From the Daily Maverick (6 Dec):
Is this, wonders RICHARD POPLAK, the moment the South African story properly begins?
So, after all these years, we finally get to ask ourselves the question.
Who are we?
They say that one truly becomes an adult when one’s father dies. For some of us this moment comes early, too early, in life—before we’ve properly come to appreciate what a father’s role can mean. Others among us have never known our fathers, while still others watch fathers fade into dotage, sick, senile, or otherwise diminished. There is never a perfect time to say goodbye, but when that absence, that erasure, becomes permanent, we are forced to acknowledge an essential aloneness. And that is where the formulation of self begins.
Modern South Africa was blessed with a father of such rectitude, of such presence, that we feel his absence as we would the contours of a crater formed by an act of ancient violence. I live a ten-minute stroll from Madiba’s Houghton residence and last night, as choppers thwacked above me, I fell asleep to the paradoxical sensation of being an infant without faculties, and more fully a man than I was before learning of his death. The infant part is easy to understand—I’m suddenly without a guide, a mentor, a true north. The other feeling is more difficult to come to terms with. What’s certain is that this country’s sense of self is no longer the responsibility of one man, and must now be defined by the likes of me, my family, my peers, my enemies—each one of us more human than the next.
The role of an adult, I think, is to serve, to leave something behind, to be fully oneself. And to know the way. We South Africans have had the uncommon luxury of outsourcing our morality to one of history’s giants, a man who was simply unable to disappoint. His intellectual dexterity was such that he could see the path long before it was bush-wacked, and he cleared it without violence, without bile. We relied on him, and we leaned on him, and he never buckled. But even giants fall. So here we are.
Is this the moment that the South African story properly begins? Our Tolkien period is over—our mythical villains and our great heroes are gone, and we have entered another, lesser, but no less important, age. The American President John Adams once said that he looked forward to the time when his country was governed by institutions and not by the whims of men. During America’s vibrant nascency, Adams was harkening after political maturity—when the robustness of a country’s laws and the institutions that upheld them allowed men and women to be great in different, smaller ways.
If South Africans are to acknowledge that this is the day that we fully become adults, are we willing to accept the terms? Do we, after being sons and daughters for so long, understand the responsibilities that now face us? That there are millions of consciousnesses other than our own? That the solutions to our problems are within us, and must be solved by us? That negotiation is not an option, but the option? That there is no end to the process of reconciliation, and that our art as citizens is to peel away at the layers of violence and shame that have defined us as a nation for centuries?
One of Madiba’s less salutary legacies is that his greatness has obscured the role that hundreds and thousands of South Africans have played in righting this country’s course after the fall of the last regime. Names like Sisulu, Tambo, Hani, Naiker, Naidoo—the dozens of helmsmen who touched the till at precisely the right moment, so that we weren’t dashed on the rocks of our own lunacy. The South Africa we live in is not one man’s project—it’s a family affair of violent, ungainly, illogical and masterful beauty. We broke it, we bought it.
Through it all, there was a guiding presence, a father who knew best—a role that Nelson Mandela played with an acuity that was superhuman. And despite that father’s last uncomfortable days, when his dignity was toyed with and his waning strength was tapped for purposes I believe he would never have approved of, he was still here. And we were still not forced to ask the only question that counts.
Who are we?
That ache you feel is the abject loneliness of adulthood, and the first stirrings of an answer. DM
From the Daily Maverick: ends with ‘prayers’ that we all can share.
“It’s still nice to dance, crack jokes and wear a loud shirt”
Slightly adapted from a piece by Marelise Van Der Merwe
Our heroes are falling one by one, our police don’t protect us, and our politicians are weak and vicious. And we’ve been hanging onto Mandela as though our lives depend on it, not his; when what we should be doing is using the great gift of introspection that he gave us to pull ourselves from the wreckage.
Newspapers have been on standby in case the news breaks – so much so, in fact, that a DStv channel aired an obituary in error earlier this year, much to the righteous rage of the ANC. The country doesn’t want to look away, in a mixture of mercenary alertness (God forbid we be the newspaper that misses it) and heart-wrenching sadness (he is our everything).
After the DStv obituary aired, ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu flew off the handle somewhat, and I can’t say I blame him. To me, the incident symbolised everything that is wrong with this compulsive Madiba-watching. “This was uncalled for and totally insensitive,” Mthembu fumed. “President Mandela is alive and receiving treatment for a recurring lung infection, as reported by the Presidency.
“We join millions of South Africans and people all over the world in wishing Madiba a speedy recovery and discharge from the hospital. We also join all those who are offering their prayers for the old statesman to get better.”
I must say, though, that Mthembu was wrong on one count. My prayers were not for Madiba’s speedy recovery. My prayers and good wishes were that he would not have a long, drawn-out death; that he would be peaceful; that he would be surrounded by loved ones and look back with satisfaction on the life he lived. He was an old, old man – one who crammed more into his active years outside of jail than most people would do in two lifetimes. He used his jail time, too, to good effect, educating himself and others, spreading messages of peace, and most importantly, working on his inner world – coming to terms with the abuse he had suffered, so that when he came out of jail, he was able to lead us all to genuine reconciliation.
What I didn’t want for him was speculation, the endless watching for whether he made it through the night, the long process of going into hospital, coming back out, labouring for air. There is a reason pneumonia is known as the old man’s friend: it is quick and usually not painful.
If there is anything Madiba taught us, it was gentleness and humanity, not to mention the stupendous power of forgiveness. In my own life, this struggle for forgiveness has been massive, for reasons unrelated to the political climate. But every time the anger comes, I look towards Madiba and remember what the human soul can overcome. He had a profound influence on my life, and I am sure I am not the only one. Part of what made him such a remarkable human being is that you would be hard-pressed to find a person who had not been influenced by him in some way. He was the person who looked through the vicious shells of Apartheid leaders, prison warders; the insensitive crusts of self-righteous whites who did not want to change. He looked through them all, saw the human beings inside, and reached out to them. He gave us all the mercy we so desperately want, and he led others to it, too.
Madiba earned his rest. He earned the right to sit quietly with the people he loved most in this world, and drift gently into the next one. He gave us his life in service – but we didn’t even want to grant him his death. Why did we keep on wanting him to get better, just so that he could go back into hospital? Selfishly, we didn’t want to let go of all he symbolised, so we wanted him to cling to a life that he had, in all honesty, lived out.
Madiba withdrew himself many years ago, as we all know. He did not want public life anymore; what he wanted was a life, a good life, with his family. He was done fighting and wanted happiness. And that, ironically, seems to be the one thing that – for all our claimed love – we didn’t want to grant him.
If you have ever read fairy tales or epics, you will know that a typical plot manoeuvre is for the main character, at the critical stage, to lose his mentor. South Africa is at that critical stage now: we are staring into the abyss, the crisis times have come, and we have lost our father figure. But what happens in these stories? The fighter gets up and carries on; he moves forward with the tools the mentor has given him already. And if it is a good story, he emerges victorious.
Madiba gave us many tools. He is done giving now, and we should accept that. What we can do if we want to honour and respect him is use those tools and remember those lessons. The way I see it, if we really want to show love for Madiba, we should be praying for ourselves.
We should pray that we can learn to forgive like Madiba.
We should pray that we learn to sacrifice, without complaint, for the common good.
We should pray we learn that even time we believe is wasted can be used to achieve so much good: in learning, in thought leadership, in becoming greater within ourselves, while we wait for circumstances beyond our control to change.
We should pray that we learn his great gift of introspection, so that we never let the bitterness grow inside us, even when it seems nothing is changing.
We should pray that we have the courage to speak up and be honest, even if there are grim punishments in store for us when we do.
We should pray to be gentle, but not meek – to fight for what we believe in.
We should pray that even when we are good, good people, we remember that nobody likes a goody-goody: that it’s still nice to dance, crack jokes and wear a loud shirt.
And most of all, we should pray to remember that all great changes begin with the person in the mirror: our own transformation leads it all.
If all South Africans strive for this, maybe, just maybe, we will be able to give Madiba the same gift back that he tried to give to us: a country that works.
He has paid his debt to South Africa, and more. He has led each one of us to strive to be a better person, in a better South Africa. It is time for us to lovingly let him go, and to move forward with the lessons he sacrificed so much to teach us.
Today’s Graun carries an editorial about a man who wrote some fine music but who was (to be charitable) an idiot when it came to politics. Maybe because his execrable political opinions quite resemble those of many Graun journalists and (no doubt) readers, it’s an almost laughable piece of hagiography:
Benjamin Britten at 100: voice of the century
Above all, he was the writer of music that still thrills because of its toughness, beauty, originality and quality
Imagine an English classical music composer who is so famous in his own lifetime that his name is known throughout the country, who is the first British composer to end his life as a peer of the realm, a composer from whom the BBC uniquely commissions a prime-time new opera for television, and whose every important new premiere is a national event, a recording of one of which – though it is 90 minutes long – sells 200,000 copies almost as soon as it is released, and a musician whose death leads the news bulletins and the front pages.
Next, imagine an English classical composer who is a gay man when homosexuality is still illegal, who lives and writes at an angle to the world, who can compose strikingly subversive music, who is passionately anti-war, so much so that he escapes to America as the second world war threatens, who is in many ways a man of the left, certainly an anti-fascist, certainly a believer in the dignity of labour, as well as a visitor to the Soviet Union and a lifelong supporter of civil liberties causes.
Now, imagine an English composer who in many estimations is simply the most prodigiously talented musician ever born in this country, who wrote some of the deepest and most rewarding scores of the 20th century, who set the English language to music more beautifully than anyone before or since, who almost single-handedly created an English operatic tradition and who, all his life, saw it as his responsibility to write music, not just for the academic priesthood or for the music professionals but for the common people, young and old, of his country.
Benjamin Britten, who was born in Lowestoft 100 years ago, was not just some of those multifarious things. He was all of them. And he was much more besides – including a wonderful pianist, the founder of the Aldeburgh Festival, and arguably the 20th century composer who is best served by his own extensive legacy in the recording studio. He was also, as many have written, a difficult and troubled man – even at times a troubling one.
Above all, he was the writer of music that still thrills because of its toughness, beauty, originality and quality. In his 1964 Aspen lecture, Britten said: “I do not write for posterity.” In fact, he did. In his lecture he said he wanted his music to be useful – a noble aim for an artist. He said he did not write for pressure groups, snobs or critics. He wrote, he said, as a member of society. His job was to write music that would inspire, comfort, touch, entertain and “even educate” his fellows. Britten spoke – and composed – as a serious man of his serious time. Impressively, much of that endures. If we seem today to have let some of Britten’s ideals slip, that may say more about our shortcomings as a culture than about Britten’s greatness and achievement, then and now.
Bearing in mind that “visitor to the Soviet Union” is Grauniad-speak for “willfully blind apologist for mass-murder”, just how many non-sequiturs can you spot in the following:
“…passionately anti-war, so much so that he escapes to America as the second world war threatens, who is in many ways a man of the left, certainly an anti-fascist, certainly a believer in the dignity of labour, as well as a visitor to the Soviet Union and a lifelong supporter of civil liberties causes” ..?
My friend and comrade Sean Matgamna has lately been the target of an ignorant and/or malicious campaign of largely synthetic outrage and accusations of “racism” (described and analysed here) from sections of the “left” who don’t like his militant secularism and anti-clericalism. The following short piece (from 2002) explains some of the background to Sean’s stance:
The Communist Party with Catholic Irish immigrants then, and the Left with Muslims now
There are striking parallels between the conventional Left’s attitude to Islam now and the way the Communist Party used to relate to Irish Catholic immigrants in Britain. I had some experience of that.
For a while, over forty years ago, I was involved in the work of the Communist Party among Irish people of devout Catholic background in Britain, people from the nearest thing to a theocracy in Europe, where clerics ruled within the glove-puppet institutions of a bourgeois democracy.
Hundreds of thousands of us came to Britain from small towns, backward rural areas, from communities of small commodity-producers that were very different from conditions we encountered in Britain. We spoke English and were racially indistinguishable from the natives, but we brought with us the idea of history as the struggle of the oppressed against oppression and exploitation, derived from what we had learned from teachers, priests, parents and songs, and from reading about Ireland’s centuries-long struggle against England.
Such ideas had very broad implications. It needed only a small shift – no more than a refocusing of those ideas on the society we were now in, and which at first we saw with the eyes of strangers not inclined to be approving – for us to see British society for the class-exploitative system it is, to see our place in it, and to reach the socialist political conclusions that followed from that.
Vast numbers of Irish migrants became part of the labour movement. Quite a few of us became socialists of varying hues, a small number revolutionary socialists. Catholicism was the reason why large numbers of Irish immigrants, whose mindset I have sketched above, did not become communists.
The CPGB ran an Irish front organisation, the Connolly Association. Instead of advocating socialism and secularism and working to organise as communists those being shaken loose from the dogmatic certainties we had learned in a society ruled by Catholic “fundamentalists”, the Connolly Association disguised themselves as simple Irish nationalists. They purveyed ideas not seriously different from those of the ruling party in Dublin, Fianna Fail, except for occasional words in favour of Russian foreign policy.
The real history of 20th century Ireland, and the part played by the Catholic Church and the Catholic “Orange Order”, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, in creating the conditions that led to Partition, were suppressed by these supposed Marxists. Instead, they told a tale in which only the Orange bigots and the British were villains. The concerns and outlook of narrow Catholic nationalism were given a pseudo-anti-imperialist twist. All that mattered was to be “against British imperialism”.
The CPGB thus, for its own manipulative ends, related to the broad mass of Irish Catholic immigrants – who, in the pubs of places like South Manchester, bought the Connolly Association paper Irish Democrat, in large numbers – by accommodating to the Catholic nationalist bigotries we had learned from priests and teachers at home and battening on them.
We had, those of us who took it seriously, a cultural and religious arrogance that would have startled those who did not see us as we saw ourselves – something that, I guess, is also true of many Muslims now. The CPGB did not challenge it. (If this suggests something purely personal to me, I suggest that the reader takes a look at James P Cannon’s review of the novel Moon Gaffney in Notebook of an Agitator.)
For the CPGB this approach made a gruesome sense entirely absent from the SWP’s antics with Islam, because Moscow approved of Dublin’s “non-aligned” foreign policy, which refused NATO military bases in Ireland. Russian foreign policy, and the wish to exploit Irish nationalism against the UK – that was the CPGB leader’s first and main concern.
In this way the Connolly Association and the CPGB cut across the line of development of secularising Irish immigrants: large numbers became lapsed Catholics, but without clearing the debris of religion from their heads. It expelled from its ranks those who wanted to make the Connolly Association socialist and secularist. Instead of helping us move on from middle-class nationalism and the Catholic-chauvinist middle-class interpretation of Irish history, it worked to lock us back into those ideas by telling us in “Marxist” terms that they were the best “anti-imperialism”. What mattered, fundamentally, to the CP leaders was who we were against – Russia’s antagonist, Britain.
(from the Workers Liberty website)
Some readers may have been mystified as to why on Saturday, apparently for no particular reason, I posted a short piece on Billy Taylor’s composition ‘I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel To Be Free).’
The reason was that today (Nov 12) is the 50th anniversary of the original recording of the tune by Billy Taylor’s Trio. My little post, complete with YouTube clips by Taylor and Nina Simone, was prepared in advance, all ready to go up today. Then I pressed the wrong button and posted it early.
So here, on the anniversary itself, is the original version from Taylor’s album Right Here, Right Now, released early in 1964, but recorded exactly 50 years ago today:
Above: the wreckage of a Jewish shop in Berlin, the day after Kristallnacht
From the Irish Times:
It took a month – and a pointed request from Dublin – for our man in Berlin to file a report on Kristallnacht, November 9th, 1938.
Now a Berlin synagogue destroyed 75 years ago in the so-called “Night of Broken Glass” is exhibiting Charles Bewley’s “disgraceful and unfathomable” report.
The 13-page document, condemning the “undesirables in the Jewish race”, is notorious in Irish diplomatic and academic circles. But a German curator expects it to cause “astonishment” when it goes on display for the first time on Monday in Berlin.
“That a diplomat let fly like this is singular, I’ve never seen anything like it and I’ve read a lot of reports,” said Dr Christian Dirks, curator of the exhibition of diplomatic dispatches on the 1938 pogrom.
After years of official harassment of Jews in Nazi Germany, the state-sanctioned violence against Jews, their businesses, homes and places of worship on November 9th-10th, 1938, is seen as the start of the rapid road downhill to the Holocaust.
The Nazis dubbed it a “spontaneous expression of outrage” at the murder of Ernst vom Rath, a German diplomat in Paris, by Herschel Grynszpan, a German-born Jewish refugee of Polish parents. But many of the 100 diplomats cited in the exhibition noted that Germans were ashamed of this flimsy attempt to cover up high-level Nazi involvement.
The Bulgarian embassy wrote that it seemed “nothing will be able to stop a permanent solution to the ‘Jewish question’”.
Even Italy, a future Axis ally of Nazi Germany, was shocked by events, writing that it was “simply not imaginable that, one day, 500,000 people will be put up against a wall, condemned to suicide or locked up in huge concentration camps”.
Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels noted in his diary on November 11th: “We’ll wait for the reactions abroad. For now there’s still silence, but the uproar will come.”
There was much uproar, just not from Bewley. In sober language he describes the growing exclusion of Jews from German public life and describes the events of November 9th as “obviously organised”.
But his report, which begins in the tone of a dispassionate diplomatic observer, soon identifies with claims in Germany of the time that Jews dominated the worlds of finance and entertainment and used their influence to instil what he calls “anti-Christian, anti-patriotic and communistic” thinking.
He says their corrupting moral influence – promoting abortion, controlling the white slave trade – helps explain the “elimination of the Jewish element from public life”.
“Of all the diplomatic reports this one is usually demagogic and nasty,” said Dr Hermann Simon, director of Berlin’s Centrum Judaicum. “He really left no cliche out.”
In the report’s last section, Mr Bewley takes issue with the Irish media for following the pro-Jewish line of the “British press, itself in Jewish hands”, and “Anglo-Jewish telegraph agencies” by displaying prominently news of oppression against Jews but suppressing news of crimes perpetrated by Jews and anti-fascists.
In his conclusion he holds back from advising Dublin on how to correct what he believes is Ireland’s one-sided view of what he calls the “Jewish problem”, while leaving little doubt that he views Jews themselves as the key issue.
The anti-Semitic virulence in Bewley’s report is “unique” among the diplomatic dispatches, according to curator Christian Dirks.
“The report bowled us over,” he said. “It proffers an educated anti-Semitism which doesn’t just blame the Jews for everything but provides alleged reasons for anti-Jewish feeling. In many passages it recalls arguments you hear today from neo-far right thinkers like David Irving. ”
As well as quotes from the Bewley report in translation, the exhibition details his appointment to Ireland’s mission to Berlin in September 1933, his recall in summer of 1939 and subsequent departure from the diplomatic service. He settled in Rome and died there in 1969.
Review by Martin Thomas, Workers Liberty
Ed Miliband’s father Ralph Miliband, a Marxist writer denounced by the Daily Mail as “the man who hated Britain”, left behind him two well-known books, Parliamentary Socialism and The State In Capitalist Society.
Less-known, but also valuable today, is a thin volume of letters in 1967 about Israel-Palestine between Ralph Miliband and his friend Marcel Liebman, who was then a contributor to the semi-Trotskyist Belgian weekly La Gauche.
The letters were translated from French by Peter Drucker and published in 2006 with an introduction by the Lebanese-French Marxist writer Gilbert Achcar.
Partly the letters are valuable in the same way that a view on any issue from a divergent and unfamiliar angle can be. In 1967, many assumptions on Israel-Palestine which currently go almost unquestioned on the left (in Britain, at least) were not assumed at all. And partly the letters are valuable because in them Miliband is exceptionally lucid.
The correspondence spans a few weeks around the June 1967 war between Israel and the Arab states.
The temper of the left on the Israel-Palestine question then was different from now. No-one on the left advocated wiping Israel off the map. Arab governments, and the leaders at the time of the PLO (then an annexe of the Egyptian government, without the autonomy it gained after 1968-9), openly advocate wiping Israel off the map, and everyone on the left dissented.
Inside IS (forerunner of the SWP), a small but substantial minority opposed SWP leader Tony Cliff’s line in June 1967 of backing the Arab states. There was a debate inconceivable today in the SWP or the SWP diaspora. (For the record: the forerunners of AWL backed Cliff’s line in 1967. We have learned since).
At the beginning of the debate recorded in the volume, Liebman is about as anti-Israeli as any socialist got those days. He expresses disgust that “the whole French left is basically for Israel… from [Jean-Paul] Sartre to [Socialist Party leader] Guy Mollet”, and says he wants to move to England where anti-Israeli sentiment is stronger.
In the first letter he denounces Miliband as “pro-Israeli” and “reacting as a European and a Jew rather than as a socialist”.
Miliband actually has a slightly rose-tinted picture of Israeli policy. He considers it “nonsense” to suppose there are “serious Israeli plans to conquer and subjugate Arab people outside its territory”.
Miliband is remonstrating with an indignant Liebman who suggests that Israel is about to invade and conquer Syria. He is right to do so: but in fact Israel would “conquer and subjugate Arab people outside its territory” in the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. Read the rest of this entry »
Yossi Klein Halevi’s new book Like Dreamers speaks with rare clarity on the Israel-Palestine conflict. BY Louis Nayman (at In These Times)
Above: Zion Karasanti, Yitzhak Yifat and Haim Oshri, IDF paratroopers at Jerusalem’s Western Wall shortly after its capture. (David Rubinger / Knesset website)
Shortly after 9:15 a.m. on June 7, 1967, reservists of the Israel Defense Forces 55th Paratroopers Reserve Brigade became the first soldiers of a sovereign Jewish state to enter the Old City of Jerusalem, the historic and Biblical capital of the Jewish people, in nearly 20 centuries. The ceasefire that ended Israel’s 1948 War of Independence had left Jerusalem’s Old City under the Jordanian army’s control, and many religious Jews with strong feelings that the promise of redemption had not yet been fulfilled.
The night before, the unit had sustained high casualties in hand-to-hand fighting against Jordanian Army infantry in the surrounding hillsides. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan questioned whether modern Israel even needed what he dismissively called “this Vatican,” but ultimately relented to the pressure of Israel’s Chief Rabbi and the political Right. However, the conquest was easier than anticipated: Unknown to the IDF, Jordanian forces had slipped away under cover of night, so when approval came that Wednesday morning to take the Old City, soldiers of the 55th broke through the Lion’s Gate and reached the Temple Mount and Western Wall in short order. In a scene eerily foreshadowing the triumphal image 36 years later of an American soldier draping the stars and stripes across a statue of Saddam Hussein, someone fastened an Israeli flag atop the Dome of the Rock—Islam’s third holiest site—prompting an appalled Dayan to order it taken down immediately.
Over the course what became known as the Six Day War, the territory under Israeli control tripled, its borders expanded to the banks of the River Jordan, the Suez Canal and the heights of Golan, encompassing not only all of Jerusalem, but the holy historical sites of Hebron, Jericho and Bethlehem. What had begun as a defensive war for national existence had ended in an occupation of conquest.
The consequences of that transformation over the next five decades are vividly, and at times heartbreakingly, recounted in American-born Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi’s excellent and exquisitely written new book, Like Dreamers: The Story of The Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation. Through the intertwining personal histories of seven reservists of the 55th Brigade— who range from pork-eating, Yom Kippur-breaking kibbutzniks to kashrus-observing, kippot-wearing seminarians—Halevi provides a comprehensive, insightful and richly accessible portrayal of the competing utopian visions of modern Zionism: one secular, the other messianic. Understanding these competing visions is central to finding a just and enduring resolution to the competing claims dividing what both Arabs and Jews call the Holy Land.
To kibbutzniks, the founding elite of the modern Jewish state, Stalin-era Red Army songs came more easily than the most elementary Hebraic prayers. They believed the aim of Zionism was to build a democratic socialist country in the ancient Jewish homeland that would claim its place among the other sovereign secular democracies of the world, a nation among nations.
Religious Zionists, not interested in building what Halevi characterizes as “another Belgium,” sought to create a Jewish state that remained true to Biblical prophecy and borders, included the holy sites of Jerusalem, Jericho and Hebron, observed Jehovah’s rituals and commandments, and served as a beacon and moral example to all the nations. Halevi quotes a 21-year-old seminarian and corporal exclaiming at the liberation of the Temple Mount, “Two thousand years of exile are over.” Another tells an officer, “We are writing the next chapter of the Bible.”
But with unfolding of events—the Yom Kippur War; the founding, expansion, and dismantling of settlements; the incursion into Lebanon; the Camp David and Oslo Accords; the Rabin assassination; the massacre at the Mosque of Abraham; successive intifadas and failure to reach agreement at the second Camp David meeting in 2000—worldviews change, as did the former paratroopers who held them. In following the stories of these paratroopers and their comrades, Halevi masterfully demonstrates the fluidity, complexities, inconsistencies and contradictions that propel national, cultural and geopolitical, as well as personal, history. Of the seven paratroopers:
Two kibbutzniks—Meir Ariel, who becomes a rock musician and Avital Geva, who earns international acclaim as a conceptual artist—were involved in founding of Peace Now, the political movement dedicated to ending the occupation and reaching a just two-state solution with the Palestinians. Brought up in secular socialist kibbutzim where the kitchens weren’t kosher and the Sabbath was just another work day, Ariel and Geva in middle age separately come to embrace ritual prayer and the Study of Torah.
Arik Achmon, the brigade’s intelligence officer and the son-in-law of the founder of the leading left-wing kibbutz movement becomes a corporate executive, union buster and influential proponent of unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, while at the same time favoring construction of a security barrier separating most of the West Bank and Gaza from Israel proper, concluding that for Israel, ending the occupation is a more urgent priority than making peace.
Yoel Bin-Nun, former seminarian and corporal in the paratroopers, who becomes a rabbi, teacher, and founder of two settlements beyond Israel’s 1967 borders, similarly concludes when “confronted with the unbearable choice between preserving the intactness of the people of Israel and the intactness of the land of Israel,” the Jewish hierarchy of values places people first, then Torah and then land. Anguished by the religious Right’s growing participation in, and tolerance for, violence against other Israelis and Israeli institutions, he quits the settlement he founded, and at the age of 58, votes Labor for the first time in his life.
Yisrael Harel, the only non-sabra of the seven, is a child refugee of the Shoah who, as a leader and top organizer of the settler movement, goes on to meet clandestinely with PLO representatives in an effort to find a framework for agreement on Palestinian sovereignty that preserves established Jewish settlements. Harel’s colleague Hanan Porat, also a former seminarian, becomes the first West Bank settler to win election to the Knesset as a strong proponent of expanded settlement by both legal and extralegal means. When during the elections of 1992 hard Right parties attack Labor Prime Minister candidate Yitzhak Rabin for suffering an emotional breakdown on the eve of the 1973 Yom Kippur war, Hanan Porat publically comes to the defense of his former commander.
Former kibbutznik and paratrooper Udi Adiv becomes increasingly estranged from what he comes to see as “Zionist imperialism” and “the fiction of progressive Zionism.” While a left-wing radical at the University of Haifa, he asks an Israeli Palestinian to put him in touch with the PLO. Ultimately, Adiv becomes involved with a Syrian sponsored anti-Zionist terror network. Arrested in Israel three months following the massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich, he is convicted of espionage and sentenced to 17 years in prison. While imprisoned Adiv asks to be confined with the Arab prisoners, but grows disillusioned when they exhibit more solidarity with nationhood and Islam than with class. He is returned by request to the general prison population, comprised mostly of Sephardic poor and working-class Jews. Released after serving 12 years, he tours the destroyed Arab village on whose land his own kibbutz expanded and thinks, “Every nation carries its legacy of injustice… . To correct the injustices of the past meant imposing new injustices.” Nearly two decades following his arrest, one of his former interrogators casually tells him during a chance encounter that “all of us”—meaning the intelligence service— “are in favor of an agreement with the Palestinians.” The kibbutznik takes it as a vindication of sorts.
None of these lives played out neatly. Some bent toward behavior and ideologies they never would have imagined, others experimented with various philosophies and careers, while others pressed the limits of messianic certainty. In them, we see that progress marches not so much in a straight dialectic as rambles in gradual zigs, abrupt zags, and occasional reverses—something Hegel and Marx and Yeats never quite got.
Halevi’s narrative includes a number of tactical and strategic lessons for contemporary progressives seeking justice for Palestinians. Boycott, Divesture and Sanctions proponents might remember that the most powerful consequence of the 1975 United Nations “Zionism is racism” resolution, was to incense Israelis and sway Israeli public opinion to support—or at least not oppose—the expansion of settlements in Judea and Samaria. Arafat’s last minute hardening of position and retreat from an agreement at the 2000 Camp David talks, under which Israel would have withdrawn from more than 90 percent of the West Bank and would have established a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, led to the resumption of the intifada and the surprise election months later of hardliner Ariel Sharon as prime minister, thereby prolonging the misery of occupation and postponing indefinitely the prospects for establishing a two-state solution and the redress of Palestinian grievances.
Yossi Klein Halevi’s eye for detail and character, and ear for complexity and nuance, create an authoritative narrative with the intensity and sweep of an epic novel. From now on, no understanding of the history and currents shaping the prospects for a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians will be complete without Halevi’s remarkable and compelling book.
Tisdall: a Paul Faure de jour
You don’t have to be a fan of US imperialism to wish the yanks well in hunting down al-Qaida and other such murderous fascists.
But, it would seem, Simon Tisdall, senior foreign correspondent of the Graun doesn’t share that feeling. In fact, attempts to apprehend and/or kill such people as Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai (wanted for the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed over 250 people) and Ahmed Abdi Godane (who claims responsibility for the Westgate mall attack) are to be deplored and sneered at:
“The two raids may provide Obama with temporary relief from his domestic troubles, distracting attention from the government shutdown. But secretary of state John Kerry’s claim on Sunday that the operations showed terrorists they “can run but they can’t hide” was macho bombast straight from the George W Bush school of utter thoughtlessness.
“The raids yielded one wanted man. They shed yet more blood. They played the terrorists’ game. They invited further retaliation and escalation down the road. They reminded Muslims everywhere that the US, in righteous mood, has scant regard for other countries’ borders and national rights. And they did nothing to address the roots and causes of confrontation between Islam and the west.” Read the whole thing here, but prepare to be nauseated and/or infuriated..
I leave aside, for the moment, Tisdall’s apparent acceptance (in his final sentence) of the jihadists’ (and the anti-Muslim racists’) claim that the struggle against Islamist terrorism is, in fact, a war on Islam itself. And I won’t bother asking what, exactly, does Mr Tisdall think “the causes of [the] confrontation” are. For now, I’d merely ask, what does Mr Tisdall think should be done in response to outrages like Westgate? Anything at all?
One small cause for hope: judging by the below-the-line comments, even CiF readers seem to be appalled at Tisdall’s craven appeasement.
Finally (for now) I would urge readers to check out this fascinating comparison between present-day Guardianistas and the Paul Fauristes in France during WW2. All proportions guarded, I think the comparison is apposite and entirely fair.
Exactly 40 years ago, the Syrian and Egyptian ruling classes launched the third Arab war against Israel (I include in that, the 1967 defensive pre-emptive strike by Israel). Initially, Egypt and Syria had some success, but, eventually, Israel with considerable US support, beat them back. There is no doubt that Syria and Egypt were the aggressors, but Uri Avnery (below) adds some background and context:
Above: Moshe Dayan with Golda Meir at the Front
The Israeli peace activist (who sat in the Knesset from 1965–74 and 1979) Uri Avnery wrote this one year ago, for the (often dodgy) Veterans Today website:
I AM sitting here writing this article 39 years to the minute from that moment when the sirens started screaming, announcing the beginning of the war.
A minute before, total quiet reigned, as it does now. No traffic, no activity in the street, except a few children riding bicycles. Yom Kippur, the holiest day for Jews, reigned supreme. And then…
Inevitably, the memory starts to work.
THIS YEAR, many new documents were released for publication. Critical books and articles are abundant.
The universal culprits are Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan.
They have been blamed before, right from the day after the war, but only for superficial military offences, known as The Default. The default was failing to mobilize the reserves, and not moving the tanks to the front in time, in spite of the many signs that Egypt and Syria were about to attack.
Now, for the first time, the real Grand Default is being explored: the political background of the war. The findings have a direct bearing on what is happening now.
IT TRANSPIRES that in February 1973, eight months before the war, Anwar Sadat sent his trusted aide, Hafez Ismail, to the almighty US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.
Above: Uri (left) talks to Sadat
He offered the immediate start of peace negotiations with Israel. There was one condition and one date: all of Sinai, up to the international border, had to be returned to Egypt without any Israeli settlements, and the agreement had to be achieved by September, at the latest.
Kissinger liked the proposal and transmitted it at once to the Israeli ambassador, Yitzhak Rabin, who was just about to finish his term in office. Rabin, of course, immediately informed the Prime Minister, Golda Meir.
She rejected the offer out of hand. There ensued a heated conversation between the ambassador and the Prime Minister. Rabin, who was very close to Kissinger, was in favor of accepting the offer.
Golda treated the whole initiative as just another Arab trick to induce her to give up the Sinai Peninsula and remove the settlements built on Egyptian territory.
After all, the real purpose of these settlements – including the shining white new town, Yamit – was precisely to prevent the return of the entire peninsula to Egypt. Neither she nor Dayan dreamed of giving up Sinai. Dayan had already made the infamous statement that he preferred “Sharm al-Sheik without peace to peace without Sharm al-Sheik”.
Sharm al-Sheik, which had already been re-baptised with the Hebrew name Ophira, is located near the southern tip of the peninsula, not far from the oil wells, which Dayan was also loath to give up.
Even before the new disclosures, the fact that Sadat had made several peace overtures was no secret. Sadat had indicated his willingness to reach an agreement in his dealings with the UN mediator Dr. Gunnar Jarring, whose endeavors had already become a joke in Israel.
Before that, the previous Egyptian President, Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, had invited Nahum Goldman, the President of the World Jewish Congress (and for a time President of the World Zionist Organization) to meet him in Cairo.
Golda had prevented that meeting, and when the fact became known there was a storm of protest in Israel, including a famous letter from a group of 12th-graders saying that it would be hard for them to serve in the army.
All these Egyptian initiatives could be waved aside as political maneuvers. But an official message by Sadat to the Secretary of State could not. So, remembering the lesson of the Goldman incident, Golda decided to keep the whole thing secret.
THUS AN incredible situation was created. This fateful initiative, which could have effected an historic turning point, was brought to the knowledge of two people only: Moshe Dayan and Israel Galili.
The role of the latter needs explanation. Galili was the eminence grise of Golda, as well as of her predecessor, Levy Eshkol. I knew Galili quite well, and never understood where his renown as a brilliant strategist came from.
Already before the founding of the state, he was the leading light of the illegal Haganah military organization. As a member of a kibbutz, he was officially a socialist but in reality a hardline nationalist. It was he who had the brilliant idea of putting the settlements on Egyptian soil, in order to make the return of northern Sinai impossible.
So the Sadat initiative was known only to Golda, Dayan, Galili and Rabin and Rabin’s successor in Washington, Simcha Dinitz, a nobody who was Golda’s lackey.
Incredible as it may sound, the Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, Rabin’s direct boss, was not informed. Nor were all the other ministers, the Chief of Staff and the other leaders of the armed forces, including the Chiefs of Army Intelligence, as well as the chiefs of the Shin Bet and the Mossad. It was a state secret.
There was no debate about it – neither public nor secret. September came and passed, and on October 6th Sadat’s troops struck across the canal and achieved a world-shaking surprise success (as did the Syrians on the Golan Heights.)
As a direct result of Golda’s Grand Default 2693 Israeli soldiers died, 7251 were wounded and 314 were taken prisoner (along with the tens of thousands of Egyptian and Syrian casualties).
THIS WEEK, several Israeli commentators bemoaned the total silence of the media and the politicians at the time.
Well, not quite total. Several months before the war, in a speech in the Knesset, I warned Golda Meir that if the Sinai was not returned very soon, Sadat would start a war to break the impasse.
I knew what I was talking about. I had, of course, no idea about the Ismail mission, but in May 1973 I took part in a peace conference in Bologna. The Egyptian delegation was led by Khalid Muhyi al-Din, a member of the original group of Free Officers who made the 1952 revolution.
During the conference, he took me aside and told me in confidence that if the Sinai was not returned by September, Sadat would start a war. Sadat had no illusions of victory, he said, but hoped that a war would compel the US and Israel to start negotiations for the return of Sinai.
My warning was completely ignored by the media. They, like Golda, held the Egyptian army in abysmal contempt and considered Sadat a nincompoop. The idea that the Egyptians would dare to attack the invincible Israeli army seemed ridiculous.
The media adored Golda. So did the whole world, especially feminists. A famous poster showed her face with the inscription: “But can she type?” In reality, Golda was a very primitive person, ignorant and obstinate.
My magazine, Haolam Hazeh, attacked her practically every week, and so did I in the Knesset. She paid me the unique compliment of publicly declaring that she was ready to “mount the barricades” to get me out of the Knesset.
Ours was a voice crying in the wilderness, but at least we fulfilled one function: In her ‘March of Folly”, Barbara Tuchman stipulated that a policy could be branded as folly only if there had been at least one voice warning against it in real time.
Perhaps even Golda would have reconsidered if she had not been surrounded by journalists and politicians singing her praises, celebrating her wisdom and courage and applauding every one of her stupid pronouncements.
THE SAME type of people, even some of the very same people, are now doing the same with Binyamin Netanyahu.
Again, we are staring the same Grand Default in the face.
Again, a group of two or three are deciding the fate of the nation. Netanyahu and Ehud Barak alone make all the decisions, “keeping their cards close to their chest”. Attack Iran or not? Politicians and generals are kept in the dark. Bibi and Ehud know best. No need for any other input.
But more revealing than the blood-curdling threats on Iran is the total silence about Palestine. Palestinian peace offers are ignored, as were those of Sadat in those days. The ten-year old Arab Peace Initiative, supported by all the Arab and all the Muslim states, does not exist.
Again, settlements are put up and expanded, in order to make the return of the occupied territories impossible. Let’s remember all those who claimed, in those days, that the occupation of Sinai was “irreversible”. Who would dare to remove Yamit?
Again, multitudes of flatterers, media stars and politicians compete with each other in adulation of “Bibi, King of Israel”. How smoothly he can talk in American English! How convincing his speeches in the UN and the US Senate!
Well, Golda, with her 200 words of bad Hebrew and primitive American, was much more convincing, and she enjoyed the adulation of the whole Western world.
And at least she had the sense not to challenge the incumbent American president (Richard Nixon) during an election campaign.
IN THOSE days, I called our government “the ship of fools”. Our current government is worse, much worse.
Golda and Dayan led us to disaster. After the war, their war, they were kicked out – not by elections, not by any committee of inquiry, but by the grassroots mass protests that racked the country.
Bibi and Ehud are leading us to another, far worse, disaster. Some day, they will be kicked out by the same people who adore them now – if they survive.
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