With the 60th anniversary of Israel’s birth — and of the Palestinian Nakbah (catastrophe) — which are, of course the same event, almost upon us, I was reminded this week that April 9 was also the 60th anniversary of an event that has long epitomized the connection between the creation of an ethnic-majority Jewish state and the man-made catastrophe suffered by the Palestinian Arabs. That would be the massacre at Deir Yassein, a small village near Jerusalem where fighters of the Irgun, led by Menahem Begin, massacred up to 250 Palestinian civilians — in what later emerged as a calculated campaign of “ethnic cleansing,” using violence and the threat of violence to drive Palestinians to flee their homes and land, which were then summarily appropriated by the new state of Israel, which passed legislation forbidding the Palestinian owners from returning to their property. It was the events of 1948 that created the Palestinian refugee problem, and set the terms of a conflict that continues to define the State of Israel six decades later. No resolution of the conflict is possible without understanding the events of 1948 — something that precious few mainstream U.S. politicians do. The irony is that Israelis are far more likely to be familiar with the uglier side of their victory in 1948 than are their most enthusiastic supporters on these shores.
I was no dignitary, but just as every politician visiting Israel is still taken first to the Holocaust museum at Yad Vashem, so do did my own official trip begin there in the winter of 1978 — as part of a Habonim leadership training program. The horrors memorialized at Yad Vashem pressed all the intended buttons in my 17-year-old mind, I realized a few months later, as a freshman student at the University of Cape Town, when I came very close to having the crap beaten out of me in a fight that I almost provoked when confronting Muslim students handing out leaflets marking Al-Quds day. I have had little appetite for physical confrontation since age 12, but I did not hestitate to grab the leaflets of a student named Ashraf, and throw them to the ground. He jumped at me, cursing. “You’re trying to deny my existence, you scum!” I screamed. “What about Dir Yassein?” he yelled, as he leaped towards me, restrained by his buddies as mine hustled me away, admonishing me for my provocative behavior. In truth, I hadn’t even recognized myself in that moment; it was all adrenal rage, a channeling of the “Never Again!” Warsaw Ghetto spirit unleashed in me by what I had seen at Yad Vashem. There was no room in there to consider what might have motivated Ashraf, of course; in the face of genocide (which was what I imagined he represented) there was no room for debate.
Yet, Ashraf, too, had pressed a button. I knew exactly what he was getting at by citing Deir Yassein. In the progressive, “Labor” Zionist movement of which Habonim was a part, we had long recognized the 1948 massacre of up to 250 Arab men, women and children in the village near Jerusalem as an ugly stain on the “purity of arms” myth in which we had always cloaked violence from Israeli side. We knew about Deir Yassein, but we could dissociate ourselves from it, or so we imagined, because it had been carried out not by the Haganah of Ben Gurion, but by an Irgun unit led by Menahem Begin. And as far as we ardent young Zionists of the left were concerned, Begin, who by then was Prime Minister of Israel, was nothing but a fascist thug and terrorist — hell, even Ben Gurion detested the man and condemned the Deir Yassein killings.
We in Habonim had no truck with the “fascists” of Betar, the youth wing of Begin’s movement that was now Israel’s ruling party. We stood for a “socialist Zionism” that would serve as a model to humankind of universal brotherhood and equality — thus the depths of our self-delusion. And the Betarim were the first to mock it. They, too, knew all about Deir Yassein. And they laughed at our revulsion over the massacre. “Do you think we’d ever have had a Jewish state if it wasn’t for actions like Deir Yassein?” they asked. Back then, of course, having been fed only the bubbemeis about the “miracle” in which most of the Arab population had voluntarily upped and left in 1948 to make way for an Arab invasion, I had no idea of the organized ethnic cleansing that was undertaken not only by the Irgun, but the Haganah of David Ben Gurion.
(I will confess, though, that at that time, it took reading about those events from Jewish sources, like Uri Avnery, to make it emotionally safe for me to accept the truth; if they were being hurled at me only by those whom I could dismiss as out to exterminate me and my kind, I’m not so sure it would have been as easy.)
The work of Benny Morris and other Israeli historians in the late 80s made abundantly clear that Deir Yassein was no isolated aberration, demonstrating that the mainstream Haganah, at Ben Gurion’s behest, had conducted an organized and systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing to clear Palestinian Arabs off the land that would become the State of Israel. (As to the rhetorical question of the Betarim, actually, the prospects of a Jewish ethnic majority state were pretty slim under the 1947 UN Partition plan, because 45% of the population of what would have been the Jewish State was Palestinian Arab — after all, Palestinian Arabs were the majority of the total population of Palestine, and it was hard to partition a substantial Jewish majority based on the demographics facts of 1947. So, not only Begin, but also Ben Gurion, set out to change those demographic facts.
Lords of the Land: The War for Israel's Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007 by Idith Zertal & Akiva Eldar
It was almost 8 years ago that I started paying attention to Israel/Palestine. It was the news clips of Israeli F-16s and helicopter gunships bombing and sending rockets into civilian Palestinian buildings that woke me up. It didn't take much searching to figure out the settlers were one of the root causes of the Intifida. That and the occupation. But the settlers are at the forefront of the current stealing of land from the Palestinians. This book chronicles the rise of the settler movement and how it has made a bad situation worse. A must read to understand the internal political dynamics of Israel.
Edith Zertal and Akiva Eldar end their exhaustive study of Israeli settlement policy with a poignant question: Is it possible, they wonder, that Israel's 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip will become a "first step in Israel's journey of liberating itself from the enslavement to the territories that it occupied in 1967, and which have occupied [it] since then and have brought it to the verge of destruction"? Negotiations that have been set in motion by the Annapolis peace conference inNovember will likely provide a partial answer. Zertal, a leading Israeli historian, and Eldar, a chief political columnist and a former Washington correspondent for the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, have recently published Lords of the Land: The War for Israel's Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007. It is a detailed history of Israel's nearly forty-year occupation of Gaza and the West Bank with a painful contention at its core. The occupation, say Zertal and Eldar, has wounded Israel's very psyche, damaging both its sense of self and its moral standing in the world. "The prolonged military occupation and the Jewish settlements that are perpetuating it have toppled Israeli governments," write the authors, "and have brought Israel's democracy and its political culture to the brink of an abyss."
The Hebrew version of this book was a best-seller in Israel, and sparked a debate there on the devastating realities and consequences of Israeli settlement policy. It would be useful to replicate that debate here in the United States—in the belly, as it were, of the enabler. The book's unflinchingly provocative title is matched by a narrative that pulls no punches, and the cast of villains (there are precious few heroes) runs the gamut from Jewish militia terrorists and their supporters in the Rabbinate to Labor Party apologists for the settlers and feckless judges who looked the other way as settlers created illegal outposts within Palestinian territory.
There are two sides to the settlement coin. The first is the settlers themselves, who are for the most part religiously inspired, unswervingly motivated, and highly effective. Religious Zionism was very much in the backseat of the Zionist enterprise until 1967, but once Israel assumed control of Judea and Samaria (as the settlers refer to the West Bank), the national religious camp saw its moment to seize the ideological steering wheel of state.
Their method was to create facts on the ground—that is, to quickly build settlements—and then get the political system on board by a number of means. The first step was persuasion ("We are all Jews surrounded by a sea of enemies"), followed by integration (the settlers' tentacles reached into all branches of government), and then coercion (the use of intimidation, threats, and violence). Any dubious action could be "koshered" by a shared appeal to Jewish history and Zionist destiny. If all else failed, there was the threat of Arab terror, which the settlers had a key role in encouraging. For believers, there was a religious justification and meaning—a theology of settlement, if you like. The final ingredient was an approach to the Palestinians that was at best colonial and at worst murderous. The new Lords of the West Bank arrogantly dismissed the region's indigenous population, and when the Palestinians showed opposition, settler militias and terrorist groups were formed (yes, Jewish terrorist groups). In 2001, an Israeli group named the Committee for the Defense of the Roads claimed responsibility for the drive-by killing of a six-month-old Palestinian baby and her family. Similar groups carried out additional attacks, and between 1980 and 1984, before the First Intifada began, twenty-three Palestinian civilians were killed in violent attacks by settlers, mostly involving firearms (often army issue). American readers might be shocked to discover that a religiously sanctified cult of martyrdom and "redemptive death" among elements of the Israeli settler community even exists at all, and then horrified at the extent of its destructiveness.
Just as the 19th century was the British century, and the 20th century was the American century, the 21st century is the Asian century.
But the handover of global power from the UK to the U.S. was trivial compared to what is happening now.
The U.S. was Britain's offspring, based on the same values and the same language.
It, too, was an Anglo-Saxon country, and passing the baton across the Atlantic ensured the continuation of the Anglo-Saxon world order, based on democracy, free trade and a belief in human rights, upheld through international institutions that both powers supported.
But the world order we have grown used to - and comfortable with - over the last century is coming to an end.
Napoleon III compared China to a sleeping giant and warned: "When China awakes, she will shake the world."
These days you hear a lot about the world financial crisis. But there’s another world crisis under way — and it’s hurting a lot more people.
I’m talking about the food crisis. Over the past few years the prices of wheat, corn, rice and other basic foodstuffs have doubled or tripled, with much of the increase taking place just in the last few months. High food prices dismay even relatively well-off Americans — but they’re truly devastating in poor countries, where food often accounts for more than half a family’s spending.
There have already been food riots around the world. Food-supplying countries, from Ukraine to Argentina, have been limiting exports in an attempt to protect domestic consumers, leading to angry protests from farmers — and making things even worse in countries that need to import food.
How did this happen? The answer is a combination of long-term trends, bad luck — and bad policy.
As the economic numbers look more and more shaky for the Wall Street crowd, and we are subjected to the Bush Administration's Dilbert Strategy, and more foreclosures and other problems stack up on the nation's doorstep, the nation's working poor keep running to stand still. Via NYTimes:
Driven by a painful mix of layoffs and rising food and fuel prices, the number of Americans receiving food stamps is projected to reach 28 million in the coming year, the highest level since the aid program began in the 1960s.
The number of recipients, who must have near-poverty incomes to qualify for benefits averaging $100 a month per family member, has fluctuated over the years along with economic conditions, eligibility rules, enlistment drives and natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, which led to a spike in the South.
But recent rises in many states appear to be resulting mainly from the economic slowdown, officials and experts say, as well as inflation in prices of basic goods that leave more families feeling pinched. Citing expected growth in unemployment, the Congressional Budget Office this month projected a continued increase in the monthly number of recipients in the next fiscal year, starting Oct. 1 — to 28 million, up from 27.8 million in 2008, and 26.5 million in 2007....
Because they spend a higher share of their incomes on basic needs like food and fuel, low-income Americans have been hit hard by soaring gasoline and heating costs and jumps in the prices of staples like milk, eggs and bread.
At the same time, average family incomes among the bottom fifth of the population have been stagnant or have declined in recent years at levels around $15,500, said Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington....
USA 2008: The Great Depression Food stamps are the symbol of poverty in the US. In the era of the credit crunch, a record 28 million Americans are now relying on them to survive – a sure sign the world's richest country faces economic crisis
We knew things were bad on Wall Street, but on Main Street it may be worse. Startling official statistics show that as a new economic recession stalks the United States, a record number of Americans will shortly be depending on food stamps just to feed themselves and their families.
Life has been a bit overwhelming lately. Weekly visits to see Zoe's mom who is at Western State Hospital (a 2 1/2 drive) with Alzheimer's. Zoe wrote about our last visit. Then we have been dealing with her doctors, or lack of. Her doctor had left the state and she assumed that another doctor in his clinic would take her on. Wrong assumption. It's been a hell of a month not knowing if they were going to sign the paperwork certifying she was still disabled for her medical insurance. They didn't seem to feel that Fibromyalgia was a disability. Zoe then talked to the office manager about resolving this who said she would return her call. Zoe called everyday for almost 3 weeks and the manager was always out. Zoe had other health issues and none of the doctors in the clinic seemed to want to see her. Bastards! (My daughter Katie works in the office of a physical therapy clinic here on Whidbey Island and deals with all the doctors on the Island. Apparently Zoe's clinic had lost their office manager, who knew what was going on, as well as 2 doctors and was in total chaos.) Zoe finally found a doctor in Freeland and was able to see him. She really liked him. He said he would fill out her disability form after reviewing her records.
And I've been trying to get ahead of my camera strap making so that I can offload some of it to a friend. I spent Wednesday afternoon crawling around on the concrete floor of the garage cutting up a new black hide and three half hides into 4" strips in preparation of further cutting them into 1/4" strips for camera straps. I was sore Thursday!
Then Friday morning our grandson Mike came over for the day. Katie had to go down to Kelso to pick up a new puppy dog so Colby dropped him off at 7:30. After breakfast we went up to Oak Harbor so that Zoe could pick up a copy of her medical records from her old clinic to drop off for her new doctor. When she went in to drop the records off she found out that her new doctor had already filled out her disability form. We left a message at her insurance to call us and let us know if they got it. We picked up some sandwiches at the Beach Cabin across from Payless (Great paninis!) and, at Mike's request, we went to Fort Casey.
I first went to Fort Casey as a teenager. I took my kids there and now my grandkids. A great set of ruins to explore but many of the pitch black rooms have been closed off. Bummer! It's still great fun. It was a challenge to keep up with an 8 year-old boy. Zoe was struggling but we followed Mike around. Finally we sat down on the grass while Mike explored. Zoe called her voice mail (Yes, I now have a cell phone.) and found out that they had received the form and nothing more was needed. Oh frabjous day! Mike caught up with us and Zoe suggested tying his shoe laces together to slow him down. It worked. It was a great game for Mike to keep up with us hopping, falling, crawling, and falling. Mike and I dropped Zoe off at home for a nap and we went in to Langely and I bought a book to read to him: Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." I read Roald Dahl to my kids. Subversive literature at it's finest! Then an ice cream at Mike's place and back home. Then back to Mike's Place to pick up the book we left and then back home again. While Zoe slept I started reading "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" to Mike. Zoe woke up and I picked up a Besta Round Pizza. Yum! The three of us watched Enchanted. I put Mike to bed and read him a few more chapters of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Can you say exhausted? But worth it. A great day!
Saturday morning we were to take Mike back home. Zoe and I have been behind on many things. Her pain and disability as well as the weekly visits to see her mother has kept us from getting the house cleaned up, as well as having the energy, to exchange Christmas gifts with Katie, Mike, and Colby. Zoe was still tired from running around Fort Casey but seized the opportunity and we brought the Christmas presents with us when we dropped brought Mike home. Before we left I finished reading "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" Mike and Mike played with the bubble maker. (Do check out the pictures.)
We had a great time at Katie's. We hadn't seen the portrait my grandfather painted up on the wall. It looked great! We exchanged Christmas presents and met Katie's new puppy dog. It's a semi-hairy weiner dog named Beau. Cute little sucker. We stopped by Kim and Doug's on the way home and visited. We haven't been able to get out much and these past two days were both tiring and refreshing.
And those are some of the reasons I haven't posted much lately. Hopefully that will change.