Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tony Judt explains human society at the edges. Choice quote:

The thin veneer of civilization rests upon what may well be an illusory faith in our common humanity. But illusory or not, we would do well to cling to it. Certainly, it is that faith—and the constraints it places upon human misbehavior—that is the first to go in times of war or civil unrest.

Friday, February 19, 2010

SDE BOKER—Visiting a real Bedouin home is a mind-altering experience, in the sense that it utterly eviscerates the romanticized, tourist vision of nomads living off the land in dignity and serenity. The reality is that these are very oppressed people who live in poverty, at the sufferance of the state, which demands proper permits for them to roam or even grow their own food. The contrast between the Jewish-owned agricultural areas and these miserable “unrecognized” villages is quite stark. No pictures here, out of my own perhaps misguided sense of respect. One could make the comparison with the condition of the American Indians, although Bedouins make up a higher percentage of the population (about two percent) than our indigenous peoples. So there are of course differences.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

JAFFA—Usually it is one of those redundant cliches to say how old—and mixed—this place is, four thousand years of volatile history. There is a lot of construction going on, indeed “gentrification.” Hebrew graffiti all over, a lot of Arabic posters shredded or defaced. Today it seemed to be a relatively quiet type of powderkeg. It was very stark to observe the built-up, commercial areas from the concrete neighborhoods, some of which were crumbling. The beauty of this ancient place is somewhat belied by the painful fact that its demographic character (read, Arabic population) is gradually being pushed out, although this correspondent did not see anything to confirm this. A few cranes dot the landscape, and bulldozers roll down a thoroughfare; however, it is difficult to tell what is going on.

According to Nazareth-based British journalist Jonathan Cook, one of the neighborhoods here, Ajami, is undergoing a serious influx of fundamentalist settler-types moving in, which is antagonizing the locals, mostly because a realty company at the center of it will only sell homes to Jews. Ajami was not visited today because, on top of it being hard to find — plus my lack of knowledge of Arabic aside from as-salaam aleikum, which is a good way to convey good will to the decent people who live there) — as well as something heard to the effect of “it’s a bad neighborhood.” You can read about a documentary film concerning the same here.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The head of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel reports that former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg has joined in the demonstrations at Sheikh Jarrah, quite possibly one of the most contested areas of East Jerusalem.

What appears to be going on behind the ongoing protests, according to Ir Amim.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

TEL AVIV—This correspondent is sick of ideologues and absolutist thinking, completely disgusted with a mindset that sees nothing wrong with making massive generalizations; with attitudes that in most circumstances would be seen and recognized as hateful. Are there circumstances in which it is justifiable to ignore human morality for the sake of survival? Are we under constant existential threat, or are we the dominant peerless military power in the region? These are not trivial questions.

My thinking, at this point, is that it is oxymoronic to believe that the reality is just a matter of different definitions and-or perspectives while also demanding that there is an ultimate truth, that this is real and that is not real. It is simultaneously contradictory to hold a view in which The Other is a fundamentally dangerous, murderous Enemy which only understands the language of force, and giving ourselves the image of a virtuous light unto nations, with the highest moral code. Or that, and this is quite an oddity, it is both the case that some things really are black-and-white but, when push comes to shove, Hey, it is quite complicated and it is irrelevant to talk about right or wrong. Applying the moral code we see in ourselves in our mirrors, even in a judicious way, may put us in a bad light. Hence we become extremely defensive and disbelieving. No, we cannot do things like that, it’s not what you see or hear, they are agents of evil, etc. I believe that Israel faces real security problems, there are people not too far away who want to do Israelis lethal harm, and self-defense is good and right. That is not moral confusion.

I’m feeling passionate right now because I’m tired of feeling like I’m being deceived, that I cannot know anything because I’m not Israeli but just a Jew who happens to be living here (for the next five months; expect occasional reports). Ironically, this is my state in essence, it is legally defined as the state of my people, by my very ancestry and heritage. Therein lies another contradiction, a very absurd one at that: my word on what Israel does is totally null, but this place is supposed to belong to me, my birthright. And, perhaps it is needless to say, by the fact of being American it is also my client. I do not intend to show any disrespect; quite the contrary. I love this place and the people, wonderful, intelligent, full of life and determined to just go on.

Here’s a question to ask myself, and of course toward others: when it is a genuine reflection of what is really happening (or what was happened) and when is it actually defamation and propaganda? Why is it that every serious, legitimate criticism of Israeli policy and actions is completely dismissed as a manifestation of antisemitism, another arrow to the heart of the Jewish people? Take the infamous Goldstone report and the incredible responses it has elicited as an instructive case-in-point, but just one aspect of a larger war on dissent that appears to be going on.

Israeli democracy is being threatened, according to credible reports that have appeared in the press, a serious threat to the health and future of the Hebrew commonwealth. Fundamentalist thinking is increasing, war drums are being beaten over the Iranian dilemma, and a flood of hasbara information desperately attempts to tell us, with all requisite seriousness, that we are not only under threat, real enough, but the notion of our own wrongdoing, no matter how big or well-corroborated and not inspired by ideological preconceptions, is outrageous and defamatory. More as things develop.

(Above: Bethlehem from a vantage point in Gilo. Most say the general purpose of that gray structure there is for security; others, silly radicals and dangerous types, claim it is meant for annexation or even apartheid, not necessarily my claim on balance. So who knows?)

Monday, February 01, 2010

The last remaining American veteran of the First World War has turned 109.