Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Israel - Palestine: In the Lands of the Cyclopses

Dear Readers,

Two powerful articles are published today, one in The Guardian and another one in The Washington Post, provide a grim picture of painful Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Richard Cohen, a distinguished writer who has written many articles on Israel-Palestinian issue, mostly tilting toward Israel, but also showing the utterly failed Israeli leadership, the similar way the Palestinian leadership turns in whimsical spectacles. Like the suffering Palestinians, Israelis are suffering from this endless cycle of violence.

Richard Cohen writes: "In the perpetual war against Israel, its enemies are winning. The economy is awful. Parents do not want their children to go out. The beach is presumed safe, but not a cafe or restaurant. A commute on a bus (I have done it) is gut-wrenching. You watch everyone. What does a suicide bomber look like? The last one, the one who blew up a Haifa restaurant, was a 29-year-old woman, a law school graduate. She killed Arab and Jew alike. Even safe places are no longer safe."

Mr. Cohen acknowledges what should be done: "Israel must return to the so-called Green Line -- the border before the 1967 Six Day War. It must dismantle most of the settlements. It must do this because occupation is corrupting and, in the long run, impossible. The more Israel expands or retains settlements, the more it gets stuck in a quagmire where the enemy is everywhere. From September 2000 until recently, some 17,400 attacks were recorded in the territories -- and 40 percent of all fatalities. Even when terrorists struck in Israel proper, they invariably came from the West Bank."

History admonishes Israel because "The only places where a Western culture has successfully transplanted itself are those where great population pressure and genocidal methods were used to extirpate the indigenous peoples. This is what happened in the United States."

But can Israel afford to follow the similar genocidal path? Mr. Cohen writes: ""Genocide is out of the question. Neither the world nor Israeli morality would permit it. Yet Israel keeps lengthening the odds against itself. Instead of withdrawing to where Jews are a clear majority, it continues to cling to settlements where Jews are outnumbered. Every settlement, every day of occupation, puts Israel in greater and greater danger. Each settlement is a provocation. The deportation or killing of Arafat will do nothing but make him a martyr and exacerbate the chaos. The man himself is only a symptom of Israel's problem."

In the second article published in The Guardian, Rana Kabbani provides a more sympathetic view for the Palestinian refugees. A deeply profound line from her article says, "the humiliations of poverty and dispossession happen everywhere, all the time, to the kindest and frailest and proudest of people. "

Palestinian refugees, forcefully cluttered in shambled refugee camps, evicted from their lands and homes, living the life of constant sufferings.

Rana Kabbani delineates a struggling pictures of Palestinian refugees and exodus from their beloved land. Here is what the Palestinian refugees had lived through: "soldiers ripping through towns, shooting men, burning orchards, children who walked for days so that their feet became a red bleeding pulp when they finally arrived at nowhere - a mud field with United Nations relief and works agency tents, where exhausted mothers were unable to cope with the humiliating queues for powdered milk or rice, where time passed in trying to find a tap that could fill a vessel with clean water, or somewhere seemly to defecate. The archival footage of this exodus of 1948 tells you nothing about its individual suffering. Yellowing, shuddering reels of film depict biblical-looking beings - shepherds on crooks, limping away from their burning villages, girls with matted hair and sacks for dresses, women struggling to carry bundles and babies - the imagery of refugees everywhere, from 19th-century Russia to 20th-century Bosnia. Nevertheless, these scenes represented the cruel dispossession of Palestinian persons like Nora, one by one by one. Nora's home in Haifa comes back to haunt me, as does the poetry of Haifa's greatest son, the poet Mahmoud Darwish. He was six years old when he joined the line of terrified refugees rushing away from massacres such as that of Deir Yassin."

Haifa is the city that is considered to have "the best record of Arab-Israeli entente." But the writer correctly points out that "it was also the area from which many Palestinians living in the Jenin refugee camp were forced out 55 years ago." And last weekend's devastating suicide bomber in a Haifa restaurant on the eve of Jewish Holy Day, "carried out by a young woman from Jenin".

Senseless terrorism against the innocent Israelis by the Palestinians will never give them their long sought goal of having an independent Palestinian state because it will only harden the Israeli arch conservatives' hold in Israeli government who will manage to convince the grieving Israeli citizens that wars, murders and building more settlements around the despicable fence are the answers for their problem.

On the other side, Israeli brutal aggressions will never achieve security and peace for the Israelis either. Rana Kabbani describes this issue quite well: "I have for years argued that violence against civilians will not get the Palestinians the statehood they desperately need. Neither will Israel survive in the long term if its only methods of diplomacy are murder, siege and occupation. Military force and arrogance can easily decimate populations, but they can never create security, as both Israel and the US must soon discover. As Sharon builds his ghetto wall with American taxpayers' money, Israelis would do better to ask themselves, in Robert Frost's words, what they were walling in or walling out. The US and Israel have managed to make themselves more hated and despised in today's world than ever before. They already have far more insubordination and chaos on their hands than they can possibly handle. Yet they continue to behave like the newly blinded Cyclopses, groping for more enemies to kill. Hitting Syria, as the Israelis have just done, or Iran, as the Americans keep threatening to do, is not the answer - reading the writing on the wall is: occupation never lasts."

Regards,
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
October 7, 2003


In the Lands of the Cyclopses
Douce Haifa, scene of the weekend's tragic carnage, is also a city long drenched in the pain of dispossession and violence

Rana Kabbani
Tuesday October 7, 2003
The Guardian

I was four when I met my first Palestinian, in a leafy neighbourhood in Damascus where I was born. Her name was Nora Cavalcanti and she had ended up in Syria, having lost everything in 1948 when Israel was created. She must have been quite lonely to have sought the company of the chubby little girl that I was, and invited me to lunch by myself.

I climbed the shabby stone staircase that took me up to her fourth-floor flat and found her waiting in a room full of books in English, and others in a language she told me was German, which she had studied in her native city of Haifa. For pudding, she gave me biscuits in the shape of brown stars. "These are what I used to bake in Palestine for Christmas," she said, as she put two on my plate.

I recognized neither the word "Palestine" nor the word "Christmas", concepts I had not yet come across in the noisy Syrian Muslim household where I belonged across the street. "I had a lovely garden there," she continued, wistfully, "and beautiful furniture from my mother. And linen, real linen, not like this awful thing," she said, pulling at the plain tablecloth which I had sloppily managed to stain.

Young as I was, I knew that she was in pain as she spoke. Her husband, Robert, had managed to find low-paid work as a teacher of English in a Damascus school and she spoke of him with such sparkling happiness that it gave me a sense of the central importance of love from then on.

To this day, the cinnamon that spiced those edible stars continues to be my favourite taste and exerts its Proustian effect on my memory, returning me in a shiver to that day in 1962 and those signifying revelations. Having been cosseted in a thriving extended family since my birth, my visit with her showed me that loss was a real possibility - the loss of home, of material comfort, of friends and country. As Nora described to me the awful details of their lives as refugees, she taught me that the humiliations of poverty and dispossession happen everywhere, all the time, to the kindest and frailest and proudest of people.

In the years that have passed since that day, I met many other women like her, erudite and houseproud: the Afghan noblewoman who settled in Aleppo when her country was devastated and subsisted mostly on tea from a brass samovar; the Polish Jew who became an indefatigable human rights activist; the renowned Muslim beauty from India in a London council flat who never recovered from partition.

Partition for us was not that of the subcontinent, but of historical Palestine, the arbitrary colonial scratchings on a map that continue to destroy our livelihoods and lives today. Palestine, Iraq - the brutal unwinding of the Ottoman empire is still being lived out in our countries. My parents and their friends were always talking heatedly of lines: the Maginot Line, the Sykes-Picot line, the Armistice Line. These seem to have squeezed the grown-ups in a way I could not comprehend.

Their conversation was dominated by events that the Cavalcantis had actually lived through: soldiers ripping through towns, shooting men, burning orchards, children who walked for days so that their feet became a red bleeding pulp when they finally arrived at nowhere - a mud field with United Nations relief and works agency tents, where exhausted mothers were unable to cope with the humiliating queues for powdered milk or rice, where time passed in trying to find a tap that could fill a vessel with clean water, or somewhere seemly to defecate.

The archival footage of this exodus of 1948 tells you nothing about its individual suffering. Yellowing, shuddering reels of film depict biblical-looking beings - shepherds on crooks, limping away from their burning villages, girls with matted hair and sacks for dresses, women struggling to carry bundles and babies - the imagery of refugees everywhere, from 19th-century Russia to 20th-century Bosnia. Nevertheless, these scenes represented the cruel dispossession of Palestinian persons like Nora, one by one by one. Nora's home in Haifa comes back to haunt me, as does the poetry of Haifa's greatest son, the poet Mahmoud Darwish. He was six years old when he joined the line of terrified refugees rushing away from massacres such as that of Deir Yassin.

Of all the cities within Israel proper, Haifa, with its old-world Mediterranean douceur, had the best record of Arab-Israeli entente. It was also the area from which many Palestinians living in the Jenin refugee camp were forced out 55 years ago. The tragic carnage that took place in Haifa at the weekend - carried out by a young woman from Jenin - will only make the lives of Palestinians even more horrible than they already are.

I have for years argued that violence against civilians will not get the Palestinians the statehood they desperately need. Neither will Israel survive in the long term if its only methods of diplomacy are murder, siege and occupation. Military force and arrogance can easily decimate populations, but they can never create security, as both Israel and the US must soon discover. As Sharon builds his ghetto wall with American taxpayers' money, Israelis would do better to ask themselves, in Robert Frost's words, what they were walling in or walling out.

The US and Israel have managed to make themselves more hated and despised in today's world than ever before. They already have far more insubordination and chaos on their hands than they can possibly handle. Yet they continue to behave like the newly blinded Cyclopses, groping for more enemies to kill. Hitting Syria, as the Israelis have just done, or Iran, as the Americans keep threatening to do, is not the answer - reading the writing on the wall is: occupation never lasts.

· Rana Kabbani is a writer and broadcaster on Middle Eastern affairs


Israel Is Losing
By Richard Cohen
Tuesday, October 7, 2003; Page A25

Washington Post

I talked recently with an American who had just returned from more than 20 years in Israel. We did not talk for the record, so I will withhold his name and what he does for a living. But I will say he is somewhat well-known in Israel and that he loves it dearly but he has left, probably permanently, because he cannot take life there any longer. He is a nonstatistic -- a living victim of terrorism.

How many others there are like him I cannot say. He has the most valuable of all commodities in this world, an American passport, and with much regret and with questions about his courage, he used it to get out. His business had gone to hell, his life was always in danger and he simply could not take it any longer.

In the perpetual war against Israel, its enemies are winning. The economy is awful. Parents do not want their children to go out. The beach is presumed safe, but not a cafe or restaurant. A commute on a bus (I have done it) is gut-wrenching. You watch everyone. What does a suicide bomber look like? The last one, the one who blew up a Haifa restaurant, was a 29-year-old woman, a law school graduate. She killed Arab and Jew alike. Even safe places are no longer safe.

So I cannot blame Israel for striking back. It assassinates Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders and militants. It razes the homes of suicide bombers. It has Yasser Arafat bottled up and may deport or kill him. It has bombed purported terrorist camps in Syria. But nothing Israel has done has brought it peace and security.

If you read the Israeli press, the despair is palpable. To some, especially those on the left, Israel has become virtually a dysfunctional society. The government can't protect its people. Corruption is endemic. Religious zealots have inordinate influence, and their vision, a Greater Israel, compels the building or thickening of West Bank and Gaza Strip settlements. With every suicide bombing, the rational course -- a withdrawal from Palestinian areas -- seems like weakness rather than wisdom.

Israel must return to the so-called Green Line -- the border before the 1967 Six Day War. It must dismantle most of the settlements. It must do this because occupation is corrupting and, in the long run, impossible. The more Israel expands or retains settlements, the more it gets stuck in a quagmire where the enemy is everywhere. From September 2000 until recently, some 17,400 attacks were recorded in the territories -- and 40 percent of all fatalities. Even when terrorists struck in Israel proper, they invariably came from the West Bank.

Yet Ariel Sharon recently decided to include two major settlements on the Israeli side of the fence that is being built to separate the Jewish state from the West Bank. By extending the fence to encompass the settlements, Sharon is only ensuring the continuation of his problem. He needs to get out.

For a people of the book, for a country created by history as well as by men, Israel acts as if nothing that went before has any bearing on what is happening now. But history admonishes Israel. The only places where a Western culture has successfully transplanted itself are those where great population pressure and genocidal methods were used to extirpate the indigenous peoples. This is what happened in the United States.

Genocide is out of the question. Neither the world nor Israeli morality would permit it. Yet Israel keeps lengthening the odds against itself. Instead of withdrawing to where Jews are a clear majority, it continues to cling to settlements where Jews are outnumbered. Every settlement, every day of occupation, puts Israel in greater and greater danger. Each settlement is a provocation. The deportation or killing of Arafat will do nothing but make him a martyr and exacerbate the chaos. The man himself is only a symptom of Israel's problem.

The idyllic Zionist dream is in tatters. No one wants to go to Israel. On the contrary, people want to leave. For every suicide bombing, countless others are thwarted -- 22 in the past month, according to Zeev Schiff, the esteemed military correspondent for the newspaper Haaretz.

Israel lashes out. It has now bombed Syria. What next? Iran? This is not strategy. It is fury. I can understand. But I can understand, too, why, after more than 20 years, that man I met left Israel. You could say he lost his nerve. He would say he lost hope.

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