Friday, January 30, 2009
Amir Taheri looks into Obama's comment about how things were better between the US and the Arab world 20 or 30 years ago. This was of course a peculiar statement, and Taheri fleshes out how so.
It is far too early days to know what the Obama administration will or won't succeed at, in the Middle East or anywhere else. So far they're engaging in cheap and painless gestures and symbolism, and there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that: symbols sometimes can effect reality, especially when they nudge reality in a direction that already had potential. Nor is there anything intrinsically right with it, either: sometimes reality is immune to symbols, especially when they try to nudge reality in directions with no potential. The tricky thing is to get it right, to chose only the symbols that will be beneficial, and none that will have adverse effects.
How do you know the former from the latter? Two ways. The first, rather reliable though not foolproof, is to have the benefit of hindsight. Alas, that's not a good method for people who have to make decisions in the present. The second method to tell useful symbols from neutral ones from destructive ones, is to know a lot about the situation you're trying to impact. According to all reports Obama is an unusually intelligent man, widely read. The fact that his first pronouncement on the recent history of the Middle East could have been refuted with ease by anyone who's been reading newspapers and remembering their content for the period he's pronouncing on, is mildly worrisome.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
A few days ago Haaretz ran a long story about the International Law Department in the IDF, and how it fits into the picture. It's a fascinating article, especially if you set aside the newspaper's agenda (They're horrified by their findings). Among many interesting things in the article is the description of the inevitable result of turning warfare into a legal question: the army hires good lawyers, and they find loopholes. That what lawyers are for, after all, irrespective of whether you like Israel or not. The moment you start measuring actions of war with legal tools, you'll start measuring the actions of war with legal tools.
This of course emphasizes the utter silliness of all those pundits and journalists who chatter on and on about what is or isn't illegal in wartime: they mostly have no legal training, those folks, and even the few who do aren't using it in their reports, because if they were, the reports would inevitably resemble legal briefs, and no-one would read them except other legal types - not what the media outlets want.
Another thing about legal systems is that they develop. They evolve. They adapt. In short: they change. International law isn't good at this, because it lacks many of the trappings of a normal legal system such as a soverign, an elected legislature, law enforcement forces who are subordinate to elected executives and so on. Even so, however, they have to adapt somehow, so apparently they do so by a process of getting used to reality:
The dilemma of the gray areas and ILD's attempts to discover untapped potential in international law may perhaps explain the unit's great enthusiasm for providing legal advice to the army and the glint in advisers' eyes when certain terms roll off their tongue: "proportional equilibrium," "legitimate military target," "illegal combatants." "What we are seeing now is a revision of international law," Reisner says. "If you do something for long enough, the world will accept it. The whole of international law is now based on the notion that an act that is forbidden today becomes permissible if executed by enough countries. If the same process occurred in private law, the legal speed limit would be 115 kilometers an hour and we would pay income tax of 4 percent. So there is no connection between the question 'Will it be sanctioned?' and the act's legality. After we bombed the reactor in Iraq, the Security Council condemned Israel and claimed the attack was a violation of international law. The atmosphere was that Israel had committed a crime. Today everyone says it was preventive self-defense. International law progresses through violations. We invented the targeted assassination thesis and we had to push it. At first there were protrusions that made it hard to insert easily into the legal moulds. Eight years later it is in the center of the bounds of legitimacy."After Haaretz published this article in last weekend's magazine, a number of law professors at Tel Aviv University realized, to their utter horror, that the commander of the International Law Department, Colonel Pnina Sharvit-Baruch, is about to leave the army and join them on the staff of the law department; worse, she's going to be teaching impressionable young students about international law and its applications. They launched a public campaign to block her appointment, obviously fearing that some of her students may grow up to think that it can be legal to wage war, or some similar apostasy. They've been writing letters to the dean, and publicizing their opinions in the media (well: in Haaretz), and they're generally scandalized. Which is fine. I'm pretty scandalized by them, too, but I recognize their right to poison the minds of their students if the students are foolish enough to let this happen, and can't balance their professor's silliness with common sense. That's what democracy is about, you'd think.
Did the attacks of September 11 influence your legal situation?
"Absolutely. When we started to define the confrontation with the Palestinians as an armed confrontation, it was a dramatic switch, and we started to defend that position before the Supreme Court. In April 2001 I met the American envoy George Mitchell and explained that above a certain level, fighting terrorism is armed combat and not law enforcement. His committee [which examined the circumstances of the confrontation in the territories] rejected that approach. Its report called on the Israeli government to abandon the armed confrontation definition and revert to the concept of law enforcement. It took four months and four planes to change the opinion of the United States, and had it not been for those four planes I am not sure we would have been able to develop the thesis of the war against terrorism on the present scale."
Today Haaretz weighed in with the full force of it's editorial column. As usual with Haaretz, they don't translate some of the more interesting stuff into English, so you'll have to learn Hebrew to see how far Haaretz has come from the days when it was a liberal (European meaning) broadsheet championing democratic values. Their thesis: This Pnina lady is a criminal, she authorized crimes, and the last place she should be is at a university.
Freedom of speech is for the speech we like.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Let's assume for the moment, merely for the sake of the argument, that the UK really were fully on Israeli's side, to the extent that anger at Israel could be legitimately directed also at them, and that this affinity was wholly altruistic and could be terminated at a moment's notice if so wished. And let's also assume that the hatred of the Islamists rises even higher than it already is because of anything Israel does or doesn't do. Just for the sake of the argument, mind you.
Now, the Islamist murderers threaten the UK for its position. There seem to be two over-arching responses one can think of:
1. "This is our way of life, we're proud of it, we'll never change it because of you bastards, on the contrary, bugger off or we'll crush you."
2. We must throw Israel to the dogs, because they're endangering us, the bastards.
Do you begin to see, at least dimly, why Israelis like America, and have but minimal trust in the Europeans when it comes to the essentials?
I'm merely indexing for future use. One quick comment, however: to my mind, the fusion of antisemitism with anti-Zionism is a fine thing. (I'm not talking about legitimate criticism of Israel). Zionism is the most important expression of Judaism in something like 1,800 years, and you can't be against it without being against what the Jews are about. Not even if you're Jewish yourself, by the way.
"Fundamental examination" does not mean a government commission of inquiry or a criminal investigation. The object of the examination is to scrutinize the actions that were carried out, not to seek guilty parties (unless evidence requiring this is revealed in the course of the investigation). There is a wide gap between violations of the law, if any, and war crimes, which would require proof of intent to commit said crimes...
Second, the findings and conclusions of the investigation can be used to refute evidence and/or disprove allegations that might be raised in a legal proceeding abroad, if such takes place. And third, the limits of what is permissible and what is prohibited during warfare are not always clear. (For instance, what constitutes "excessive" incidental harm to a civilian population?) In their rulings, courts are inclined to consider what happened at the time. (Were alternatives weighed? Was there adequate advance preparation prior to the attack? Did the planners know there would be an investigation?) A fundamental investigation can serve as a basis for finding people innocent of the charges.
And of course, the advertisement is all over the Internet, so anyone can go see it at their leisure anyway. (Hint: you can, too, by following the above link to el-Baradei's protest).
Curiously, though millions are watching the ad and tens of thousands are plotzing with fury, the donations themselves are so far only around one million Pounds (that link also leads you to the ad), which at 4.5 million viewers means something like 22 pence of donations per angry viewer. Not impressive, that.
But back to the inept Elders of Zion: I really don't know what they were thinking. Had they successfully barred the BBC from broadcasting disturbing pictures from Gaza, or even better, forced it to show only parades of Israeli-flag-waving demonstrators in downtown Gaza clamoring for the IDF to save them from Hamas, then we could pat them on their backs and commend them for a job well done, though even then, merely controlling the BBC probably wouldn't have been enough and they should have blocked everyone from al-Jezeera down. As it is, however, they allowed their BBC lackeys to broadcast pictures of destruction in Gaza for day after day after week after week, along with heaps of punditry about disproportionality, evil blockades, the impossibility of ever reaching political goals through the use of violence, the urgent need to engage Hamas in dialogue about global warming and what have you... and after all that, they blocked this one short film which has no new images in it? Huh? Is this what we elected them for in our last midnight meeting in the graveyard?
The Bedouins, by the way, are all volunteers (the Druze are enlisted); most of these men are career soldiers, which is always a matter of choice.
More and more often, these days, when one of them is killed his name is not made public. The family knows the name, the neighbors all know him, but the general public doesn't. This didn't use to be true, it's only in the past few years, so the explanation in the article behind that link - whereby there are perhaps family members on the Palestinian side of the conflict - is not persuasive. More likely what's happening is that there's a radicalization among Israel's Arabs: a slow increase of willingness to serve in the IDF on the one hand, and growing vituperation against the trend on the other.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
According to the NYT, the BBC has in the past broadcast similar appeals for the victims of genocides in Rwanda, Darfur and Congo. A curious line-up, don't you think? Was the operation in Gaza a genocide? Why not broadcast similar humanitarian pleas for Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri-Lanka, Kashmir, Thailand, Burma, Nahr-el-Bared in Lebanon, Somalia, and all sorts of other places where the number of civilian victims in armed conflicts in 2008 all significantly surpassed those in Gaza, without being genocides? I know, I'm becoming tedious, sorry.
Of course, the real debate is about the impartiality of the BBC: everyone agrees it isn't, but different people think it isn't in different directions. Some think the BBC is anti-Israel, others think it's controlled by the Elders of Zion. Which is interesting, because a few years ago the BBC ran an internal investigation into precisely this question, and has never agreed to publish its results.
Personally I think that if the BBC were scrupulous about telling the truth, there wouldn't be a problem in broadcasting this particular plea for assistance: in a world in which everyone knew the realities of the Israel-Arab conflict, because the BBC reported on it well, there wouldn't be any problem in a call for aid to the civilians who suffered so severely (they really did) from the most recent round of violence, which was carefully planned and then provoked by Hamas which booby-trapped thousands of homes that now need to be replaced by tents.
I wrote about this pathology of many European intellectuals a while back. Today, upon completion of the first week of the Obama administration, one of the Guardian stalwarts, Richard Seymour, piles his venom on the new president and lots of other people these past two centuries for thinking that perhaps some communities and nations may not be capable of English-style democracy on their own, and castigates them for thinking anything they might ever do would have any positive effect anywhere. Reading him you sort of get the feeling what he really wants Western powers to do is just go dig themselves holes and die.
Amusingly, Mr. Seymour's e-mail address is email@example.com, and if you wonder where that comes from, it leads you to his blog, titled Lenin's Tomb; he signs his posts as Lenin. I spoof you not.
Reality check: the only reason Lenin is not near the very top of the list of mass murderers of the 20th century is that he died young, and his horrendous regime was eventually taken over by the even worse Stalin, who then didn't die young.
Monday, January 26, 2009
Having said that, I was intrigued to read today that over the past year they have killed some 4,000 civilians in Afghanistan. Not in urban warfare, mind you. I'm not hearing all the sermons about proportionality, ratios of casualties, international law, genocidal campaigns, interventions by the Security Council, shocked outrage by the UN Secretary General, large demonstrations in European cities, and so-on.
Yes, of course I'm saying what you think I'm saying.
Which is regrettable also for the matter itself, which is existentially serious. The State of Israel faces a coalition of disparate forces united in their hatred and in their eagerness to wield diverse tools to bring about its destruction. Hamas is, at the moment, the front line of an Islamist Weltanschauung that hates humanity, detests the West, and sees the Jews as the source of all evil. Devoid of any human compassion, these people are proud to kill, eager to inflict horror, and welcome blood shedding. They have aligned themselves with a group that should be diametrically opposed to them, of orphaned Marxists and airy-headed theorists of international order, devoid of any compassion for real people in a fallen world, the only world there is. The connection between the two groups happens because neither can recognize the greatness of warped humanity, the grandeur of life in ambivalence – and they all hate the Jews.
ACRI and its dozens of partners have aligned themselves, indeed, they are part and parcel of, the second group (except perhaps for the Jew-hating part); their actions, intentionally or not, serve to blunt Israel’s capacity to wage actual war against the first. This is deeply regrettable, as the war will go on for many years, and Israel would only benefit from having patriotic watchdogs to aide and assist in waging just war. Alas, that is not the mission they have taken upon themselves; as El-Ad’s answer to my letter, published here yesterday demonstrates, they do not even have the first glimmering of understanding what the issues are.
My outburst was the result of a momentary loss of control; it was aimed at an individual and group who are aiding and abetting the wrong side in a war for our lives. I repeat my apology for the momentary lapse, and hope for the unlikely case where they will re-examine the fundamental perversity.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
It made his audience embarrassed for having lived their lives disregarding all this.
Gideon Levy published another screed on Friday. You don't have to go read it; it's the usual jumble of inaccuracies, facts strung together in the opposite chronology from reality, lots of ideology and hatred... the usual. But he did have a revealing slip, one that his editors in the Hebrew paper version promoted from the text to the caption under the picture. Describing the Hudna period of semi-calm since last summer, he tells
The fact that the residents of the south experienced a period of calm, almost without Qassam rockets, was blurred....Perhaps the single most important thing about the operation we just waged is that we finally roused ourselves form our cruel lethargy and made it clear that there's no such thing as an acceptable level of violence against some of us that the rest can overlook and pretend not to see. We're responsible for all of us.
Yes, there were Qassams and mortar shells - few, unnecessary, barren - which should have been forgiven with wisdom.
Near the end of the operation I sent a rather curt note to their CEO, Hagai El-Ad. El-Ad is rather new on the job, and he and I have never met, but as my letter explained, I know about his organization. I'm also some years older than him, am better educated, know more languages, have published more than he. I requested of him that he regard me as his equal, not an inferior. Yesterday he responded. Here's the correspondence, rendered into English (The Hebrew original is at the bottom of the post, if you prefer it).
18 January 2009
Hagai El-Ad, CEO
My name is Yaacov Lozowick. For some ten years I've been discussing things with Dan Yakir [the Legal Counsel of ACRI]; sometimes we banter, sometimes we're tense. Since the advent of hostilities Dan prefers not to respond to my questions, knowing that I may publish them, so I'm turning to you.
I have three questions for you, but first, a clarification. The defense of civil rights and prevention of injustice against innocents are as important for me as they are for you. In your response to this letter, please do try not to preach to me, nor to patronize.
1. The laws of war and international law permit the harming of civilians in come conditions. Do you not fear that when your protestations overlook this, you run the danger of discrediting international law and presenting it as irrelevant to real life?
2. The commanders of the IDF, its officers and men, and the citizens of Israel are aware that war can violate human rights; at times, we take upon ourselves enhanced danger to our troops and our civilians so as to limit potential damage to enemy civilians. ACRI could play an important role in these efforts by serving as a reliable watchdog of our moral behavior; its most valuable tool is is its credibility. Do you not fear that by using a preaching and patronizing tone, you run the danger that no-one will listen, and the justification for your actions will be diminished?
3. We face an immoral enemy, who blatantly broadcasts his intention to destroy us while committing crime against our civilians and his own. You are explicit about what you wish us not to do. What, therefore, do you advocate? During war there can be no moral standing to a position which merely says what not to do without suggesting alternatives.
I look forward to your response. By way of due disclosure please note I am likely to publish our correspondence.
Dr. Yaacov Lozowick
El-Ad's response arrived a week later:
Shalom Dr. Lozowick,
My apologies for the delay in responding, This is a busy period, and I don't manage to respond to every task at the pace I'd like. Thank you for your patience and for your letter.
1. Our protests during the war did not disregard the laws of war and international law, on the contrary. They were informed by them. Moreover, there may have been serious breaches of them,and we call for them to be investigated by reputable independent entities.
2. At times, it is hard to hear the truth. The moral mirror which ACRI holds and will continue to hold before Israeli society, calls out for soul searching. We think this enhances our reliability as we continue to protect human rights in Israel and the conquered territories.
3. We have proposed and will continue to propose that Israel act in accordance with the laws of war, international law, and should respect the sanctity of human life.
Hagai El-Ad, CEO
What can I say. If any of you ever lived through adolescence, and especially if you've ever endured how your eager and perhaps sweet children turned into insufferable, raging arrogant teenagers, but then eventually grew out of it and became thoughtful adults capable of complex value judgments in the real world, you may agree with me that these folks are simply puerile. However, given their biological age - they tend to be in their thirties and forties - I'm not certain they should be excused so easily for being arrogant pricks.
18 בינואר 2009
אל: חגי אלעד
מנכ"ל האגודה לזכויות האזרח
שמי יעקב לזוביק. מזה כעשר שנים אני בשיח עם דן יקיר – פעמים מחוייך, פעמים מתוח. כעת אני פונה אליך כי מתחילת המלחמה בעזה דן מעדיף שלא אפנה אליו ביודעו שאפרסם את תשובותיו. היות שכך, אני פונה אליך.
יש לי עבורך שלוש שאלות, אך לפניהן הבהרה. ההגנה על זכויות אדם ומניעת עוולות נגד חפים מפשע חשובות לי לא פחות מאשר לך. בתשובתך אנא השתדל לא להטיף לי, ולא להתנשא.
- דיני המלחמה והחוק הבין-לאומי מתירים הרג של אזרחים בתנאים מסויימים. האם אינכם חוששים שכאשר מחאותיכם מתעלמות מהיתר זה, אתם מעודדים זילות של החוק הבין-לאומי, והעמדתו ככלי ריק?
- מפקדי צה"ל, חייליו ואזרחי ישראל מודעים היטב שמלחמה יכולה לפגוע בזכויות אדם; יש שאנחנו מגדילים את הסכנה לאזרחנו וחיילינו על-מנת למזער פגיעות באזרחי האויב. האגודה לזכויות האזרח יכולה להיות חלק חשוב ממערך האבטחה של התנהלותנו המוסרית, כאשר תפקידה הוא לעמוד על המשמר ולהתריע כאשר שמירת זכויות האדם נפגמת; כלי העבודה העיקרי שלה הוא האמינות. האם אינכם חוששים שטון מתנשא או מטיף המתעלם מעובדות אלה גורע מאמינותכם עד שיתעלמו מכם גם במקרים שקולכם אכן צריך להישמע?
- אנחנו עומדים מול אויב חסר מוסר לחלוטין, המצהיר בקולניות ששאיפתו היא להשמדנו, ומבצע פשעים נגד אזרחנו ונגד אזרחיו. אתם מספרים לנו מה אתם רוצים שלא נעשה: אז מה אתם מציעים שכן נעשה? בעת מלחמה אין תוקף מוסרי לעמדה שרק מבקרת אם אין בצידה גם הצעה מעשית.
אשמח לקבל את תגובתך. למען גילוי נאות סביר שאפרסם אותה.
דר' יעקב לזוביק
לד"ר לזוביק שלום,
ראשית אני מבקש להתנצל על העיכוב בתשובתי. זו תקופה עמוסה ביותר, ולא לכל המשימות שלפני אני מגיע במהירות לה הייתי שואף. תודה על סבלנותך, ועל עצם הפנייה. לעצם השאלות:
1 – מחאותינו בזמן המלחמה לא התעלמו מדיני המלחמה ומהחוק הבינלאומי, אלא הונחו על ידם. זאת ועוד, ישנם חשדות להפרות חמורות של דיני המלחמה, ואנו קוראים לחקירה עצמאית ויסודית של חשדות אלו.
2 – יש שקשה לשמוע דברי אמת. המראה המוסרית שהאגודה הציבה, ותמשיך להציב, בפני החברה בישראל, מחייבת חשבון נפש. אני מאמין שיש בכך בכדי לחזק את אמינותנו במסגרת מכלול העשייה המתמשך, הענייני והנחוש של האגודה לשם הגנה על זכויות האדם בישראל ובשטחים הכבושים.
3 – הצענו ונמשיך להציע שישראל תתנהל באופן השומר על דיני המלחמה, מכבד את החוק הבינלאומי ומתחשב בקדושתם של חיי אדם.
האגודה לזכויות האזרח בישראל
Friday, January 23, 2009
Most people at the NYT probably disagree with his positions, as do most readers (though it's interesting to note that the article is second on the list of popular articles). The editors of the paper will trot out the standard boilerplate about giving a platform to all opinions including the ones they really don't like, so that their readers can judge for themselves etc. etc. None of which can change the fact that the most important newspaper in the United States has published an article calling for the destruction of the Jewish State.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Index on Censorship is Britain’s leading organisation promoting freedom of expression. Our award-winning magazine and website provide a window for original, challenging and intelligent writing on these vital issues around the world. Our international projects in media, arts and education put our philosophy into action.
An admirable group, you'd think, engaged in the kind of things we instinctively support, an agency we automatically commend. Or at least, that's what you'd think. Until you look at their homepage and notice that the third of three "News in Brief" items is about how Fatah in Ramallah has arrested a journalist for decrying that the Ramallites aren't allowed to demonstrate about the events in Gaza (which, by the way, isn't true - they did for a few days, until the demonstrators stopped coming). Far be it from me to defend Fatah, but it does seem to have been fact that at the same time Hamas types were arresting, torturing and even killing fellow Gazans they felt had been perhaps not on their side in the recent violence.
At which point you begin to wonder who these folks really are, and what their agenda is. But I leave that for a future investigation which I probably won't do.
Anyway, last week Mr. Kampfner wrote a column (at the Guardian, where else?) which I missed at the time, bemoaning how the BBC has been cowed and no longer dares tell the story of the Israel-Palestine conflict as it really is.
Language, as any propagandist knows, is the most important tool. Hamas fighters are called "militants". That, I am told, is a halfway house between "terrorist" and more sympathetic labels such as "guerrillas". The Israeli army is often referred to by its formal title, the Israel Defence Forces. The bombardment of Gaza has regularly been described as "the Israeli operation". Such language denudes coverage of impact.
In a perfect world, it would be "Hamas freedom fighters facing fascist Israeli murderers", I suppose. Someone's gotta assist the poor Palestinians, after all, given their awesome power:
Led by Regev, a charismatic, Australian-born spokesman, Israel has amassed a formidable public relations operation. Following the failures of the Lebanon war it has created a National Information Directorate. The power of the message has long been at its strongest in the US, where academics and journalists know that criticism of Israel may harm their careers. (My italics).
All in all, it's a rather illuminating example of how such people see the world.
Over the last few days and weeks, you have all spoken out against the humanitarian tragedy in Gaza and the logic of military violence. We know just how difficult this has been - and still is - and are deeply impressed by your courageous commitment.It must have been terrifying to live in Gaza during the operation. It was certainly frightening to be among the 1,000,000 Israeli civilians made to race to their shelters, even if they knew that by so racing they probably really were taking themselves out of physical danger. I can tell from experience how unpleasant it was to have a family member in the thick of the fighting.
For the life of me I can't tell what courage might be required for people in democratic Israel to speak their mind. Pretending it was tells us something fundamental about how these people understand reality.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Of course, the problem with blogging, and punditry in general, is that we lack even minimal perspective, but he's asking now, not in five years, so here's an attempt to answer.
The internal Israeli arena. The Gaza operation achieved two extremely important goals, while possibly missing a third. The first important goal is re-establishing Israeli solidarity. We're in this very long war as a nation and community, not a collection of individuals. Yet since the 2nd Intifada was beaten, in 2002-2003, when most of us returned to normal lives, the citizenry of Sderot and its neighbors haven't. Perhaps someday I should write about the debilitating effect years of rocketry had on Sderot, but not today. The point is that the rest of us pretended it wasn't happening. The longer this went on, the more debilitating it became. The most blatant demonstration of this was how the very organizations which exist in order to express and enhance social solidarity and awareness, disengaged completely from the weak part of society that lives down there; once we went to war, most of them vehemently castigated us (and castigate us still) for our cruelty to the Palestinians, with nary a word for the Sderotians. (Go read Grossman's article yesterday). But the problem was with mainstream Israel, not the pathetic Loony Left. Mainstream Israel learned to live with the Sderotian's suffering: we can't stop Hamas because they're embedded in the populace of Gaza, so the Sderotians should stop kvetching.
Can you think of a more insidious and debilitating trend? The Gaza operation brought us back to our senses: we're here for all of us, and since defending some of us requires the determination and willingness to sacrifice of the rest, so be it.
The second internal goal was that we reaffirmed for ourselves that we know how to act. The multi-layer fiasco of the 2nd Lebanon War in 2006 had cast this in doubt. The multi-layered success of the Gaza operation proved to us that it's a matter of willpower, but also of professionalism. Someone has to collect the intelligence about the enemy; someone has to plan distribution of food in towns under fire - and all the many layers in between. There are hundreds of them. Many of them malfunctioned in 2006 - it was astonishing how many. Most of them did rather well in January 2009. I have no doubt that everyone involved is now sitting down to learn the details of what just happened, so as to do even better next time. There will be a next time, we all know, and it could well be Tel Aviv being rocketed with big missiles, rather than Sderot with little ones, so there's still lots of necessary preparation. Only this time, we know that we know how to do it.
The failure, at least so far, was in getting Gilad Shalit back. I don't know why we failed, and it's possible that the operation changed the dynamics with Hamas so that he'll soon be exchanged for hundreds of their people, but it hasn't happened yet. As of this morning, we failed in getting him back, a failure which goes back to the issue of solidarity, and it's bad, that failure.
Still, the overall picture is positive. As I've often written here, ultimately, the historical explanation for the extreme longevity of the Jews and the tenacious successes of Israel, is that the Jews and the Israelis are determined to exist and succeed. That's the key. The Gaza operation bolstered that significantly.
The Palestinians. What did the operation achieve with them? We need to distinguish between at least two, perhaps three different groups of Palestinians.
First, Hamas. The paper edition of Haaretz this morning has an item (which I can't find on their website, which is eternally and abysmally exasperating and I wish they'd fire someone already) according to which Khaled Meshal admits the Hamas tactic was to withstand a three-day Israeli attack and then declare victory; "We didn't expect the Israelis to be so determined and destructive" he says. This is the same Khaled Meshal who as recently as last Thursday was declaring great Hamas victories and no Hamas losses, even as the news of our killing their Siam fellow was running across the bottom of the TV screen.
(As an aside: the Hamas tactic assumed Israel would behave exactly as David Grossman demanded we behave, when he wrote on the 3rd day that we'd made our point and should now stop, and he was translated into lots of languages and published worldwide).
Will Meshal's suprise be translated into a reluctance to shoot at Israelis? Only time will tell, but the example of Hassan Nassrallah is encouraging.
Second, the PA. As we all know, Fatah was mostly cheering the IDF, for doing to Hamas what they can't do. I don't know if that's a good thing. More significant, however, the PA under Salam Fayad seems to be delivering the Israelis a growing degree of security on the West Bank, and the populace a growing measure of economic growth (now of all times!) and general normality. The differences between Israel vs. the West Bank and Israel vs. Gaza couldn't have been more stark. Will the PA manage to translate this into beneficial political results? Who knows. Perhaps.
Third, the Palestinian people. This is the second time in a decade that we've demonstrated to them that they can't bring us to our knees with violence, and on the contrary, when they try too hard we turn very nasty. Not as nasty as they would be if the tables were turned, not even remotely so, which they seem to recognize, but still: when we're angry we're definitely nasty. So now they have two models to choose from.
(And no, I don't fear that we've just created a new generation of hate-filled young Palestinians determined to commit suicide murders. I don't see how they could possibly hate us more than they already did, and I never forget that the months immediately following the Declaration of Principles in September 1993 saw the steepest rise in Palestinian violence ever, to be surpassed only in Fall 2000 after Barak offered to dismantle most of the settlements).
The Arab world: The Gaza operation did a fine job of accentuating what educated observers knew anyway. That there's a deep split between some Arabs who hate and fear their own crazies, and those who either are the crazies or think the crazies can be used. The world needs those crazies to disappear, since they are the enemies of mankind. Ultimately, they can be defeated only by the rest of the Muslim world. I don't see how the operation did any harm; conceivably it might have done some good. There were persistent items in the Israeli media telling that many Arabs were whispering to the Israelis that they could smash Hamas, but only if they didn't bungle it as in Lebanon with the Hezbullah. I don't think we bungled this time, but I also don't think it will make much difference. It is the Muslims and Arabs who will have to defeat their demons. We can't do it for them. Nor can Obama.
Europe: As a number of readers discussed on this blog, the European response may have been better, all in all, than the European media would have liked. Certainly there was nothing written in the Guardian during the operation that would explain the visit of six European heads of government to Israel earlier this week, a mostly friendly and supportive visit. Either the heads of government know things from their intelligence briefings that aren't in the media, or they know that their voters aren't believing their own media, or both.
And yet. A few years ago it was fashionable to choose a year from the 20th century and postulate ourselves into it (We're in 1938. No, we're in 1941. No, we're in 1945. No, you idiots, we're in 2003). Well, in some disturbing ways, we're in 1909. That's the period when an educated minority was putting its finishing touches on a Weltanshauung of hatred, which had flagrant antisemitism at its very core. Nazism, as its students all know, was not an invention of some maniacs after the German defeat in The Great War and the subsequent political and economic turmoil. The ideas of Nazism were all fully developed years before World War One began.
A hundred years later, an educated minority has a Weltanschauung of hatred, and flagrant antisemitism is at its core. This is disquieting, or should be. The Gaza operation didn't invent them, nor did they need it to formulate their poison, but it brought them out into the open (once again). Since everyone knows who they are and where they are, perhaps everyone should do something about them. ("Everyone" won't).
Finally, the crucial question: did the operation change something with the folks of the incoming Obama administration. Well, I certainly can't say, can I? Can you? Yet I expect it didn't. If they needed last week's news to learn about the Israeli-Arab conflict, they're fools. I doubt they're that.
(Yes, I've noticed. I'm not doing a very good job at desisting from blogging, am I. Tomorrow).
I don't live in the English speaking world to the extent that I can agree or disagree with him, but his argument resonates for what it says about language in general. The idea that the way a person uses language reflects profound aspects of identity, and that communication happens through the form of language and not only its content, while recognizing those identity codes, fits well into my experience.
This is the reason English translations of the Bible don't work, although the King James translation comes close. The others supply the content, but not the profundity of the original Hebrew.
I noticed this also when my first book was being translated into German (from English). I had researched it in German, reading mountains of Nazi documentation; then written in Hebrew, from where it was translated into English for publication. The translator from the English into the German was a good friend, and we had a fine common language. What he lacked, born in the late 1950s, was a familiarity with Nazi-German. This lack of familiarity made it very hard for him to translate my book into a German that would reflect the reality of the people it was about: German speakers of his grandparent's generation, perhaps even the language of his own parent's youth. His German was too far from it, and repeatedly I had to tell him he wasn't "getting it". Thank God, I suppose.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
I'm a bit old, as bloggers go. I can still remember, as a young child in the United States before we came to Israel, how the echoes of the Civil Rights Movement penetrated my small and innocent world. Those children at Selma: the youngest of them were my age. A few years later the authorities in segregated Chicago began integrating our schools, and history was happening in our classrooms - we were old enough to understand that.
History isn't solid, and reality isn't petrified. Things can change, sometimes at a pace its very drivers and motivators cannot dream of. Martin Luther King could still have been alive today; I don't think he dreamed this would have been possible in his lifetime.
It is this potential for bettering the world that makes the United States the most important political agent of good in human history, in spite of its many deep flaws. As Barack Obama takes its helm, we should all be cheering, as well as hoping for his success and America's.
We dare also not forget how unusual America is. Revolutionary change for the better can happen: but more often, it doesn't. Not even America can change that. Yet let this be a day of celebration; human nature will still be here tomorrow.
As satisfied as Israelis are that the technical weaknesses of the Second Lebanon War were corrected, we should be paying heed to another voice - the one that says the Israel Defense Forces' successes in the confrontation with Hamas do not prove that it was right to embark on such a massive campaign, and are certainly no justification for Israel's mode of operation in the course of the fighting. These military successes merely confirm that Israel is stronger than Hamas, and that under certain conditions it can be tough and cruel in its own way.If only he were right.
Obviously, the Palestinians cannot be let off the hook for their crimes and mistakes. That would be tantamount to belittling and condescending to them, as if they were not mature adults with minds of their own, responsible for their own decisions and failures. The inhabitants of the Gaza Strip may have been "strangulated" in many ways by Israel, but even they have other options for protesting and drawing attention to their misery than the launching of thousands of rockets against innocent citizens in Israel.
We must not forget that. We cannot pardon the Palestinians or treat them forgivingly, as if it were obvious that whenever they feel put upon, violence will always be their sole response, the one they embrace almost automatically.
We must speak to the Palestinians: That is the most important conclusion from the most recent round of bloodshed. We must speak also to those who do not recognize our right to exist here. Instead of ignoring Hamas at this time, we would do better to take advantage of the new reality that has been created by beginning a dialogue with them immediately, one that would allow us to reach an accord with the whole of the Palestinian people. We must speak to them and begin to acknowledge that reality is not one hermetic story that we, and the Palestinians, too, have been telling ourselves for generations. Reality is not just the story we are locked into, a story made up, in no small measure, of fantasies, wishful thinking and nightmares.
Alas, he isn't. First, because Israel does talk to Hamas, and it's silly to claim otherwise. We talk to them about Gilad Shalit, we talk to them about Hudnas and ceasefires, we talk to them about opening and closing border crossings. True, both sides pretend this isn't so and always use intermediaries, but that's window dresssing. It's not reality.
Grossman's deeper mistake, however, is in his refusal to learn from life, strange as it may sound.
He first broke onto our political scene in 1986 or 1987, with his important book The Yellow Wind. Previously he'd been a rising young author; now he came and told us how he'd spent months roaming the occupied territories talking to Palestinians, and alongside much hatred, he'd also found much to be hopeful about. The book immediately became an influential best seller; people like myself, desperate to believe him, used it as a rallying call.
Eventually, it turned out, he was wrong. I vividly remember one scene in which his Palestinian interlocutors assured him that if Israel would allow them their own state, of course they'd not need an army, because "if not to use against you, what do we need an army for, and if there's peace, you won't be an enemy" (My paraphrasing from memory).
Yeah, well. Grossman, by the way, never admitted his mistake. Not remotely.
Talking is a fine idea. I'm always in favor. I'm in favor of talking to Hamas, openly, right now, a position which puts me on the far left of our current political spectrum, just like I thought our ban on talking to the PLO in the 1980s was silly, and that also put me far left of center. I don't fear talking to anyone. Even though I know it won't make any difference, because in order for the talking to go somewhere, there must be something to talk about, and a common language to do it in. Talking to Hamas won't lead to peace, because Hamas can't make peace with us and still be Hamas. Not because of anything we've done these past few years or even decades. Hamas can't make peace with us beacause we've shattered the way the world is supposed to be in their minds: The Muslims control the Daar el-Islam, and the Jews are Dhimmis in it. Jews don't control Muslim territories, and Jews don't rule over Muslims. It never was so, and it will never be so.
Oops. Looks like I'm far to the political Right, huh?
The inability to find anything to talk about, is of course common. I've got a label on this blog called "Rational Discourse?". Click on it and you'll find all sorts of tidbits I've marked where the cognitive chasm between myself and educated democratic westerners is so great there's nothing to talk about. If not them, how will we get anywhere by talking to Hamas?
Finally, a counter-story about talking.
Gitta Sereny, in her magnificent Into that Darkness, tells how she spent weeks talking to Franz Stangl, commander of Treblinka and Sobibor, in his German prison cell in the 1960s. At one point he described watching a trainload of Jews being herded to their deaths in the gas chambers, and Sereny asked if there might have been anything they could have said to him, that would have influenced him to save them. He couldn't comprehend the question - even though Nazi Germany was already more than two decades in the past, and he had been sentenced for his part in its crimes. He couldn't figure out what her question was about, though they were both speaking German, quite courteously.