Category Archives: the sum of all our fears

Razorwire over the Wadi

Shakhaf returns home from school. Daddy, who recently returned from his reseve duty, asks how was her day. Shakhaf, who is in the first or second grade, says she has homework to do: answer the question whether Israel has a right to exist. Daddy, and you can see how much it costs him (“if it has a what?” “a right to exist”), keeps his cool and asks what she thinks of the question. Shakhaf says it’s a simple one; he asks for the answer. She says “yes, it does”; he asks “why?”. Shakhaf is stuck: “I don’t know”.

Here comes the expected Zionist answer: a house which we’ve abandoned and yet remains ours, the 2,000-years exile and all of the usual mythos. But, daddy says, when we’ve come back, we’ve forgotten other people have lived here in the meantime – “and these people are right, and these people are right as well, and because of that we’re entangled with ourselves for a 100 years already”.

And perhaps the recognition of tragedy, the collision of two sides in the right, is a bit too much for a seven year old child. Especially in a reality where this collision takes the form of terrorist attacks and unfocused assassination strikes.

[] Touching every open sore

The new movie of the brothers Tomer and Barak Hayman, “A Bridge over the Wadi”, tells the story of the mixed school for Jewish and Arab children so named, residing in Qafr Qara. The school is supposed to promote coexistence among Jews and Arabs – and the movie takes a good look at every pothole on that road.

It begins well: excited kids go to school. An Arab mother says she grew up hating Jews and she doesn’t want her son to grow up like her. Asaf, a Jewish boy, goes to school with mixed feelings: he is afraid of a terrorist attack, the school is in an Arab town. The year is 2004. The children reach school, balloons go up, and everything looks fine. The teachers teach the children trust-games: one child closes his eyes, and the other leads him throughout the school grounds, guiding him so he won’t fall or harm himself.

Then Hanukah comes along. All of the children, Jewish and Muslims, sing holiday hymns. They light “eight candles of light and love”. Some of the Muslim parents feel ill at ease – which is noticeable when their own children sing “[and we thank thee] for the salutations, and for the wars You fought for our forefathers”.

The first flashpoint comes during Ramadan: A Muslim child leads all of the children in a holiday prayer, and the children bow and pray. This is too much for Moni, who takes her son out of school. She claims to be an atheist, but says Jews have, over the generations, have preferred death to bowing. It’s very hard to blame her for this.

A short while afterwards comes the suicide attack in Be’er Sheva. Asaf is hosting his friend, Bashir, in his grandmother Bruria’s house. During lunch, Bruria cross-examines Bashir: Are you sad when Jews are killed? Did your parents teach you life has intrinsic value? Asaf is trying to defend his friend (“they don’t speak to them about it, so they won’t be afraid”); the grandmother carries on with the crucifixion. When the two finally escape towards the video games, she fires at the camera: “we educate the people who will kill us”.

The Hsymans aren’t going easy on themselves, do not act as toy leftists, and don’t pretend the occupation is the source of all the problems in the universe. At a campfire, after Shakhaf and her friend are taken by the friend’s father, Farouq, to the Luna Park, she asks Farouq about love. Farouq says there are no such things among them, it’s forbidden. Shakhaf, amused and curious and detecting bullshit a mile off, asks what would happen if her friend would tell Farouq she was in love. Farouq, noticeably agitated, repeats his reply. Shakhaf asks, wondrous: what do you mean? There are no rules in love, if she falls in love she falls in love. Farouq does not reply. The director intervenes, and repeats Shakhaf’s question. Farouq finally answers: “If this happens, I’d shoot her and turn myself in, I’d go to prison”. Shakhaf, terrified: “You’d kill her?”

And all this is a bit too much. It’s not clear why kids in second class have to learn about Land Day. It’s not clear why the school, which always makes certain all lessons are bilingual (which, as the teacher Yasmin justly notes, means in practice that the Arab pupils are losing their mother’s tongue, because they speak Hebrew with their friends), is split particularly on Independence Day. Some learn about Independence Day, some of the Naqba. And what will they say to each other, when they return to school after two days?

The movie is well edited, the directors’ involvement is minimal (aside from the question directed at Farouq, they asked no other question), and it leaves the viewer with huge despair, huge fear. After all, this school was established by the more tolerant people of the two groups, and if this is the result when their children meet, what would be the result in the general public, where xenophobia is a central ingredient of identity?

The last scene is a conversation among the children. One child, Jewish, all children, even civilians, will have to be soldiers at one point. Another Jewish child is trying to soften the message: no, not everyone. Yes, everyone, the first child insists; it’s either the army or the prison. The second speaker, defensive, says: but you don’t have to serve in a position which forces you to kill Arabs. The first speaker replies: it’s your commander who decides what you’ll do, not you.

One of the Arab children blows a fuse: if you kill Arabs, I will come to your house and blow you up. The second Jewish children gives it his last shot: but maybe, by the time we grow up, there’ll be peace. The first speakers nods dismissively: I don’t know, but I don’t think so.

And if this is the level of pessimism among second graders, and second graders who know the “other side” intimately, maybe it’s time to close up shop.

(Written by Yossi Gurvitz for Nana Culture, published November 4 2007, translated into English today, November 6.)

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The Offensive that Dares not Speak its Name

Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war – Donald Rumsfeld

 

Two days ago I happened to meet an Iran-affairs expert, who, to the best of my knowledge, was supposed to be in London. We discussed the morning’s headline. He was in despair; he estimated we are on the threshold of war with iran. “That’s not what you told me back in January,” I said; he was much more optimistic then. He nodded sadly.

 

It is quite possible Bush has already decided to attack Iran. The escalating rhetoric – “Third World War” is not, to be understated about it, a phrase frequently used by a head of state – points to it. The storage timing of the declaration of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terror organization last month, a bill pushed by the neo-conservative Senator Joe Liebermann, may signify that the administration is looking for a reason, a cause, some semblance of a congressional approval for such an attack. Should that happen to be the case, Hillary Clinton’s vote for the amendment may haunt her much more than her vote approving the Iraq war.

 

Leaving aside the future politics of 2008, the public ignoring of a certain point is astonishing. Let us assume that American planes, taking off on a bombing mission in a country as large as Germany, France and Britain combined, do find their underground targets and destroy them. That’s where public imagination halts: Mission accomplished, threat removed; the hero lands, takes off his flying gear and lights a cigar. Credits begin to roll. The end.

 

This scenario assumes utter passivity on the part of Iran. It assumes a country which justly considers itself a regional superpower will simply avoid a response after its sovereignty has been violated, a military attack has been carried out on its territory, a project which cost it untold funds and which around which the population is gathered has been destroyed. This assumption will not stand the test of reality.

 

Iran has a complete array of response options, none of them nice. The most likely of which are a Hizbullah attack on israel’s northern border, an unprecedented Iranian missile attack on Israel (which is, justly, considered the cause of the attack), and a full Shi’ite assault against the American forces in Iraq. The Mahdi’s Army, Muqtada Al Sadr’s militia which enjoys Iranian support, has more men on the ground in Iraq than the US military. And the Shi’ites take – very sensibly, from their point of view – a very dim view of the American-Sunni rapprochement in Anbar Province.

 

American forces will find it hard to get out of this trap – especially when you take into account the fact that Turkey (which threw the US’ Iraq invasion plan out of joint in 2003) may do so again following an attack on Iran, and may prevent American supplies and reinforcement from entering Iraq from within its borders.

 

And these are just the expected military outcomes. It’s perfectly possible the mullahs hold some surprises up their sleeves, such as a sleeper terror network in Europe and the US, which would be activated upon an attack.

 

But the direct military response pales before the diplomatic one. The anger in the world against the US, already at an all-time high, will rise sharply – especially if the Bush administration will give up on a UN approval of the strike, an impossibility given the veto power of Russia and China. And the rage will find its boiling point in the Middle East.

 

A fifth American attack on a Muslim country in 15 years (Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, Iran), is expected to lead to an explosion in the “Muslim Street”. In a much less combustive situation, at the beginning of the Second Gulf War in 1991, King Hussein of Jordan hastened to grow a beard and spout Islamic slogans. A strike against Iran, whose pro-Israeli motives are so transparent, combined with an Iranian military response, could lead to a meltdown of the Middle East.

 

Israeli experts are already speaking openly about the expected collapse of Jordan. Mubaraq holds to his throne by the skin of his teeth, and the Muslim Brotherhood enjoys a majority among the Egyptians. Syria may be dragged, following Iran, into a war with Israel, if only to prevent radicalization of Islam within it; Assad Junior is not strong enough to repeat his father’s Hama Massacre. An attack on Iran may finally push Turkey to the Islamic side, and may serve it as an excuse for an invasion of Kurdistan. Only God knows what would happen to the Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Principalities.

 

The attack may well strengthen Iran. The mullah regime has trouble ruling, it fails in supplying its subjects with livelihood, and Iran is a revolution-prone country. A large segment of the population abhors the regime, and the only thing which may bring the people together around the mullahs (thereby postponing the oh-so-necessary reform) is an attack by a foreign power.

 

In short, the concept that an air attack on Iran will rid us of the “danger of a Third World War” is a dangerous fantasy, since it gleefully disregards the counter-offensive which is certain to come. The very attack is the most likely catalyst, at the moment, for such a war. The counter-reaction will cause massive damage to the US’ standing, may bring about a military defeat in the Middle East, and may trigger an isolationist response of the voters in November.

 

The counter-reaction may, on the other hand, wipe out Israel off the map. For some reason, Israeli thinking, too, stops at the great image of Natanz in flames, and does not look five minutes further into the future. Anyone who thinks the IDF may defend him, is hereby cordially asked to take a second look at what happened in Lebanon in the summer of 2006.

 

Such introspection won’t take place, of course. We will continue to support war with Iran, because “everybody knows” there is no other option. And when everything will go up in smoke around us, we will ask (as we do ever since that shining moment in 1967): how did this happen to us?

 

And anyone who will remind the public that this question has to end with “again”, will be termed a traitor, a person who thrusts a knife at the nation’s back.

 

Again.

 

(Written and published in the Hebrew blog today. Translated by Yossi Gurvitz)

Wandering in the Fog: Israelis and History

A pamphlet is going around by email and forums, which warns Israelis of the dangers of celebrating the Sylvester (*). The pamphlet is replete with gross inaccuracies: for instance, it claims Sylvester I was a pope, while a more proper term would be Bishop of Rome; the papacy did not acquire the power we are used to until the 11th century.

Even should we leave aside this error – which a layman, unfamiliar with church history, could make easily – we hit upon a blood-curdling claim: according to the pamphlet, “the first organized pogrom” broke out  simultaneously in Germany, England and France on 31 December 1400.

Leave aside the fact that the propagandist does not know that such a coordination between the three realms (even assuming Germany was a realm at the time, which it was not) was simply impossible, due to communication problems and the lack of a common calendar. Let us even leave aside the fact that the pamphleteer is repeating the blood libel – in reverse; But how could the writer, who purports to be a believing Jew, not know there were no Jews in England and France in 1400?

And how about a friend of mine, who re-tells a well-known story about Rabbi Akiva, and finishes it with “and then Cossacks came and burned down the town” – without seeing the problems in seamlessly incorporating the second century rabbi, a leader of the Bar Kochva rebellion, in the tapestry of Eastern European Jewish life in the 1700s.  

Israelis are ignorant of history. This seems to be a designated effect. To begin with, the Israeli education system withdrew Jewish history away from the rest of history: it divided history lessons into “Jewish history” and the history of everything else. And then, they transformed the entirety of Jewish history into Historia Lacrimosa, a history of tears.

The lessons focus on the destruction of the Second Temple – but not on the unique beliefs and cultures which thrived while it stood; on the destruction of the Rhine Jewry during the crusades (what are crusades? What is Christianity? Unimportant; Christians are people who kill Jews); on the expulsion from Spain and the Spanish Inquisition (which, contrary to myth, did not persecute Jews). And between these two events, of course, Europe experienced nothing but endless blood libels.

The reason, as usual, is Zionist theory. The concept of Shlilat Hagola, negation of the Diaspora, ignores the salient fact that most of Jewish history took place in the Diaspora; that even prior to the destruction of the Temple, most of the Jews chose not to live in Palestine. The desire for a “normal” history, one with blood and kings and wars, made Zionist historiography – at least in its school version – leap over 2,000 crucial years.

Add to that rampant and ancient xenophobia, and the concept that things that interest non-Jews ought not to be of interest to Jews, and you get a society lacking any historical anchors. I have heard, with my own ears, an Israeli tour guide explaining, by Titus’ victory arch, that the Flavian emperor was in fact a pope (he misunderstood the meaning of the inscription pontifex maximus; and how he to know that the popes have borrowed this title from the emperors?). I have heard yeshiva boys who believed Plato lived after Maimonides; after all, many of his claims resemble those of Maimonides. Some people are under the impression that the Hasmoneans have triumphed, of all people, over the Romans; and who have no clue whether the Greeks came before, or after, the Romans.

And why should they? After all, does it really matter, in that endless chain of “on every generation they rose against us to destroy us, and did a remarkably good job”, whether the Egyptians came before the Nazis? And is the precise timing of the Byzantines in that chain essential? And so, we have people ignorant of all culture – even Jewish culture; people who are not certain on the time of the First Temple (the one, as everyone knows, destroyed by the Greeks), or the Second; or who were the Hassidim, and what in God’s name did they want.

There is no vaccum, and where there is no history, myth steps in. In our case, the myth of “the entire world is arrayed against us, always, a priori”; a myth which enables a propagandist to turn the blood libel inside out, and blame all of the Christians living in 1400 in a conspiracy against the Jews living among them; the myth which whispers that wherever there are Jews, there are also Cossacks; that the Holocaust is but the pinnacle of some mystic chain, and that another Holocaust is just around the corner. A long chain, unbound by causality, because it needs no causality.

Nietzsche once asked “how does history aid and harms life”; we can see the damage wrought by an absence of history at any time we look at the frightened herd which is the Israeli public.

(*) For unknown reasons, the Gregorian New Year is called the Sylvester in Israel; this probably has to do with German Jews and the traditions they brought with them.

(Written and published in Nana News in December 2004.  Translated by Yossi Gurvitz, October 2007).