Sunday, December 30, 2001
Jewish attitudes towards Arabs are usually based on pity, fear, or anger. Each of these reactions seems to be related to the level of real life contact which one has with Arabs.
Those who react with pity tend to be those who are also the furthest removed from the threat. The city that votes most solidly left and has a reputation for being the breeding ground for most of the “Peace” activist groups is Tel Aviv. Every time I enter Tel Aviv, I feel that I am leaving Israel, like I should be getting my passport stamped as I get off the train. The place simply doesn't feel like the Israel I know. The Israel I know, mostly Be'er Sheva and Jerusalem, is a pressure cooker. Every serious problem of this country is staring you in the face every second of the day. When I walk out of my apartment building in Be’er Sheva, the desert dust and heat blowing through the streets reminds me of the water crisis, the streets crowded with Bedouin in traditional dress, Haredi Jews in East-European garb, secular Jews and Arabs in Jeans and T-shirts, blacks, whites, Sephardim, and Ashkenazim, is a constant reminder of the sectarian fissures running through this society. The slums and run-down neighborhoods are a reminder of the crushing poverty many here face. In Tel Aviv, none of these problems are apparent on the surface. The vast majority of people are secular, there are very few Arabs, and those Arabs who do live and work in Tel Aviv don’t dress like extras from the set of Lawrence of Arabia. The streets are clean, and the buildings new and well maintained. Very few of the restaurants are kosher, and on Saturday, you wouldn’t know that there was such thing as Shabbat. Except for the occasional bombing or attack, things like the Intifada, the Jewish Majority, the water shortage, and the Arab military threat are abstract concepts and not everyday realities. There are many places like Tel Aviv in Israel, places which don’t feel the stress of the real problems of Israeli society.
The only contact that most Americans and Tel Avivniks have with Arabs is through the television. The average American’s or Tel Avivnik’s first emotion upon seeing the Arab condition is pity. This is a natural reaction to seeing the condition of the Arabs living in the slums in Yesha, to which CNN and company refer as “Refugee Camps.” The other night on Israeli television there was a program that showed clips of Arab kids who had to climb through two layers of barbed wire in order to retrieve their soccer ball and other clips of the daily misery that the Arabs living in these cities and slums have to go through.
This environment spawns organizations such as “Rabbis for Human Rights,” which, on its website, declares itself to be, “The voice of Rabbinic conscience in Israel” (emphasis added.) The organization’s most public activities include protests against settlement activities and condemning Israel when Arabs are killed in the conflict. To my mind, person or organization that declares itself to be “the” voice of morality, conscience, righteousness, holiness, etc., as opposed to “a” voice is extremely dangerous. History’s darkest moments were written by those who were convinced of their own exclusive moral authority. I also think the title “Rabbis for Arab Rights” would be much more appropriate since this organization seems not to give a hoot about the human rights of Jews, such as the right not to be blown to pieces on one’s way home from work. After the murder of a Jewish shepherd around Hebron, I remember the organization came out with a statement to the effect that he was not a nice person and got what he deserved.
Most Americans fall into the “pity” category, as is evidenced by the fact that 75% of the scholarships given to Ben Gurion University by American Jews are specifically earmarked not to be given to Jews, only Arabs. Source: I know someone who works in the scholarship distribution department.
Those who fall into the “pity” category label themselves as “The Peace Camp.” Rather than defining themselves by a means to achieve a goal, such as territorial compromise or unilateral separation, they define and name themselves by the goal itself. This suggests that anybody who opposes their actions also opposes their goal, Peace. By implication, therefore, since the “Peace” camp demands the withdrawal from land, anybody opposed to such withdrawal wants a war. Anybody who opposes their means, such as a settler, becomes and “obstacle to peace.”
Today, the “pity” society is having deep emotional problems. They still feel the pity, but they don’t know what to do with it. The mental construct which they had for the world, in which they believed that the Arabs are attacking the Jews because the Jews occupy Yesha, fell apart when Barak offered to surrender all of Yesha and the Arabs responded by attacking. In every previous conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis, Peace Now and Rabbis for Human Rights have clearly sided with the Palestinians. Throughout the Arab and European “enlightened” world today, there have been cries of “Where is the ‘Peace Camp’ in Israel?” What’s left of it is in disarray. After ten years of constantly lecturing the Israeli public and eventually convincing them to make painful sacrifices for peace, Yassir Arafat finally demanded all of Israel, including Tel Aviv. The “Peace Camp” has disintegrated because it is unwilling to make the same sacrifices of house and home which it has been preaching to the rest of the country.
Aviram, an American friend of mine, came to Israel as a part of the “pity” society. “You know,” he told me one day, “When I came here, I said to myself, ‘We have to do something to work this out.’ I thought that we could sit down and figure out what these people want and come to some kind of arrangement. Now, when I look at an Arab, I think to myself, ‘What’s wrong with these people? Why do they insist on killing me? What did I ever do to them?’ They’re just a bunch of unreasonable and crazy people, and that’s all there is to it.”
Yossi may live in Tel Aviv, but he doesn’t fall into the “pity” category. As we drive through the narrow streets looking for a gas station, we come to a stop and an Arab crosses the street in front of the car. “You know,” says Yossi, “not only do I not like the Arabs, I also really hate them.” Yossi is one of the kindest people I have met since I came to Israel. He has always had the time to help me with anything I need, and often helps me translate exams and homework in his spare time. A deeply religious person raised in a secular family, he has always been ready to take me into his home on a moment’s notice, always with a huge smile. When I visit him, he sleeps on the couch and I sleep in his bed.
As we walk through the streets of North Tel Aviv, Yossi reaches into his pocket.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“I’m switching money from one pocket to the other,” He answers humbly.
“Yes Yossi, but why?”
“I have two pockets. As I go through the day, I transfer a small amount of tzedukkah (charity) from one pocket to the other. The Torah teaches us that we should always be giving tzedukkah, so this is how I can constantly be giving. At the end of the day, I give the money away. And I never turn away a beggar.”
There is a brief pause in the conversation as Yossi mulls over his last comment. “Well, I never give to Arabs. The Talmud teaches us that, ‘He who is kind to the cruel will become cruel to the kind.’ Arabs are cruel people and I don’t want to help them.”
Conversations with Yossi usually focus around religion or school. He spends any pauses in the conversation lambasting the Arabs. He also likes to give long drashas, religious sermons, about faith.
“You know,” he begins, “I really believe that G-d watches us all of the time. I deeply feel that everything that happens on this Earth is directly connected to how we relate to G-d in heaven. G-d watches every action we do, even when we aren’t thinking about it, and records it and deals with us based on this.”
As an Arab woman, her head wrapped in a head scarf passes us, Yossi turns and spits in the path where she was just walking. “F----ing Arabs,” he mutters.
In spite of my inability to truly feel the anger Yossi feels, I can understand where it comes from. Jewish anger at Arabs does not exist in a vacuum. It is not a result of not being able to empathize with “the other,” the fact that they are from a different “tribe,” the fact that they are a minority, or xenophobia. It is a fact that in almost every interaction that Jews as a people have had with the Arabs, going back to Mohammed, the Arabs have attacked and killed the Jews. Yossi was correct when he said, “It’s very simple, the Arabs don’t have a left, right, or center, they all just want to kill us.” There may be some competition between the Palestinian Authority, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas, but the only real point of debate between them is on how to most quickly destroy Israel. There is no organization called “Mullahs for Human Rights,” no Arab version of “Peace Now,” no Arab “Peace Camp.” Shimon Peres, Yossi Beilin, and other members of the Israeli left can be seen on television waving Palestinian flags and talking about a future Palestinian state. The only time you see Arabs with an Israeli flag on television is when they are burning it. In all of the vast expanses of the Arab lands, in all twenty-two Arab dictatorships, there is not a single organization dedicated to reconciliation, not a single Arab waving an Israeli flag on television, no desire for peace. “These people are not even people,” my cousin tells me, matter of factly. “Why is it that, if a Jew walks into an Arab area, he dies, but when an Arab walks into a Jewish area, nothing happens to him?” There is truth to his words, if not his conclusion. If I walk into an Arab city, it will have the same net effect as putting a gun to my head and pulling the trigger.
When Yossi was thirteen years old, he was sitting in a bomb shelter with a gas mask on, listening to Sadaam Hussein’s Scud missiles falling on Tel Aviv and wondering if he was going to be gassed. He turned on the television to see news coverage of the Palestinian Arabs dancing on the rooftops in celebration. In the north of Israel, for the past fifty years, families have been enjoying their Sabbath meals in bomb shelters. Before 1967, the Syrians regularly showered the area with artillery. Between 1967 and operation “Peace for Galilee,” Yassir Arafat’s PLO launched a series of murderous raids on northern Israel, taking over classrooms full of schoolchildren and mowing them down. Now the Syrians, via their proxy force in Lebanon, Hizbullah, the party of god, continuously launch rocket and mortar attacks on the northern civilian population centers. When I was in elementary school, we learned duck and cover like in case of an earthquake. Yossi’s generation learned how to strap on a gas mask as fast as possible and duck and cover in case of a missile attack.
It’s not just the big things; it’s the little ones as well. As we walk into the stairwell of Yossi’s apartment building, he points to the floor. “Look,” he says, pointing at some spit, “the Arab who cleans the stairs always spits on the third stair when he’s done.” One day Yossi came over to my apartment asking to use my computer to make some fliers so he could paste them around campus to publicize what had happened to him. It seems that the Arab professor in his lecture in the University announced, during an engineering lecture, that he hated Israel and was looking forward to see it destroyed. A few days later an Arab in his class turned to him and told him, with a straight face, that he felt it is totally acceptable to murder Jewish settlers. As I walk through the Old City of Jerusalem with my friend Yonatan, a group of Arabs sitting on the street corner stares us down with the most hostile faces they can muster. If looks could kill, I would have been just another statistic.
Yossi’s anger begs the question; can this anger which is directed towards a particular group of people be considered racist? Well, not exactly, because neither the Jews nor Palestinians constitute a distinct race.
I have seen Arabs in full Bedouin dress who are as black as any African and white enough to pass for an Englishman. The Jews, as well, have picked up every race and complexion imaginable in their wanderings across the Earth, from black Ethiopian to white Swede, to Chinese to Cuban. If you put a freeze-frame picture of an Arab next to one of a Jew, there is usually no way to tell the difference. Set the picture in motion, however, and the difference becomes as clear as night and day. Israeli Jews tend to behave in body language and behavior like amplified Americans. They conduct everyday interactions, such as negotiating with the grocer or ordering a falafel, with the same mannerisms and gestures as Americans except perhaps more temperamentally and passionately. When two Jewish friends meet on the street they shake hands.
The Arabs and us seem worlds apart. When two Arabs men meet on the street, they hug and are much more intimate, patting and stroking each other, something assumed to have sexual implications in America. Egyptian television news often shows two government ministers who had a meeting that day walking around holding hands. Also, they are very excitable, unpredictable, and loud. Seeing a group of Arab men in their early twenties walking around on campus, often one or more of them will jump up on a bench or they will spontaneously begin wrestling with one another. If I am standing in line in the campus cafeteria, often the Arab in front of me will take a coin out of his pocket and start throwing it high into the air and then move around bumping other people out of his way to catch it.
While I consider the condition of most of the Arabs in Israel to be pitiable, and I definitely feel a piece of Yossi’s anger, my own personal first reaction to the Arabs is fear. When I am in the shuk (market), and an Arab comes over and grabs me by the arm and pulls me over to his booth, and starts smiling and trying to sell me his wares all the while staring at me with eyes that want to kill me, my first thought is, “Is this guy about to plant a knife in my back?” The wild bodily gesticulations and temperamental yelling of the Arabs is very unnerving. If a person can become so excited that he loses control of his body, then G-d forbid he become angry at me because there is no telling what he might do to me. I try not to let it affect my personal interactions. I have gone to the dialogue groups, tried to listen, and I always try to judge people on a personal level, not based on what they are. I can’t help being an American. That being said, seeing the massive rallies on television in which the Hizbullah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad flags fly next to the Nazi flag is very telling. I feel that I am living next door to four million people who are focused every waking moment of every day on finding new and exciting ways of taking away my life. I feel like I am living next to four million Nazis.
Tuesday, December 25, 2001
My personal situation at this time can be best described as "Serious to moderate." It started with my tuition wavier. I just couldn't get a wavier for my tuition through the stupid, backward bearocracy here for months, and therefore couldn't register for my classes for this semester. Then, my stipend fund from the university ran out so I quickly ran out of money and ended up about 2,000 shekels in overdraft. They tried to find other money for me, but I couldn't get it deposited into my account until I had registered for classes, which required the tuition wavier. Finally, the tuition wavier eventually went through, thank G-d, but I still couldn't register for classes because I had to pay 500 shekels for bills to the university, but I couldn't pay this bill until I got my stipend, and I couldn't get the stipend without registering for classes, so I was stuck. In the meantime, I didn't have enough money to buy food, and ended up digging into my pasta reserves which I had saved for the long winter months. Eventually, I got enough money from a combination of loans and grants to pay the fees to the university and register for classes, but I still didn't have the stipend because my grades last year were extremely bad, and you have to do well to get a stipend. I explained my situation, that I was a new immigrant and don't speak Hebrew very well, but they told me they simply don't have any money to give me anyway, so I was still starving. In the mean time, I received notice from the U.S. Department of Education that they do not recognize my institute of higher learning and my loan payments are now in default and will be forwarded to a credit agency. I eventually took care of that by declaring myself unemployed and experiencing extreme financial difficulty, and got another year of deferment.
In the mean time, I ran out of money with which to buy bottled water, so I started drinking from the tap and, as expected, got the stomach flu. I ran out of toilet paper but couldn't afford to buy more, so I had to run two blocks to work every time I had to use the camode, until I figured out that I could take some T.P. with me. My boss just dug up a few thousand shekels yesterday from some fund he had and transferred them to my account so I can pay rent and was able to buy some groceries, and I should have enough to last me through the end of the semester, but I'm not out of the woods yet, as I still owe about 2,100 shekels to seven different people, and have a 600 shekel phone bill because I had to keep calling the U.S. to arrange my loans.
Thank G-d my problems are only financial.
Monday, December 17, 2001
Part of the stress of living in Israel is the knowledge that the country you live in is faced, 24 hours per day, with a seemingly endless list of threats to its existence. All of these threats are intertwined into one giant, tangled mass called the “Matzav.” The current “security situation,” “low grade war”, or whatever it is being called now, is only the most visible and obvious existential threat. Over the past 15 months, I have watched the title of what I like to think of as the “local” news section in the Yahoo! News service change from “Middle East Peace Process” to “Palestinian-Israeli Crisis.” After the bombing a week ago, it changed again, this time to “Middle East Conflict.” On the surface, Arab terror would not appear to be such an existential threat. After all, the highest cutting-edge technology weapons are invented in Israel, the region’s only nuclear power, while the Palestinians have kalashnikovs, katyushka rockets, and mortars, but not enough to seriously challenge Israel militarily. Israel also has a much larger and well-trained army. The “existential” nature of the threat is that Arafat has thousands of people under his command who actually want to die, and millions of mothers who are proud of dead children. While Israel’s high level of security and policy of killing terrorists has had a major effect in reducing the number of Israeli casualties, as we saw last week, if one gets through, twenty die. Israelis, who do not want to die, and whose mothers weep over dead children rather than celebrate, will decide to leave if things get bad enough, and that is the existential threat. No Jews, no Jewish state.
Everything comes down to Facts On The Ground. Regardless of the UN or international recognition, the basis of the existence of Israel as a democratic state is that it has a Jewish majority. The Arabs know this, and therefore one of their strategies for destroying Israel is based on higher population growth plus “right of return” of all Palestinian refugees, a Palestinian Refugee being defined by the U.N. as any Arab who lived in pre-1948 Israel for a period of two years. According to the CIA world factbook, the Arabs in Gaza have a 4.01% yearly population growth rate, whereas Israel’s is 1.58%. By contrast, the U.S. has a population growth rate of 0.9%. In order to counter the higher Arab birth rate, Israel must also encourage a high birth rate plus immigration. The fastest growing segments of Israeli population, aside from the Arabs, are the Haredim (often referred to as “ultra orthodox”,) and the Russian immigrants. Today, over 10% of the population of Israel is comprised of immigrants who arrived from the former Soviet Union within the last 10 years. Immigration from Russia has slowed as the former Soviet Union is almost drained of Jews, but the extremely high birthrate among the Haredi population, with young marriages and an average of 7.5 children per family, makes them the fastest growing group in Israel. An off-the-cuff, unconfirmed statistic I heard was that Jerusalem is 25% Haredi, but 69% of the kindergarteners in Jerusalem are from Haredi families. In fact, Israel is the only country in the world with a natural increase in Jewish population, and is expected to replace the United States as the largest Jewish community in the world within the next 10 years.
One of the major points of confrontation between the Haredi sector and the rest of the population is that they are not drafted into the Army. This is a source of enormous social tension, not only between the Haredim and the Secular Israelis, but also between the Haredi and other religious Jews. The Religious Zionists solved the problem by creating a “Hesder” or “Arrangement” system, whereby army service and study in a yeshiva, or religious education program, are interspersed and the religious serve in special non co-ed units in the army. The Haredim, however, to not participate in this system, and there is great resentment at the Haredim among the rest of the population in that they are seen as willing to take from the country and send their fellow Jews out to die to defend them while refusing to take the same risks themselves. The non-Haredi Jews take it as a statement, “Our lives are more precious than yours, so it is OK for you to die, but not us.” As the Haredim continue to increase in percentage of the population and influence in the government, this conflict is bound to come to a head. The resentment of the Haredim also results in a feeling of oppression and shame on their part. The way my Rabbi puts it, “They don’t even see us as human beings.”
Encouraging this growth rate is also very expensive. New immigrants are not usually able to function very well in society, like me, and require subsidies for rent, Hebrew lessons, and job retraining. In order to encourage a high level of growth in the Haredi sector, the government gives monthly allotments for each child on an increasing scale, i.e., the more children you have, the more money you get per child. Because Israel’s laws are non-discriminatory, the payments also apply to Arabs. During the independence war, some Bedouin tribes sided with Israel and some with Egypt. After the war, those who sided with Israel were settled in the Negev, and those who had sided with Egypt were asked to leave. At that time, they were only a few thousand, but because they each have four wives, and each wife has fifteen or sixteen children, families with sixty children are not uncommon. There is no shortage of women as they can bring in wives from Gaza. Around Be’er Sheva, there are several Bedouin villages. On a tour the ruins of Tel Be’er Sheva, now next to a Bedouin village of tens of thousands, the archaeologist remembered back to the mid 1970s, “When I was in college on a dig here, Tel Sheva consisted of three tents.”
Illegal Arab immigration is another often ignored problem. At last report, a few months ago, 50,000 Arabs had illegally entered Israel and settled in the Galilee area. America, of course, experiences the same problem, illegal immigration from Mexico, and for the same reason, people looking for a better life and higher wages. In America, after a generation, the Mexicans add their own spice to the country, and mariachi radio stations and taquerias pop up all over the west. In Israel, the next generation of illegal immigrants learns how to plant roadside bombs, ambush busses, and carry out suicide attacks. Of course, the number who turn to violence against the state and civilians is very small, but even if it is one in a hundred, this still presents a very serious threat to the state and must be dealt with quickly. As one friend euphemized, “It’s difficult to see how the country is going to survive if we don’t start moving people around.”
All of this rapid population growth places enormous strains on the environment. The state was built so quickly, and it was so busy dealing with other existential threats, that the government did not prioritize environmental protection for matters of national security. Today, the major rivers run black and stink, and are banked by barbed-wire fences with skull and crossbones signs. An entire squad of navy commandos who trained at the outlet to the Kishon river came down with different cancers, some with four or five at once. In the Maccabiah bridge disaster, in which a marathon of athletes was passing over a bridge which subsequently collapsed, the victims did not die from the injuries they sustained in the fall but the poisons they were exposed to in the river.
The most serious environmental strain is the water. Israel has always had a chronic water shortage, being a desert country. Recently this problem has become acute. Three years of drought have already depleted the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), Israel’s only major reservoir, by six meters. The Kinneret has a surface layer of fresh water and a bottom layer of saline water. If the fresh water is all sucked away, then all that will remain is salt water. The fear is that when water is reintroduced to the lake, it will not reform into layers but mix, permanently poisoning the lake. The water department put a so-called “red line” on the level to which the Kinneret could be pumped, below which any pumping would potentially cause an ecological catastrophe, but that red line was passed a year and a half ago. In order to solve the problem, the government decided to continue lowering the red line. There are also two major aquifers in Israel, the coastal and the mountain aquifer, both of which are severely depleted. The danger to the coastal aquifer is that, if the water table drops to below sea level, seawater will flow into the aquifer and poison it. When Arafat uses his old expression, “Whoever doesn’t like it can drink Gaza seawater!” he is serious. Unrestricted pumping in Gaza has already salinated half of the aquifer in that region. The coastal aquifer is also being poisoned every day by industries along the coast. The mountain aquifer runs under the Palestinian areas. Recently, the Palestinians have begun dumping biological poisons and toxic wastes into the rivers flowing into Israel. This will doubtless reach the aquifers and cause severe problems.
The basis of the shortage is that Israel’s population is increasing so rapidly that consumption now overreaches the rainfall in an average year, let alone a drought. The drought has only accelerated the problem. The government has been scrambling to come up with an alternative, and is building two desalination plants, as well as planning to build one more every five years for the next 25 years. Unfortunately, the first plant is scheduled to come online in 2003, and in the meantime, there is no effective plan. Israel’s ally to the north, Turkey, which has huge amounts of unused water, has offered to sell it to Israel, but there is no way to get it here. There is talk of refitting oil tankers to carry water, which will cost about twice as much as desalinating the water, or of building a pipeline. Any pipeline, however, would have to run through Syria, which is still at war with Israel. The other option was to build a pipeline under the Mediterranean, but this idea seems to have been dropped. The main fear is that Turkey, a Muslim country, will have a coup d’etat and become another Islamic Theocracy and shut off the water to Israel.
In order to alleviate the water shortage, the government has reduced water to farmers by 50%. Agriculture, while only making up about 2% of the Israeli economy, is very important strategically. Israel is under a constant state of siege from its neighbors, and has to be prepared to feed itself. Agriculture is also important because it puts a Jewish presence on the land. There is an old law on the books form the Turkish days that states that if somebody has an olive tree next to his house, then the land is his, no matter who the legal owner was previously. This causes a major problem for the settlements in the south, for when they leave a field fallow, they often come back the next year to find it full of Bedouin with olive trees.
Israel’s diverse and constantly warring factions result in a paralyzed government. Israel does not have a constitution. They tried to write one immediately after independence, but negotiations broke down. Today, many religious parties are afraid to draft a constitution because it might come to be viewed as a replacement for Torah. Meanwhile, in his last days, Barak announced a “secular revolution” to write a constitution and completely expunge Jewish religion and tradition from all government, which led to fears of oppression on the part of the religious and made the religious parties even more suspicious of the idea of a constitution. Due to the divides in Israeli society, Arab-Jew, Secular-Religious, Ashkenazi-Sephardi, Rich-Poor, Haredi-Religious Zionist, Left-Right, as well as the stubborn and uncompromising nature of Israelis, political parties are multiplying like bacteria on a petri-dish. Every time there is a disagreement, a party splits. Every issue results in a party. There are several parties for Russian immigrants, a party for religious people without beards, a party for religious people with beards, a party for religious people with beards and black hats, a party for religious Sephardim with beards and black hats, a party for taxi cab drivers (really!), a party for the legalization of Marijuana, a one-woman party lead by a famous CEO of a cosmetics company, the list goes on. Everybody who has a new idea or philosophy starts his own party. Every party the demands a ministry in the government in order to join the coalition. In order to accommodate all the new parties, Sharon had to increase the number of government ministries to 28, almost ¼ of the entire Knesset. A normal parliamentary government in a more sane country has eight or nine. Because the coalitions are so narrow, each tiny party can then threaten to quit the coalition and collapse the government. Any party with three out of 120 seats in the Knesset can threaten to resign and exert a disproportionate pressure relative to the number of people who actually voted for it.
Meanwhile, since there is no constitution, the Israeli Supreme Court has decided to allocate whatever powers to itself it deems fit. As in America, the Supreme Court declared that it has the power of judicial review, the power to overturn laws which are not constitutional. However, since there is no constitution, the court bases its rulings on the declaration of independence, a vaguely worded document which does not detail the system of government. In response, the Knesset began passing laws which would expressly say that “the Supreme Court can not declare this law unconstitutional,” which the Supreme Court then determined to be unconstitutional themselves. But that’s not all, the Supreme Court took it an extra step and declared that it has the right to overturn a law and then re-write the law itself, and that law then becomes the standing law of the land. Chief Justice Aharon Barak has actually made several appearances in the Knesset trying to convince them to pass certain laws he wanted. The Knesset is now busy trying to form a constitutional court to take the powers of Judicial review away from the Supreme Court. Living in Israel has given me a great appreciation for the value of separation of powers and a two party system.
It is said that Israel is terrible at dealing with day to day life but great with dealing with emergencies. In facing these challenges, it must be remembered what was here one hundred years ago. There were plenty of swamps, deserts, and rocky hillsides, but not a lot of people. In 100 years, this country has transformed from an idea in magazine articles into a modern, high-tech, rapidly growing country. Its people have a western standard of living, its gross domestic product is greater than that of all of the Arab countries combined (minus oil), and its vastly outnumbered armies have defeated its enemies time and time again. Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, upon his retirement, gave the country 50-50 odds of surviving into the 21st century. If you could transport one of the early theorists or visionaries of a Jewish state and list off all of the existential threats the country is facing today, he would weep with joy.
Friday, December 14, 2001
Much of our worldview, and many of things we take for granted, are dependant upon our upbringing. We take for granted the ability to reason, but it is actually based on how we are brought up. The ability to decide that a supposition or idea is untrue based on the facts at hand, no matter how much we would like to believe in our cherished supposition or idea, is the basis of reason and all scientific achievement. This basic process of deductive reasoning is something which does not come naturally to people and must be taught from an early age. Europe stagnated in the dark ages for over a thousand years, and people believed in dragons, trolls, and leprechauns, because the basic system of reasoning, of being able to test whether such things were true or not, had been lost.
Most of the third world lives in starvation, poverty, and backwardness. When one is searching for a crust of bread, there isn't time to teach one's children the fundamentals of logical thought. The expectation that the United States can present this videotape as evidence and then the starving and downtrodden masses of the Arab world to suddenly say, "Oh, I see now, I suppose that I was incorrect in thinking that Bin Laden didn't do it," is foolish. It will be passed off as another conspiracy. Maybe it will be pinned on the United States, but the popular explanation will be that the tape was created by that mystical, supernatural force of evil which keeps holding the billion or so Arabs down, the Jews. Just like Arafat claims that the September 11th attack was planned by Israel, the Egyptian Airlines crash was planned by Israel, Monica Lewinsky was a Jewish spy, and every injustice and and failing of the local despots is our fault, so this tape will be passed off as "Just another Zionist conspiracy" and forgotten.
Thursday, December 13, 2001
Sadly, last night, there was another terrorist attack on a bus in the territories. A roadside bomb plus gunfire killed ten. The terrorists did not run but lay in wait, and, when the ambulances came, they attacked again trying to kill as many paramedics as they could. This is getting too familiar. In response, the cabinet referred to Arafat as “irrelevant,” broke off all ties, and bombed some empty buildings in Gaza for the cameras, to little or no effect. This afternoon, Israel destroyed the “Voice of Palestine” radio station, which used to belong to Arafat. They are now broadcasting on another frequency from somewhere else, and I expect that later tonight the army will soon track that station down and destroy it.
There will be no “Right of Return” for Palestinian refugees into pre-1967 Israel. Israelis aren’t stupid and don’t want to see their state destroyed.
Friday, December 07, 2001
After the suicide bombing last weekend, something seems to have snapped. The Israeli cabinet declared Arafat "A regime that harbors terrorism and all that implies," and then launched a series of air strikes, blowing up Arafat's helicopters and airports, forcing him to stay in Ramallah, near Jerusalem. The assumption is that he is much less dangerous in Ramallah then flying around the world.
Afterwards, everybody in Israel was watching the television or reading the newspaper waiting for he condemnations of Israel to begin. Strangely, they never came. Usually, when a terror attack occurs, the State Department launches a preemptive condemnation of Israel for whatever it's about to do, the White House stays quiet, and the Congress supports Israel. This time, though, they all seem to be speaking with one voice of tacit support. Even Colin Powell was able to hold his tongue and say that Israel's government is democratically elected and must defend itself.
Has common sense finally broken out? Why? I'm sure that the Palestinian leadership is scratching their collective heads as well, trying to figure out why they aren't gaining any diplomatic advantage from the attack this time, like a dog waiting expectantly for a treat who gets whipped instead. After all, this attack isn't really any different from the hundreds of others which have been executed by the Palestinian Authority, nor are these fatalities any different from the thousands who have died by Arafat's hand over the last thirty years.
There are a few possible reasons. This is the first large-scale terrorist attack to happen since the beginning of the US's military campaign in Afghanistan. America would have a serious credibility problem if, in the middle of waging a war on a country which launched a deadly terrorist attack on it, it condemned Israel for doing the same.
Prior to this, the Bush administration placed a very high value on the coalition. What they have found since the ground campaign, however, is that if anything, the Arab states in the coalition are pinning the operations down. The Saudis are not allowing the U.S. to use its runways in the campaign, and the "coalition partners" aren't exactly lining up to take part in these actions. It is also noteworthy that all of the 9-11 hijackers came from the same Arab countries who are supposedly the most pro-western, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, raising questions about their true loyalties.
More importantly, however, I think that Bush has decided to use the momentum of the military campaign to go after Iraq in an effort to "clean up" this corner of the world. He knows that doing so will face opposition from all of the Arab members of the coalition, except Kuwait, and his administration has been very frank that the coalition may change, getting people ready for the Arab governments to bail out. If you're going to upset the Arabs, it will hurt just as much to do it now as later. If the Arab governments decide to raise oil prices as punishment at a time like this, it will be perceived in Washington as an attempt to undermine the war on terrorism The billions of dollars foreign aid to these coalition partners, as well as technology transfers, will be in jeopardy.
In the end, however, it comes down to personal politics. Bush and his administration see the world very simply. Either you are with the U.S. or you are against it. They seem to be tired of dealing with the slippery, stab-your-best-friend-in-the-back nature of Mideast politics. Not that politics everywhere isn't like that, but here, back-stabbing is not a figure of speech but a literal occurrence. They are also sick of dealing with Arafat and have reached the conclusion that he is either incapable or unwilling to make peace, ahs no credibility, and is therefore of no further use to the administration. There have been times when one of Bush's aides called Arafat and asked if such-and-such terrorist was in prison in Gaza, and Arafat confirmed that he was, to which the aid replied, "Then how did Israel kill him ten minutes ago in Ramallah?" The usual argument that Arafat is the best of all possible evils isn't washing any more, because things seem so bad now that they couldn't be any worse under Hamas.
All of this, as well as things we may not yet have heard, may have lead the U.S. to abandon it's policy of even-handedness and side with Israel. The question is: Is this a long-term strategic decision, or a short-term tactical decision?
Monday, December 03, 2001
>What do you know about Islam? I know you read the Koran. What was the general
>"feeling" you got from it?
I don't think that you can get a very good feel for a religion by just reading it's book, so I don't claim to be knowledgeable just because I read the Koran. There is plenty in Judaism that I think non-Jews would find very offensive. It is very clear that it was a commandment from G-d to Joshua to come into the land of Israel and kill everything, including the cattle. There is still a commandment to wipe out and destroy the nation of Amalek. Once one understands that Amalek's ideology was pretty close to that of the Nazis, i.e. no G-d, kill the all Jews, etc.; this commandment becomes more understandable, but this explaination is not given in the Torah, so somebody who just opens up and starts reading may very easily get the wrong impression. Likewise, I don't think that there is anything in the Christian bible about launching masive Crusades to wipe out thousands of innocent people, I don't think I've ever heard that Christianity gives you exemption from all you! r sins if you kill an infidel, which is what the Pope did. I don't think there is anything in the Bible which says that you have to torture people to get them to convert, which is what the Spanish Inquisition did. I am therefore loath to judge a religion based only on its book.
The grand irony of today's situation is that what Bin Laden claims to be fighting, the Crusaders, is precisely what he has become. The Crusaders were offered eternal paradise in heaven in exchange for dying in a holy war while killing infidels. So was Muhammad Attah and the twenty other hijackers. The Crusaders did not differentiate between civilian and military, and neither does Bin Laden. There is a sickening similarity between the Crusaders' decision to lock the Jews of Jerusalem in the city's main synagogue and burn it to the ground and the footage of the world trade center collapsing in a ball of fire on its occupants.
The gut feeling I get is that the majority of Muslims the world over, and especially the Arabs, are very supportive of the September 11 attacks. Of course, I don't want to make a blanket judgement about an entire group of people because every group has a variety of opinions, but I still have not personally heard an unequivocal statement of condemnation of terrorism from a Muslim religious leader, either here or in America. If one does hear a condemnation, it is always a conditional statement. I.e., "We condemn the attacks but... a) It's the United States' fault because they got involved in the Gulf War b) It's the United States' fault because they are trying to democratzie the Middle East c) It is the United States' fault becuase they support the Jews." These conditional condemnations turn the terrorist attacks into a political ultimatums. It's as if they are saying, "If you would just get out of the Middle East, give up this whole 'freedom for the world' ! ideology, and abandon the Jews, then we will get on board and condemn this attack wholeheartedly."
These ultimatims backfire on those who issue them. The American deal is that if you want to be an American, and you are willing to contribute yourself wholly to the country, then you're in, regardless of where you were born or what your religion is. When American Muslim leaders issue these ultimatims, they present themselves as outsiders. After all, you don't make ultimatims to your own people. I think that when Americans see American Muslim leaders on television saying that America has to do a, b, and c before the Muslim community will get on the bandwagon and condemn terrorism fully, then Americans feel a subconscious sense of betrayal. Here is someone who is taking advanage of American hospitality and acceptance without fully subscribing to the American deal.
One of the problems in the interactions between east and west is the differences of approach. In the west, everything is straightforward. The prices in the stores are always labeled, signed contracts are to be kept, and the rules are the rules. It is an attitude which manifests itself in every aspect of society. We westerners like big, tall box-shaped skyscrapers, preferrably dull metallic chrome or gray. We like knowing that there are a million McDonalds outlets all over the country where we can buy lunch and we know how much it will cost and what it will taste like before we look at the menu. Even our written language is composed of twenty six standard, easily identifiable and distinct letters.
Arab and eastern cultures are almost exactly the opposite. The prices in the stores are never labelled, you always have to ask and haggle. A word is to be kept as long as it is mutually beneficial, but no longer. Everybody has an angle and everybody else knows it. Arab architecture is typified by pointy domes, graceful curves, and flourescent colors, without hard and fast rules. The language is written in a cursive script in which one letter runs into the next, and you're never sure where a word begins and ends. The sands are always shifting and nothing is ever certain.
When two western countries have a disagreement, they go to war, fight it out, and the winner gets to decide the future. America assumed that the same would be true of its war in Iraq. It was assumed that Iraq, being militarily defeated, would ascede to the US's will. Instead, Sadaam started pushing and testing. Let's see what happens if I try to sneak out some oil. Nothing? Ok, let's see what happens if I try to close a few places to weapons inspectors. Nothing? Ok, let's see what happens if I kick out these weapons inspectors altoghether. In response, the US started bombing his country, which is when he backed down. After the US airstrikes, he started testing and pushing again. It is really quite remarkable, he totally lost a war by every standard imaginable, and yet today most sanctions have been lifted and he is free to continue developing weapons of mass destruction. America never had to re-bomb Germany after World War II, but now everybody's talking about go! ing back to Iraq 10 years later.
The same is true of those Muslim religious leaders, be they in America or elsewhere, who say, "We condemn terror but..." They realize that America wants to accept and respect them, and are pushing and testing to take maximum advantage of this generosity. Until they come out and say forthrightly, "We condemn terrorism, period," the perception of disloyalty will continue.