Thursday, March 24, 2011

It's Nice to be Safe and Powerful

The New York Times has a report by a group of its journalists who were arrested by Gaddafi forces a few weeks ago and treated badly before they were released. It's well worth reading, for what's in it - and what isn't. Mohammed, the driver, isn't. Or rather, he is, briefly, until at the first encounter with Libyan troops he get's killed, mourned for two sentences by his American charges, and forgotten. Of course he isn't mentioned in the title. "Four Times Journalists Held".

The journalists suffered during their days of captivity, they were roughed up, sometimes seriously roughed up, and the woman among them was repeatedly groped. The worst part, in their telling, was that they didn't know what lay ahead of them, though they apparently knew rather early on that their captors were taking their American citizenship seriously. It's an easy bet that 99%-plus of their readership has never been treated as badly and never will. Sadly, it's also the case that 100% of the locals, had they been in the same predicament, would have ended much worse - as Mohammed did.

I've been watching the frenzied discussions in the US and Europe about military interventions, when are they allowed, when advisable, what may legitimately trigger them, what about them is all wrong. The more I watch, the more I grow envious. It must be a wonderful thing to be able to deliberate when you'll use force and when you'll lean back, shrug your shoulders, perhaps utter a few words of deepest regret, and then get on with your daily life secure in the knowledge that your daily life won't be much impacted by the whole deliberation one way or the other. It must truly be wonderful to live your life that way.

This isn't new, of course. I remember the evening we first arrived in Israel, in the summer of 1967. My parents, both of whom had lived as high-school students through World War II, and then had lived a number of years in post-war Germany where my father was an American officer, were as well educated as anyone, and were probably more aware than many Americans of what the world was like. And yet, in the cab up from the airport one of them asked the cab driver "if he knew anyone who had been in the recent Six Day War. "I was in it" he responded. Gasp. Half an hour later we reached Jerusalem and the cabbie needed directions. So he pulled over by a group of people dancing around a fire on an empty lot. A young teenager came over exuberantly and chanted "we won! we won!"

Apparently it had been a very immediate experience, not the "Middle East Crises" the media had been blabbering about for two months.

I'm not being facetious, or even particularly cynical or bitter. I'm simply pointing out a basic dynamic: the citizens of rich and powerful nations (or, in the case of most of Europe, rich and purposefully not so powerful) don't really have anything existential to worry about on the national level. True, there are rare cases of terrorism, but how many of those citizens knows anyone to the third degree of separation who was present at a terror event? And anyway, terror events don't threaten the national existence or anything like it. Unless hassles at airports can be tagged as a threat.

The rest of us live in a different world. Here's Sylvia, a regular reader and sometime commenter on this blog, in a comment she posted here about half an hour ago:

A rocket just hit I would guess maybe 20 meters or less from my house in Sderot a few minutes ago (I don't have a shelter yet).
This afternoon Grad rockets hit Ashdod the impact was heard in Kiryat Gat. This in addition to Beer Sheva and Ashkelon in the past 24 hours.
Although the area has been regularly hit by rockets from the Gaza strip in the past year, little attention has being paid to those Palestinian crimes, as if it's not worth our time, or as if those people don't count since it is neither Jerusalem nor Shenkin.
Instead we all engage in endless mental masturbation over which radical yoyo said what and how. Of that I plead guilty myself.

Yet, we should look at the lessons from the past. The world was shocked by Cast Lead because it was unaware of its context: eight-years of brutal, daily rocket assaults inflicted on unarmed civilians by the Palestinians of Gaza. And it was unaware because it didn't look sexy enough to the media including the blogging community.

Today, we are repeating that history and engaging ourselves in the same process of banalization of Israeli suffering. These things should be often, thoroughly and specifically discussed, not just mentioned in passing at best or else ignored. Context.


NormanF said...

The problem is Israel is too restrained.

The Russians would have razed Gaza already.

What Israel is doing is beyond stupid.

The best way to ensure a full scale war is NOT to respond with overwhelming force to the slightest Palestinian terror attacks.

One has the impression Israel's government is more concerned with pleasing world opinion than with protecting the lives of its citizens.

When you are under attack, you don't pull back your punches. You hit hard.

If Israel doesn't do that soon, all the deterrent value of Operation Cast Lead will dissipate.

Y. Ben-David said...

It is important for you to understand that the ruling clique that controlled the Jewish Yishuv from the beginning of the British Mandate of Palestine and set the imprint on Israeli governmental behavior and thinking down to the present day, regardless of what party is in power, were people heavily influenced by Marxism. Thus, the number one foreign policy goal of these people (and like I said, the Likud has been forced into this pattern of thinking although they started out anti-Marxist and anti-socialist) was to get the European liberal and Marxist Left to love Israel. And how do you do being a VICTIM. Now, you and I know that the best way to get a world tinged with antisemitism to respect Jews if not like them is to be STRONG. This was the situation after the Six-Day War. Also the Entebbe Raid raised respect for Jews. But, in the wake of Oslo, in which the government itself starts saying that the Palestinians are right and they we are oppressing them (even Sharon ended up saying this), then we see a major outburst of antisemitism.
This sickness of grovelling to the international Left was already apparent in what Levi Eshkol said after the Six Day War...he said "we now have to convince the world that we are Samson the nebbisher". In other words even though we are strong, we still have to somehow come across as victims and wretches.
A good example of this sick Leftist Jewish mentality was stated by Jeremy Ben-Ami, head of the anti-Israel J-Street organization. Netanyahu refused to meet him but he did meet, at the same time, Sarah Palin. Ben-Ami asked "why is Netanyahu wasting his time talking to her and not me who represents 170,000 (I don't believe that number, but that's what he claims). In other words, for the Jewish liberal/left and for non-Jews as well in American, Sarah Palin is a non-entity...she doesn't count BECAUSE SHE IS A CONSERVATIVE. Even though tens of millions of American support her. Far more people support her than J-Street, but here we see this classical arrogance of the liberal/Progressive/Left who delegitimize and dismiss their political opponents and this is why the Israeli Leftist leadership became so focussed on appeasing the international progressive/liberal/Left.

Silke said...


in my teens (I was born in 1942) Israel wasn't presented as victim to me. They were, perhaps overly romanticized, presented as the bright and very desirable future - making the desert bloom, living in kibbutzes all that stuff. Very very alluring to my young mind, so uncynical, so very very refreshing.

As best I can tell my world is enamoured by the David vs Goliath myth. Only David winning against Goliath makes the headlines and it always promising a wonderful hearts and minds story it permeates/dominates/tinges all "narratives" including soccer and afternoon TV-soaps, it is always the unlikely hero coming through against all odds. It is always the orphan who gets the prince.

I don't know how we can damp down that one which now I think has become a vital component in the demonisation of Israel without giving up our adoration of free competition.

But we must come up with a retelling of the David-narrative if we want to make people take notice of Sylvia's composed sounding info that a rocket has just landed 20 m away and that she doesn't have yet a shelter, mentioning that as an aside in a way as if she were talking about new garden equipment.

We must find a way to get that horrifying beyond belief narrative across. As a child bombed to smithereens buildings provided us with gorgeous play-grounds (they were off-limits but we went in anyway) and I understood the full horror of it only as an adult. It is "they" who initiate that horror again and again and thus it is "them" that must be stopped.

Final question: in which novel that made it into the popular realm was the hero or heroine not given some kind of underdog quality? It is time to come up with one, where a force for the good is not forced to become even better but to win the game without caveats.

Barry Meislin said...


This is precisely why the Palestinians will absolutely not accept a state, no matter how much they claim they want one.

Why should they give up their underdog status? Why should they give up their "David" status?

Being in this "oppressed" state and insisting on its continuance is precisely why they can continue to aim for Israel's destruction---and be understood for aiming for it; why they can continue to shoot rockets and missiles into Israel; why they can continue to blow up Israelis (and tourists, alas); why they can continue to demand and demand and demand without offering anything in return.

They are oppressed. Victim par excellent. And that's exactly the way they want it.

Certainly, it is an absurd travesty; but why should they give up this victimhood which is so useful for their purposes, so necessary to achieve their goal?

Their so-=called oppression is their trump card. Their purported suffering is the ace up their sleeve. It is the reason why they can do absolutely anything and say anything and be held responsible for absolutely nothing.

And they should give this up?

To help Israel?

(Ah, "to help themselves," some might opine; but in this matter, "helping themselves" means bringing about Israel's destruction. Full stop.)

Their oppression is the reason why the world has come around to not only believing their "narrative" but to agree with their view---their goal---that the State of Israel disappear.

And yet, as Gates (the American Secretary of Defense) has just said (amidst the missile raining down on Israel), the peace process and is of the highest importance and must be continued and must be allowed to die, yadda, yadda, yadda.

To which Abbas can only whole-heartedly agree.

But of course.

Barry Meislin said...

Should be: "...and must NOT be allowed to die...."

Silke said...

you blew it, that was one of the most accurate Freudian slips ever

and on top of being a victim, I think JPost has a piece today how they are doing so much better than any of their not oil-rich co-Arabs including in education.

They aren't stupid enough to imagine that their getting pampered in any imaginable way is going to continue once they stop peddling the noble savage freedom fighter image. There are lots of images but the biggest romance is always in slandered underdog overcomes impossible odds. Come to think of it, if we'd start singing their praise far and wide, maybe that would dim the gloss a bit.

gere's a perfect example of what we feed our children with from a very very early age.