ISRAEL’S PLAN

Israel’s public actions explain its plan: A state policy of disenfranchisement, apartheid, settlement building and war which has and will continue to result in the death, removal and expulsion of all Palestinians from territories which Israel is illegally occupying.

How else to explain the accompanying map which shows how Palestinian lands and hopes have been disappeared?

10502002_10152340699523218_3338272061850291219_n

What we do better without other people around

The power of lonely

(Tim Gabor for The Boston Globe)
By Leon Neyfakh

March 6, 2011

You hear it all the time: We humans are social animals. We need to spend time together to be happy and functional, and we extract a vast array of benefits from maintaining intimate relationships and associating with groups. Collaborating on projects at work makes us smarter and more creative. Hanging out with friends makes us more emotionally mature and better able to deal with grief and stress.

Spending time alone, by contrast, can look a little suspect. In a world gone wild for wikis and interdisciplinary collaboration, those who prefer solitude and private noodling are seen as eccentric at best and defective at worst, and are often presumed to be suffering from social anxiety, boredom, and alienation.

But an emerging body of research is suggesting that spending time alone, if done right, can be good for us — that certain tasks and thought processes are best carried out without anyone else around, and that even the most socially motivated among us should regularly be taking time to ourselves if we want to have fully developed personalities, and be capable of focus and creative thinking. There is even research to suggest that blocking off enough alone time is an important component of a well-functioning social life — that if we want to get the most out of the time we spend with people, we should make sure we’re spending enough of it away from them. Just as regular exercise and healthy eating make our minds and bodies work better, solitude experts say, so can being alone.

One ongoing Harvard study indicates that people form more lasting and accurate memories if they believe they’re experiencing something alone. Another indicates that a certain amount of solitude can make a person more capable of empathy towards others. And while no one would dispute that too much isolation early in life can be unhealthy, a certain amount of solitude has been shown to help teenagers improve their moods and earn good grades in school.

“There’s so much cultural anxiety about isolation in our country that we often fail to appreciate the benefits of solitude,” said Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist at New York University whose book “Alone in America,” in which he argues for a reevaluation of solitude, will be published next year. “There is something very liberating for people about being on their own. They’re able to establish some control over the way they spend their time. They’re able to decompress at the end of a busy day in a city…and experience a feeling of freedom.”

Figuring out what solitude is and how it affects our thoughts and feelings has never been more crucial. The latest Census figures indicate there are some 31 million Americans living alone, which accounts for more than a quarter of all US households. And at the same time, the experience of being alone is being transformed dramatically, as more and more people spend their days and nights permanently connected to the outside world through cellphones and computers. In an age when no one is ever more than a text message or an e-mail away from other people, the distinction between “alone” and “together” has become hopelessly blurry, even as the potential benefits of true solitude are starting to become clearer.

Solitude has long been linked with creativity, spirituality, and intellectual might. The leaders of the world’s great religions — Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Moses — all had crucial revelations during periods of solitude. The poet James Russell Lowell identified solitude as “needful to the imagination;” in the 1988 book “Solitude: A Return to the Self,” the British psychiatrist Anthony Storr invoked Beethoven, Kafka, and Newton as examples of solitary genius.

But what actually happens to people’s minds when they are alone? As much as it’s been exalted, our understanding of how solitude actually works has remained rather abstract, and modern psychology — where you might expect the answers to lie — has tended to treat aloneness more as a problem than a solution. That was what Christopher Long found back in 1999, when as a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst he started working on a project to precisely define solitude and isolate ways in which it could be experienced constructively. The project’s funding came from, of all places, the US Forest Service, an agency with a deep interest in figuring out once and for all what is meant by “solitude” and how the concept could be used to promote America’s wilderness preserves.

With his graduate adviser and a researcher from the Forest Service at his side, Long identified a number of different ways a person might experience solitude and undertook a series of studies to measure how common they were and how much people valued them. A 2003 survey of 320 UMass undergraduates led Long and his coauthors to conclude that people felt good about being alone more often than they felt bad about it, and that psychology’s conventional approach to solitude — an “almost exclusive emphasis on loneliness” — represented an artificially narrow view of what being alone was all about.

“Aloneness doesn’t have to be bad,” Long said by phone recently from Ouachita Baptist University, where he is an assistant professor. “There’s all this research on solitary confinement and sensory deprivation and astronauts and people in Antarctica — and we wanted to say, look, it’s not just about loneliness!”

Today other researchers are eagerly diving into that gap. Robert Coplan of Carleton University, who studies children who play alone, is so bullish on the emergence of solitude studies that he’s hoping to collect the best contemporary research into a book. Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert, a leader in the world of positive psychology, has recently overseen an intriguing study that suggests memories are formed more effectively when people think they’re experiencing something individually.

That study, led by graduate student Bethany Burum, started with a simple experiment: Burum placed two individuals in a room and had them spend a few minutes getting to know each other. They then sat back to back, each facing a computer screen the other could not see. In some cases they were told they’d both be doing the same task, in other cases they were told they’d be doing different things. The computer screen scrolled through a set of drawings of common objects, such as a guitar, a clock, and a log. A few days later the participants returned and were asked to recall which drawings they’d been shown. Burum found that the participants who had been told the person behind them was doing a different task — namely, identifying sounds rather than looking at pictures — did a better job of remembering the pictures. In other words, they formed more solid memories when they believed they were the only ones doing the task.

The results, which Burum cautions are preliminary, are now part of a paper on “the coexperiencing mind” that was recently presented at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference. In the paper, Burum offers two possible theories to explain what she and Gilbert found in the study. The first invokes a well-known concept from social psychology called “social loafing,” which says that people tend not to try as hard if they think they can rely on others to pick up their slack. (If two people are pulling a rope, for example, neither will pull quite as hard as they would if they were pulling it alone.) But Burum leans toward a different explanation, which is that sharing an experience with someone is inherently distracting, because it compels us to expend energy on imagining what the other person is going through and how they’re reacting to it.

“People tend to engage quite automatically with thinking about the minds of other people,” Burum said in an interview. “We’re multitasking when we’re with other people in a way that we’re not when we just have an experience by ourselves.”

Perhaps this explains why seeing a movie alone feels so radically different than seeing it with friends: Sitting there in the theater with nobody next to you, you’re not wondering what anyone else thinks of it; you’re not anticipating the discussion that you’ll be having about it on the way home. All your mental energy can be directed at what’s happening on the screen. According to Greg Feist, an associate professor of psychology at the San Jose State University who has written about the connection between creativity and solitude, some version of that principle may also be at work when we simply let our minds wander: When we let our focus shift away from the people and things around us, we are better able to engage in what’s called meta-cognition, or the process of thinking critically and reflectively about our own thoughts.

Other psychologists have looked at what happens when other people’s minds don’t just take up our bandwidth, but actually influence our judgment. It’s well known that we’re prone to absorb or mimic the opinions and body language of others in all sorts of situations, including those that might seem the most intensely individual, such as who we’re attracted to. While psychologists don’t necessarily think of that sort of influence as “clouding” one’s judgment — most would say it’s a mechanism for learning, allowing us to benefit from information other people have access to that we don’t — it’s easy to see how being surrounded by other people could hamper a person’s efforts to figure out what he or she really thinks of something.

Teenagers, especially, whose personalities have not yet fully formed, have been shown to benefit from time spent apart from others, in part because it allows for a kind of introspection — and freedom from self-consciousness — that strengthens their sense of identity. Reed Larson, a professor of human development at the University of Illinois, conducted a study in the 1990s in which adolescents outfitted with beepers were prompted at irregular intervals to write down answers to questions about who they were with, what they were doing, and how they were feeling. Perhaps not surprisingly, he found that when the teens in his sample were alone, they reported feeling a lot less self-conscious. “They want to be in their bedrooms because they want to get away from the gaze of other people,” he said.

The teenagers weren’t necessarily happier when they were alone; adolescence, after all, can be a particularly tough time to be separated from the group. But Larson found something interesting: On average, the kids in his sample felt better after they spent some time alone than they did before. Furthermore, he found that kids who spent between 25 and 45 percent of their nonclass time alone tended to have more positive emotions over the course of the weeklong study than their more socially active peers, were more successful in school and were less likely to self-report depression.

“The paradox was that being alone was not a particularly happy state,” Larson said. “But there seemed to be kind of a rebound effect. It’s kind of like a bitter medicine.”

The nice thing about medicine is it comes with instructions. Not so with solitude, which may be tremendously good for one’s health when taken in the right doses, but is about as user-friendly as an unmarked white pill. Too much solitude is unequivocally harmful and broadly debilitating, decades of research show. But one person’s “too much” might be someone else’s “just enough,” and eyeballing the difference with any precision is next to impossible.

Research is still far from offering any concrete guidelines. Insofar as there is a consensus among solitude researchers, it’s that in order to get anything positive out of spending time alone, solitude should be a choice: People must feel like they’ve actively decided to take time apart from people, rather than being forced into it against their will.

Overextended parents might not need any encouragement to see time alone as a desirable luxury; the question for them is only how to build it into their frenzied lives. But for the millions of people living by themselves, making time spent alone time productive may require a different kind of effort. Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, argues in her new book, “Alone, Together,” that people should be mindfully setting aside chunks of every day when they are not engaged in so-called social snacking activities like texting, g-chatting, and talking on the phone. For teenagers, it may help to understand that feeling a little lonely at times may simply be the price of forging a clearer identity.

John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago, whose 2008 book “Loneliness” with William Patrick summarized a career’s worth of research on all the negative things that happen to people who can’t establish connections with others, said recently that as long as it’s not motivated by fear or social anxiety, then spending time alone can be a crucially nourishing component of life. And it can have some counterintuitive effects: Adam Waytz in the Harvard psychology department, one of Cacioppo’s former students, recently completed a study indicating that people who are socially connected with others can have a hard time identifying with people who are more distant from them. Spending a certain amount of time alone, the study suggests, can make us less closed off from others and more capable of empathy — in other words, better social animals.

“People make this error, thinking that being alone means being lonely, and not being alone means being with other people,” Cacioppo said. “You need to be able to recharge on your own sometimes. Part of being able to connect is being available to other people, and no one can do that without a break.”

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. E-mail lneyfakh@globe.com.

C.S. Lewis on Suffering and What It Means to Have Free Will in a Universe of Fixed Laws

by

“Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.”

If the universe operates by fixed physical laws, what does it mean for us to have free will? That’s what C.S. Lewis considers with an elegant sidewise gleam in an essay titled “Divine Omnipotence” from his altogether fascinating 1940 book The Problem of Pain (public library) — a scintillating examination of the concept of free will in a material universe and why suffering is not only a natural but an essential part of the human experience. Though explored through the lens of the contradictions and impossibilities of belief, the questions Lewis raises touch on elements of philosophy, politics, psychology, cosmology, and ethics — areas that have profound, direct impact on how we live our lives, day to day.

He begins by framing “the problem of pain, in its simplest form” — the paradoxical idea that if we were to believe in a higher power, we would, on the one hand, have to believe that “God” wants all creatures to be happy and, being almighty, can make that wish manifest; on the other hand, we’d have to acknowledge that all creatures are not happy, which renders that god lacking in “either goodness, or power, or both.”

To be sure, Lewis’s own journey of spirituality was a convoluted one — he was raised in a religious family, became an atheist at fifteen, then slowly returned to Christianity under the influence of his friend and Oxford colleague J.R.R. Tolkien. But whatever his religious bent, Lewis possessed the rare gift of being able to examine his own beliefs critically and, in the process, to offer layered, timeless insight on eternal inquiries into spirituality and the material universe that resonate even with those of us who fall on the nonreligious end of the spectrum and side with Carl Sagan on matters of spirituality.

Lewis writes:

There is no reason to suppose that self-consciousness, the recognition of a creature by itself as a “self,” can exist except in contrast with an “other,” a something which is not the self. . . . The freedom of a creature must mean freedom to choose: and choice implies the existence of things to choose between. A creature with no environment would have no choices to make: so that freedom, like self-consciousness (if they are not, indeed, the same thing), again demands the presence to the self of something other than the self.

What makes Lewis’s reflections so enduring and widely resonant is that, for all his concern with divinity, he cracks open the innermost kernel of our basic humanity, in relation to ourselves and to one another:

People often talk as if nothing were easier than for two naked minds to “meet” or become aware of each other. But I see no possibility of their doing so except in a common medium which forms their “external world” or environment. Even our vague attempt to imagine such a meeting between disembodied spirits usually slips in surreptitiously the idea of, at least, a common space and common time, to give the co- in co-existence a meaning: and space and time are already an environment. But more than this is required. If your thoughts and passions were directly present to me, like my own, without any mark of externality or otherness, how should I distinguish them from mine? And what thoughts or passions could we begin to have without objects to think and feel about? Nay, could I even begin to have the conception of “external” and “other” unless I had experience of an “external world”?

In a sentiment that calls to mind novelist Iris Murdoch’s beautiful definition of love (“Love is the very difficult understanding that something other than yourself is real.”), Lewis adds:

The result is that most people remain ignorant of the existence of both. We may therefore suppose that if human souls affected one another directly and immaterially, it would be a rare triumph of faith and insight for any one of them to believe in the existence of the others.

Lewis considers what it would take for us to fully acknowledge and contact each other’s otherness, to bridge the divide between the internal and the external:

What we need for human society is exactly what we have — a neutral something, neither you nor I, which we can both manipulate so as to make signs to each other. I can talk to you because we can both set up sound-waves in the common air between us. Matter, which keeps souls apart, also brings them together. It enables each of us to have an “outside” as well as an “inside,” so that what are acts of will and thought for you are noises and glances for me; you are enabled not only to be, but to appear: and hence I have the pleasure of making your acquaintance.

Society, then, implies a common field or “world” in which its members meet.

‘Tree of virtues’ by Lambert of Saint-Omer, ca. 1250, from ‘The Book of Trees.’ Click image for details.

That “neutral something” might sound a lot like faith, but Lewis is careful to point out the limitations of such traditional interpretations and to examine how this relates to the question of suffering:

If matter is to serve as a neutral field it must have a fixed nature of its own. If a “world” or material system had only a single inhabitant it might conform at every moment to his wishes — “trees for his sake would crowd into a shade.” But if you were introduced into a world which thus varied at my every whim, you would be quite unable to act in it and would thus lose the exercise of your free will. Nor is it clear that you could make your presence known to me — all the matter by which you attempted to make signs to me being already in my control and therefore not capable of being manipulated by you.

Again, if matter has a fixed nature and obeys constant laws, not all states of matter will be equally agreeable to the wishes of a given soul, nor all equally beneficial for that particular aggregate of matter which he calls his body. If fire comforts that body at a certain distance, it will destroy it when the distance is reduced. Hence, even in a perfect world, the necessity for those danger signals which the pain-fibres in our nerves are apparently designed to transmit. Does this mean an inevitable element of evil (in the form of pain) in any possible world? I think not: for while it may be true that the least sin is an incalculable evil, the evil of pain depends on degree, and pains below a certain intensity are not feared or resented at all. No one minds the process “warm — beautifully hot — too hot — it stings” which warns him to withdraw his hand from exposure to the fire: and, if I may trust my own feeling, a slight aching in the legs as we climb into bed after a good day’s walking is, in fact, pleasurable.

Yet again, if the fixed nature of matter prevents it from being always, and in all its dispositions, equally agreeable even to a single soul, much less is it possible for the matter of the universe at any moment to be distributed so that it is equally convenient and pleasurable to each member of a society. If a man traveling in one direction is having a journey down hill, a man going in the opposite direction must be going up hill. If even a pebble lies where I want it to lie, it cannot, except by a coincidence, be where you want it to lie. And this is very far from being an evil: on the contrary, it furnishes occasion for all those acts of courtesy, respect, and unselfishness by which love and good humor and modesty express themselves. But it certainly leaves the way open to a great evil, that of competition and hostility. And if souls are free, they cannot be prevented from dealing with the problem by competition instead of courtesy. And once they have advanced to actual hostility, they can then exploit the fixed nature of matter to hurt one another. The permanent nature of wood which enables us to use it as a beam also enables us to use it for hitting our neighbor on the head. The permanent nature of matter in general means that when human beings fight, the victory ordinarily goes to those who have superior weapons, skill, and numbers, even if their cause is unjust.

Illustration by Olivier Tallec from ‘Waterloo & Trafalgar.’ Click image for details.

But looking closer at the possible “abuses of free will,” Lewis considers how the fixed nature of physical laws presents a problem for the religious notion of miracles — something he’d come to examine in depth several years later in the book Miracles, and something MIT’s Alan Lightman would come to echo several decades later in his spectacular meditation on science and spirituality. Lewis writes:

Such a world would be one in which wrong actions were impossible, and in which, therefore, freedom of the will would be void; nay, if the principle were carried out to its logical conclusion, evil thoughts would be impossible, for the cerebral matter which we use in thinking would refuse its task when we attempted to frame them. All matter in the neighborhood of a wicked man would be liable to undergo unpredictable alterations. That God can and does, on occasions, modify the behavior of matter and produce what we call miracles, is part of Christian faith; but the very conception of a common, and therefore stable, world, demands that these occasions should be extremely rare.

He offers an illustrative example:

In a game of chess you can make certain arbitrary concessions to your opponent, which stand to the ordinary rules of the game as miracles stand to the laws of nature. You can deprive yourself of a castle, or allow the other man sometimes to take back a move made inadvertently. But if you conceded everything that at any moment happened to suit him — if all his moves were revocable and if all your pieces disappeared whenever their position on the board was not to his liking — then you could not have a game at all. So it is with the life of souls in a world: fixed laws, consequences unfolding by causal necessity, the whole natural order, are at once limits within which their common life is confined and also the sole condition under which any such life is possible. Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.

He closes by bringing us full-circle to the concept of free will:

Whatever human freedom means, Divine freedom cannot mean indeterminacy between alternatives and choice of one of them. Perfect goodness can never debate about the end to be attained, and perfect wisdom cannot debate about the means most suited to achieve it.

The Problem of Pain is a pause-giving read in its entirety. Complement it with Lewis on duty, the secret of happiness, and writing “for children” and the key to authenticity in all writing, then revisit Jane Goodall on science and spirituality.

 

 

New Yorker Cartoonist Roz Chast’s Remarkable Illustrated Meditation on Aging, Illness, and Death

by

Making sense of the human journey with wit, wisdom, and disarming vulnerability.

“Each day, we wake slightly altered, and the person we were yesterday is dead,” John Updike wrote in his magnificent memoir. “So why, one could say, be afraid of death, when death comes all the time?” It’s a sentiment somewhat easier to swallow — though certainly not without its ancient challenge — when it comes to our own death, but when that of our loved ones skulks around, it’s invariably devastating and messy, and it catches us painfully unprepared no matter how much time we’ve had to “prepare.”

Count on another beloved New Yorker contributor, cartoonist Roz Chast, to address this delicate and doleful subject with equal parts wit and wisdom in Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir (public library) — a remarkable illustrated chronicle of her parents’ decline into old age and death, pierced by those profound, strangely uplifting in-between moments of cracking open the little chests of truth we keep latched shut all our lives until a brush with our mortal impermanence rattles the lock and lets out some understanding, however brief and fragmentary, of the great human mystery of what it means to live.

The humor and humility with which Chast tackles the enormously difficult subject of aging, illness and death is nothing short of a work of genius.

But besides appreciating Chast’s treatment of such grand human themes as death, duty, and “the moving sidewalk of life,” I was struck by how much her parents resembled my own — her father, just like mine, a “kind and sensitive” man of above-average awkwardness, “the spindly type,” inept at even the basics of taking care of himself domestically, with a genius for languages; her mother, just like mine, a dominant and hard-headed perfectionist “built like a fire hydrant,” with vanquished dreams of becoming a professional pianist, an unpredictable volcano of anger. (“Where my father was tentative and gentle,” Chast writes, “she was critical and uncompromising.” And: “Even though I knew he couldn’t really defend me against my mother’s rages, I sensed that at least he felt some sympathy, and that he liked me as a person, not just because I was his daughter.”)

Chast, like myself, was an only child and her parents, like mine, had a hard time understanding how their daughter made her living given she didn’t run in the 9-to-5 hamster wheel of working for the man. There were also the shared family food issues, the childhood loneliness, the discomfort about money that stems from having grown up without it.

The point here, of course, isn’t to dance to the drum of solipsism. (Though we only children seem particularly attuned to its beat.) It’s to appreciate the elegance and bold vulnerability with which Chast weaves out of her own story a narrative at once so universally human yet so relatable in its kaleidoscope of particularities that any reader is bound to find a piece of him- or herself in it, to laugh and weep with the bittersweet relief of suddenly feeling less alone in the most lonesome-making of human struggles, to find some compassion for even the most tragicomic of our faults.

From reluctantly visiting her parents in the neighborhood where she grew up (“not the Brooklyn of artists or hipsters or people who made — and bought — $8 chocolate bars [but] DEEP Brooklyn”) as their decline began, to accepting just as reluctantly the basic facts of life (“Old age didn’t change their basic personalities. If anything, it intensified what was already there.”), to witnessing her father’s mental dwindling (“One of the worst parts of senility must be that you have to get terrible news over and over again. On the other hand, maybe in between the times of knowing the bad news, you get to forget it and live as if everything was hunky-dory.”), to the self-loathing brought on by the clash between the aspiration of a loving daughter and the financial strain of elder care (“I felt like a disgusting person, worrying about the money.”), Chast treks with extraordinary candor and vulnerability through the maze of her own psyche, mapping out our own in the process.

Chast also explores, with extraordinary sensitivity and self-awareness, the warping of identity that happens when the cycle of life and its uncompromising realities toss us into roles we always knew were part of the human journey but somehow thought we, we alone, would be spared. She writes:

It’s really easy to be patient and sympathetic with someone when it’s theoretical, or only for a little while. It’s a lot harder to deal with someone’s craziness when it’s constant, and that person is your dad, the one who’s supposed to be taking care of YOU.

But despite her enormous capacity for wit and humor even in so harrowing an experience, Chast doesn’t stray too far from its backbone of deep, complicated love and paralyzing grief. The book ends with Chast’s raw, unfiltered sketches from the final weeks she spent in the hospice ward where her mother took her last breath. A crystalline realization suddenly emerges that Chast’s cartooning isn’t some gimmicky ploy for quick laughs but her most direct access point to her own experience, her best sensemaking mechanism for understanding the world, life and, inevitably, death.

Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? is an absolutely astounding read in its entirety — the kind that enters your soul through the backdoor, lightly, and touches more parts of it and more heavinesses than you ever thought you’d allow. You’re left, simply, grateful.

Images courtesy of Bloomsbury © Roz Chast; thanks, Wendy

This is what “unimaginable restraint” looks like for Israel


by Jerome Roos on July 25, 2014

Post image for This is what “unimaginable restraint” looks like for IsraelIf this is the IDF showing restraint, as officials claim, what kind of horrific atrocities would it be capable of unleashing if it went “all the way”?

With the Israeli assault on Gaza in its third week and the amount of civilian casualties still rising relentlessly, Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, had some warm words for his country’s troops. Addressing the annual gala of America’s largest Christian-Zionist advocacy group, Christians United for Israel, Dermer commended the IDF for its “unimaginable restraint”:

Some are shamelessly accusing Israel of genocide and would put us in the dock for war crimes. But the truth is that the Israeli Defense Forces should be given the Nobel Peace Prize … for fighting with unimaginable restraint. One day when the enemies of Israel are defeated and the moral idiots are silenced, people will look back and marvel at how the most threatened nation on earth never lost its nerve and always upheld its values.

Let’s take a second to digest that statement.

Apparently, for leading Israeli officials, dropping over 1,500 tons of explosives on an “open-air prison camp” half the size of New York City in two weeks’ time constitutes unimaginable restraint. Killing over 800 Palestinians, up to three quarters of them civilians and one third children, clearly constitutes unimaginable restraint. Destroying 18 health centers and 85 schools cannot be mistaken for anything but unimaginable restraint. Killing two handicapped women while striking a home for the disabled – unimaginable restraint.

In fact, Israel’s restraint has been so thoroughly unimaginable that, in the words of one Norwegian doctor on the ground, it has drawn “lakes of blood” to Gaza’s hospitals — like when the bodies of 27 members of a single family were wheeled in after an Israeli bomb fell on their home while they were enjoying their traditional Ramadan feast. Of course, leveling an entire neighborhood to the ground and targeting the ambulances that try to evacuate the wounded — killing a paramedic inside — is another telltale sign of unimaginable restraint.

Or what about the IDF snipers who take aim at unarmed civilians as they search for surviving family members in their bombed-out homes, bravely shooting them as they lie wounded and eventually motionless on the ground? These Israeli heroes should surely be commended with the highest possible honors for the unimaginable restraint they display while repeatedly pulling the trigger on their helpless victims. Hell, with fathers forced to collect the various body parts of their dismembered children in plastic shopping bags, the inhabitants of Gaza should be absolutely relieved about — and truly grateful for — the unimaginable restraint Israel has shown so far.

With more than 100,000 Palestinians fleeing from their homes in absolute horror, Gaza still under total aerial, naval and land blockade, and Israel shelling a UN-run refugee shelter inside a school — killing 15 women and children who had fled there expecting it to be the last safe place in Gaza — there can be absolutely no doubt about it: Foreign Minister Lieberman was completely right when he praised the IDF as “the most humane and bravest army in the world.” After all, what other army uses tanks to wipe out 5-month-old babies, gunboats to exterminate boys playing football on the beach, or remote-controlled drones to target women and children from the skies overhead? So humane. So brave.

Of course, if this is not enough of a reason to award the IDF next year’s Nobel Peace Prize, then killing members of the press surely should be! One can’t imagine the Norwegian Nobel Committee not being swayed by the two well-placed bullets that pierced through Al Jazeera’s 10th-floor Gaza bureau, just a day after Foreign Minister Lieberman called for the station to be banned for airing ground-level reports on the unimaginable consequences of Israel’s unimaginable restraint on the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

The Israeli political establishment, too, has been showing unimaginable restraint in the face of Palestinian provocation, which has so far claimed the lives of three Israeli civilians — repeat: three Israeli civilians — one of whom died from a heart attack. Knesset member Ayelet Shaked displayed unimaginable restraint when she called for the death of Palestinian mothers who give birth to “little snakes,” while Deputy Speaker Moshe Feiglin showed unimaginable restraint as he urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to cut off electricity to Gaza’s dialysis patients and when he called for the outright occupation and annexation of the Gaza Strip and the expulsion of its Palestinian inhabitants.

Luckily, the government’s international charm offensive has been bearing fruit, and Israeli society appears to have taken a cue from the unimaginable restraint displayed by its troops and leaders. When 17-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was kidnapped, thrown into the back of a car, dragged into a forest, repeatedly beaten and kicked in the head, forced to drink petroleum and eventually burnt to death, Israeli citizens displayed a similar restraint as their soldiers and politicians — just as they did when they ran through the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv shouting “Death to Arabs!” and looking for random Arab-Israeli citizens to lynch or murder. No, Israel never lost its nerve.

Those who gather on top of the hill near Sderot each night in their camping chairs, clapping and cheering every time an explosion rocks another Gaza apartment block, should not be forgotten — they, too, are showing unimaginable restraint by applauding the deaths of innocent civilians. Brave and humane like the true patriots who just beat up the pro-peace demonstrators in Tel Aviv and Haifa: did they not also display great restraint in settling their political differences in such democratic fashion? They must have learned something from Deputy Speaker Feiglin, who earlier kicked out three Arab representatives from the Knesset for daring to question the unimaginable restraint of the IDF.

How dare they criticize Israel’s heroes! Has the Jewish State not displayed enough restraint already? What about the police, did they not show unimaginable restraint when they savagely beat up Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s 15-year-old cousin Tariq, a US citizen on a family visit in Jerusalem, just as they stand accused by the UN of torturing Palestinian children in prison and using them as human shields? Arresting scores of Arab pro-peace activists, as well as dozens of minors, for participating in (or simply standing too close to) anti-war and anti-brutality protests must surely qualify as unimaginable restraint as well.

Or what about the wise religious leaders who have been so exemplary in their restraint? Like the Secretary General of the World Youth Movement, Rabbi Bnei Akiva, who called upon Netanyahu to turn the IDF into an “army of avengers which will not stop at 300 Philistine foreskins”? Or Dov Lior, Chief Rabbi of Hebron, who just posted a Halakhic ruling stating that it is totally acceptable for Israelis to punish the civilian population of Gaza in any way possible, including “bomb[ing] the whole area … to exterminate the enemy,” giving the Minister of Defense explicit permission “to instruct even the destruction of Gaza.” A final solution to the Arab question? Israel always upheld its values.

The academic community has similarly played an exemplary role throughout the conflict. Just a few days ago, Dr Mordechai Kedar, a reputed Israeli expert of Arab literature and Palestinian culture, offered some basic insights — clearly obtained from a long and distinguished career of serious academic research — on how to show restraint in the face of Islamic terror: “The only thing that can deter terrorists,” the Professor stated on an Israeli radio program, “is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped.” Advocating rape as a weapon of war — if that does not win Israel a Nobel Peace Prize, then what will?

Now, with its bloodthirsty fanaticism on full display for all the world to see, any reasonable and well-informed observer should be left scratching their heads: if this is what “unimaginable restraint” looks like for Israeli officials, what kind of horrific atrocities would they be capable of unleashing if they decided to go “all the way”? The thought alone should make us shudder. The US and Europe urgently need to stop the monster they created — before it is too late.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine. This article was written as part of his weekly column for TeleSUR English.

Rojova: a struggle against borders and for autonomy

by Ali Bektaş on July 24, 2014

Post image for Rojova: a struggle against borders and for autonomyThousands of Kurds seek to break down the Turkish-Syrian border to join their comrades in defending the autonomous Kurdish enclave of Rojova from ISIS.

Photo: Kurdish resistance fighters mobilize against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, from archive (November 2012).

The struggle to abolish borders which separate peoples from each other, is commonly represented by certain well known and extreme examples. The militarized wall between the US and Mexico is one clear case in the consciousness of the Western left. Another disgusting manifestation is the stranglehold of Israel’s apartheid wall around the West Bank. Less well known, despite a hundred years of fierce struggle, are the borders that separate the 40 million Kurdish peoples from each other and which span across Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

The Kurdish aspiration to destroy these borders is reaching its peak today on the boundary that separates Turkey and Syria. As a result of decades of resistance to these nation states, the radical Kurds of Turkey and Syria are taking advantage of the geopolitical shake-up in the region and are declaring their regional autonomy. But before we examine the current situation, a brief sketch of the historical context is in order.

A History of Struggle

In the midst of the First World War, the semi-secret Skyes-Picot pact between Britain and France prefigured the borders which would define Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and Iraq for a hundred years to come. After a four year war under the helm of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the father of modern-day Turkey, the Turkish Republic was formed with the Lausanne Agreement in 1923. Turkey was not only a project resulting from an independence war but also from the creation of an artificial national identity. This Turkish identity began to erase all other ethnicities and cultures which it regarded as a threat, and the Kurdish people were at the top of this list. After being carved up and divided by the imperial powers of Europe, the Kurds now found themselves being erased by the budding Turkish nationalism.

The 20th century history of the Kurds within the borders of Turkey is ripe with rebellions and ensuing massacres such as the events of Dersim that started in 1938. This instance alone left more than 10,000 Kurds dead and at least as many forcefully removed from their homes. Without a doubt, the most resilient Kurdish resistance movement emerged with the formation of the the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, in 1978. Formed by Marxist-Leninist students and led by Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK became a formidable enemy of the Turkish state as it waged a guerrilla war of independence, most aggressively in the late 1980s and 1990s.

At that time, the goal of the PKK was to create a unified Kurdistan along socialist principles. The PKK operated training camps across the border from Turkey in Iraq but more notably in Syria, especially in the Bekaa Valley near Lebanon. As a testament to its transborder aspirations, the PKK and its leader Öcalan left a deep mark on Kurds in Western Kurdistan, located in northern Syria. The 30 year civil war left more than 60,000 people dead within Turkish borders, the vast majority of them Kurds, members and sympathizers of the PKK, as well as 4,500 Kurdish villages evacuated and burnt by the Turkish military.

In 1999, Turkish special forces were able to capture Öcalan from exile in Rome (via Kenya), and the scope of the Kurdish struggle started to take a new form. From his extreme isolation in an island prison in the middle of the Marmara Sea, Öcalan began to make references to the Zapatistas and even to the relatively obscure social ecologist Murray Bookchin. The war for independence became transformed into one for autonomy, self-governance and expression of their identity such as using the Kurdish language, banned until very recently. More emphasis was placed upon the non-guerilla organizations of the Kurdish people, both their legal political parties but also on different modes of civil disobedience and the beginnings of an autonomous mode of federative governance.

The Kurds in Turkey had not been the only group under the yoke of a repressive nationalist Kemalism. Secularism, one of the pillars of the Turkish Republic, had been steadfastly preserved by its guardian — the Turkish Armed Forces — which targeted various stripes of Islamists vowing for power. But the tables turned at the turn of the century when the Justice and Development Party (AKP) put forth a program conjoining neoliberal development and Islam and swiftly rose to power. The AKP, with the rabid yet shrewd Erdoğan as its chief, became the first Turkish government to start a dialogue with PKK leadership in Oslo in 2008. Although mostly window-dressing, such interchange was unheard of until that moment.

In Kurdistan, the Sun Rises from the West

Today, the situation for the Kurds has taken a different turn with the dawn of the Arab Spring and its spread to Syria. The Syrian people were not able to bring a swift departure to their despotic leader Bashar Al-Assad as had been the case in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Instead, the country plunged into a still raging war against the last remaining Ba’athist dictatorship in the region. From this desperate mess emerged Rojova on July 19, 2012.

Rojova, meaning West in Kurdish, was the product of what is referred to as a Democratic People’s Revolution by those who took advantage of the weakening of the Ba’athist regime, namely the PYD (the Democratic Unity Party). Their territory is comprised of three cantons in northern Syria, Cizîr to the East, Efrîn to the West and Kobanê in the middle. Instead of forming a state, the PYD seek to implement democratic autonomy and self-governance with assemblies that extend down to the neighborhood level. In January of this year, their Democratic Autonomous Assembly passed a “social agreement” which guaranteed decentralization, free education in the native tongue, healthcare, housing and an end to child labor and any discrimination against women.

The radical Kurdish movement’s emphasis on women’s autonomy and empowerment must be underlined. There have been numerous PKK units and guerrilla camps which are only for women. Nearly all political organizations they form have two leaders, one a man and another a woman. Following in this tradition, on April 2, 2012 in Rojava, the autonomous force the YPJ (Women’s Defense Forces) was formed within the YPG (the People’s Defense Forces). Both the YPG and YPJ have had to defend the revolution of Rojova nearly constantly from both the Ba’athist regime as well as the various stripes of Islamists who have turned Syria into the latest front of their jihad.

A Gang called ISIS

Meanwhile, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, formed in 2009, gradually matured into a full-fledged Salafist organization and expanded its operations to Syria, renaming itself the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Their form of jihad and power struggle led to their disavowal by Al Qaeda earlier this year, and ISIS quickly became the reigning address for Islamic extremists looking to join the holy war. ISIS stepped into the limelight of the Western media with its capture of Mosul in Iraq on June 10, 2014. But the autonomous regions of Rojova have also been under a fierce ISIS assault for more than a year.

Three weeks ago, on July 2, ISIS began a siege of Rojova’s central canton of Kobanê, using military equipment and munitions captured following their victory in Mosul. ISIS is trying to take Kobanê from the east, west and south and this ongoing siege constitutes the most serious threat that Rojova has come under thus far. The Kurdish movement in Turkey identifies deeply with Rojova since the PYD has been enormously influenced by the leadership of Öcalan. Therefore, a threat to the revolution in Rojova also constitutes a serious threat for the aspirations of regional autonomy for Kurds living within the borders of Turkey. In addition, many believe that the Turkish state is using ISIS for a proxy war against Kurdish autonomy by supplying them with arms and intelligence and free movement across its borders.

Following the ISIS siege of Kobanê, Kurdish and Leftist political actors in Turkey — namely the HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) and BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) — mobilized to intervene in the situation. Starting on July 9, they set up four different encampments along the border in strategic locations to prevent regular ISIS movements in and out of Turkey so they could bring their wounded to Turkish hospitals and receive logistical support from the Turkish state. These encampments have also been used as staging grounds to cross the border en masse to join the YPG and YPJ forces in their defense of Kobanê. The current climate within the Kurdish movement in Turkey is one of a wartime mobilization with daily calls by party members for the youth to remove the borders and join the defense forces in Rojova.

One of the largest crossings in defiance of the border came on July 14, when approximately 300 youth crossed into Kobanê and were greeted by YPG members on the other side who would guide them across the minefield between the border and Kobanê. But this was only the prelude to what would be a historic celebration of the Kurdish struggle for regional autonomy, on the second anniversary of the revolution in Rojova.

Destroying the Border

All day and into the night on July 18, thousands of Kurds flooded into the encampment in the township of Pirsus (Suruç in Turkish). Tents had been set up near the village of Alizer, a village literally divided by the border between Turkey and Syria. People came from all over Kurdistan to celebrate the revolution in Rojova and to remove the border so as to join their compatriots on the other side in their war against ISIS.

The next day, on the 19th, the air was filled with the dry dust as the camp was set up in the middle of a fallow field under gusts of scorching winds. The sun shone hard at 45ºC, yet people kept coming and joining in the ongoing halay (a circular dance popular amongst Kurds). With more people came more and more tanks and armored personal carriers of the Turkish military as well as the water canons and other armored vehicles of the police.

The tanks and troops of the Turkish military arrived from a nearby base which has on its entrance the words “The border is honor” emblazoned on its entrance. Yet the Kurdish villagers and militant youth were not intimidated by the show of force and remained determined to destroy this border between them and their comrades under siege. On the other side of the border, thousands of Kurds from Kobanê arrived to embrace those separated from them by a flimsy barbed wire. As nighttime set in and the air became cooler, fireworks started to light the sky in a great celebration of the revolution. People were restless and the barbed wire lost any semblance of a deterrent it once represented. The stage was set for a spectacular confrontation.

And that confrontation came as promised. After the wires were clipped, a few hundred Kurdish youth crossed into Kobanê to be greeted by a delegation from the YPG. The police and military brutally attacked the celebration launching hundreds of teargas canisters into the area, as well as assaulting the crowd with batons and water cannons. The perseverance of the people was pure inspiration as everyone from the most bold and wild youth to old grannies joined the resistance against the forces of the Turkish state with rocks, molotov cocktails and fireworks. From the stage came directives for people to come and join those fighting or at least to come with their cars to help evacuate the wounded. After a two hour battle, the police and soldiers forced their way into the area with the tents and set fire to it all.

Five hours later, the military launched an operation at another encampment 30 kilometers away, near the village of Ziyaret, at the township of Birecik. The front lines of the siege of the Kobanê canton is visible from this point and this camp was strategically placed to sabotage ISIS movements and provide support and solidarity to the YPG. The people at that camp fought the military off and regained control of the camp only to have to endure another more vicious attack the following morning, on July 21, during which soldiers and police burned the tents and destroyed the cars of those there, arresting eight people after beating them.

Rojova for the Middle East

In the Western media, when one hears of Kurds or Kurdistan it is most often in reference to Mesud Barzani and the Kurdish territory under his control in Northern Iraq, which has also extended its sovereignty in the current context created by ISIS. It must be pointed out that this political formation has minimal affinity with the radical revolutionary one launched by the PYD in Rojova. In fact, both the PYD and PKK often find themselves in open conflict with Barzani’s vision for the Kurds. Occasionally doing the bidding of colonial states, Barzani is also a frequent visitor of Erdoğan. In fact, as recent as last week he flew to Ankara to meet with him and discuss the situation unfolding in the region.

The siege around Kobanê by ISIS is continuing but the YPG and YPJ are determined to thwart it and as of today have begun to take back territory from them. Meanwhile, their comrades on the Turkish side of the border have begun to rebuild the encampment at the village of Ziyaret and vow to stay there until ISIS is fought off. They see the defense of Kobanê as the crucial battle to keep the battle for Kurdish autonomy alive. Many compare this current mobilization to that which took place in defense of the Spanish Revolution against the fascists in the late 1930s. The crushing of the Spanish Revolution had global repercussions that are still being felt today. Similarly, the perseverance of the revolution in Rojova is the only remote hope for a different kind of Middle East, where peoples come together in solidarity with each other rather than at war under sectarianism stoked by colonial powers.

The author can be reached at ali@riseup.net.

 

The Israeli Pogrom of Gaza

 

 

Political Bestiality

 

 

by NORMAN POLLACK

 

Let’s start with terms: “bestiality,” bestial is marked by base or inhuman instincts or desires, brutal, to which bestiality adds, display or gratification of bestial traits or impulses; “pogrom,” an organized massacre of helpless people, specifically [and ironically], such a massacre of Jewish people. (Webster’s) Singly, and in combination, I believe we have an accurate description of Israel’s aggression in Gaza, the irony of course being that we see a replay of the barbarous treatment of the Jews practiced throughout history now instead being carried forward by Jews themselves in, yes, a massacre, as brutal as in Czarist times, of Gazans.

Before proceeding further, let’s throw in another phrase, emanating from Israeli and multiple Jewish sources, the charge, to be applied to fellow Jews for any criticism whatsoever of Israel, which makes one a “self-hating” Jew. I frankly don’t know whether to accept the designation (sans quotation marks), in which case I would be expressing my abhorrence to the war crimes committed by Israel, by convention, in world Jewry, THE representative of the Jewish people and religion, leading therefore to feelings of shame, alienation, and betrayal, that my religion, ancestral heritage, upbringing, could so distort the meaning of Judaism as I’ve known and loved it, necessitating, through the dictates of conscience (itself formerly a Jewish trait shared with world secular and religious thought), that I formally leave the Jewish faith until it purges itself of urges toward domination and, also yes, sadism. Or else, retain the quotation marks around “self-hating” Jew and come out fighting, throwing the vile epithet back in the face of those who use it to silence dissent and prevent exposure,, within the Jewish community, to recognition of what is being done in its name and to solidify its identity and devotion.

Obviously, I choose the latter, stating outright that Israel and world (especially American) Jewry blindly supporting it have contributed to the falsification, denigration, debasement of Judaism, a treacherous act of negation even Nazism with its gas chambers and concentration camps could not do, i.e., destroy the Jewish love of freedom and cosmopolitan outreach to all peoples in search of a humane, equitable social order. In fact, the phrase “self-hating” Jew is disguise, cover, defense mechanism, to hide what has become the tragic phenomenon resulting from the Holocaust. Rather than experience a burst of emancipation from that darkest of dark experiences, Jews have internalized it, introjected the behavior and values of their captors, murderers, assailants, replicating through application to others the crimes committed on themselves (ourselves, to bring it home). “Self-hating” Jew is in fact a reactive formation, possibly even a projection of what through intervening levels of the unconscious is the realization by the Jewish people of the true state of their current mindset and experience. I am speaking, then, of Jewish self-hatred, which is self-hating Jew stripped of the quotation marks, SELF-HATRED because the denial of all that made Judaism worthwhile as both a secular and religious experience in modern times—secular and religious being an almost empty distinction when one notes the unified Jewish response on behalf of the welfare of others, in America, blacks, the poor, radicals, militant labor, dissidents of every description—all washed away in the last half-century, first, gradually, then by the 1980s a growing tumult of, now the introversion of McCarthyism, of Reaction, an anticommunism of the spirit having nothing to do with communism but as code for opposition to antiwar, civil rights, whatever rocks-the-boat movements, most vociferously applied to the defense of Israel and the actions and tenets of US foreign policy.

Jewish self-hatred, out of unconscious recognition (not an oxymoron) that Judaism stands for power, force, militarism, occupation, conquest, the inferiority of blacks, Arabs, Muslims, a hodgepodge of xenophobia, ethnocentrism, deep-lying fears of real and imagined rejection, the element of self-hatred becoming prominent because in former times the opposite was true, Jewish identity having been the haven for intellectual freedom, forthright opposition to repression, gentle in its respect for tolerance and concern for the weak. Einstein would not bomb Gaza hospitals. The Rosenbergs would not, like Obama, flirt with nuclear annihilation. Schwerner and Goodman, with their comrade Chaney, would not murder small children, whether a Vietnam hamlet or in Shejaiya. But let’s get beyond the past. Shejaiya (I here and later anglicize it for Shujai’iya because of my earlier usage) provides sufficient indictment of the bestiality of the Israeli aggression.

***

This is the fifth in a series of articles on the invasion, the tone getting more militant as the brutality of the mission (to terrorize the Palestinian people and inflict as much damage and destruction as possible) widens and intensifies. 500 dead. Now 600 and more. The appetite of the beast is not sated. Israelis reveal a streak of uninhibited lust for blood seldom seen so publicly displayed, and not just in official circles. Consider two examples, reported in the Guardian. The first, perhaps not even Nazis could duplicate; rather than Eichmann-like bureaucratic methodical dealing in death, Israelis celebrating in a festive mood the death rained down on Gaza through airstrikes—more like a college fraternity drunken party than anything. I refer to Harriet Sherwood’s article, “Israelis gather on hillsides to watch and cheer as military drops bombs on Gaza,” (July 20), with the subheading, “People drink, snack and pose for selfies against a background of explosions as Palestinian death toll mounts in ongoing offensive.”

We read, “As the sun begins to sink over the Mediterranean, groups of Israelis gather each evening on hilltops close to the Gaza border to cheer, whoop and whistle as bombs rain down on people in a hellish warzone a few miles away.” Sherwood continues: “Old sofas, garden chairs, battered car seats and upturned crates provide seating for the spectators. On one hilltop, a swing has been attached to the branches of a pine tree, allowing its occupant to sway gently in the breeze. Some bring bottles of beer or soft drinks and snacks.” No “self-hating” Jews here, but should the despicable callousness ever break through, enough raw psychic material for Jewish self-hatred—the trouble being, breaking through appears near-impossible, how far gone, fortified behind towering psychological walls, these people are, as though even Jewish self-hatred, predicated on a modicum of awareness, is a step above and beyond the reach of who and what they are.

Her account, in Siderot, only gets worse, gruesome to the point of nausea (mine). “On Saturday [the 19th],” she writes, “a group of men huddle around a shisha pipe. Nearly all hold up smartphones to record the explosions or to pose grinning, perhaps with thumbs up, for selfies against a backdrop of black smoke.” Gazans know this, see the hatred at the check points and blockade even in “normal” times, the display of force everywhere, the sophisticated gadgetry of a supposedly superior society, the human depravity of “selfies against a backdrop of black smoke.” Siderot: “A house with a war view may even command a premium price these days.” “Anticipatory excitement grows as dusk falls,” because there will be more rockets after breaking the Ramadan fast, “and the Israeli military will respond with force.” Again, “The thud of shellfire, flash of an explosion and pall of smoke are greeted with exclamations of approval. ‘What a beauty,’ says one appreciative spectators.”

One wonders if Gazans are taking selfies against a background of dead children, rubble, further rubble? I have to say, no wonder the tunnels and rockets, a desperate attempt at self-respect (the opposite psychological dynamics of the Israelis’ self-hatred, mocking human life because unable to affirm it—or rather, confusing affirmation with a hedonistic, exhibitionist lifestyle, empty of regard for others but the self, driven to deface and exterminate those who are a reminder of what true affirmation is like), if not indeed survival. How hold the Occupation as a constant, and blame those suffering under it for rockets? Perhaps the Occupation is the unstated basis for Jewish self-hatred. One last reference to Sherwood’s article—a bit of touchiness on the Israelis’ part about their obvious inhumanity: “Given the dramatic views, media news are coming to the area to cover the fighting. On a nearby hilltop, an ugly scene develops as a group of Israeli men threaten a photographer, accusing him of being a ‘leftist’. We are warned against asking for interviews, as another cheer goes up.” To Israelis, and now world Jewry, to question a broad range of policy, in America and Israel alike, is to be a “leftist,” a term equated with the phrase “self-hating”.

The second Guardian article, also by Sherwood, “Israel uses flechette shells in Gaza,” (July 20), for me, an unknown, but not unexpected, development, given the seeding of antipersonnel devices earlier in Lebanon, bears the grisly, rightly so, subheading, “Palestinian human rights group accuses Israel military of using shells that spray out thousands of tiny and potentially lethal darts.” They’re illustrated in the piece. (This may help to explain the images seen of small children whose faces have been scarred by shrapnel.) She begins: “The Israeli military is using flechette shells, which spray out thousands of tiny and potentially lethal metal darts, in its military operations in Gaza,” as in the case of those “fired towards the village of Khuzaa, east of Khan Younis [of which we’ll hear more recently in the commission of Israeli atrocities], on 17 July…. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) did not deny using the shells in the conflict.” Its explanation was classic—hiding behind law written by the conquerors: “As a rule, the IDF only employs weapons that have been determined lawful under international law, and in a manner which fully conforms with the laws of armed conflict.” And with the laws of human moral conscience, in light of their promiscuous (i.e., unrestricted, indiscriminate) use, scope, and lethality?

Flechette shells should be thought per se evil. Probably US use of napalm in Vietnam was cribbed from and justified by the same contrived explanation or cheat sheet. B’Tselem describes the shell as “an anti-personnel weapon that is generally fired from a tank. The shell explodes in the air and releases thousands of metal darts 37.5 mm in length, which disperse in a conical arch 300 metres long and about 90 metres wide.” (I can hear the cheering from the hillsides—just the knowledge of and celebration of its release, even when the tanks are out of sight.) B’Tselem also notes that whatever its status, “other rules of humanitarian law render their use in the Gaza Strip illegal. One of the most fundamental principles is the obligation to distinguish between those who are involved and those who are not involved in the fighting, and to avoid to the extent possible injury to those who are not involved. Deriving from this principle is the prohibition of the use of an imprecise weapon which is likely to result in civilian injuries.” Even B’Tselem waffles by not declaring for outright prohibition, on the ground that “avoid[ing] to the extent possible” plays into the hands of any despot, like Netanyahu, who stands up and cynically proclaims his sorrow at civilian casualties, even a single one. Flechettes accounted for Palestinian deaths in Gaza earlier, and “also killed and wounded dozens of civilians, including women and children, in conflicts between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

***

Finally from the Guardian, and moving forward in the Israeli onslaught, we have Sherwood, along with Peter Beaumont and Ian Black’s article, “More than 20 members of one family killed in Gaza strike,” (July 21), the subtitle of which graphically gives the lie to the Netanyahu-Obama sales pitch on the desire for moderation: “’We don’t want to see any more civilians killed,’ says Barack Obama as IDF attacks intensive care unit in day of bloodshed.” Roll out the propaganda machinery of damage control as what should be regarded as the sacredness of hospitals in the bombing or shelling of targets is ignored and disregarded, on the ground that they are storage depots for weapons (Israel’s lame excuse) or the destruction construed as part of an absolute right of self-defense (which Obama, not deploring these acts, uses to exonerate Israel of all war crimes). The first sentence says it all: “A hospital was shelled, killing and injuring staff and patients, and up to 28 members of one family died in an airstrike as Gaza endured another day of relentless bloodshed on Monday [the 21st].”

The international uproar over Shejaiya (I discussed the mass killings there in a previous article) required the flurry of Obama statements and Kerry’s diplomatic activities, the uproar itself however going largely unreported in the American media. The lead photo for the article, mother, child in her arms, older man, crouched on the floor, the caption, “Palestinian patients in the hospital after the building was shelled by the IDF,” is the ideal backdrop for Kerry’s amoral cynicism. Authorized by Obama to do “’everything he can to help facilitate a cessation of hostilities,’” Kerry now in Egypt blames Hamas for the violence and states that Israel, presumably including the hospital shelling, is making “an ‘appropriate and legitimate effort’ to defend itself but the consequences were of deep concern.” How deep the concern, this official Washington talking out of both sides of its mouth?

We learn further, “In Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, al-Aqsa hospital became the third to be struck in the 14-day conflict when three shells slammed into the intensive care unit, surgical and administrative areas. Five people were killed and 70 wounded, including about 30 medics…. Ambulances tried to evacuate patients but were forced to turn back by continued shelling. Israel has claimed that Hamas hides weapons in hospitals.” Therefore, blow them up? More still: “Further south, in Khan Younis, an extended family was wiped out in an air strike on a house. The number of dead was put at between 24 and 28. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said “another 10 people were killed in a single air strike in Rafah, including four young children and a baby.” And Save the Children estimates “that on average, seven had been killed every day during the conflict,” one of its spokesperson’s also reminding us, “’For many children, this is the third war in six years that they are going through.’” A second photo taken at a morgue is captioned, “Palestinians pray over the bodies of 17 members of the Abu Jamea family, killed by an air strike.”

Sherwood, et. al., in an article, “Israel hits hundreds of targets in Gaza as soldier is confirmed missing,” (July 22), point out that one hundred alone focused on Shejaiya, “the scene of the most intense fighting of the conflict.” In the larger picture, according to B’Tselem, the description worthy of an indictment of Israeli leadership, civil, political, military, before the International Criminal Court in the Hague: “Horrific developments in Gaza have reached intolerable heights; Israel is bombing houses with people in them, entire families have been buried under rubble, and streets lie in ruins. Hundreds have been killed so far, dozens in the last 24 hours only, many of them women and children. The number of refugees is rising: tens of thousands of people have nowhere to go and no safe haven.” 1939? No, July 22, 2014. Nor in any particular exaggerated. We have the reports, the photographs, the children’s deaths, the rubble—and the slickness of the Israeli reply.

***

Anne Barnard, in her New York Times article, “Questions About Tactics and Targets as Civilian Toll Climbs in Israeli Strikes,” (July 21), enables us to fill in important details, first, about what happened in Khan Younis: “The blast from the Israeli strike was so powerful that it threw an iron door clear over several neighboring houses. It came to rest along with a twisted laundry rack still laden on Monday with singed clothes and a child’s slipper.” This, in a densely populated urban area; carnage is the only word that will do: “When the strike leveled a four-story house in the southern Gaza Strip the night before, it also killed 25 members of four family households—including 19 children—gathered to break the Ramadan fast together. Relatives said it also killed a guest of the family, identified by an Israeli human rights group as a member of the Hamas military wing, ostensibly Israel’s target.”

Enough reason for the slaughter, or do we now see McCarthyism’s guilt-by-association principle raised to near-infinity, itself testimony to a mindset verging on a totalistic concept and practice of repression. “The attack,” Barnard writes, “was the latest in a series of Israeli strikes that have killed families in their homes, during an offensive that Israel says is meant to stop militant rocket fire that targets its civilians and destroys Hamas’s tunnel network.” The explanation is self-serving and hardly connects with, except as a terror-tactic, the civilian killings on a massive scale. Barnard appears to realize this perfectly well, whatever The Times’s editorial policy: “The Palestinian deaths—75 percent of them civilians, according to a United Nations count—have prompted a wave of international outrage, and are raising questions about Israel’s stated dedication to protecting civilians.”

Israel’s reply: All Hamas’s fault, “saying they have chosen to keep operating among civilians,” while the now familiar spokesman for the Israeli military, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said “he had not been able to confirm the circumstances of the attack here or who the target might have been.” Par-for-the-course stonewalling, nor would he “address questions about whether the target would have been considered worth so many additional deaths.” That is of course the question Israelis would not reply to; whatever the status of past surgical strikes (were they such? were they even then justified?), now, she continues, “there have been numerous instances of family homes being struck with residents inside.” Out of the mouths of babes, or even Times reporters, comes wisdom: “More and more Palestinians are accusing Israel of trying to inflict maximum suffering to demoralize Palestinians and weaken support for Hamas.” The tone of her writing seems to credit the observation.

How could it be otherwise, the facts now on the table, the war crimes not simply evident but becoming self-evident? More description of carnage, and then a fact which suggests ghoulishness beyond war crimes, to wit, encourage Gazans to seek safety in an area, then BOMB it: “On Monday night [the 21st], a strike hit an eight-story apartment building in downtown Gaza City—an area where Israeli officials had urged Gazans to take shelter. The building collapsed as rescue crews were inside, killing more people. The death toll, at least 13, was still being tallied.

Here one credits the Israelis for their frankness, as that of one senior military official who said that not all civilian casualties “come from strikes going astray; some take place when civilians are in places the military aims to hit.” What he meant was not terrorization as such, but a contrived picture of Hamas “holding people inside the apartments while shooting from there,” which comes down to the same thing (a license to kill). Barnard sees through this: “That did not appear to be the situation at the Abu Jameh home, where survivors said, the family was gathered to break the daily Ramadan fast, a ceremonial meal, a time when Israeli military officials would have known that people were likely to be home.” All of the dead were from that family, except for one Hamas member “who was visiting a member of the family.” Enough, no more for now. The picture is clear: “Of those who lived in the house, only four people survived, three men who had gone to pray, and Tawfik Abu Jameh’s toddler, shielded by the body of his mother. The children killed ranged in age from 4 months to 14 years, and included an adopted orphan whose father had been killed in an Israeli strike.”

“Self-hating” Jew, no, Jewish self-hatred, for the acts committed in the name of Judaism, and for the negation of the acts which had once distinguished Judaism as the vehicle and spirit of world humanism, peace, social justice, racial harmony, and individual self-creation and self-development, all the fruition of the struggle for freedom.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

 

 

Leonard Cohen on Creativity, Hard Work, and Why You Should Never Quit Before You Know What It Is You’re Quitting

by

“The cutting of the gem has to be finished before you can see whether it shines.”

Canadian singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist Leonard Cohen (b. September 21, 1934) is among the most exhilarating creative spirits of the past century. Recipient of the prestigious Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and countless other accolades, and an ordained Rinzai Buddhist monk, his music has extended popular song into the realm of poetry, even philosophy. By the time Bob Dylan rose to fame, Cohen already had several volumes of poetry and two novels under his belt, including the critically acclaimed Beautiful Losers, which famously led Allen Ginsberg to remark that “Dylan blew everybody’s mind, except Leonard’s.” Once he turned to songwriting in the late 1960s, the world of music was forever changed.

From Paul Zollo’s impressive interview compendium Songwriters on Songwriting (public library) — which also gave us Pete Seeger on originality, Bob Dylan on sacrifice and the unconscious mind, and Carole King on perspiration vs. inspiration — comes a spectacular and wide-ranging 1992 conversation with Cohen, who begins by considering the purpose of music in human life:

There are always meaningful songs for somebody. People are doing their courting, people are finding their wives, people are making babies, people are washing their dishes, people are getting through the day, with songs that we may find insignificant. But their significance is affirmed by others. There’s always someone affirming the significance of a song by taking a woman into his arms or by getting through the night. That’s what dignifies the song. Songs don’t dignify human activity. Human activity dignifies the song.

Cohen approaches his work with extraordinary doggedness reflecting the notion that work ethic supersedes what we call “inspiration” — something articulated by such acclaimed and diverse creators as the celebrated composer Tchaikovsky (“A self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood.”), novelist Isabel Allende (“Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.”), painter Chuck Close (Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”), beloved author E.B. White (“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”), Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope (“My belief of book writing is much the same as my belief as to shoemaking. The man who will work the hardest at it, and will work with the most honest purpose, will work the best.”), and designer Massimo Vignelli (“There is no design without discipline.”). Cohen tells Zollo:

I’m writing all the time. And as the songs begin to coalesce, I’m not doing anything else but writing. I wish I were one of those people who wrote songs quickly. But I’m not. So it takes me a great deal of time to find out what the song is. So I’m working most of the time.

[...]

To find a song that I can sing, to engage my interest, to penetrate my boredom with myself and my disinterest in my own opinions, to penetrate those barriers, the song has to speak to me with a certain urgency.

To be able to find that song that I can be interested in takes many versions and it takes a lot of uncovering.

[...]

My immediate realm of thought is bureaucratic and like a traffic jam. My ordinary state of mind is very much like the waiting room at the DMV… So to penetrate this chattering and this meaningless debate that is occupying most of my attention, I have to come up with something that really speaks to my deepest interests. Otherwise I nod off in one way or another. So to find that song, that urgent song, takes a lot of versions and a lot of work and a lot of sweat.

But why shouldn’t my work be hard? Almost everybody’s work is hard. One is distracted by this notion that there is such a thing as inspiration, that it comes fast and easy. And some people are graced by that style. I’m not. So I have to work as hard as any stiff, to come up with my payload.

He later adds:

Freedom and restriction are just luxurious terms to one who is locked in a dungeon in the tower of song. These are just … ideas. I don’t have the sense of restriction or freedom. I just have the sense of work. I have the sense of hard labor.

When asked whether he ever finds that “hard labor” enjoyable, Cohen echoes Lewis Hyde’s distinction between work and creative labor and considers what fulfilling work actually means:

It has a certain nourishment. The mental physique is muscular. That gives you a certain stride as you walk along the dismal landscape of your inner thoughts. You have a certain kind of tone to your activity. But most of the time it doesn’t help. It’s just hard work.

But I think unemployment is the great affliction of man. Even people with jobs are unemployed. In fact, most people with jobs are unemployed. I can say, happily and gratefully, that I am fully employed. Maybe all hard work means is fully employed.

Cohen further illustrates the point that ideas don’t simply appear to him with a charming anecdote, citing a writer friend of his who once said that Cohen’s mind “is unpolluted by a single idea,” which he took as a great compliment. Instead, he stresses the value of iteration and notes that his work consists of “just versions.” When Zollo asks whether each song begins with a lyrical idea, Cohen answers with lyrical defiance:

[Writing] begins with an appetite to discover my self-respect. To redeem the day. So the day does not go down in debt. It begins with that kind of appetite.

Cohen addresses the question of where good ideas come from with charming irreverence, producing the now-legendary line that Paul Holdengräber quoted in his conversation with David Lynch on creativity. Cohen echoes T.S. Eliot’s thoughts on the mystical quality of creativity and tells Zollo:

If I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often. It’s a mysterious condition. It’s much like the life of a Catholic nun. You’re married to a mystery.

But Cohen’s most moving insights on songwriting transcend the specificity of the craft and extend to the universals of life. Addressing Zollo’s astonishment at the fact that Cohen has discarded entire finished song verses, he reflects on the necessary stick-to-itiveness of the creative process — this notion that before we quit, we have to have invested all of ourselves in order for the full picture to reveal itself and justify the quitting, which applies equally to everything from work to love:

Before I can discard the verse, I have to write it… I can’t discard a verse before it is written because it is the writing of the verse that produces whatever delights or interests or facets that are going to catch the light. The cutting of the gem has to be finished before you can see whether it shines.

Cohen returns to the notion of hard work almost as an existential imperative:

I always used to work hard. But I had no idea what hard work was until something changed in my mind… I don’t really know what it was. Maybe some sense that this whole enterprise is limited, that there was an end in sight… That you were really truly mortal.

Considering his ongoing interest in the process itself rather than the outcome, Cohen makes a beautiful case for the art of self-renewal by exploring the deeper rewards and gratifications that have kept him going for half a century:

It [has] to do with two things. One is economic urgency. I just never made enough money to say, “Oh, man, I think I’m gonna get a yacht now and scuba-dive.” I never had those kinds of funds available to me to make radical decisions about what I might do in life. Besides that, I was trained in what later became known as the Montreal School of Poetry. Before there were prizes, before there were grants, before there were even girls who cared about what I did. We would meet, a loosely defined group of people. There were no prizes, as I said, no rewards other than the work itself. We would read each other poems. We were passionately involved with poems and our lives were involved with this occupation…

We had in our minds the examples of poets who continued to work their whole lives. There was never any sense of a raid on the marketplace, that you should come up with a hit and get out. That kind of sensibility simply did not take root in my mind until very recently…

So I always had the sense of being in this for keeps, if your health lasts you. And you’re fortunate enough to have the days at your disposal so you can keep on doing this. I never had the sense that there was an end. That there was a retirement or that there was a jackpot.

What a beautiful testament to the creative spirit and its true motives, to creative contribution coming from a place of purpose rather than a hunger for profit.

Songwriters on Songwriting is a treasure trove of wisdom from cover to cover, featuring Zollo’s conversations with such icons as Suzanne Vega, k.d. lang, David Byrne, and Neil Young.

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/07/15/leonard-cohen-paul-zollo-creativity/

The civilian death toll in Gaza is immoral and unacceptable — and it’s time to talk honestly about all of it

 

Collective punishment or human shields? Israel’s military has no “moral superiority,” time for media to cover Gaza fairly

Collective punishment or human shields? Israel's military has no "moral superiority," time for media to cover Gaza fairly
Palestinians flee their homes in the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City, after Israel had airdropped leaflets warning people to leave the area, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (Credit: AP/Lefteris Pitarakis)

How commonly is the alleged moral superiority of the Israeli military invoked? So commonly that if you type “the most moral army in the world” into Google, you’ll immediately get a bunch of articles discussing the Israeli “Defense” Forces. Just last week, Slate’s William Saletan argued that while Hamas fires rockets at civilians, Israel takes “pains” in its “exemplary” efforts to avoid harming Palestinian civilians. The New York Times’ Steven Erlanger didn’t “argue” that Israel takes major precautions to avoid harming civilians, he seemed to be taking it as a given when he wrote Gazans were anxious about airstrikes “no matter how carefully Israel tries to target them.”

Despite the fact that the Palestinians are an occupied, besieged and oppressed population that lacks the capability to defend itself against systemic and daily Israeli violence, Hamas’s insistence that Israeli civilians are legitimate targets is morally indefensible, and should be condemned by all people of conscience. But according to what evidence is Israel’s conduct better? And how can it possibly be better when Israel has advanced surveillance capability and laser-guided weaponry, but has still managed to kill more than 150 Palestinian civilians (including 40+ children) in Gaza, compared to just one Israeli death in this latest round of violence? Instead of taking Israel at its word, let’s look at the take of credible observers.

Human Rights Watch, on Israel’s Conduct

After conducting an investigation, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report on Wednesday accusing Israel of carrying out “unlawful” strikes in Gaza, ones that “either did not attack a legitimate military target or attacked despite the likelihood of civilian casualties being disproportionate to the military gain.” It noted that “Such attacks committed deliberately or recklessly constitute war crimes.” HRW Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson also added that Israel’s actions raise “serious questions as to whether these attacks are intended to target civilians or wantonly destroy civilian property.”



The report also said that “Human Rights Watch has documented numerous serious violations of the laws of war by Israeli forces in the past decade, particularly indiscriminate attacks on civilians,” and criticized Israel’s preposterously inadequate efforts at “warning” civilians of impending strikes. Now, which part of all that fits with “exemplary” efforts at avoiding killing civilians? Still, some may buy into Israel’s allegation that Hamas’s use of human shields is what’s responsible for the high civilian death toll. Let’s look at the evidence.

Human Shields

While human rights organizations haven’t yet addressed “human shields” allegations in the ongoing round of Israel-Gaza violence, they did after the 2009 round when Israel killed at least 773 Palestinian civilians, compared to three Israeli civilian casualties (a ratio of 257:1), and used the same “human shields” argument to deflect responsibility for those deaths. When the dust settled, Amnesty International investigated the matter and concluded that there was “no evidence that [Palestinian] rockets were launched from residential houses or buildings while civilians were in these buildings.” More attention-worthy was the report’s note that,

in the cases of [Israeli] precision missiles or tank shells which killed [Palestinian] civilians in their homes, no fighters were present in the houses that were struck and Amnesty International delegates found no indication that there had been any armed confrontations or other military activity in the immediate vicinity at the time of the attack.

Israel’s Use of Human Shields

By contrast, the same report found that “in several cases Israeli soldiers also used [Palestinian] civilians, including children, as ‘human shields’.” Going back in time just a little further to put this into context is important: when the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the Israeli military had to stop using Palestinian civilians as human shields, the Israeli “defense” establishment objected to the ruling. The appeal against the ruling failed, and the practice remains technically illegal, but Israel implicitly encourages it to continue by offering an “inadequate … slap on the wrist,” as Human Rights Watch put it, to Israeli soldiers caught using this reprehensible tactic.

This reveals two important things: the first is the moral hypocrisy and chutzpah on display when Israel ignores its own use of human shields as it accuses its enemies of using them. The second is Israel’s self-contradicting logic: If Palestinian militants had such disregard for Palestinian civilian lives, why was the Israeli military so invested in maintaining the ability to use Palestinians as shields? The fact that the Israeli army wants to use Palestinian human shields actually proves that they believe Palestinian militants prefer not to endanger their own civilians.

When Intentions Are Clearer

There may be more discipline among Israeli leaders in how they talk about the war on Gaza this time, but that wasn’t the case in previous conflagrations. In the 2012 assault, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai said the “goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages.” Gilad Sharon, son of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, said “we need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza.” And if you think that’s just rhetoric, consider that Amnesty International previously documented Israel had “flattened … busy neighborhoods” into “moonscapes.”

And it wasn’t just human rights organizations that were exposing Israeli war crimes in Gaza, but Israeli soldiers whose conscience could not bear to remain silent about the atrocities they had committed were also coming forward. And in the 2006 assault on Lebanon, one Israeli commander referred to the dropping of more than a million cluster bomblets over Lebanon like this: “What we did was insane and monstrous, we covered entire towns in cluster bombs.” Is this the most moral army?

Imbalance of Power Shapes the Conflict

While the 2009 Amnesty International report found no evidence that Hamas used human shields, it did acknowledge the obvious reality that Hamas does operate in (and fire rockets from) residential areas, adding “although this would be difficult to avoid in the small and overcrowded Gaza Strip.” Beyond the size and overcrowding of Gaza, Hamas also has no real army which could confront Israel on a traditional battlefield. As Yousef Munayyer recently argued on MSNBC, “Palestinians would certainly prefer to have precision-guided missiles and F-16s, and the kind of defense establishment that an independent, sovereign state would have to defend itself.” But in the absence of such capabilities, any fighting militia would be forced to use guerilla tactics that involve operating in inhabited areas.

As Andrew Sullivan put it,

Yes, they conceal armaments and rockets and weapons in civilian areas — and that undoubtedly increases civilian deaths. But what alternative do they have exactly, if they wish to have any military capacity at all? Should they build clearly demarcated camps and barracks and munitions stores, where the IDF could just destroy them at will?

Violence against civilians does not suddenly become more legitimate just because it is carried out by a state actor, and one that doesn’t fit our biases and preconceptions of who commits terrorism. And leading human rights organizations get that, which is why they call for ending military support not just for Hamas and other militant groups, but also for Israel.

Israel’s ground incursion in Gaza is now underway, and while it will almost certainly cause more casualties and destruction, it won’t contribute to resolving the conflict in the long term. Ultimately, this conflict will only be solved when the side holding virtually all the power, the one imposing displacement, occupation, and apartheid on the other side, is pressured in a meaningful way to allow Palestinians to exercise self-determination. Heeding the calls for a suspension of military aid to Israel would be the beginning of such meaningful pressure, and through it we could hopefully see a process that puts us closer to the ending the needless killing of innocent Israelis and Palestinians.

Omar Baddar is a Middle East political analyst based in Washington, DC. You can follow him on Twitter at @OmarBaddar

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/18/israels_military_has_no_moral_superiority_and_its_time_the_media_covered_gaza_fairly/?source=newsletter

Where’s the Outrage Over a Boy Burnt to Death?

http://cdn.images.express.co.uk/img/dynamic/78/590x/mohammed-abu-khdeir-486949.jpg

The Atrocity

by URI AVNERY

Bombs are raining on Gaza and rockets on Southern Israel, people are dying and homes are being destroyed.

Again.

Again without any purpose. Again with the certainty that after it’s all over, everything will essentially be the same as it was before.

But I can hardly hear the sirens which warn of rockets coming towards Tel Aviv. I cannot take my mind off the awful thing that happened in Jerusalem.

If a gang of neo-Nazis had kidnapped a 16-year old boy in a London Jewish neighborhood in the dark of the night, driven him to Hyde Park, beaten him up, poured gasoline into his mouth, doused him all over and set him on fire – what would have happened?

Wouldn’t the UK have exploded in a storm of anger and disgust?

Wouldn’t the Queen have expressed her outrage?

Wouldn’t the Prime Minister have rushed to the home of the bereaved family to apologize on behalf of the entire nation?

Wouldn’t the leadership of the neo-Nazis, their active supporters and brain-washers be indicted and condemned?

Perhaps in the UK. Perhaps in Germany.

Not here.

This abominal atrocity took place in Jerusalem. A Palestinian boy was abducted and burned alive. No racist crime in Israel ever came close to it.

Burning people alive is an abomination everywhere. In a state that claims to be “Jewish”, it is even worse.

In Jewish history, only one chapter comes close to the Holocaust: the Spanish inquisition. This Catholic institution tortured Jews and burned them alive at the stake. Later, this happened sometimes in the Russian pogroms. Even the most fanatical enemy of Israel could not imagine such an awful thing happening in Israel. Until now.

Under Israeli law, East Jerusalem is not occupied territory. It is a part of sovereign Israel.

The chain of events was as follows:

Two Palestinians, apparently acting alone, kidnapped three Israeli teenagers who were trying to hitchhike at night from a settlement near Hebron. The objective was probably to use them as hostages for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

The action went awry when one of the three succeeded in calling the Israeli police emergency number from his mobile phone. The kidnappers, assuming that the police would soon be on their tracks, panicked and shot the three at once. They dumped the bodies in a field and fled. (Actually the police bungled things and only started their hunt the next morning.)

All of Israel was in an uproar. Many thousands of soldiers were employed for three weeks in the search for the three youngsters, combing thousands of buildings, caves and fields.

The public uproar was surely justified. But it soon degenerated into an orgy of racist incitement, which intensified from day to day. Newspapers, radio stations and TV networks competed with each other in unabashed racist diatribes, repeating the official line ad nauseam and adding their own nauseous commentary – every day, around the clock.

The security services of the Palestinian Authority, which collaborated throughout with the Israeli security services, played a major role in discovering early on the identity of the two kidnappers (identified but not yet caught). Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president, stood up in a meeting of the Arab countries and condemned the kidnapping unequivocally and was branded by many of his own people as an Arab Quisling. Israeli leaders, on the other hand, called him a hypocrite.

Israel’s leading politicians let loose a salvo of utterances which would be seen anywhere else as outright fascist. A short selection:

Danny Danon, deputy Minister of Defense: “If a Russian boy had been kidnapped, Putin would have flattened village after village!”

“Jewish Home” faction leader Ayala Shaked: “With a people whose heroes are child murderers we must deal accordingly.” (“Jewish Home” is a part of the government coalition.)

Noam Perl, world chairman of Bnei Akiva, the youth movement of the settlers: “An entire nation and thousands of years of history demand: Revenge!”

Uri  Bank, former secretary of Uri Ariel, Housing Minister and builder of the settlements: “This is the right moment . When our children are hurt, we go berserk, no limits, dismantling of the Palestinian Authority, annexation of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), execution of all prisoners who have been condemned for murder, exile of family members of terrorists!”

And Binyamin Netanyahu himself, speaking about the entire Palestinian people: “They are not like us. We sanctify life, they sanctify death!”

When the bodies of the three were found by tourist guides, the chorus of hatred reached a new crescendo. Soldiers posted tens of thousands of messages on the internet calling for “revenge”, politicians egged them on, the media added fuel, lynch mobs gathered in many places in Jerusalem to hunt Arab workers and rough them up.

Except for a few lonely voices, it seemed that all Israel had turned into a soccer mob, shouting “Death to the Arabs!”

Can anyone even imagine a present-day European or American crowd shouting “Death to the Jews?”

The six arrested until now for the bestial murder of the Arab boy had come straight from one of these “Death to the Arabs” demonstrations.

First they had tried to kidnap a 9-year old boy in the same Arab neighborhood, Shuafat. One of them caught the boy in the street and dragged him towards their car, choking him at the same time. Luckily, the child succeeded in shouting “Mama!” and his mother started hitting the kidnapper with her cell phone. He panicked and ran off. The choking marks on the boy’s neck could be seen for several days.

The next day the group returned, caught Muhammad Abu-Khdeir, a cheerful 16-year old boy with an engaging smile, poured gasoline in his mouth and burned him to death.

(As if this was not enough, Border Policemen caught his cousin during a protest demonstration, handcuffed him, threw him on the ground and started kicking his head and face. His wounds look terrible. The disfigured boy was arrested, the policemen were not.)

The atrocious way Muhammad was murdered was not mentioned at first. The fact was disclosed by an Arab pathologist who was present at the official autopsy. Most Israeli newspapers mentioned the fact in a few words on an inner page. Most TV newscasts did not mention the fact at all.

In Israel proper, Arab citizens rose up as they have not done in many years. Violent demonstrations throughout the country lasted for several days. At the same time, the Gaza Strip frontline exploded in a new orgy of rockets and aerial bombings in a new mini-war which already has a name: “Solid Cliff”. (The army’s propaganda section has invented another name in English.) The new Egyptian dictatorship is collaborating with the Israeli army in choking the Strip.

The names of the six suspects of the murder-by-fire – several of whom have already confessed to the appalling deed – are still being withheld. But unofficial reports say that they belong to the Orthodox community. Apparently this community, traditionally anti-Zionist and moderate, has now spawned neo-Nazi offspring, which surpass even their religious-Zionist competitors.

Yet terrible as the deed itself is, to my mind the public reaction is even worse. Because there isn’t any.

True, a few sporadic voices have been heard. Many more ordinary people have voiced their disgust in private conversations. But the deafening moral outrage one could have expected did not materialize.

Everything was done to minimize the “incident”, prevent its publication abroad and even inside Israel. Life went on as usual. A few government leaders and other politicians condemned the deed in routine phrases, for consumption abroad. The soccer world cup contest elicited far more interest. Even on the Left, the atrocity was treated as just another item among the many misdeeds of the occupation.

Where is the outcry, the moral uprising of the nation, the unanimous decision to stamp out the racism that makes such atrocities possible?

The new flare-up in and around the Gaza Strip has obliterated the atrocity altogether.

Sirens sound in Jerusalem and in towns north of Tel-Aviv. The missiles aimed at Israeli population centers have successfully (up to now) been intercepted by counter-missiles. But hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are running to the shelters. On the other side, hundreds of daily sorties of the Israeli Air Force turn life in the Gaza Strip into hell.

When the cannon roar, the muses fall silent.

Also the pity for a boy burnt to death.

URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/07/11/the-atrocity/