Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Palestinian rocket hits city

So reads the AP headline. Buried deep in the article was the information that should have been the lead and headline:

The rocket flew 7 miles through the air and exploded in the courtyard of a school in Ashkelon, a city of 110,000 on Israel's coast north of Gaza. The school was empty at the time and no one was hurt. School security cameras showed a large cloud of white dust rising from the point of impact.

Thank G-d it was empty.

Here's the link to the rest of the article.

Monday, July 03, 2006


Here's what I did at Summerfest.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Dialogue vs. monologue

Sorry for having been derelict of my blogging duties. Yes, lot’s of stuff has been happening in Gaza—and I’m watching developments like a hawk—but what’s the point of adding my two cents? In other words, despite some shoddy reporting/analysis here and there, for the most part the MSM has done a decent job of describing what’s happening. Not that they deserve a pat on the back; what has been happening is straight forward and, therefore any news organization with any integrity should be able to get the story right.

Frankly, this whole mess is depressing for those of us who had hoped the Gaza disengagement would succeed and be followed by more withdrawals. It takes the mental/moral gymnastics of leftist British newspapers like The Guardian to actually turn this story into something other than it is. And believe me—they can always be counted on to do as much, sadly. But getting back to my point: I, and it appears most Israelis, want a separation from the Palestinians as much as possible in the absence of a negotiated settlement that would have accomplished more or less the same thing. How can any Israeli in their right mind support handing over more territory (at least now) inlight of what has happened in Gaza in the last year? The lesson of Gaza shows us that the territory will be used as a launching pad for rockets into Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the coastal region in general.

I suppose my only criticism of the MSM in this latest episode of violence is the inability of most of them to understand why Israel is (semi)reinvading. It’s not because of the kidnapping of one single soldier—19 year-old Gilad Shalit, who was attacked within the UN-recognized border of Israel and dragged to Gaza—it is also and largely due to the 1,000 kassem rocket launches into Israel since the pullout last summer. Since the pullout from Gaza, no Israelis have been killed by these rockets, which are acts of terror since they are blindly aimed at a civilian town inside Israel and designed to kill non-combatants. However, prior to the Gaza pullout nine civilians were the killed by these terrorist rocket attacks. Three of them were children.

Now, getting back to disengagement: Israel had always hoped to negotiate a final status peace agreement whereby Israel would be out of Gaza and the West Bank and there would be some sort of arrangement in Jerusalem. In 2000 at Camp David Labor PM Ehud Barak offered such a deal, but Arafat rejected it and initiated the “al-Aksa war” which has pretty much continued since then.

With nobody to negotiate, Israel decided to unilaterally re-draw the borders. The Gaza pullout and evacuation of the few Jews who lived there was step one. With no more “occupation” the Palestinians were free to show themselves and the world that they could govern effectively. As it turned out, the only booming (no pun intended) sector of their nascent economy appears to have been rockets and explosives.

On top of daily barrages of rocket fire into Israel, the Palestinians offered their coup de gras by electing Hamas, who openly calls for the destruction of Israel and who openly love al-Qaeda. Of course, when US aid trickles off because Hamas refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and reign in the terrorists, they scream and cry. Well, what do they expect? Why on earth would the US support an organization that openly applauds the death of US soldiers in Iraq and supported the attacks on 9/11, as well as the destruction of a democratic US ally? Shit, the Hamas are so repulsive and ass-backward even the French are largely boycotting. That tells you something.

It’s very hard for the Palestinians to understand the world around them because, and this is my opinion, they are convinced of their utter victimization, and as such, they feel hate and rage because of their “humiliated” stance as victims. Arab culture is steeped in the “shame-honor” dialectic (they are the poster children of the anthropological term) and any real or imagined damage to one’s honor results in shame which must be rectified by some sort of violent response, which exculpates the shame. For more information on how this shame-honor dialectic manifests itself, google “’Arab’ and ‘honor killing.’”

This brings me to a fascinating conversation with a Palestinian 28 year-old female that really hammered this home to me. It was both a heartening and depressing conversation. She was by all accounts a very westernized Muslim Arab. She admitted to having an alcoholic drink here and there, for example. Her mode of dress was completely that of your average (well-dressed) American female. She had also lived in Ramallah. Her biggest gripe was the checkpoints she had to pass through, and once having to wait for hours to see a doctor in Jerusalem, as well as “terrible things I saw.” She told me her children have an inordinate fear of people in uniforms now, and I have no reason to doubt her. Except for a few close-minded Israelis and Israel supporters, I think we are all aware that a lot of innocent Palestinians are caught up in this mess to.

What bothered me was her complete inability to think beyond the checkpoint, for example: why are there checkpoints?

Answer: The constant suicide bombing terrorist attacks. The security checkpoints are Israel’s first line of defense in stopping the smuggling of bombs and other weapons. Were I some Shmo who knew nothing about the conflict and I heard her speak, I’d walk away “understanding” her rage because why on earth would the Israelis make life hard on people for no reason at all? In her mind, that’s what the Israelis do. And based off what she said, there have never been any Israeli victims, either.

To her credit, she was sick of living with the hatred and rage in her heart. She told me she wanted closure. She ended up joining some Jewish-Palestinian dialogue group. She spoke to them. She told me she said, “I used to want to kill Israelis! I was so angry that I wanted to just… kill them!”

Presumably she no longer wants to do that. Like she said, she was sick of living with the hatred in her heart.

Yet, she still can’t get over the victim-role. I explained her to her that many Israelis felt like victims too, and that while in some cases it’s true that both people have victims, when people see themselves as cosmic uber-victims, the result is they absolve themselves of having to act as responsible moral agents. After all, if you are a victim, an innocent victim, why should you change? You didn’t do it—you are the victim. The other must change and rectify all of your grievances. We can take this further: if you are an innocent victim being oppressed for “seemingly” no reason, maybe you should fight back and be totally justified?

I told her it was very important to resist indulging in “victimology” and that even when Israelis do it, it gets them nowhere. Meanwhile, the entire time she griped, I resisted the desire to mention that, had I not slept at my friend’s apartment in Jerusalem one summer night in 1995, I might have been blown up in a Hamas suicide bombing, since the bus that was blown up was the bus that I took to ulpan from Givat Ram to Mt. Scopus. The bombing did kill a number of Israelis as well as a middle aged American Jewish mother who was on a synagogue-sponsored trip to study Hebrew in Israel for a couple of months and who studied with us.

A for trauma, I could have mentioned the American Jewish girl who studied at the Hebrew U with me said she saw an arm dangling from a tree when her bus approached the site of the bombing moments after it happened. She left Israel a few days later. What sort of trauma did she suffer from?

Yes, many Palestinians have been traumatized, and so too have many Israelis. I used to ride the bus to work in Jerusalem every day and I’d blast music on my headphones because, as I saw it, if it was my time to go I’d rather go while listening to some kick-ass music. I’m safe in America now (well, crime can be pretty messed up in places), but everyday Israelis board busses or go to malls or stores and wonder in the back of their minds if they are going to die for eating ice cream or buying pants. Yes, there is trauma all around. Each side has its horror stories. Next time I have a similar like conversation with a Palestinian, I’m going to stop them in their tracks and explain the above. They come from a shame-honor society; we westerners, and especially Jews, are more from a guilt-based society. I’m not going to take a harangue designed to make me feel guilty sitting down anymore. I’ll stand up and take it… kidding.

Back to the conversation:

“The last time I was there, I saw the wall, it’s absolutely disgusting,” said my interlocutor.

I told her that it’s a wall in the Jerusalem area, but that most of it was a fence.

“I disagree with you.”

“Well, I don’t expect you to like the fence or wall, but the fact is it’s mostly a fence and it’s there because of the countless suicide bomber that were dispatched from the West Bank. In fact, the number of bombers that have snuck into Israel’s main coastal cities have dropped dramatically.”

“I disagree with everything you are saying.”

“Okay, but what I’m telling you is not my opinion—it’s a fact. And you know what?—if the violence calms down one day, the fence can be torn done a heck of a lot quicker than it was erected.”

The above illustrates another common problem I’ve encountered when dialoging with Arabs or Muslims. Often times, their perceptions or opinions are seamlessly converted into solid “facts” in their minds. I don’t know how to deal with this. I forgot who coined the saying, but it goes something like this: You have a right to your own opinions. You don’t have a right to your own facts.

I’ll never give up on dialogue, but it’s sort of pointless if people invent their own facts and deny actual facts that fly in the face of their preconceived notions. I don’t know how to deal with that. Am I supposed to be heartened by the fact that my interlocutors are politely having a discussion with the “enemy” instead of trying to cut my head off no questions asked? If that’s the best I can hope for, well, that sucks.

Then our conversation got even stranger. I asked her about what it was like in Ramallah for a westernized girl like herself. She said she had no problems at all. But then she contradicted herself and said, “I hate my culture!”

Playing the mild mannered inquisitive guy (not normally my general disposition… inquisitive, perhaps. Mild mannered… generally not!) I played a little devil’s advocate and said, “Surely you can’t hate your culture, just certain aspects of it.”

I forgot a few parts of the conversation, but we somehow got to the issue of honor killing, which she then tried to downplay and sort of deny. Talk about cognitive dissonance. She just told me she is an independent woman, raising her two boys (she was married at 16, traditional Arab-thang) all on her own, that she hates aspects of her culture, the male chauvinism I presume, and yet she wouldn’t swallow the honor killing thing.

“Look, it happens in the Middle East, sometimes in the West too, by Middle Easterners.”

“I disagree with you.”

In the end, I told her that it didn’t matter which side was “right” or if either side saw the other side as having legitimate historical arguments. Both peoples were there, neither people going anywhere, which left a single alternative: coexistence—preferably a two state solution with a shared Jerusalem.

She said I was a “beautiful” person and while that’s nice and good (and probably wrong … hee hee), I still never heard a) an acknowledgement that Israelis were victims too, b) that there might be legitimate reasons for checkpoints, etc. c) that there is such a thing as a fact, and d) that she necessarily agreed with my dream of a two-state solution.

Regarding, d, I’ve also noticed a reticence on behalf of many Arab interlocutors to curiously refrain from articulating an acceptance of such an arrangement. I’ll come out and say, “Hey, I support a two state solution based basically off of the 1967-borders with an arrangement in Jerusalem… I believe in peace.” And they smile and say, “Cool man,” but that’s it. It seems that even the moderates (whom I guess aren’t the people who a priori think Jews are evil and Israel must be destroyed utterly) still holdout the dream of a return of refugees and at best a bi-national state whereby eventually the Arabs will outnumber the Jews.

My rule of thumb for dialogue from now on is to nip the victimology grievance thing right in the bud. What good is dialogue if it’s merely a vehicle for Palestinians to tell us how humiliated they are as we Jews and Zionists and Israelis keep our mouths shut or hang out heads in shame?

That’s not dialogue, that’s monologue.

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