Saturday, July 29, 2006

On Israel, Palestine and Lebanon: from a friend

In the comments below, friend and commenter Assiniboine has left a pretty extensive note on Israel. It's worth reproducing here.

Well, the Telegraph would say that, wouldnt it. The trouble with much English opinion on Israel (the Telegraph apart) is that it is over-the-top one-sided the other way. (The occasional banning of apolitical Israeli academics from British academic conferences being a particularly egregious expression of that position.) So I suppose it's not a bad thing that there is the Telegraph to go whole hog in partisanship of Israel.

However. Good debating points, maybe, but not much of a way to get anyone to listen to the other person's viewpoint and talking about the issues. Oh for the avowedly Zionist but English-gentleman-to-his-bootstraps Sir Isaiah Berlin, who when introduced to Menachem Begin in Jerusalem put his hand behind his back and said, "I don't shake hands with terrorists." Or even kindly, simple King George VI who said, a propos of the 1916 Balfour Declaration which really got Jewish immigration to Palestine going strong, "Balfour was such a silly old man, promising things to people which already belonged to others." [G: If this was around 1916, shouldn't it be George V? George VI didn't come along till 1937, if I recall correctly, after that contretemps with Edward VIII.]

The old canard about the Israeli free press and universal suffrage, though, isn't very compelling. David Grossman is a very unusual Israeli journalist. Opinion just isnt' very free there, as the extremely mild Archbishop Tutu discovered when he -- who knows Apartheid when he sees it -- used the A. word and found himself being stoned by religious Jews and called a black Nazi on the steps of Jerusalem Cathedral.

And have you been to Israel? It's a shocker, let me tell you: try suggesting that you want to visit a Palestinian church and see what sort of reaction you get! My Jewish wife and I found it difficult to keep our mouths shut and succeeded in doing so precisely because anything less than uncritical support from outsiders is perceived to be hostility.

(Indeed, in a Haifa supermarket some old ladies were indignantly nattering away in Yiddish about the outrage of an obviously Jewish girl being with an obvious goy; she was getting sick by this time of having Turks and Syrians and Jordanians insisting that she was Ali McGraw in "Love Story" and demanding her autograph, and she hollered back at them, "Bist du meshuggenah?" and they promptly switched to Hebrew so we didn't hear what else they had to say. And my hitherto rather Zionist brother-in-law (WIZO did after all set them up in business when they arrived in Australia as holocaust survivors after the War) was frogmarched under guard to a plane home to Australia when he made bold to be less than enthusiastic about the condition of the Palestinians during his stint on the kibbutz!)

We needless to say were vastly more sympathetic to Alice, the lovely Palestinian lady who ran the hostel in Old Jerusalem that we stayed in. We were up at dawn every day to rush off and see holy sites before the other tourists (and the rapacious clergy!) got on the job. She not entirely correctly assumed that we were religious pilgrims, and began getting up even earlier than us to have breakfast on the table, and said, "Do pray for us!" (Odd that she didn't spot us for a mixed-religion couple, but then a Palestinian Christian friend of mine in Montreal recently to his vast amusement found his paparrazi-ed photo in a Jewish student magazine with the caption, "Typical Sephardic Jew." He takes it as a compliment, however unknowing.)

Ah well, I just politely declined an invitation from the neighbours, whose Shi'ite relatives in southern Lebanon are dropping like flies: news had arrived that ALL of their villages had been flattened. I had had to assist with getting their key into their door a while back after they had perhaps not unreasonably responded to the first news of their families and friends by going out and getting totally blotto, and I didn't really think that tonight's conversation would be very edifying.

But this is the trouble. There are two quite irreconcileable views to try and reconcile regarding Israel, and nobody, it seems, can be at all temperate. Jews for a Just Peace is perceived as a Fifth Columnist sell-out by uncompromising supporters of Israel; Muslims consider the Holocaust to be a myth; Christian Palestinians safely and prosperously established in Dubai and Montreal and Chicago grieve for their confiscated homes in Haifa and Nazareth but figure what's past is past and let's get on with life, shall we. But that's the counsel of despair, I guess, however prosperous, and the less financially favoured and exportable professionally qualified Muslim Palestinians don't have that luxury. (Christian Palestinians are, indeed, simply vanishing: in the West they are simply undifferentiated white people and they quickly intermarry and that's the end of them as a people. Of course, Israel used to consider that the Palestinians were simply undifferentiated Arabs and why couldn't they just melt away into Jordan and Syria and Lebanon.)

On the other hand. Bethlehem and the Church of the Natifity. After the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, with its Latin- and Greek-rite monastics bellowing out their respective liturgies not to the glory of God but to drown out the competition, perhaps anything would have been relatively inspiring. But we were mildly disquieted at the tourist-trap elements of it all, and were about to decamp when a lovely Ethiopian Orthodox priest -- they have an extremely impoverished but extremely inspiring presence there -- came up and said, "Never mind all this; come with me." And he led us up a staircase to the roof, and said, "Yes, those are the hills. Where the shepherds watched their flocks by night. I will lock the door so you are not interrupted. Knock when you have finished praying; I will wait for you. No, no, please don't give us any money. It is enough that you are here with us."

Why, though, Gashwin, ARE you, as you say, mildly disposed to favour the Israelis in all this? I think we need to step back, we who are surely by definition disinterested, and be very careful about whose side we take, lest our voice become an irrelevance. Holy Rollers take the view that Jews' occupation of the Holy Land is a prerequisite to Armageddon and all that nonsense but surely we don't want to go there.

I have not, I think, previously shared this outrageous letter to Dawn (the Pakistani equivalent of Time and Newsweek) from a former friend of mine, now settled in Toronto. It was, in fact, this sort of thing that made it clear to me that we couldn't really ever see eye to eye, critical -- but sympathetically so -- though I am of Israel. I don't think he's very successfully acculturating!

(Read on if you don't mind weeping; otherwise stop right here.)

‘Freedom of the press’

GERMAN Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said the 25-nation European Union strongly supports freedom of the press and freedom of expression but added: “We regret that other people’s religious feelings have been hurt.” (Dawn, Feb 28).

Has anyone asked him why, if “freedom of press and freedom of expression” is so sacrosanct in Germany, does the country have the strictest laws in the world against denying or minimizing the “Holocaust”?

Every European country has laws restricting “freedom of expression” when it comes to that topic. Even if a person condemns the killing of Jews by Hitler (a Christian), but says that the number of Jews killed is less than the self-stated six million, he can be thrown into jail for years.

It seems as if the European countries trot out the “freedom of expression” litany whenever it suits them.

Scarborough, Ontario

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assiniboine said...

No. Nobody was paying any attention to Prince Albert in 1916. It was when he became KIng George VI in 1936 that his views became of any note.

assiniboine said...

Oops. It was 1917.

St. Izzy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
St. Izzy said...

With reference to "get[ting] anyone to listen to the other person's viewpoint and talking about the issues," you might find this article interesting.