Saturday, April 13, 2002

In the book LI mentioned in the last post � The Siege, by Conor Cruise O�Brien � there�s a
quotation from a critic, Edward Alexander, that is much on our mind today. Alexander, glossing
a poem, exudes a telling phrase: �... the Jewish people finds itself caught in a conflict between
the covenant and the historic necessity to survive within history...�

Indeed. But we are living, just as the evangelists say, in the end time -- the time when this kind of talk, this pattern of thinking, this use of a coy theology to justify the regretable theft, the imperial murder, has collapsed in on itself, corrupted by its own sentimentality. The covenant and the historic necessity have converged; the messianism of one coincident at all points with the irrationality of the other. Covenant and historic necessity are hauled out by thugs, ultras, gunmen, and news personalities to rhetorically drape any wretched activity whatsoever that can be enforced on one set of skin and bones by another, favored set. So watch: History wrenches concrete from concrete in Jenin; history blows itself up in the marketplace in Jerusalem, and survives; then it is ambushed on the West Bank, eleven dead, and
it survives. It whispers to soldiers that wouldn�t it be a good idea to use civilians as shields to advance on terrorist nests? Its spokesman come on the radio and admire themselves and their government for sparing life and limb by not carpet bombing encampments of refugees. With malice towards none, and a few missiles towards all, here we have a perfect moral stance for our times. It is a morality that dances on its own immoral means and jeers at critics.

Well. What did we go out in the killing fields to see, kiddies? A reed broken in the wind? Or

Powell was only about a mile away when today's blast happened, about to board a helicopter for
a tour of Israel's volatile Northern border region with Lebanon. His helicopter did a turn in the sky to allow the secretary to survey firsthand the bombing site, where glass and metal mixed with body parts and a severed head across a wide area of asphalt.

Or this:

JENIN, West Bank, April 11 -- There is the Fashafsheh family. According to their relatives, the mother, father and 9-year-old son were killed when an Israeli tank fired a shell through their living room in downtown Jenin and an Israeli bulldozer plowed into the thick walls of their home, smashing it down on top of them.
There is Rina Zayyed, 15, who said she was struck in the chest by a bullet as she sat at home
with her father and brother. An Israeli helicopter gunship opened fire on a man in the street below who was recharging a cell phone with his car battery, she recounted, and a fragment hit her.

And there is Khadra Samara, 33, who said she shepherded more than a dozen children as she fled from house to house to house in the adjacent Jenin refugee camp, under repeated assault from Israeli bulldozers and missiles that, house by house, nearly toppled the walls on top of them

Well, those are definitely some stories we could have gone out to see. But they aren't stories of much interest to, say, the New Republic. This week the magazine runs two stories on the Jenin operation, and both of the stories are pumped. The smell of massacre in the morning agrees with these guys. However, in the tumult of emotions attendent on seeing the enemy and his wife smashed by the finest American weaponry, the writers come to two completely opposite conclusions: one that Hamas� infrastructure has escaped the Israeli sweep,the other that it has been destroyed by it.

Both, however, conclude that the Palestinian will and ability to retaliate has been severely impeded. Both were written before the bus bombing, and before yesterdays return of the repressed bombing in Jerusalem.

To everything, there is a spin, it says in Ecclesiastes. The spin in preparation was that Sharon, in spite of petty criticism, launched an absolute operation that worked. The new justification will be that the Palestinians haven't been tamed yet. Robert Wright, with whom LI usually has no truck, had a sensible column about this in Slate last week which predicted, wrongly it turned out, that Sharon's hardcore strategy would pay off in the short run, and diminish the likelihood of suicide bombing. The two final grafs in his piece,consonant with that prediction, and with the puppylike excitement of the TNR reporters, makes a very LI-like point:

"And we shouldn't be beguiled by short-run success. If terrorist bombings indeed abate after the current incursion, prepare yourself for the inevitable Charles Krauthammer column touting the success of Sharon's iron-fist policy. It's a natural sequel to Krauthammer's column belittling the significance of the "Arab Street" after the Street failed to boil over and depose any Arab regimes in the wake of the Afghanistan war. In both cases, the fallacy is the same: failing to see 1) that metastasizing hatred can work slowly, beneath the surface; 2) that, increasingly, hatred needn't be mediated by a regime (or a quasi-regime, like the Palestinian Authority) to be lethal; and 3) that the lethal leveraging of hatred�the hatred-death conversion factor�will probably grow exponentially over the next five to 10 years, as lethal technologies advance and spread. (Hamas recently moved from crude fertilizer bombs to sophisticated plastic explosives.)

Unfortunately, Krauthammer's time horizons mirror those of many politicians in a democracy. If your goal is to keep your poll numbers up for a few months or even years, it may pay to be crudely, crowd-pleasingly tough on terrorists while avoiding the messy and frustrating spectacle of addressing terrorism's causes: Just do the immediately popular things and hope that the long-run cost of your negligence doesn't show up until your successor takes office. If that is your ambition, Ariel Sharon is a fine role model."

Thursday, April 11, 2002

Okay, LI is obsessed. You are tired of the Middle East. You want things the way they used to be around here. The eccentric flights into biz-olect. The homey essays about encyclopedias.
Well, forget it.

David Remnick's Talk of the Town piece in this week's New Yorker is a bouquet of Cold War flowers of rhetoric. It exudes a sweet, poisonous smell. He even writes of the "parlor politicians" in Europe -- is this derived from the phrase, parlor pinks? Surely it is. I suppose the contrast is between those effete guys enjoying teas in roccoco-ish chambers and speaking French to each other (yuck!) while on the other side of the world, in the New World, our politicians are up at the crack of dawn, donning grease stained t shirts, smoking marlboros, roping and wrangling and squinting into the sun and getting long and tall and philosophical. Our politicians are like our usurping Potus. They are like Trent Lott. They are as honest and funloving a bunch of guys as you'd want to take out on patrol. And smart! Not in that parlor sense, not with a bunch of book larnin.' No siree, they was all trained at their grandmas knee on the good book and Horatio Alger, and has forsaken the word since then, since what is the point?

But the more interesting part of Remnicks' demagogery is another McCarthy-ite trope: moral equivalency. Remember the second Cold War, the Reagan phase, when we were hammered with that phrase? It has been a while since we saw it last. But here it comes again. We particularly enjoyed this passage:

"There is no moral equivalence between Arafat and Sharon: the first thrives on the idealization of martyrdom; the other now blunders while trying to stifle him. Nevertheless, history has seldom conjured two leaders less fit for their historical moment than Arafat and Sharon. (And those who stand in waiting�a murderer's row of Palestinian security chiefs and Benjamin Netanyahu�are no more promising.) Another party is needed, and this moment, like September 11th, demands American diplomacy, imagination, and intervention. President Bush was, at first, slow to engage at anywhere near the level needed. His actions, and the actions of his agencies, were contradictory and confused. One day early last week, when Bush was asked about criticism that he had not done enough to bring an end to the confrontation, he complained that in fact he had been making calls all morning. The President sounded put out; it was a tone familiar not from his best speeches after the September attacks but, rather, from his more feckless moments during the 2000 campaign."

We vote for "moral equivalence" as our favorite phrase in Remnick's piece, because unlike parlor politician, it is not mere vituperation. It supposedly means something, something deep. Demagogery is not mere ornament. It has to provide a content, however ersatz. So here we are in the Cold War again, with an 'us' -- see above, re squinting into sun politicos on ranches -- and a 'them'. There's evil Arafat, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, a figure out of the Flintstones -- blundering, but no doubt decent and humane Ariel Sharon.

Well, all talk about the Middle East eventually gets around to history -- which is why, perhaps, the place seems so enigmatic and maddening to Americans, who officially believe history is something that comes in marble, with columns and a statue, that you visit on your D.C. vacation -- but that is otherwise irrelevant to anybody's life.

Yet because Remnick's Fred Flintstone is leading a party that actually has a history -- and because that history, with its roots in the Irgun, exhibits pattern that are on display in every one of Sharon's acts and speeches, and in the acts and speeches of his rightwing cabinet ministers -- LI would think that the New Yorker editor would have some feel for the past, here, as that force that portends the future. LI has been boning up on the Middle East himself, kiddies. We are reading Conor Cruise O'brien's book about Israel, The Siege. Though we are far from finished with that book, one thing clearly emerges from the history of Israel's founding. The PLO's model for statehood is not Algeria, it is Israel.

The Israel, that is, that countenanced a double track policy in its early years. The Israel that knew that its very existence depended on provisionally defying the world, or at least the Free World. On the one hand, the official Zionist line of peaceful coexistence, promulgated by David Ben-Gurion. On the other hand, the unofficial Irgun line of "by whatever means necessary." The Irgun line involved massive covert shipments of arms, assassination (as of the UN's mediator at the time, Count Bernadotte), and the deaths of as many Palestinian Arabs as was necessary to create the critical fright that leads to wholesale flight.

Since this history is a mere fifty years ago and less, burying it is still difficult. But les gens bien-pensants like Remnick, who have otherwise exhibited a ravenous thirst for information about, say, Stalin's crimes -- which stretch back sixty years and more -- seem to be satiated on a tepid version of Israel's founding, development, and present state. It is all in the heroic mode, a la Leon Uris, and bloodshed is what the Israelis suffered, instead of caused.

So we have this version of Arafat the terrorist, which is a top ten number for right wing pundits and moderates alike. How can the man actual debase the peace process by competing with more radical Palestinian factions? Such behavior would never be allowed in Israeli politics, right?

Come on. Are we serious here? Of course not. That's why, out of the ruins of the camps, the newspapers will be extracting, in the next few days, evidence from the IDF, the most neutral and kindly of armies. As the mounds of the Palestinian dead are buried, the papers will instead focus, with their eternal vigilance over right and wrong, on documents and weaponry.

As for the hand-wringing in Remnick's article about the settlements on the West Bank -- like every other American journalist, he assures us that the vast majority of the Israelis don't want them, don't need them, etc., etc. But by some magical force, some national impotence a la the Fisher King, they just can't seem to prevent them from happening. They just can't seem to connect, say, electing Ariel Sharon prime minister and the continuing support given to the West Bank settlements.

For a much more specific article about the politics of those settlements, go to Anthony Lewis' article in the NYRB.
. LI has been planning to comment on this surprising and slendid article for a couple of days, but we don't have time to right now. Look for it in the future, kiddies.

Wednesday, April 10, 2002


Headline politics

At least 8 killed in Bus Bombing in Israel (NYT)
Toll Rises as Israel Presses on: 13 soldiers die; bus explosion kills 8, hurts 14; Sharon resolute (Boston Globe)

8 killed after Passenger Bus attacked in Israel (Washington Post)

Ambush in West Bank Kills 13 Israeli Soldiers (San Jose Mercury Mercury)

That much gone from the world, of skin,tissue, the delicate, fine optic nerve, the hands, the genitals, thought (thethinker dying), bad moods, bad relationships, love, the taste of coffee, hair. Burned, battered, bloody, done. Bad news.

But somehow, the headlines never seem to read: 150 dead inJenin; or, Israeli Troops Kill 150 in Camp. Somehow the headline writers neverget around to Palestinian dead except as the sort of cortege of Israeli dead.Somehow Palestinian dead never make the grade, never deserve the caps.Something about them, no doubt. They are, after all, living in a camp. And look at what they are finding in those camps! Weapons! Documents! My god, for all the world like, well, like a sovereign state, instead of the dependents that they were made to be by nature and art. Better than the beasts of the field, let's be human here -- but with no right of self determination. Rather, endowed with the right to wait, eternally.

Now, if by some miracle tanks rolled intoSharon�s compound, what interesting papers they would find. What weapons. Andof course those tanks would, as an iron semantic rule, be manned by terrorists.No two ways around that. Still, the publication of those documents and the exhibition of those weapons � including, in Israel�s case, surely, atom bombs �would be interesting, n�est-ce pas?

Let's scatter a few caveats.

Here is the thing. There are those who believe Israel is an illegitimate state. There are those who are anti-Semites, and simply want Jews killed or persecuted. There are those who mourn for the displaced Palestinians, and have no time for, say, the 150,000 Jews that were driven out of Iraq, or the comparable numbers driven out of a number of Arab nations in the fifties and sixties. Charles Krauthammer, our convenient devil doll, into whose prose LI likes to stick pins, had a point in a column he published a month ago:much of the Palestinian and Arab press is filled with ridiculous, immoral,sickening anti-jewish crap.

"This indoctrination goes far beyond expunging Israel, literally, from Palestinian maps. It goes far beyond denying, indeed ridiculing, the Holocaust as a Jewish fantasy. It consists of the rawest incitement to murder, as in this sermon by Arafat-appointed and Arafat-funded Ahmad Abu Halabiya broadcast live on official Palestinian Authority television early in the Intifada. The subject is "the Jews." (Note: not the Israelis, but the Jews.) "They must be butchered and killed, as Allah the Almighty said: 'Fight them: Allah will torture them at your hands.' . . . Have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, in any country. Fight them, wherever you are. Wherever you meet them, kill them."

The tropes unchanged since the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was first manufactured by the Czar�s secret police (the Czar in question, Czar Nicholas II, was recently canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church,to the world�s thunderous silence).

LI suspects that there are leftists whose flaming hatred for Israel overlaps with a not so latent anti-jewish bias.

But LI also knows that in the ecology of chauvinisms, one prejudice can exist quite nicely behind another prejudice � that the victims of a bias can themselves be biased. Victimhood confers no honor. In the best of cases it extends the imagination. If I suffer, I can imagine that my neighbor might suffer. That, at least, is one possible outcome of suffering. I wouldn�t bet the house on it, however.

All this to introduce one Effi Eitam, the man Sharon just inducted into his Cabinet, as a sort of fuck you to the Labor party.

Eitam is the head of the National Religious Party. Here's one summing up of the guy, from Ha'aretz:

Eitam's aim is to turn the national religious camp into a kind of bridgehead, a national avant-garde movement. According to Eitam, the Zionism of normality has run its course. So the mission of religious Zionism now is to lead the entire country toward a new horizon, a new purpose: to establish the Temple.

The thoughts of Eitam are instructive. Here, for instance, is his version of Eretz Israel:

"What has to be done with regard to the Palestinians?

"The immediate solution consists of three elements. First, get rid of this leadership. Second, to enter Area A [under full Palestinian control] and uproot the military terrorist capability. Third, to make it clear that there will be no foreign sovereignty west of the Jordan River. I am not sure that this is the time to organize what will happen east of the Jordan. But as for the area west of the Jordan, we have to state that no sovereignty will be established there other than that of the State of Israel."

And here are his thoughts on the means to that greater state;

And what will become of the Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and Gaza?

"They will be residents without the right to vote. We have to obtain an interim settlement regarding their status. Not on the status of the territory - on their status. They have to be given a choice between enlightened residency with us or dark citizenship in the Arab states. The Arabs in Judea and Samaria will be able to make a free choice between a situation in which they will be Palestinian citizens who are residents of Israel, or citizens of their country who reside in the Palestinian state in Jordan and Sinai."

And what will induce them to cross to the other side of the Jordan? To emigrate?

"I don't want to be hypocritical. But I will put it like this: We do not need a declared emigration policy that encourages the emigration of Arabs. I think that we have to sincerely offer them an alternative of residency. Of course, whoever does not accept will have to be told: Your place is not with us. In a case like that, not even a wink is needed."

Yes, not even a wink, when a bullet will do. This isn't a man of muted views. Palestinians can read, oddly enough. They hear Powell say that the Bush administration is behind a Palestinian state. And they see that the Bush administration is very much behind the Sharon government, which includes Eitam. And they know that, in headline math, 150 palestinians do not equal 8 israelis. So they go for bombs instead.

It isn't hard to foresee where this is going.

Tuesday, April 09, 2002


Museum or Masoleum

According to a story in the Ha'aretz,

thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed in an ambush in Jenin this morning.

"Thirteen IDF soldiers were killed following a series of clashes in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank on Tuesday morning. In addition, an officer with the paratrooper brigade was killed during gunfights in the Nablus casbah.

Also Tuesday, in Dura, south of Hebron, another paratroop brigade officer was critically wounded after the IDF thrust into the village.

All of the casualties in Jenin were reserve soldiers. Nine other soldiers, also predominately reservists, were hurt in the clashes, two moderately and seven lightly. They were taken to Afula's Emek Hospital for treatment. "

According to the paper, there are a dozen Palestinian dead, at least, scattered through the camp. According to the Washington Post, Palestinians estimate that there are many more dead: "more than 100 Palestinians have been killed in battles inside the camp over the last week. Before the latest ambush, nine Israeli soldiers had been killed inside the camp and the neighbouring town."

This, according to the Economist, is how the battle went down in Jenin:

"But the real carnage on Monday and Tuesday occurred in Jenin refugee camp and in Nablus�s Old City, hitherto impenetrable bastions of the Palestinian militias. In Jenin, Israeli army bulldozers ploughed through flimsy shelters in pursuit of Palestinian fighters; helicopters pitched rocket after rocket into mosques; and Israeli and Palestinian machine-gun fire raked the alleys of a camp that is home to 13,000 refugees. No one has any idea of the Palestinian death toll. But the conservative estimate is �dozens�, says a doctor at Jenin hospital. He cannot be sure, because his ambulances are fired on when they try to cover the 200 metres to the camp. It is the same in Nablus, as soldiers and fighters fight house-to-house�and sometimes hand-to-hand�through the Old City�s warren of cobbled streets. The avowed aim of the Israeli incursions is to root out the �terrorist infrastructure� which has underpinned so many suicide bombings, including, most bloodily, the one on March 27th, in Netanya that killed 27 people. That was the immediate provocation for the latest Israeli offensive, which has certainly dealt grievous blows to the Palestinian militias and police forces: dozens have been killed, hundreds arrested and arms, equipment and buildings seized. But the result is not going to be surrender. It will almost certainly mean radicalisation."

As the Economist points out, Sharon has succeeded in destroying the Palestinian authority. One of Sharon's advisors said that the only place for Arafat was in a museum or a masoleum. Well, there are a lot of Palestinian corpses to put in a masoleum, aren't there? Luckily they didn't get there through the messy and barbaric acts of suicide bombers, but the rational, nay, compassionate method of raking alleys between dwellings with machine gun fire. It is the clash of civilizations, after all; and we know the terrorism taught by those Koran shaking Palestinians. So we just have to deal with it, although of course in our hearts, our compendious hearts (heart of Cheney, heart of Bush, heart of Peres, heart of Sharon, heart of Daschle, heart of Powell, heart of Zinni, heart of Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz, heart of Blair -- oh, the parade of hearts on display! all these honorable men dealing, hand to hand, frankly, with animals!) we are deeply, deeply grieved. But we have to remember that though the bodies in the alleys of Jenin look human, -- they are beyond are compassion. We might pity the kicked dog, but our duty is to put him down, put him manfully down, if he turns on his master. So the Sharon-Bush strategy now is to find a kicked dog that doesn't turn. One of the canine sort that you can kick again and again.

Good luck, boys.

LI has previously sighed over the marvelous Gretchen Morgenson. She is a beacon among financial writers, a reporter who has never churned out fatuous praise, or bogus analysis, or ideological pap, or any of the 101 flavors usual to biz journalism. Gratifyingly, ours is not a minority opinion. GM won a Pulitzer prize for, as the NYT puts it, beat reporting, with the citation praising her "for her trenchant and incisive Wall Street coverage."

So, reader, we aren't always out of the loop. We aren't always out of the mainstream. We aren't always the stray from the herd, the doggie that won't get along. So there.

Monday, April 08, 2002



The Financial Times commences its portrait of Ariel Sharon with an unlikely comparison to Charles De Gaulle.

"A few weeks ago, an Israeli newspaper columnist revealed that Ariel Sharon's latest bedside reading was a history of France's Algerian war. It may turn out to be useful study for a leader who, despite his warrior history, was billed by some as Israel's Charles de Gaulle, a strongman who would ultimately understand his adversary's yearning for statehood and deliver peace."

Luckily, the portrait doesn't pursue that fantasy very far, because as we say in Texas (and as is infinitely repeated in the press, which can never let go of a faux folksy phrase), that dog don't hunt. You can't go through Sharon's life and find glorious moments of defiance in the face of implacable odds. You can't find a sense of nationhood in the modern sense (vague yearnings for the return of King David don't count). You can't find a coherent vision of the economy. And you certainly can't find the non-gambler's instinct for cutting your losses (the gambler's instinct, unfortunately, is to compulsively renew his stake. Usually the cliche is that a professional gambler has that sixth sense of imminent loss, that magic ability to fold em at just the critical instant, but nothing in the history of gambling, or the various biographies of gamblers, leads us to think this is true). No, you simply find a man who has one strategy. That strategy is to kill Arabs. And to kill Arabs. Until Arabs surrender.

There cannot be a worse strategy, even from the point of view of Israel's interests. Of course, in the American press, the heat is always on Arafat. That Arafat walked from peace talks two years ago is repeated over and over as a mark of his insincerity. As the mark of the beast, really, on his forehead. That Sharon opposed the Oslo accords is, on the other hand, simply not mentioned. That he has done all he could do to disrupt the peace process doesn't figure in the op-ed huffing and puffing of the right. The FT ends its portrait with a glimpse into the great man's prophetic dream:

"He now officially acknowledges the possibility of Palestinian statehood, having shelved his past thesis that Jordan is Palestine. Over the past year, he has spoken repeatedly of his willingness to make painful concessions to achieve peace on the basis of two states. What he has not done, in 12 months during which the conflict has escalated, is to present a peace plan of his own that might stand a chance of meeting Palestinian aspirations.

"From the interviews he has given, a vision has nevertheless emerged of a demilitarised state on some of the occupied territories. The Jordan valley would remain in Israeli hands and an expanded Jerusalem would remain Israel's undivided capital. Many of the Jewish settlements, built on Arab land, would remain; and there would be no right of return for more than 3m Palestinian refugees.

"It is a formula that the Palestinians would be certain to reject, even as a starting-point for negotiations. But Mr Sharon believes that he understands the Arabs among whom he grew up. He believes that military power can force them back to the negotiating table and to a settlement on Israel's terms. "

So, let's get this straight. The Palestinians would have no army whatsoever. Israel would retain its army, which happens to be one of the biggest in the region. The Palestinians would receive no compensation for land that was seized from them, although Israel has been (quite rightly) adamant about, say, accounts in Switzerland seized during the Holocaust. The Jordan would be an Israeli river. I suppose the Palestinians could pay for some use of it, although not too much. A quota has to be set up for the lesser races. An "expanded" Jerusalem would remain Israel's capital. The Palestinian capital could, perhaps, be located in an outhouse in Bethlehem.

Take away place names, and this is South Africa's homeland policy. It didn't work then, it won't work now. Of course, the American press is mulling the funny idea that they can find some Palestinian figurehead to replace Arafat. On the principle, I suppose, that it worked with the Indians. Starve em enough, drive em from their homelands, and attack em fiercely, and eventually they sign on to the cultural death of the reservation.

In 1890, that was fine with your average Caucasian American male. And it probably still is, but sufferage and time has eroded that male's influence. I don't think the majority of Americans will stand for that for very long. I think that the right wing is about to spring another suprise on the Republicans with this issue. Like the Clinton impeachment, it will become one of those hardliner mantras that the party goes down with. Meanwhile, Israel is plunged into an unsustainable, permanent war, and the Palestinian situation -- the slum state -- gets worse. Because everything can get worse.
Limited Inc's motto for the day: Everything can get worse. Watch.


  “In brief, cultural history only represents a surface strike against the insight [of historicism], but not that of dialectics. For it lack...