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It’s admittedly sh%tty that it takes a horrific and ongoing event in a region to make me finally pick up a book about it. But the ever-escalating Israel–Palestine conflict finally made me move Izzeldin Abuelaish’s I Shall Not Hate from the black hole that is the to-be-read-at-some-stage list to the I-need-to-read-this-right-now one.
Like Desert Flower, which I blogged about a few weeks ago and which was also plucked from a similar almost-never-read fate, I Shall Not Hate both gripped me from its opening paragraphs and had me rueing that I had taken so long to get round to reading it.
Izzeldin (I think this is his first name, but I’m breaking with convention to follow the book’s style and refer to him that way—methinks it was a deliberate decision to humanise him and I have to confess I like it) is a Palestinian doctor who works to help patients of all backgrounds and creeds. He for a long time worked in an Israeli hospital, making time-consuming, humiliating daily and weekly trips to travel from his home in Gaza to his workplace.
He is the first Palestinian to have accomplished such things, with even his residency requiring special permission for him to cross the border to do his research. It also meant someone had to cover for him if he was prevented from crossing the border for some arbitrary security reason.
A pragmatic optimist who believes medicine can bridge the seemingly insurmountable divide between Israelis and Palestinians, his thesis is that healthcare is one of the few things that transcend ideological differences and fighting.
By treating Jewish patients as a Palestinian Arab, he’s simply showing care and concern for human beings. This, despite experiencing a horror at the hands of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) that would make it understandable that he could hate Jewish people: Three of his daughters and his niece were killed by an IDF bomb aimed directly at their family home.
The IDF apparently has pinpoint-accurate technology that presumably enables them to, well, not make bombing target mistakes. So it remains unclear how—and no one’s accepted responsibility for—the house of a Palestinian doctor widely known to be working to help both Jewish and Palestinian people, came to be blown up. What’s clear is that Izzeldin lost three daughters and a niece without warning and for no valid reason, and just months after the family had lost their mother, Izzeldin’s wife, to leukaemia.
His words on the matter are gracious and humbling: ‘If I could know that my daughters were the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Palestinians and Israelis, then I could accept it.’ I can’t help but wonder how he must be feeling during this latest round of fighting.
My understanding of the region’s contentious history is hazy at best, and I worry I’ve used wrong titles and terminology in this blog post (apologies if I have, and please feel free to let me know), but I feel that Izzeldin affords me insight into a deeply troubling experience.
Izzeldin has a way of expressing the issues that is both matter of fact and beautiful: ‘Gaza is a human time bomb in the process of imploding,’ he writes. And later:
The primitive and cheap Qassam is actually the most expensive rocket in the world when you consider the consequences—the life-altering repercussions it has created on both sides of the divide and on the Palestinians in particular.
Of the region’s sabra plant he says:
It’s a cactuslike succulent that has been used for thousands of years as a hedge to mark the borders of Palestinian farmlands. The prickly exterior hides a sweet fruit; the rubbery leaves are beautiful in their way, each one unique, with protrusions like stubby toes. For sixty years the land has been bulldozed, reassigned, and developed as if to scrub out any vestige of the Palestinians who lived, worked, and thrived here. But the enduring sabra plant remains like an invincible sentry, silently sending the message ‘We are here, and there, and down by the river and over near those woods and across that field. This land is where we were.’
David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founder, once said of how Palestinians would cope with the loss of their land that ‘the old will die and the new generations will forget’. That’s a ruthlessly naïve and stupid thing to say, and it clearly hasn’t happened. Izzeldin advocates not forgetting or glossing over the past, but instead trying to forge a future that has both sides working together. His overriding belief is that, extremist leaders on both sides aside, people at the grassroots on both sides simply want to live in peace. He writes:
We know that military ways are futile, for both sides. We say that words are stronger than bullets, but the bullets continue to find their targets. My philosophy is simple, it’s the advice parents give to children: stop quarrelling with your brother and make friends—you’ll both be better off.
It’s difficult not to be incensed by the circumstances and occurrences Izzeldin describes in the book, including how then leader Ariel Sharon was concerned roads weren’t wide enough for his tanks, so he bulldozed people’s homes to obtain that room. Or the numerous examples he outlines of power-abusing tedium to stall and deny him and other Palestinians travel, both into Israel and overseas.
There’s also the time he accidentally left his briefcase behind at a border crossing and the guards, despite knowing him and seeing him cross the border weekly for work, blew the briefcase up. They saw him as a potential terrorist. He justifiably felt they should have seen him as a man who simply forgot his suitcase.
New York columnist Mona Elthaway wrote of him: ‘He seems to be the only person left in this small slice of the Middle East with its supersized servings of “us” and “them” who refuses to hate’. I consider that an incredibly, insightfully apt description.
There are no winners in the current conflict. Reading or watching anything and everything about the region—or the world more broadly, right now—makes my chest tight with despair. Yet Izzeldin’s book—and the man and his approach to life—offer me small hopes and enormous admiration and gratitude. I’m not imploring you to pick the book up at this moment in time, because that would be timely-ly sh%tty. But at the same time, I am.
It may be premature to completely write off the recent round of the US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The talks faltered earlier this month when Israel failed to release a batch of prisoners, part of the initial basis for holding the negotiations launched last July. The rapidly disintegrating diplomacy may yet be salvaged. But the three main actors have already made it known they will pursue their own initiatives.
They each may think that their actions will allow them to accumulate more leverage, maybe help position themselves in anticipation of a resumption of bilateral negotiations which, for over twenty years now, has been directed towards establishing a Palestinian state living peacefully alongside Israel. But it is also possible that the steps the parties take will instead deepen the despair of a two state framework ever coming to fruition.
The United States will focus their attention to other pressing issues, such as securing a deal on Iran’s nuclear program. Progress on this front may encourage, perhaps even empower, the Obama administration to resume Israeli-Palestinian negotiations later in its term. But the chances of their success will depend less on yet another intense round of shuttle diplomacy by US Secretary of State John Kerry, and more on whether a distracted Obama presidency will be prepared to pressure Israel to end its occupation. True, Obama enjoys the freedom of a second term presidency (unconcerned about the prospects of re-election). So far however he hasn’t appeared at all inclined to challenge Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
As for Israel, the Netanyahu government will take steps to make life even harder for Palestinians under occupation, and no doubt further entrench its settlement infrastructure in the West Bank, the territory on which Palestinians want to build their own state. Netanyahu, now one of the longest serving prime ministers in Israeli history, has provided very few indications that he is willing to enable the Palestinians to build a viable and contiguous state. He appears confident that the status quo is tenable, and that occupation and settlement of the West Bank can continue to violate international law without facing any serious repercussions. The more likely outcome of such complacency, however, is the irrevocable damage inflicted on the prospects of a two state solution and the harm done to Israel’s security, possibly subjecting it to a wide ranging international boycott movement.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian government, led by Mahmoud Abbas, will desperately strive to ensure that the breakdown of talks not lead to the collapse of his Palestinian Authority. Abbas may seek to use this opportunity to lessen the overall reliance on US sponsorship and achieve Palestinian rights in international bodies such as the UN and the International Court of Justice. This move may placate the growing number of Palestinians who until now have angrily dismissed Abbas’ participation in American-sponsored bilateral negotiations as doing little more than provide political cover to the on-going Israeli occupation, begun almost 50 years ago. But the majority of Palestinians will continue to disparage of how the pursuit of their national project has been paralysed by the weakness and corruption of their leaders and the absence of a unified government and coherent strategy.
Though no side wants to be blamed for the collapse of negotiations, it is easy to see how a cycle of action and recrimination could scupper all attempts to revitalize them. More to the point, however, is to ask whether the steps taken will end up burying the very prospects of a two-states solution to the century long conflict which the negotiations are supposed to achieve.
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Image credits: (1) Benjamin Netanyahu. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons; (2) Mahmoud Abbas. By World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland (AbuMazem). CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Nowadays, chaotic disintegration seems widely evident in world politics, especially in the visibly-fragmenting Middle East. What does it mean to live with a constant and unavoidable awareness of such fracturing? This vital question should be asked everywhere on earth, but most urgently in Israel.
For the Jewish State, an expanding shroud of anarchy may portend a special sort of vulnerability. Inevitably, Israel, the individual Jew in macrocosm, could become the world’s principal victim of any further deterioration and disorder. Given the natural interrelatedness of world politics, even the precipitating events of war, terror, and genocide could occur elsewhere.
Ultimately, bombs may fly conspicuously over Syria and Iran, but the most severe consequences could be experienced not in Damascus or Tehran, but in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem.
Chaos, however, can be instructive. In a strange and paradoxical symmetry, even sorely palpable disintegrations can reveal determinable sense and form. Spawned by carefully rehearsed explosions of large-scale conflict and related crimes against humanity, the diminution of any residual world authority processes could display a discernible shape. How exactly should this eccentric geometry of chaos be correctly deciphered by Israel, and also by its generally reluctant allies in Washington?
Always the world, like the many individual countries that comprise it, is best understood as a system. It follows that what happens in any one part of this world, must affect, differentially, of course, what happens in all or several of the other parts. When a particular deterioration is marked, the corollary effects can undermine regional and global stability. When a deterioration is sudden and catastrophic, the perilously unraveling effects could be immediate and overwhelming.
Recognizing that any rapid and far-reaching collapse of order could occasion a substantial or even complete return to “everyone for himself” dynamics in world politics — what the seventeenth-century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, had called a “war of all against all” — Israel’s leaders must consider how they would best respond to imperiled national life in a crumbling “state of nature.”
As we are well aware, especially from urgent current news coming out of the Middle East, any such consideration is prima facie reasonable. It is all the more critical, to the extent that a decisive triggering mechanism of collapse could originate from certain direct attacks upon Israel. These potent aggressions could be chemical, biological, or ultimately nuclear. Moreover, pertinent prohibitions of international law would likely be of little protective benefit.
The flea market in the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel. Photo by Ester Inbar, available from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:ST, via Wikimedia Commons.
Any chaotic disintegration of the larger international system, whether slow and incremental, or sudden and catastrophic, will impact the Israeli system. In the most obvious manifestation of this predictable impact, Israel will have to orient its core strategic planning to a nuanced variety of worst-case scenarios. Analytic focus would be more on the entire range of conceivable self-help security options than on any more traditionally-favored kinds of alliance guarantees.
Diplomatic processes premised on assumptions of reason and rationality will soon have to be reconsidered, and reimagined. Israel’s judgments about any “Peace Process” or “Road Map” expectations will not become less important, but they will need to be made in evident consequence of anticipated world-system changes. From the standpoint of Israel’s overall security, any such reorientation of planning, from anticipations of largely separate and unrelated threats, to presumptions of interrelated or “synergistic” dangers, would provide a badly-needed framework for strategic decision. Should Israel’s leaders react to a presumptively unstoppable anarchy in world affairs, by hardening their commitment to national self-reliance, including certain preemptive military force, Israel’s enemies could surely respond, individually or collectively, in similarly “self-reliant” ways.
There are crucial and tangibly complex feedback implications of this “creation in reverse.” By likening both the world as a whole, and their beleaguered state in particular, to the concept of system, Israel’s leadership could finally learn, before it is too late, that states can die for different reasons. Following a long-neglected but still-promising Spenglerian paradigm of civilizational decline, these states can fall apart and disappear not only because of any direct, mortal blow, but also in combined consequence of distinctly less than mortal blows. Minor insults and impediments can incrementally prove fatal, either by affecting the organism’s overall will to live, or by making it possible for a more corrosively major insult to take effect.
Taken individually, Israel’s past and future surrenders of land, its understandable reluctance to accept certain life-saving preemption options, and its still-misdirected negotiation of peace agreements, may not bring about the end. Taken together, however, these insults occurring within a substantially wider pattern of chaos and anarchy could have a weakening effect on the Israeli organism. Whether the principal effect would be one that impairs the Jewish State’s will to endure, or one that could actually open Israel up to a devastating missile attack, or to a calamitous act of terror, remains plainly unclear.
Israel must ask itself the following authentically basic question. What is the true form and meaning of chaos in world politics, and how should this shifting geometry of disintegration affect our national survival strategy? The answers, assuredly, will come from imaginative efforts at a self-consciously deeper understanding of small state power obligations, especially in a worsening condition of Nature.
In the final analysis, such existential obligations will be reducible to various improved methods of national self-reliance, including assorted preparations for deterrence, preemption, and absolutely every identifiable form of war-fighting. For Israel, among other things, this will mean steady enhancements of ballistic missile defense, and also recognizable movements away from the country’s increasingly antiquated posture of deliberate nuclear ambiguity.
For Israel, in particular, further chaotic disintegration in world politics could soon offer a profoundly serious challenge. If this challenge is correctly accepted in Jerusalem, as an intellectual rather than political effort, the beleaguered country’s necessary strategies of national survival will stand a better chance of achieving success.
Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and international law. He was born in Zürich, Switzerland, at the end of World War II. Read his previous articles for the OUPblog.
If you are interested in the subject of world politics, you may be interested in Rethinking World Politics: A Theory of Transnational Neopluralism by Philip G. Cerny. Cerny explains that contemporary world politics is subject to similar pressures from a wide variety of sub- and supra-national actors, many of which are organized transnationally rather than nationally.
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The United States, preemption, and international law
By Professor Louis René Beres
Admiral Leon “Bud” Edney
General Thomas G. McInerney
For now, the “Arab Spring” and its aftermath still occupy center-stage in the Middle East and North Africa. Nonetheless, from a regional and perhaps even global security perspective, the genuinely core threat to peace and stability remains Iran. Whatever else might determinably shape ongoing transformations of power and authority in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Saudi Arabia, it is apt to pale in urgency beside the steadily expanding prospect of a nuclear Iran.
Enter international law. Designed, inter alia, to ensure the survival of states in a persistently anarchic world – a world originally fashioned after the Thirty Years War and the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 – this law includes the “inherent” right of national self-defense. Such right may be exercised not only after an attack has already been suffered, but, sometimes, also, in advance of an expected attack.
What can now be done, lawfully, about relentless Iranian nuclear weapons development? Do individual states, especially those in greatest prospective danger from any expressions of Iranian nuclear aggression, have a legal right to strike first defensively? In short, could such a preemption ever be permissible under international law?
For the United States, preemption remains a part of codified American military doctrine. But is this national doctrine necessarily consistent with the legal and complex international expectations of anticipatory self-defense?
To begin, international law derives from multiple authoritative sources, including international custom. Although written law of the UN Charter (treaty law) reserves the right of self-defense only to those states that have already suffered an attack (Article 51), equally valid customary law still permits a first use of force if the particular danger posed is “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation.” Stemming from an 1837 event in jurisprudential history known as the Caroline, which concerned the unsuccessful rebellion in Upper Canada against British rule, this doctrine builds purposefully upon a seventeenth-century formulation of Hugo Grotius.
Self-defense, says the classical Dutch scholar in, The Law of War and Peace (1625), may be permitted “not only after an attack has already been suffered, but also in advance, where the deed may be anticipated.” In his later text of 1758, The Right of Self-Protection and the Effects of Sovereignty and Independence of Nations, Swiss jurist Emmerich de Vattel affirmed: “A nation has the right to resist the injury another seeks to inflict upon it, and to use force and every other just means of resistance against the aggressor.”
Article 51 of the UN Charter, limiting self-defense to circumstances following an attack, does not override the customary right of anticipatory self-defense. Interestingly, especially for Americans, the works of Grotius and Vattel were favorite readings of Thomas Jefferson, who relied heavily upon them for crafting the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America.
We should also recall Article VI of the USConstitution, and assorted US Supreme Court decisions. These proclaim, straightforwardly, that international law is necessarily part of the law of the United States.
The Caroline notes an implicit distinction between preventive war (which is never legal), and preemptive war. The latter is not permitted merely to protect oneself against an emerging threat, but only when the danger posed is “instant” and
On November 20, 1977, Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat made an historic speech before Israel’s Knesset, or Parliament, becoming the first leader of an Arab nation to speak there. He was also the first of Israel’s Arab neighbors to publicly say anything like these words: “Today I tell you, and I declare it to the whole world, that we accept to live with you in permanent peace based on justice.”
By 1977, Israel and the nearby Arab states had fought four wars in less than 30 years. Sadat himself had been a principal architect of the most recent conflict, the Yom Kippur War of 1973. That conflict ended when Egypt, Syria, and Israel accepted a United Nations–imposed cease-fire. This time, though, the uneasy peace was not followed by yet another war. Sadat failed in peace talks to regain control of the Sinai Peninsula, which Israel had occupied in 1967. To break the deadlock, on November 9, 1977, he stunned the world by telling Egypt’s Parliament that he was willing to travel to Israel to negotiate peace. No Arab state had ever recognized Israel’s existence, let alone sent a leader to the Jewish state. Israel quickly accepted his offer, and arrangements for the historic visit were made.
Sadat’s bold move set in course discussions that resulted in the Camp David Accords the following September, and a peace treaty in early 1979—the first treaty signed by Israel and an Arab nation. Both Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin received Nobel Peace Prizes for their historic agreement. While Sadat was hailed across the world, he was less well received in the Arab world, however. The Arab League denounced Egypt in September of 1978, and Sadat was assassinated in his homeland by radical Islamists because of his overtures to Israel and the western world.
By Professor Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain (USAF/ret.)
In world politics, irrational does not mean “crazy.” It does mean valuing certain goals or objectives even more highly than national survival. In such rare but not unprecedented circumstances, the irrational country leadership may still maintain a distinct rank-order of preferences. Unlike trying to influence a “crazy” state, therefore, it is possible to effectively deter an irrational adversary.
Iran is not a “crazy,” or wholly unpredictable, state. Although it is conceivable that Iran’s political and clerical leaders could sometime welcome the Shiite apocalypse more highly than avoiding military destruction, they could also remain subject to alternative deterrent threats. Faced with such circumstances, Israel could plan on basing stable and long-term deterrence of an already-nuclear Iran upon various unorthodox threats of reprisal or punishment. Israel’s only other fully rational option could be a prompt and still-purposeful preemption.
At the time this photo was made, smoke billowed 20,000 feet above Hiroshima while smoke from the burst of the first atomic bomb had spread over 10,000 feet on the target at the base of the rising column (6 August 1945).
Today, a nuclear Iran appears almost a fait accompli. For Israel, soon to be deprived of any cost-effective preemption options, this means forging a strategy to coexist or “live with” a nuclear Iran. Such an essential strategy of nuclear deterrence would call for reduced ambiguity about certain of its strategic forces; enhanced and partially disclosed nuclear targeting options; substantial and partially disclosed programs for active defenses; recognizable steps to ensure the survivability of its nuclear retaliatory forces; and, to bring all of these elements together in a coherent mission plan, a comprehensive strategic doctrine.
Additionally, because of the prospect of Iranian irrationality, Israel’s military planners will have to identify suitable ways of ensuring that even a nuclear “suicide state” could be deterred. Such a perilous threat may be very small, but, with Iran’s particular Shiite eschatology, it might not be negligible. And while the probability of having to face such an irrational enemy state would probably be very low, the disutility or expected harm of any single deterrence failure could be very high.
Israel needs to maintain and strengthen its plans for ballistic missile defense, both the Arrow system, and also Iron Dome, a lower-altitude interceptor designed to guard against shorter-range rocket attacks from Lebanon and Gaza. These systems, including Magic Wand, which is still in the development phase, will inevitably have leakage. It follows that their principal benefit would ultimately lie in enhanced deterrence, rather than in any added physical protection.
A newly-nuclear Iran, if still rational, would need steadily increasing numbers of offensive missiles in order to achieve a sufficiently destructive first-strike capability against Israel. There could come a time, however, when Iran would be able to deploy more than a small number of nuclear-tipped missiles. Should that happen, Arrow, Iron Dome and, potentially, Magic Wand, could cease being critical enhancements of Israeli nuclear de
I've waxed enthusiastic on here before about Israeli writer and filmmaker Etgar Keret's sharply funny new story collection, Suddenly, a Knock on the Door. Between tour stops in California and Chicago, the very busy Keret kindly paid a visit to our Seattle offices to chat about storytelling, moviemaking, cake baking, serial killers, and trusting your instincts.
He also humored our request to read a piece aloud from the collection—look for the video at the end of this interview, and prepare to be charmed by his accent (warning for delicate ears: a couple of four-letter words are used).
Mia Lipman: You just came from the L.A. Times Book Festival. Were short-story writers well represented there?
Etgar Keret: Yeah, in my panel. It was very much like an AA meeting. “My name is this and this, and I write short stories. I don’t care! They tell me to write a novel, but I like writing short stories!” Then we all hug.
[Laughing] I didn’t mean stuck in a bad way, I meant that you’ve stayed with stories.
If your boyfriend would have said, “I’m stuck with you, but not in a bad way. In a nice kind of way…”
I love short stories, I’m a champion of them around here. Why does the short form work so well for you? What are you drawn to in that length?
When I sit down and I write something, I don’t say, “I want to write a short story” or “I want to write a three-page story”—I want to write something that is on my mind. Many times when I begin writing a story, I say to myself, “This is going to be my first novel.” And I think about the protagonist meeting his grandchildren in the park. And while I do that, a truck comes and runs him over after two pages. So it’s not intentional. For me, it’s very strange when people say, “Why don’t you write longer stuff?” The bottom line: You have something that you want to say or you want to write. And when it ends, it ends.
You’re also a filmmaker. Do you have a different creative approach to making films than you do to writing fiction? Is it a different state of mind?
I beg more when I make films. [Laughs.] Filmmaking is a collaborative project...when you write a screenplay, you should be able to know exactly what you’re doing, to be able to defend it, to be able to explain it to people. Because if a story is a cake, then a screenplay is just a recipe for a cake. If I make a cake and I don’t know exactly what ingredients I put in, but it comes out tasty, it’s OK. But if I have to write it on a page and somebody else has to make this cake, I have to be much more conscious.
So there is something about screenplay writing—it’s more conscious effort, more rational effort. I feel like I need another scene here, I need to establish that. But when I write [fiction], I really just sit down and write. I don’t know exactly what I’m doing, and it’s completely an act of letting go and losing control.
Short stories are a famously hard sell for publishers and, I’d say, for the average reader. Do you think that’
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Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design students Boaz Balachsan and Dima Tretyakov recorded Israeli children giving their opinions about God and faith and interpreted their thoughts through animation. The idea recalls the Irish animated series Give Up Yer Aul Sins, which was based on 1960s recordings of children telling Bible stories, but Balachsan and Tretyakov add a quirky mixed media style and clever visual/audio transitions. See development art from God is Kidding on the film’s blog.
Maggie Steele, the storybook heroine who vaults over the moon, has been attracting thousands of visitors from around the world. So many visitors, in fact, that she’s using a time zone map to keep track of them all.* People are … Continue reading →
Nicholas Sarkozy, the president of France, has condemned as “disproportionate” Israel’s response to the flotilla bringing cargo to Gaza. Gaza today is controlled by Hamas, a terrorist organization which is dedicated to the destruction of Israel and which has repeatedly launched attacks on Israel and its civilian population. Israel had told the flotilla’s organizers to bring their goods to the Israeli port of Ashdod for inspection, with all civilian goods to be trucked subsequently from Ashdod to Gaza. The Israeli offer was rejected.
Mr. Sarkozy’s criticism of Israel raises an interesting analogy: Suppose that Monaco were controlled by a violent terrorist organization like Hamas, committed to the destruction of France. This terrorist organization, when it has the means, routinely lobs missiles at French civilians over the French-Monaco border. Would France passively accept this situation? Not likely.
Most probably, France would invade Monaco to destroy the threat to its civilian population. Alternatively, France would blockade Monaco by land and by sea, making sure that weapons and other supplies with military uses do not enter Monaco.
Suppose further that a flotilla were organized to break the French blockade of Monaco. France, concerned about military supplies being part of the cargo, would order its navy to intercept this flotilla. France would perhaps tell the organizers of the flotilla to bring their supplies to Marseille where these supplies could be inspected so that, after such inspection, civilian goods could be transported into Monaco.
Suppose that the organizers of the flotilla rejected this offer and instead proceeded to Monaco. Is there any doubt what, under these circumstances, the French response would be?
Finally, suppose that the President of Israel condemned this French response as “disproportionate.” Mr. Sarkozy’s likely retort: France has the moral and legal right to protect its citizens and its territory. Any violence which results is the responsibility of the flotilla’s organizers who rejected the French offer of inspection and transportation for civilian goods.
In President Obama’s speech last December when he received the Nobel Prize, he observed that, “War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease—the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences.” This comment almost seems to need no supporting evidence; it’s just common knowledge and common sense. And, for the most part, it’s true. That point, though, about war being the way that ancient civilizations “settled their differences”—that isn’t in fact the whole story. Ancient kings could, and did, send their armies into battle against one another. But some of them also talked to one another, wrote letters, sent ambassadors back and forth between their capitals, and drew up peace treaties. Sometimes, as a result, they avoided war and benefited from peaceful alliances, often for decades at a time.
Recently, as is so often the case, the focus of American diplomatic efforts has been on the Middle East. In a recent meeting, President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu reaffirmed the relationship between the US and Israel, then President Obama telephoned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to voice his support for Abbas as well. Just days before that, Vice President Biden had met with Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq. It might surprise some modern political observers to learn that the invention of diplomacy probably took place in the Middle East over 4,300 years ago and that diplomatic interactions flourished there throughout the centuries of ancient Mesopotamian civilization, long before the era even of the Greeks and Romans. Affirmations of alliance and friendship similar to those spoken by President Obama and his allies in the Middle East can be found in ancient cuneiform documents between the kings of Egypt and Mittani (now Syria) and between the kings of Hatti (now Turkey) and Babylonia (now Iraq). And just as, today, President Obama relies on his envoy George Mitchell or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to set the groundwork for agreements among Middle Eastern countries and the United States, so ancient leaders depended on their envoys for exactly the same reason.
Like modern envoys, these ancient ambassadors traveled to foreign lands, accompanied by translators and assistants. Like Mitchell or Clinton, the ancient officials often found themselves walking the line between assertiveness and compromise, between representing their government and taking a measure of control in negotiations, between accepting formal gestures of friendship and not wanting to be seen as favoring one ally over another. Fortunately for us, they left copious records of their diplomatic encounters.
For example, 3,350 years ago, a man named Keliya represented the king of the Mittanian Empire, in ancient Syria, traveling regularly to the court of the powerful Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III. Prior to his time, Egypt had been an enemy of Mittani for almost a century, starting around 1500 BCE. Egyptian kings had invaded Mittani, looted cities and taken back prisoners and booty. Mittani, in turn, was no vulnerable victim. It too had been expanding aggressively into neighboring lands. But around 1420 BCE the two lands made peace and instigated an era of extensive diplomatic contact. Other former enemies of Mittani—Hatti in what is now Turkey, and Babylonia in what is now Iraq—joined in as well. The great kings saw themselves as “brothers,” or equals, and they relied on their ambassadors, like Keliya, to keep communication open between them. Thanks to such men, what ha
Bestselling Arab novelist Alaa Al Aswany has objected to a Hebrew translation of his novel, The Yacoubian Building.
According to the AFP, a volunteer translated the novel despite the author’s disapproval. The Israel/Palestine Centre for Research and Information (IPCRI) emailed the Hebrew translation to readers with the goal of “expand[ing] cultural awareness and understanding in the region.”
The New York Times offered this quote: “Dr. Al Aswany told Agence France-Presse, ‘What the center and the translator did is piracy and theft, and I will be complaining to the International Publishers’ Association.’ He added: ‘My position has not changed regarding normalization with Israel. I reject it completely.’”
The Wikileaks trove of diplomatic documents confirms what many have known for a long time: Israel is not the only Middle Eastern country that fears a nuclear armed Iran and wants Washington to do something about it.
If Tehran was listening, the truth of this fear was apparent last month in Bahrain, where the International Institute for Strategic Studies organized a large meeting of Gulf Arab ministers, King Abdullah of Jordan, Iran’s foreign minister Mottaki, and top officials from outside powers including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The convocation was polite: no one said it was time to “cut off the head of the snake,” as Saudi Arabia’s King was reported, in one of the Wikileaks cables, to have urged in regard to Iran. But Arab anxiety about Iran’s power, and how it could be augmented by nuclear power, was palpable.
As one might also expect, the closer Arab capitals are to Iran, apart from Baghdad, the more fervently their rulers implore Washington to take vigorous action – up to and including military action – against Iranian nuclear facilities. Some, like Saudi Arabia, have offered to make up for Iran’s lost oil production in the event of war to limit the adverse effect of higher prices on a weak US economy. In those countries closest to Iran, moreover, the Arab street shares regimes’ worries. In a poll last year in Saudi Arabia, 40 % of respondents in three large cities said that the US should bomb Iran, while one out of four said that it would be OK with them if even Israel did the job. The governments of countries farther away but within range of Iran’s Shahab 3 missiles – such as Egypt – are also nervous. In an act of not-so-subtle messaging, Egypt has agreed to let nuclear capable Israeli warships through the Suez Canal, so that the Israeli Navy can get to the Persian Gulf quickly. These ships would not be going there for a port visit and shopping at the Sharjah souk.
It should be said that Wikileaks’ reckless disclosures threaten to box in both Washington and its allies in damaging ways. The purpose of secret diplomacy, as opposed to public throat clearing, is to allow governments to express views freely, experiment with positions, and bargain without creating pressures for rash action or causing paralysis. The problem with Wikileaks’ irresponsible revelations is that they complicate diplomatic coordination in matters, literally, of war and peace.
Yet, despite the muddle, there is no reason for Washington to change its basic course. A military option against nuclear facilities will not be ruled out in any event; yet the purpose of US policy should be to forestall the moment when the US must choose whether to disarm Iran or settle for a strategy of containment. The relative weakness of of America’s current position dictates this approach. The United States still has large numbers of troops committed to two wars, faces the possibility of conflict in Korea, and remains mired in the unemployment emergency created by the financial crash and Great Recession. European, American and Russian cohesion on Iran policy is still fragile. In the fullness of time, these debilities can be overcome.
Celebrity Cruises altered the itinerary for my cruise in October. Alexandria, Egypt was cancelled. I suspect not because of the peaceful overthrow of the government, but the cancellation occurred after the religious conflict between Christians and Muslims broke out.
No one from the cruise line announced that was the reason, it's my own supposition about the timing of the cancellation, and of course there is the unrest in the Middle East as a whole.
To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. The Pyramids are still on my bucket list. The closest I've come is reading Elizabeth Peters' books and that just made the desire that much greater. Her descriptions are so vivid that you're right there along with Amelia Peabody and her celebrated spouse Emerson solving a mystery, amidst the archeological digs.
I cancelled the Celebrity cruise and went back to my old stand-by Royal Caribbean. Ashdod (Jerusalem) and Haifa, Israel are still part of the itinerary but now I'll also visit Kusadasi, Turkey, as well as Rhodes and Crete, Greece.
Egypt has been postponed until 2012. I sincerely hope that a solid democratic government will flourish, since that is what the general populace wanted when they peacefully toppled the old regime.
One can only hope for a peaceful resolution however tenuous the thread.
Till next time. Margot Justes www.mjustes.com A Hotel in Paris
April 11, 1961 marked the beginning of the trial against Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. In the course of the trial, the world came face to face with the reality of the Holocaust or what the Nazis called the “final solution of the Jewish problem” – the killing of 6 million people. Newspapers around the world published thousands of articles about Eichmann and his role in the Holocaust. But what none of the international journalists touched upon was probably the most intriguing aspect of Eichmann’s story: the way in which he, the bureaucrat of the Holocaust, managed to escape justice soon after the war and flee to Argentina.
The prominent philosopher Hannah Arendt, who closely followed the trial in Israel, was one of those who wondered why Eichmann’s escape never attracted more international attention. In her famous book Eichmann in Jerusalem she wrote “the trial authorities, for various reasons, had decided not to admit any testimony covering the time after the close of the war.” It seems that there was a conscious effort to restrict the dissemination of information on how Eichmann managed to escape to Argentina. This part of his story was to remain largely a secret, which took historians more than fifty years to uncover.
We now know what the Israeli authorities kept hidden during the Eichmann trial: the involvement of Vatican circles, Western intelligence services, various governments and the International Committee of the Red Cross in the escape of Eichmann and thousands of other Nazis, war criminals, and Holocaust perpetrators. A picture has emerged that raises many uncomfortable questions. It is clear that the agencies involved knew exactly what they were doing, but were able to justify the decisions they made and the actions they took with the Cold War. After all, as the Third Reich lay in ruins, the only enemy left for the Western Powers was the communist Soviet Union. In the eyes of the Catholic Church, communism was a ‘godless, deadly enemy’, even worse than Nazism.
After laying low in Germany for several years, in 1950 Adolf Eichmann decided to immigrate to Argentina. He used a tried route through Italy, where he acquired a new identity as Riccardo Klement, a South Tyrolean from Bolzano, and a travel document from the Red Cross. In Italy he was helped by the Vatican Aid Commission for Refugees, in cooperation with a small group of catholic priests, former SS comrades and some Argentinean officials. The ease with which he reached Argentina was also the result of Western intelligence services, such as the CIA and the German BND, turning a blind eye to where Eichmann was hiding. Research suggests that they knew of his new identity as Riccardo Klement, but ignored the information. But why would the Israeli government be so careful not to reveal any of this during Eichmann’s trial? The true reasons are unclear, but it is possible that Israelis simply did not want to embarrass governments and institutions who were now their allies.
Riccardo Klement’s life on the run came to an abrupt end in May 1960, when he was kidnapped by Israeli government agents just outside of his home in Buenos Aires and taken to Jerusalem: “I, the undersigned, Adolf Eichmann, hereby declare out of my own free will that since now my true identity has been revealed, I see clearly that it is useless to try and escape judgment any longer.” Eichmann had to stand trial and in the process the world came to know the horrible details about the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany, from their forced emigration to centrally- planned industrialized genocide. But the world had to wait 50 years longer to finally learn the truth about how some of the worst Holocaust perpetrators fled justice and who were the institutions helping them do it.
Author Lesley Simpson offered to interview herself, and I couldn't pass that up! She talks about Yuvi's Candy Tree (Kar-Ben, 2011), a picture book on Ethiopian Jews fleeing to Israel based on the true story of Yuvi Tashome. With its strong Exodus themes, it makes a great tie-in to Passover; it's also a universal immigration story and a good illustration of the diversity of the Jewish family.
Today, Israel’s leadership, continuing to more or less disregard the nation’s special history, still acts in ways that are neither tragic nor heroic. Unwilling to accept the almost certain future of protracted war and terror, one deluded prime minister after another has sought to deny Israel’s special situation in the world. Hence, he or she has always been ready to embrace, unwittingly, then-currently-fashionable codifications of collective suicide.
In Washington, President Barack Obama is consciously shaping these particular codifications, not with any ill will, we may hope, but rather with all of the usual diplomatic substitutions of rhetoric for an authentic intellectual understanding. For this president, still sustained by an utterly cliched “wisdom,” peace in the Middle East is just another routine challenge for an assumed universal reasonableness and clever presidential speechwriting.
Human freedom is an ongoing theme in Judaism, but this sacred freedom can never countenance a “right” of collective disintegration. Individually and nationally, there is always a binding Jewish obligation to choose life. Faced with the “blessing and the curse,” both the solitary Jew, and the ingathered Jewish state, must always come down in favor of the former.
Today, Israel, after Ariel Sharon’s “disengagement,” Ehud Olmert’s “realignment,” Benjamin Netanyahu’s hopes for “Palestinian demilitarization,” and U.S. President Barack Obama’s “New Middle East,” may await, at best, a tragic fate. At worst, resembling the stark and minimalist poetics of Samuel Beckett, Israel’s ultimate fate could be preposterous.
True tragedy contains calamity, but it must also reveal greatness in trying to overcome misfortune.
For the most part, Jews have always accepted the obligation to ward off disaster as best they can.
For the most part, Jews generally do understand that we humans have “free will.” Saadia Gaon included freedom of the will among the most central teachings of Judaism, and Maimonides affirmed that all human beings must stand alone in the world “to know what is good and what is evil, with none to prevent him from either doing good or evil.”
For Israel, free will must always be oriented toward life, to the blessing, not to the curse. Israel’s binding charge must always be to strive in the obligatory direction of individual and collective self-preservation, by using intelligence, and by exercising disciplined acts of national will. In those circumstances where such striving would still be consciously rejected, the outcome, however catastrophic, can never rise to the dignifying level of tragedy.
The ancient vision of authentically “High Tragedy” has its origins in Fifth Century BCE Athens. Here, there is always clarity on one overriding point: The victim is one whom “the gods kill for their sport, as wanton boys do flies.” This wantonness, this caprice, is precisely what makes tragedy unendurable.
With “disengagement,” with “realignment,” with “Palestinian demilitarization,” with both Oslo, and the Road Map, Israel’s corollary misfortunes remain largely self-inflicted. The continuing drama of a Middle East Peace Process is, at best, a surreal page torn from Ionesco, or even from Kafka. Here, there is nary a hint of tragedy; not even a satisfyingly cathartic element that might have been drawn from Aeschylus, Sophocles or Euripides. At worst, and this is the more plausible characterization, Israel’s unhappy fate has been ripped directly from the utterly demeaning pages of irony and farce.
Israel after Obama: a subject of tragedy, or mere object of pathos?
Israel, after President Barack Obama’s May 2011 speech on “Palestinian self-determination” and regional “democracy,” awaits a potentially tragic fate. Nonetheless, to the extent that Prime Minister Netanyahu should become complicit in the expected territorial dismemberments, this already doleful fate could quickly turn from genuine tragedy to pathos and abject farce.
“The executioner’s face,” sang Bob Dylan, “is always well-hidden.” In the particular case of Israel, however, the actual sources of existential danger have always been perfectly obvious. From 1948 until the present, virtually all of Israel’s prime ministers, facing periodic wars for survival, have routinely preferred assorted forms of denial, and asymmetrical forms of compromise. Instead of accepting the plainly exterminatory intent of both enemy states and terrorist organizations, these leaders have opted for incremental territorial surrenders.
Of course, this is not the whole story. During its very short contemporary life, Israel has certainly accomplished extraordinary feats in science, medicine, agriculture, education and industry. It’s military institutions, far exceeding all reasonable expectations, have fought, endlessly and heroically, to avoid any new spasms of post-Holocaust genocide.
Still, almost from the beginning, the indispensable Israeli fight has not been premised on what should have remained as an unequivocal central truth of the now-reconstituted Jewish commonwealth. Although unrecognized by Barack Obama, all of the disputed lands controlled by Israel do have proper Israeli legal title. It follows that any diplomatic negotiations resting upon alternative philosophic or jurisprudential premises must necessarily be misconceived.
Had Israel, from the start, fixedly sustained its own birthright narrative of Jewish sovereignty, without submitting to periodic and enervating forfeitures of both land and dignity, its future, although problematic, would at least have been tragic. But by choosing instead to fight in ways that ultimately transformed its stunning victories on the battlefield to abject surrenders at the conference table, this future may ultimately be written as more demeaning genre.
In real life, as well as in literature and poetry, the tragic hero is always an object of veneration, not a pitiable creature of humiliation. From Aristotle to Shakespeare to Camus, tragedy always reveals the very best in human understanding and purposeful action. Aware that whole nations, like the individual human beings who comprise them, are never forever, the truly tragic hero nevertheless does everything possible to simply stay alive.
For Israel, and also for every other imperiled nation on earth, the only alternative to tragic heroism is humiliating pathos. By their incessant unwillingness to decline any semblance of a Palestinian state as intolerable (because acceptance of “Palestine” in any form would be ruthlessly carved out of the living body of Israel), Israel’s leaders have created a genuinely schizophrenic Jewish reality in the “new” Middle East. This is a Jewish state that is, simultaneously, unimaginably successful and incomparably vulnerable. Not surprisingly, over time, the result will be an increasingly palpable national sense of madness.
Perhaps, more than any other region on earth, the Jihadi Middle East and North Africa is “governed” by unreason. Oddly, this very reasonable observation is reinforced rather than contradicted by the prevailing patterns of “democratic re
In a rousing speech before Congress on May 24, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected peace talks with the newly unified Palestinian government because it now includes — on paper at least — officials from the terrorist (or, in its own eyes, “resistance”) group Hamas. In a striking moment, Netanyahu defiantly declared, “Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by the Palestinian version of al Qaeda,” a statement greeted with resounding applause from the assembled members of Congress.
But hold on a minute. Yes, Hamas, like al Qaeda, is an Islamist group that uses terrorism as a strategic tool to achieve political aims. Yes, Hamas, like al Qaeda, rejects Israel and has opposed the peace talks that moderate Palestinians have tried to move forward. And sure, the Hamas charter uses language that parallels the worst anti-Semitism of al Qaeda, enjoining believers to fight Jews wherever they may be found and accusing Jews of numerous conspiracies against Muslims, ranging from the drug trade to creating “sabotage” groups like, apparently, violent versions of Rotary and Lions clubs.
But the differences between Hamas and al Qaeda often outweigh the similarities. And ignoring these differences underestimates Hamas’s power and influence — and risks missing opportunities to push Hamas into accepting a peace deal.
While Congress was quick to applaud Bibi’s fiery analogy, U.S. counterterrorism officials know that one of the biggest differences is that Hamas has a regional focus, while al Qaeda’s is global. Hamas bears no love for the United States, but it has not deliberately targeted Americans. Al Qaeda, of course, sees the United States as its primary enemy, and it doesn’t stop there. European countries, supposed enemies of Islam such as Russia and India, and Arab regimes of all stripes are on their hit list. Other components of the “Salafi-jihadist” movement (of which al Qaeda is a part) focus operations on killing Shiite Muslims, whom they view as apostates. Hamas, in contrast, does not call for the overthrow of Arab regimes and works with Shiite Iran and the Alawite-dominated secular regime in Damascus, pragmatically preferring weapons, money, and assistance in training to ideological consistency.
Hamas, like its parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, also devotes much of its attention to education, health care, and social services. Like it or not, by caring for the poor and teaching the next generation of Muslims about its view of the world, Hamas is fundamentally reshaping Palestinian society. Thus, many Palestinians who do not share Hamas’s worldview nonetheless respect it; in part because the Palestinian moderates so beloved of the West have often failed to deliver on basic government functions. The old Arab nationalist visions of the 1950s and 1960s that animated the moderate Palestinian leader Mahmood Abbas and his mentor Yasir Arafat have less appeal to Palestinians today.
One of the greatest differences today, as the Arab spring raises the hope that democracy will take seed across the Middle East, is that Hamas accepts elections (and, in fact, took power in Gaza in part because of them) while al Qaeda vehemently rejects them. For Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Ladin’s deputy and presumed heir-apparent, elections put man’s (and, even worse, woman’s) wishes above God’s. A democratic government could allow the sale of alcohol, cooperate militarily with the United States, permit women to dress immodestly, or a condone a host of other practices that extremists see as for
Wherever You Go is a finely interwoven novel of three American lives and the unexpected ways they touch each other in the landscape of Israel. I recorded this interview with author Joan Leegant when she visited Boca Raton, Florida for a Jewish Book Network event at the Levis JCC.
In his recent editorial, The Tel Aviv Cluster, David Brooks of the New York Times cites Start-Up Nation: The Story of the Israel's Economic Miracle when he describes the innovation cluster of technology that has developed in Israel. Having just finished reading Start-Up Nation, I'm not surprised to read about it in the New York Times. Like the other books released by Hatchette Book Group's Twelve, Start-Up Nation stays with you long after closed its covers.
The blurb: Start-Up Nation addresses the trillion-dollar question: How is it that Israel - a country of 7.1 million people, only sixty years old, surrounded by enemies, in a constant state of war since its founding, with no natural resources - produces more start-up companies than large, peaceful, and stable nations like Japan, China, India, Korea, Canada, and the United Kingdom? Drawing on examples from the country's foremost inventors and investors, geopolitical experts Dan Senior and Saul Singer describe how Israel's adversity-driven culture fosters a unique combination of innovative and entrepreneurial intensity.
As the authors argue, Israel is not just a country but a comprehensive state of mind. Whereas Americans emphasize decorum and exhaustive preparation, Israelis put chutzpah first. "When an Israeli entrepreneur has a business idea, he will start it that week," one analyst put it. At the geopolitical level, Senor and Singer dig in deeper to show why Israel's policies on immigration, R&D, and military service have been key factors in teh country's rise - providing insight into why Israel has more companies on the NASDAQ than those from all of Europe, Korea, Singapore, China, and India combined.
So much has been written about the Middle East, but surprisingly little is understood about the story and strategy behind Israel's economic growth. As Start-Up Nation shows, there are lessons in Israel's example that apply not only to other nations, but also to individuals seeking to build a thriving organization. As the U.S. economy seeks to reboot its can-do spirit, there's never been a better time to look at this remarkable and resilient nation for some impressing, surprising clues.
Review: Dan Senor and Saul Singer's Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle is well researched and a fascinating read. The book is divided into four main parts:
The Little Nation That Could
Seeding a Culture of Innovation
Country with a Motive
In The Little Nation That Could Senor we read PayPal's Scott Thompson's first impressions of a young Shvat Shaked, whose young company. Fraud Sciences, developed the most up-to-date solution to the problem of online payment scams, credit card fraud, and electronic identity theft. As we read about Fraud Sciences, its founders Shvat Shaked and Saar Wilf, their approach to problem solving and the impressions of the top executives of PayPal, Ebay and Benchmark Capital, it becomes clear that the story of technological innovations and start-up ventures in Israel is deep and unique.
I was struck by story after story that traced technological and scientific innovations to Israeli dedication, chutzpah, a culture of debate/argument a
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Passing By by Yona Tepper, illustrated by Gil-Ly Alon Curiel
Yael likes to watch the street outside her house from her balcony. She can see dogs walk by, a cat hiding in the flowerbed, a car driving past and honking its horn, a man riding a bike, a tractor with a trailer filled with brush, and a bird. Best of all, she sees her father coming!
The book has a nice rhythm and repetition both before each thing on the street appears and after it leaves Yael’s sight. Tepper’s prose has a quiet feel that really allows readers to feel a sense of ease and leisure that is inherent in the book. The art depicts life in Israel which is both similar to a street in America and yet has quite a different feel. Curiel’s art is simple and very child-friendly. The book has a nice mix of close-up images and panoramas of the area of Yael’s home.
Ideal for toddlers who will enjoy the repetition of the book and identifying the sounds and animals. Appropriate for ages 2-5.
I met up with author Anna Levine last year at the 2009 Association of Jewish Libraries convention in Chicago, IL, where she was a guest presenter and an award-winner! During a late night gathering of book lovers, I pulled her aside to discuss her YA novel Freefalland her picture book Jodie's Hanukkah Dig, both set in Israel. Both books received recognition from the Association of Jewish Libraries in 2009, Freefall as a Sydney Taylor Honor Book, and Jodie's Hanukkah Dig as a Notable Book.
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