Thursday, June 26, 2003
Summer Forecast: Partly Cloudy with a High Chance of Idiots

It looks like we should be getting a fresh wave of fools coming from overseas to muck about in the troubles around here. Because the problems in the territories aren't complicated enough already, the folks at the International Solidarity Movement are trying to recruit a new group of deluded knuckleheads to complicate it a bit further.

The group's website is touting the clumsily named "Freedom Summer Palestine 2003". Promising a few weeks of "coordinated direct-action, nonviolent resistance", the ISM summer camp will feature angry, America- and Israel-hating college kids from all over the U.S. "joining Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza in paving roads, dismantling roadblocks, challenging checkpoints and tearing down the Apartheid Wall." (Hat tip: Allison Kaplan Sommer.)

ISM's sales pitch leaves out a lot of other fun and exciting activities that ISMers can expect such as:
  • Harboring terrorists in the movement's offices
  • Protecting underground tunnels so that they can be used to smuggle drugs and weapons
  • Rubbing shoulders at ISM rallies with actual shahids on their way to blowing themselves up in Tel Aviv
Not to mention a chance at your very own martyrdom.

The web site is hoping for "hundreds of volunteers," presumably to replace all the ones who realized they were in over their heads and left after St. Rachel Corrie got herself buried under an IDF bulldozer and a couple of her fellow dupes got shot while in the crossfire between Palestinians and the IDF.

With some luck, most potential volunteers will be put off by the realization that they might actually get hurt or else leave the two sides to try and actually negotiate for a change.

My suggestion to all the crunchy do-gooders looking for a productive way to spend Summer break: if you want to join in a movement that really has a chance of making the world a better and freer place, may I suggest helping out the student protesters in Iran?

More Violence

The Hamas cease-fire enters its fifth week of being about to be signed within days. And while we wait, the attacks keep coming. In the last 24 hourse we've had another Palestinian shooting attack and another IDF assassination.

In the shooting attack, a 15-year-old member of the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade opened up on a Bezeq (Israeli phone company) vehicle, killing one of the people inside. The attack happened near the village of Baka Al Gharbiya, on the northern end of the Green Line.

Meanwhile, in Gaza, the IDF took out a Hamas convoy which it says the group was heade on its way to fire rockets at the southern Israeli town of Sderot. (This, by the way, is almost a daily occurence. The rockets are crude, and often miss their marks. As of today, they've caused a lot of damage to buildings and cars but have not killed anyone yet). The attack killed 2 Palestinians, one of them apparantly an innocent bystander.

The Palestinians are up in arms again about this last attack and are blaming Israel for trying to sabotage the burgeoning hudna, which, we are told, is mere hours away.

  1. I'm still fairly ambivalent about the targetted assassinations. I'd still feel more comfortable if we didn't give the Palestinians an out for not holding up their end of the bargain. On the other hand, what Sharon seems to be saying here is that if Abu Mazen thinks he can get away with just striking some kind of temporary agreement with the terrorists instead of acting strongly and decisively against them, he's wrong.
    And until he does so, the IDF will continue to operate against ticking bombs.

  2. Why is it that no one screams that the myriad Palestinian attacks and attempted attacks aren't endangering the road map? Especially since the kid who perpetrated todays attack, as well as the two bastards the Israeli security forces nabbed yesterday were all members of Fatah's own terrorist groups.

Targeted Assassinations

Speaking of targeted assassinations, here is a somewhat lengthy but interesting examination of Israel's policy with regards to eliminating those responsible for terrorism. The article details the rationale behind the policy, along with a discussion of its merits and disadvantages.

The basic idea behind targeting the leaders of terrorist groups is that it hinders the development of an effective organization. Leaders spend a lot of their time and energy hiding and effective communication is disrupted by distrust and the desire to avoid using phones.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003
Human Shield Bye Bye

The UK Telegraph reports that most of the British "human shields" who came to hang out in Baghdad have left Iraq after Iraqi authorities ordered them to station themselves at places which are likely to be bombed.

In other words, the human shields decided that being a human shield might have a downside.

I don't even know what to say about this one. On the one hand, you can't fault people for finally coming to their senses. On the other hand, these guys marched into Iraq with such hoo-ha and lofty rhetoric about risking their lives to prevent an unjust war that you'd have to be a better person than me not to feel at least a little schadenfreude.

Not all the shields have left, but I suspect that most will by the time the bombs start flying.

My Big, Thick, Farcical Report

So Iraq submitted the report on its alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction for scrutiny by the West. And we wnter the next phase in the circus which is the UN Weapons Inspection regime. How many people actually believe that Saddam is not hiding WMDs?

What you have now is essentially one 12,000-page lie which the US now has to examine in detail in order to try and make its case to the world. Iraq seems to be stalling for time with this thing, rather like a large company which is sued and bombards the other side with mountains of paperwork in an attempt to overwhelm the opposing side's lawyers.

I've been quiet about head weapons inspector Hans Blix up till now. My initial impression of Blix was a typical peace-at-any-price Euroweenie more concerned about not insulting the Iraqis than holding them to task. Despite the fact that many of Blix's own associates complained about him I thought, "Hey, let's give the man a chance."

But in his actions of the last couple of days, Blix has proved himself to be as bad, if not worse, than we expected. First, it turns out that the surprise inspections that the UN guys are supposed to be holding aren't that much of a surprise.

Then, once Iraq submitted its report to the UN, Blix insisted that he censor part of the material before handing it over to the permanent members of the UN Security Council. But what really had me pulling my hair out was Blix's reaction when the US asked him to exercise his power to remove Iraqi scientists and their families from Iraq in order to protect them and find out what they know:

Mr. Blix said his team was preparing to ask for private interviews with Iraqi arms scientists, as administration officials have urged. But he said he had not yet decided whether to use new powers he was given by the Council, at Washington's insistence, to take the experts and their families out of the country, and suggested that that approach could create misunderstandings with Iraq.

"I have said that we are not going to abduct anybody and we're not serving as a defection agency," Mr. Blix said.

Something to remember: During the last round of weapons inspections, the only time the inspectors managed to find weapons was when they were tipped off by Iraqi scientists. But God forbid we do anything that might create a misunderstanding with one of the most evil, brutal regimes in existence today.

The big concern is this: if the weapons inspection team comes away with nothing, it will be used as a major counter-argument to doing what is necessary, viz. getting rid of Saddam and his ilk. With the easily duped dope running the weapons inspection show this becomes more and more of a foregone conclusion.

The Badolina Debates

In the last couple of weeks, Ha'aretz's weekend magazine has played host to an interesting debate. Although ostensibly about a book, the debate actually centers on Israel's transition from a socialist-bolshevik past to a capitalist present.

At the center of the debate is a little book called "Badolina" (Hebrew link) by Gabi Nitzan. The book tells the story of the king and queen of Badolina, a pair of liberated flower children who live only for the moment and whose role as rulers of Badolina is to remind their subjects to do whatever they need to be happy. In the book, the king and queen come to Israel to teach people here to seek happiness inside themselves. On the face of it, "Badolina" seems nothing more than a flower child parable about free love and doing your own thing.

Three weeks ago, Ha'aretz columnist Gadi Taub latched on to "Badolina" in an article decrying a trend towards self-involvement in Israeli society. Taub tied Badolina in with a campaign launched by Shari Arison -- the CEO of Bank Hapoalim Israel's largest bank -- which encourages people to seek the happiness inside themselves. Arison launched a massive ad blitz for her "Essence of Life" campaign, which argues that if people find internal happiness this will help solve external problems.

Taub tied both these trends to Bibi Netanyahu and his recent economic recovery plan which has made severe cuts in the social welfare system and the size of the public sector.

Taub used "Badolina" and the Arison campaign as a launch pad for an interesting exegesis on the focus on the self in capitalist society and how capitalism uses individualism and self-involvement to discourage people from looking around them and thus being tempted to change the system. In this context, he argued, "Badolina" is nothing more than a how-to manual for global capital. Everyone deals only with themselves, no one worries about his neighbor. Just shop and be happy.

The following week, Nitzan, the author of "Badolina", responded. Nitzan said he was perplexed that Taub had decided to drop so much weight on the book's "slender little shoulders" as he put it. Nitzan claimed that his only purpose was to write about finding happiness; he certainly had no intention of creating a manifesto for capitalism. (I've heard a couple of interviews with Nitzan; the guy comes off as a bit of a flake, which is why I tend to take him at his word). If there is any connection to modern capitalist society, Nitzan wrote, it wasn't about being sheep to the dictates of capitalism but rather about empowering the individual to be an active and aware consumer.

Point:counterpoint. So far, so good.

Except that for some reason, Ha'aretz's editors did not see fit to leave the debate at that. This last week, they invited Shelly Yechimovich, who is a fairly tough and respected television journalist, to pile on Badolina as well. (Unfortunately, I wasn't on the ball enough to get links to the first two parts of the debate. My apologies.)

Yechimovich's commentary, however, lacks any of the originality and analysis of Gadi Taub's initial piece. Instead she offers up a long, sour, and completely standard argument based on a socialist worldview. Yechimovich works herself into a hysterical lather about foreign workers ("slaves") in Israel, Chinese sweatshop laborers, and workers forced to work a 7-day week or get fired. With all this going on, she seems to argue, how can Gabi Nitzan urge people to seek their own inner happiness?
The lives of too many people, in Israel and elsewhere, are painfully cheap. Someone who works in a poultry plant for NIS 3,200 a month has no choice but to be a little obedient ant, and certainly doesn't have the energy left over to connect to his inner self. That privilege is reserved for the upper and middle classes.
In other words: how can you just sit there and drink coffee/watch TV/smile when there's so much suffering in the world?. It's a broad, clumsy, and kind of outdated argument.

Don't get me wrong; I don't doubt Yehimovich's sincerity. The argument is real and touches on the sould of 21st-century Israel. The country has been going through growing pains over the last decade or two. We've abandoned the socialism which guided Israel's founders and manouvered our way into the waters of modern global capitalism. The great bastions of Israeli socialism (some would say bolshevism), such as the kibbutz movement and the Histadrut labor federation are going the way of the dinosaur. Individualism -- a verboten concept in my grandparents' day -- has taken root in society. Along with this is a renewed debate about the level of social welfare the government should provide.

The debate came to a head earlier this year in the conflict over the economic plan. On the one hand was Netanyahu trying to bring his brand of Thatcherism to play. On the other were representatives of the old order, headed by Histadrut chairman Amir Peretz, trying to preserve what they could. Taub and Yehimovich belong to the common class of lefty intellectuals here who still hold socialism near and dear.

With all that, the "Badolina" debate strikes me as vaguely asinine. It makes sense to talk about Netanyahu, who embodies a very forceful view of free-market capitalism. I can even see dragging Shari Arison into the mix. (The spectacle of a woman whose bank has recently laid off 800 people telling everyone to look for happiness inside themselves is almost too good a critique of capitalism to pass up.) But what does it all have to do with a hippy fairy tale?

Leon Uris 1924-2003

We say goodbye to Leon Uris, who passed away this last Saturday.

Uris, of course, is the man who gave us Exodus, which in book and movie form is probably the greatest achievement of Israeli mythology kitsch.

I can only begin to guess how many starry-eyed American Jews have come over here in the footsteps of Ari Ben Canaan in hopes of catching the magic.

Sadly, no one could possibly get away with writing the sweeping, wholly earnest (if somewhat unsubtle) books that Uris specialized in. He will be missed.

Close to Home


Security forces apprehended two Palestinians on their way to carrying out a suicide bombing. The two, members of the Tanzim (which is part of Fatah, headed by Arafat), were caught in Kafr Qasem after an extensive dragnet this morning which crippled traffic in the Sharon region. One of the little buggers was carrying a bag with a 10kg explosive device packed with shrapnel.

I work at an office park which borders Kafr Qasem. The bastards were nabbed not five minutes' drive from my office. Just a little occasional reminder of how close we are to the maelstrom around here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003
Fun With Che

The New York Observer reports that we're in for another round of Che Guevara mania soon. Everybody's favorite poster boy for communism will be the subject of a filmed adaptation of his Motorcycle Diaries, which should bring the ex-Cuban revolutionary back to the forefront again in a way we haven't seen since the 30th anniversary of his death in 1997.

Not that Che ever went away. The famous photograph taken by Michael Korda still adorns t-shirts and dorm room walls around the globe. Guevara has become an icon of the left, seen by different people as a crusader for social justice, a third world revolutionary, or a Jeffersonian democrat.

The Observer piece actually does a good job tearing the Che myth a new one, pointing out that most people just project their own political fantasies onto the image of the beret and the beard. The real Guevara was a doctrinaire Stalinist, a man who screwed up every position he held after coming to power, and whose only real penchant was for overseeing kangaroo trials and swift executions.

Guevara was a dilletante revolutionary. He lucked out in Cuba, but when he tried the same in the Congo and Bolivia it ended up disastrously. In the latter case, he attempted to foment revolution in a country that had no real interest in it and the peasantry -- who he was expecting to help him -- turned him into the authorities who shot him.

In short, the Guevara mystique seems entirely unconnected to the man's (slender) accomplishments in life. On the other hand, it seems to have everything to do with the fact that he was dreamy looking. After all, Fidel's brother, Raul Castro, was at least as important as Che in the Cuban revolution and has had much greater influence in the development of the country ever since. Unfortunately for him, Raul is short and blobby and therefore Madonna has no interest imitating him on the cover of her latest record.

It's struck me before that Israel was lucky that Yasser Arafat is as physically ugly as he is. The Palestinian cause would have made inroads a lot further if its leader looked more like Antonio Banderas and less like Snuffy Smith.

Bombings, Bombings Everywhere

Shark Blog has collected headlines about the Hamas cease fire which always seems to be on the verge of happening these days, but still isn't:
June 18, 2003: Palestinians and Hamas near truce
June 16, 2003: Palestinian FM -Hamas ceasefire possible on Tuesday
June 15, 2003: Egyptian mediators work to reach ceasefire deal with Palestinian militants
June 8, 2003: Hamas Expected to Rejoin Truce Talks
June 3, 2003: Hamas Official Says Truce Possible with Guarantees
June 1, 2003: Palestinians confident on ceasefire deal
May 31, 2003: PNA to meet with Hamas as soon as truce is ready
May 29, 2003: Abu Mazen confident of Hamas ceasefire
May 22, 2003: Following Abu Mazen meeting, Hamas hints at limited truce
August 13, 2002: Hamas may agree to ceasefire
If you step back a bit and look at it, the whole non-cease fire thing is kind of amusing in a sad sort of way.

More sad, in a not-at-all-amusing kind of way, is this related link of suicide bombings and other attacks here over the last 10 years or so. I started going down the list to see how many of them I remembered. I'd say I remembered salient details of about two thirds of them. It's depressing how many of these attacks I don't remember at all.

I remember the early ones fairly clearly, the first bus bombings in '94, and the four attacks in one week in 1996 that more or less brought Netanyahu to power. I also remember the big attacks -- Sbarro, Dolphinarium, Park Lane.

But after a while, the attacks start blurring -- especially in the first part of last year when we would have an attack every 3 or 4 days on average. The junction at French Hill in Jerusalem, one which I drove through almost every day when I studied at the Hebrew University, was bombed four separate times. Downtown Jerusalem was hit a dozen times. Who remembers them all?

I'd be less depressed if I thought the first list (of possible Hamas cease fires) would somehow lead to the end of the second list (of attacks). I'm not very hopeful.

Monday, June 23, 2003
The Bloodsucker Speaks

Ha'aretz's Friday edition featured Amira Hass' interview with Abdel Aziz Rantisi, the Hamas official who very sadly escaped the death he so rightly deserves a few weeks ago.

The article notes that since the IDF botched the assassination attempt on Rantisi, his popularity on the Palestinian street has skyrocketed. Word has it that if elections were held tomorrow, Rantisi would be the new PA PM. In the interview, Rantisi makes statements all over the map when it comes to issues of the struggle and the cease fire talks that Hamas is currently engaged in.

For instance, asked how long he sees the struggle continuing, Rantisi anwers:
Dozens of years. What I mean to say is that the conflict, even if we enter into along-term cease-fire, this conflict will not end as along as the Islamic land remains occupied. The Crusaders stayed 200 years and then left. The conflict will perhaps continue in waves. As long as there is land that has been plundered, occupied territories, I believe the conflict will go on, even if the Palestinians sign a peace agreement.
Later on, in the same interview, he claims that his murderous organization actually favors a truce:
I believe that would end the conflict, with a cease-fire. Remember my diagnosis about the future. It was not new. We said it already in the past. What is needed is a withdrawal from all of Gaza and the West Bank, a chance to establish an independent state. We will agree to a truce.
So, Hamas agrees to a truce but promises that the conflict will continue for hundreds of years if necessary. Great.

Right after the assassination, Rantisi was interviewed from his hospital bed, where he rattled his sabers and made it clear that he would not rest until the Jews "went back to where they came from." In his agitation, Rantisi explicitly made clear the goal of Hamas (as well as a significant portion of the Palestinians as a whole): Jews start swimming.

Hass tries to call him on the statements, but in a very hesitant way, in a followup to a statement of Rantisi where he demands the restoration of Palestinian rights as a precondition to a truce. Rantisi easily sidesteps the question:
When you say restoration of rights, you mean the removal of all the Jews?

"I am not talking about the Jews but about Palestinians who are living a tragedy. Without an end to that tragedy, no solution will hold fast."

In short, Rantisi offers up a contradictory mishmash of declarations about the hudna, all of which seems to support the opinion of Amos Gilad, the IDF's policy coordinator for the territories, to the effect that the whole thing is a sham, designed to do nothing more than to help Hamas regroup and re-arm for more attacks.

Sunday, June 22, 2003
Latest Developments

Over the weekend, Colin Powell stopped by for a little visit. Powell was here to see if he could help push along the road map, which has increasingly begun to look like it's leading absolutely nowhere in the last couple of weeks. As always, Palestinian terrorists welcomed Powell with their traditional greeting: killing some Jews. On Thursday, a bomber blew himself up in a grocery store near Beit Shean, killing the store's owner.

On Friday, Hamas attacked a car carrying American immigrant Zvi Goldstein, his wife Michal, and his parents who were visiting from Brooklyn. The family was on their way to a wedding celebration for the Goldsteins' son when a Hamas member opened fire on them. Zvi Goldstein was killed and his parents were critically wounded. Besides the wedding celebration of their son, Zvi and Michal Goldstein were also celebrating their 27th -- and last -- wedding anniversary. (This fact struck an especially sad note with me, seeing that my own wedding anniversary was also on Friday).

The attack came shortly after Powell made a speech in which he criticized Hamas for derailing the political moves in recent weeks and said explicitly that the distinction between a military and political wing was bogus.

Last night, the IDF killed Abdullah Qawasmeh, the Hamas commander in Hebron and the latest in the rapidly changing list of most wanted terrorists (rapidly changing due to capture or death). The IDF says Qawamseh was killed in a shootout; Hamas says it was a targeted assassination. (Bear in mind that the guy could have committed suicide and Hamas would have called it a targeted assassination).

In short, another quiet weekend here in the Middle East.

So, now what? The next big step on the road map is for Abu Mazen to take security control over some of the territories from the IDF. At the moment, the territories in question are Bethlehem and Gaza. It's supposed to work like this: Israel will provide a few weeks of quiet (limiting itself to going after "ticking bombs"), while Abu Mazen uses the time to reassert control over his terrorists.

As always, I'll believe it when I see it. The Palestinian Prime Minster has been hemming and hawing for two weeks now about taking over control of Gaza, even as he blames the Israelis for obstructing the move. The fact is that the Bethlehem Gaza deal will put Abu Mazen in a bind, since it means he'll actually have to do something about Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and his own Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade. None of these groups seems too amenable to a cease fire and he absolutely refuses to use force against them.

Israel is talking about a 6 week grace period, after which it will start sending the gunships back into Gaza if Abu Mazen doesn't do anything. With the Americans rapidly losing patience with the Palestinians, I'd say we'll be seeing another massive flare-up in the next few weeks.

Media Fatigue

Ha'aretz has a well-established reputation as a left-leaning newspaper. I used to share its general political sympathies, but over the last 3 years I've moved fairly to the right of it. Although a lot of Ha'aretz's analysis is bleeding-hearty, I remain a loyal reader for the sole fact that the quality of its news coverage is by far the best in Israel.

Along the way, I've learned to ignore some of its writers. I routinely skip over anything by Gideon Levy, who, along with being more Palestinian than the Palestinians is also a repetitive and tiresome scold. I also usually pass on Amira Hass -- our Lady of Gaza. On a theoretical plane, I suppose Levy and Hass have a noble purpose in trying to bring the suffering of the Palestinians to our attention in a way that the mainstream Israeli media generally doesn't. And I recognize that the fact that I've become inured to the suffering of the other side is one of the worst consequences of the current conflict. This doesn't make me any more likely to read their stuff.

Thomas O' Dwyer is a nativized Irishman who writes a weekly column for Ha'aretz's Friday edition. My usual drill with O'Dwyer is that I'll read his stuff until he writes something that really pisses me off, and I then go and read something else. More often than not, he loses me about halfway towards making whatever point he's trying to make.

This week, O'Dwyer has decided to hector the majority of us who reflexively ignore stories of Palestinian suffering. Apparently, we're "part of the problem." I'll sum up O'Dwyer's argument briefly: the majority of Israelis have lost interest in the day-to-day happenings in the territories, except for attacks on Jews. This sense of media fatigue leads newspaper and TV news editors to devote less time and space to these kinds of stories. Fewer stories means less interest and it becomes a vicious cycle. Somehow, O'Dwyer manages to stick in his boilerplate dig at the Israeli public which continues to elect "sleazy, mendacious and corrupt warmongers," despite the fact that people like Thomas O'Dwyer keep telling them not to.

My thoughts:
  1. If your goal is to convince people outside of Ha'aretz's core left-wing demographic, I would suggest a different tack than calling us lazy and lecturing us on our apathy.

  2. The point of O'Dwyer's argument this week is that we shouldn't blame the media for the state of affairs and that the public's apathy comes despite the best efforts of journalists. This is partially the case, but not entirely so. I stopped reading Gideon Levy's column years ago, back in the days when I was much more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. I gave up on Levy not because I disagreed with him politically, but because he wrote the same tale of misery every single week. It just gets boring after a while.

  3. I think blaming media fatigue for everything is off the mark. What we're seeing here is more a case of grief fatigue. This frigging war has been going on for nearly three years now. Nearly a thousand Israelis have been killed, the vast majority of them civilians, and many more Palestinians. At a certain point, your brain just can't deal with all the misery anymore and all you care about is whether or not they're going to pre-empt The Simpsons because of the latest suicide attack. Personally, I can just about deal with the grief over Israeli casulatires; asking me to deal with the grief of the other side as well is more than I'm capable of. In this, I reckon that I'm just like most people. We mere mortals bow down in deference before the saints and O'Dwyers.
In short, I think what we're seeing is not so much a moral failing as a defense mechanism. If that makes us a bunch of lazy, heartless idiots in the minds of self-righteous Irishmen, so be it. Just do us a favor and spare us the lectures.

Quote of the Day

Fury rarely wins elections. Rage rarely appeals to suburban moderates. And there is a mountain of evidence that the Democrats are now racing away from swing voters, who do not hate George Bush, and who, despite their qualms about the economy and certain policies, do not feel that the republic is being raped by vile and illegitimate marauders. The Democrats, indeed, look like they're turning into a domestic version of the Palestinians--a group so enraged at their perceived oppressors, and so caught up in their own victimization, that they behave in ways that are patently not in their self-interest, and that are almost guaranteed to perpetuate their suffering.

-- David Brooks, with a spot-on analysis of the fanatic obsession with Bush among the Democrats and the left.