Minerva took two stabs at analyzing the last installments of the Harry Potter series. Both are an amusing and interesting read:

The Duck also points to a piece on Foreign Policy about the post-conflict reconstruction that must be done after the fall of Voldemort.

On the lighter side, there’s a trailer for Harry Potter as a teen comedy and the plot of the series in a 99 second song (both on TastefullyOffensive, both via Dubi Kanengisser).

LANGUAGE: Pullum on apes and (possible) racists

Over at Language Log, Geoffrey K. Pullum has two excellent and characteristically sharp posts:

Other fine links

  • Charlie Brooker makes some necessary comments regarding the commenting on the Norway right-wing terrorist attacks (Comment is Free, via Dubi)
  • John Oliver spreads the word about the Florida couple that foreclosed on Bank of America (Daily Show, via Yuval Pinter)

From the Iron Wall to the Wall of Fear (by Shalom Boguslavsky)

I had the pleasure of translating an important post (Hebrew) by the always-excellent Shalom Boguslavsky. Here it is in English:

Should you strengthen the van, you will weaken the rear.
Should you strengthen your right, you will weaken your left.
If you send reinforcements everywhere, you will be weak everywhere.

Sun Tzu,
“The Art of War”, ca. 500 BC

Fifteen years ago I didn’t know what “Nakba” means. I was probably more politically involved than today, I had already entered into dialog with Palestinians, I was familiar with the Palestinian National Covenant and all that stuff. I wasn’t exactly an ignoramus in these things, but I didn’t know the term “Nakba”, for the simple reason that nobody around me was using it.

Now it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t know the term. It’s in every mouth and in the headlines of every paper. Netanyahu gives a special speech in its honor, “Im Tirtzu” distribute a brochure full of bullshit about it, and the very best publicists write articles about it. It doesn’t matter that most Israelis’ response varies between curling up in a whimpering ball in the corner and vehement denial. The central thing is that the issue is on the table. Because political success is measured in what’s being talked about even more than in what’s being said. Almost nobody in the Jewish political system wants to talk about the Nakba. They would not have brought it up on their own initiative, and nonetheless they have been forced to deal with it.

The credit for this success belongs mainly to Palestinian citizens of Israel. The Oslo two-nation-states doctrine left them as dead weight, and so, unrepresented by the government of the Jewish state and neglected by their Palestinian brethren, they started moving to turn the Arabs of 1948 into a political group demanding recognition as such, from the Palestinians, from Israel and from the international community.

Here there is an interesting parallelism between them and the settlers. The settlers, too, have been required to pay the price for a solution that does not address their needs. The settlers, too, have been pushed to reorganize and make themselves present in the public discourse, and they too have used 1984 to do this, and for a similar reason: floating the issue of ’48, reminding everyone that the heart of the conflict lies there, is the best way to float the limitations of a solution based on the 1967 lines. So the settlers, like the leaders of the Arabs of ’48, make sure again and again to remind us that Sheikh Munis is conquered land, and that a solution will not come without seriously addressing this fact. In this respect, the the most radical thing in today’s politics would be if the settlers and the Arabs of ’48 started to talk. Unlikely? Maybe, but stranger things have happened and I wouldn’t be surprised if this happened too.

In 1923, Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote his exemplary essay “The Iron Wall”. Besides being a master’s class in political writing, the article was quite on target for its time, and to a significant degree for ours as well. Jabotinsky presents the Zionist movement as a colonial project no different from the familiar European colonialism (today some would call him “traitor” and “anti-Zionist” and demand to check his funding over this). He argues that the attempts at dialog with the Arabs are fantasy, as no nation – and he recognizes them as such – would agree to a foreign entity being established on its lands, and his conclusion, which he called an “iron wall”, is that the Jews must become such a force as to make it impossible to move them elsewhere or hinder them from realizing their aspirations. But the “iron wall” has an expiration date: when they realize the Zionist project is a fait accompli, Jabotinsky wrote, the moderates will come to us with offers of mutual concessions, and then the conflict can be solved in dialog.

In 1923, all of this was science fiction. But as befits a text that reflects sober recognition of reality more than some political ideal or another, we got to see it come true. The “iron wall” was put up, the Arabs failed in their attempt to hinder the Zionist project, suffering catastrophe in the process, and since the 1970s the moderates have been coming to us with offers of mutual concessions. They don’t do it out of recognition of the rightness of the ways of Zionism – this they will never do – but because it is clear to them that the presence here of Jews as a national group is a fait accompli. They regret it, but will clench their teeth and find ways to co-exist. Just as Jabotinsky knew they would.

But his self-proclaimed heirs on the Israeli right have substituted the practical “iron wall” of force with an ideological “iron wall” made of fear.

My right to exist here comes from the fact of my existence here, as ending it would be an unjustifiable wrong. The right of the group to which I belong to define itself in terms of nationality comes from the right to self-definition and not from anything else. Where is such a thing to be heard, that such basic rights depend on some belief in the “righteousness of the way”? Who would ever think, for example, to make the right of the United States to exist dependent on the belief that the catastrophe imposed on Native Americans was justified? What’s this bullshit?

The international community recognizes the rights of Jews in the Land of Israel due to the fact of their presence in it. Even the Arabs, for the most part, are willing to recognize them on this basis, and of all people the Jewish politicians, wannabe patriots that they are, are shouting from every hilltop and under every tree that if it were only proven that our history does not excel in justice and morality or that our narrative is not absolute truth, we would have to pack the suitcase and swim back to the Ukraine. And you know what? Our history is no less ugly than others, and full of glorious atrocities. Those who believe recognizing that cancels their right to exist here are welcome swim to the Ukraine themselves. I am not here because of blind faith in some lie, and I intend to stay here even if it were proven that the fathers of Zionism were vampires from another planet that came here to conduct medical experiments on the local villagers.

So this is my “iron wall”: the rights of human beings do not depend on the purity of the historical circumstances that brought them where they are. This is a position we can defend. If we need to defend every misdeed of Zionism if not all Jews everywhere – as the Right wants us to – we will fail. And that is exactly what is happening now.

I am actually rather conservative as regards the Palestinian catastrophe. I do not accept, for instance, the claim that the status of refugee can be inherited. If it were so, all residents of planet Earth would have to receive such status. I also think it’s important to remind everyone that the ethnic cleansing of 1948 was bi-directional: the Jews were expelled from areas seized by the Arabs. I think the ethnic cleansing we committed was more a matter of circumstances than a dark conspiracy, and I certainly don’t beat myself up over the crimes of Zionism.

But I certainly admit and acknowledge them, do not presume to justify them all and certainly think we should take responsibility for them and resolve the matter in conjunction with the Palestinians. Not because there’s a matter of absolute justice here but because this is unfinished business between us, and we will have to resolve it. And yes, this will have a price that I don’t necessarily like. That’s how it is.

But for us to deal with it, we need our politicians to cease their endless paranoid prattle. It may help their career to tie our very right to exist here with their personal ideology, but it does not serve any Israeli interest. Just the opposite. Their constant din is what’s eroding the justification of our existence and what gives tailwind to the delegitimization of Israel. Of course it also serves their career pretty well. Dealing with the Nakba does not scare me at all; our politicians’ stupidity does. They are the only existential threat around.

The wonderful world of Guy Bechor

Guy Bechor, while exemplifying the legitimate fears of Israelis and Jews, writes a confused mess, seemingly sent from some mythical world invented by 20th-century European fascists.

Deep breaths. I just finished reading an article on Ynet, by Guy Bechor, titled “A Middle Eastern lesson“; it was shared by Peace Now on Facebook to “give insight to Israeli fears”. That it does. It also gives insight into a romantic populist world-view, forged of myth and nationalism, in which countries are populated not by people, but by peoples (German: Völker), embodied by their leaders (German: Führer). And while writing this imaginative nonsense, he manages to call those who would strive for peace “gullible”. Deep breaths.

But let’s start at the beginning.

Fable

Bechor begins with a fable of Aesop’s… Something about wolves and sheep and dogs. This is a good way to start, as it puts the reader in exactly the mindset needed to believe Bechor’s hysteria. There are three kinds of players in Bechor’s world: the wolves, who are really bad, the sheep, who are just helpless, and the dogs, who are not wolves and no simple sheep, but can at least defend themselves.

(BTW, is this fable the original version of the allegory in Team America, where it’s “assholes”, “pussies” and “dicks”, respectively, in exactly those roles?)

Genius

Having set the stage, we now go on to discuss the actual complex realities of one of the most politically difficult regions currently to be found on our planet. Except there are no complex realities, since Bechor is so much more intelligent than us morons.

Allow the genius to teach us the ways of the Middle East: it boils down to Arabs being brutal and violent, and Jews and Christians having to create heavily-armed nation-states to defend themselves. I kid you not, ladies and gentlemen! At last, Bechor has revealed to us the simplicity of the Middle East, and there it is, in one sentence! Thank me later.

Facts, of course, are irrelevant. In Bechor’s world, things are simpler, and more fantastic. In Bechor’s world, Christians are being “butchered” in post-revolution Tunisia and Egypt (citation needed). In Bechor’s world, what’s happening in Syria is about Arabs killing minorities. There is no context, there are no politics to speak of, just a people being evil.

Sin

What Bechor does here is, to me, an immense sin. Like certain Führers of times gone by, Bechor sees the world as composed of peoples, acting as united wholes. There are Arabs, there are Christians, there are Jews. Wolves, sheep, and dogs (his words, not mine). Never mind that someone can be an Arab and Christian at the same time, that kind of complexity is incompatible with this simple, simple world. It is divided into nations, these nations are in some kind of eternal struggle, and, hence, they need armies. End of story.

What’s worse, when it comes down to choosing who represents these nations, again Bechor sides with evil. It is the Assads and the Mubaraks and the Ghaddafis and the Ben Alis, and their paid thugs, who show Bechor’s “true Middle East” — not the masses of people, oppressed by those asshats for decades, who finally take to the streets, put their lives on the line, and demand their freedom. Not the soldiers and officers who defect or desert when ordered to fire on civilians. No, the Führer is the nation, and the people must follow.

Excuse me while I throw up.

Morality

But if all that weren’t enough, of course Bechor must also paint the Left as a dangerous enemy.1

[…] outside elements – and to my regret domestic elements as well – try to weaken the IDF via needless commissions of inquiry, incitement and criticism, propaganda, and an effort to taint the army’s moral prestige.

I don’t know, Guy, don’t you think the army’s moral prestige might also be tainted by soldiers trashing houses, systematically humiliating civilians and prisoners as a kind of sport then (sometimes) posting photos on Facebook, or firing white phosphorous on residential neighborhoods? Don’t you think that being put in the position of policing an occupied, largely civilian population, with mainly just combat training as preparation, might be having some ill effects on the army’s morality as well? Don’t you think commissions of inquiry might help make sure soldiers stick to the IDF’s moral code, and incidentally increase its moral prestige by proving it can take scrutiny? And most of all, is a reputation for morality really more important than actual moral behavior?

I don’t know, man.

Truth

The Middle East is a difficult place to be. Bechor is right in that the dictators’ response to the Arab Spring is revealing. It reveals the dictators’ true colors to anyone who had a doubt.

Yet the revolutions themselves are revealing a reality that should have been clear, but is clearly lost on Bechor and his ilk: the Führer ist not the Volk. The people under dictatorship are not represented by their so-called “leaders” — they are their victims.

Rivers of blood flow through the Middle East, as usual. This is a difficult time, and even more difficult is to guess what comes next.

But the basic and obvious reality — one which I’ve incidentally heard from at least two Arabs I’ve spoken with here in Germany — is that peace is in everyone’s best interest. Most Israelis know it, on some level. Most Arabs know it on some level. And finally, we may just see some governments in the Middle East which strive for everyone’s best interest, and not just the interests of the dictators and the elites behind them.

Footnotes

  1. Fun fact: Dachau, the first German concentration camp, was built just weeks after Hitler took power, and its first inmates were German lefties, imprisoned for being in the opposition. []

Not funny. Gaza again.


This blog started with a post about Gaza. In recent days, Israel has been escalating the conflict on the Southern front while Hamas pursue aggressive diplomacy, i.e. firing rockets while asking for a ceasefire. I feel like I have to do something. Yet all I can really do is write.

The enigmatic Six in Battlestar Galactica incessantly reminds us: “all of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again”.

Remember, in late 2008 we embarked upon the very same path, unleashing massive amounts of firepower on Gaza, killing at least 700 civilians and launching us into Israel’s most isolated couple of years in its history. Back then the idea was the same: hit them so hard that they can’t hit us back.

The problem is that this logic never, ever works. We’ve been trying it for decades. We kill them, even demolish their infrastructure, but in the process we give so many people cause to hate us that within a few years their ranks are replenished and out to get us again.

Chatting with a right-wing friend the other day, I said something about the families of the victims and how they’ll feel about us after we take their siblings/children/parents away. He said the mistake is to leave any family. (I’m not sure whether he was serious or not — this was a textual conversation and I didn’t feel like pursuing the topic.)

Yet even if we follow this sick logic to its conclusion — total annihilation of the rival tribe — we will gain no peace. We will only push the frontier a little further, gaining enemies in places where nobody used to give a damn about us. We will only gain international isolation and brain drain, as people leave what has become of our country, a country created by and for the victims of genocide.

Observation: there are some 11 million Palestinians in the world (according to Wikipedia). Total genocide of the Palestinians will give Israel the dubious honor of having surpassed the Nazis’ genocide of Jews. (I suppress nausea, breathe deep, continue.)

Incidentally, it will not end all of our haters.

So long as we use violence, we invite violence. The more we kill, the more people will want to kill us. So long as we continue acting as we’ve acted, we will not break the cycle. Hamas could try to break the cycle as well. But bombing Gaza is not the way to convince them to do so. Israel’s citizens and few remaining allies must demand and enforce a ceasefire.

We now have Iron Dome, a system that can destroy rockets fired out of Gaza in mid-air. Instead of financing another war, build more Iron Dome units. Fund peace proposals. Pay Arabic-speaking copywriters, pay printers, and bomb Gaza with flyers. Stop wasting money and lives on a cycle of violence in which Israelis and Palestinians – especially the poorer of both groups – have their everyday lives disrupted or destroyed, every day.

 

All I can do is write, but for days I have not been able to. Every time violence flares up against Israel, I am reminded of how urgent it is to strive towards peace. There is always a sense of the inevitable to it; knowing that my country continues to use violence, I know we will be faced with violence.

It’s painful, and all I can do is write. It seems like so little. I don’t know if I’ll write about this again any time soon.

For now I’ll just continue to try not to think about it, while thinking about it all of the time. I’m an Israeli; denial’s my life.

 

UPDATE (two hours later):

I’ve just read that there’s some kind of tacit cease-fire, apparently as of last night. I hope this lasts and the rhetoric of “final escalation” loses out to some common sense. A strategy that has failed us dozens of times will continue to fail us no matter how many times we try.

Interesting times…

A lot is going on on the Israel/Palestine front in the last few days… Unfortunately I’m a bit bogged down with schoolwork and work, so don’t expect long screeds from me before the end of next week (when classes are over, though not the exams)…

Just a few interesting links for the moment.

“The Gaza Flotilla Inquiry: Afloat in a sea of whitewash”

Sunday, +972 Mag

Roi Maor going over some of the failings of Turkel Commission’s “investigation” of the Gaza siege and the attack of the Mavi Marmara; even information within the report, not to mention public announcements by officials, starkly contradict the Committee’s “conclusions”.

A kick in the Israeli Left’s collective behind [Hebrew]

Monday night, Friends of George

Itamar Sha’altiel is rightly pissed off at the Left’s decidedly lame reaction to the Palestine Papers, their decidedly lame reaction to everything else going on, and their decidedly lame habit of lamely reacting to everything — not to mention their preoccupation with stealing votes from one another rather than focussing on winning the public back from the Right. The Right, he points out, has mastered the steering of public discussion to the point that even their legislation of late seems mainly part of that manipulation. Meanwhile, the Left shows off its socially progressive legislative record, instead of asking the pointed questions that beg to be asked of those in power.

A truly inspiring rant of rage.

“The leaders got it all wrong: Palestinian view on Palestine Papers”

Today (Tuesday), +972 blog (guest post)

Maath Musleh discusses some of failings of the West Bank leadership (perhaps “ruling elite” would be a better word?), as well as Hamas, surrounding the Palestine Papers. The piece also points out that mere peace is not the end-goal:

What Abbas and his peers don’t understand is that peace is not the target. If peace was the target, then the Palestinians could have just left and handed over their land to the Israelis. There you go – no more war.

But this is not about peace. It is about rights and dignity. Of course everyone wants peace. But peace is not just an absence of war. Peace is a state of being, in which people have their rights and dignity. It’s a state of being whereby no one infringes on anyone’s rights. For the Palestinians, the state of peace is what will be when the occupation ends and the refugees have their rights and dignity.

I’ll leave you with that for now, and turn to doing the work I’m paid to do. (Case in point: putting together bibliography databases for the Baure Documentation Project.)