October 29, 2007
A Modest Proposal

The Attorney General has ordered the IDF not to cut electricity to Gaza, even for short periods, without showing concern for protecting humanitarian interests, like hospitals.

Where is the Palestinian attorney general who should be ordering the fighters there to desist from aiming their missiles at Israeli civilians?

Once again, Israel is tying its own hands. This latest decision may get us a favorable clucking of the tongues from European and North American policymakers. It may not delay by a great deal the effort to pressure Gaza. Perhaps the IDF will only have to give enough warning of a pending electricity cut so that hospitals can turn on their generators. Israeli bureaucrats are still fighting this among themselves. Meanwhile, electricity is not our only weapon. Fuel supplies are being cut, and the ground troops plus the air force are doing their bit on a daily basis. In a situation where there are not likely to be final solutions, every little bit may help.

I have my own Modest Proposal for how to deal with the missiles still being fired toward Sderot and other Israeli settlements. For those about to read on, you should view it in the spirit of Jonathan Swift's A MODEST PROPOSAL FOR PREVENTING THE CHILDREN OF POOR PEOPLE IN IRELAND FROM BEING A BURDEN TO THEIR PARENTS OR COUNTRY, AND FOR MAKING THEM BENEFICIAL TO THE PUBLIC (1729). The man whose greater fame as a writer of parody came from Gulliver's Travels suggested in his modest proposal that the Irish eat their children.

My own modest proposal is for Israelis to fire one artillery shell at a settlement in Gaza for every missile fired toward an Israeli settlement.

Outrageous? Inhuman? Or an appropriate tit for tat?

It would cause mass movement toward the Egyptian border. and upset the Egyptians, who never liked the idea of Palestinians in their country.

It will produce angry words and threats from Egyptians, other many others. But it may also prompt the Egyptians to tighten their controls over the movement via their border with Gaza of weapons, ammunition, explosives, and fighters from elsewhere who wish to aid their Palestinian brethren.

It will violate international law against collective punishment and civilian damage. It will cause foreign activists and their governments to issue arrest warrants against Israelis who are involved.

Probably. But international law highly touted by Israeli as well as by others does not seem to be balanced in protecting Israeli civilians from Palestinian violence.

As for Israelis being punished, I have another modest proposal.

There are enough former members of the IDF capable of doing the work, who are likely to volunteer if given the chance. Young soldiers and officers will not have to expose themselves to the dirty business of shelling civilians, and thus make themselves liable to arrest if they travel overseas. The men and women who aim the guns, load the shells, and send them on their way might be old enough to have done enough traveling, and/or sufficiently annoyed at the problems of modern travel to swear off doing any more of it.

The aged fighters might not have to sully the IDF's name by using its weapons or ammunition. There is enough stuff available in the international market, plus enough Israelis capable of buying it and moving it to the outskirts of Gaza. Some of those who supply Palestinians are probably willing to supply Israelis.

To be sure, there are likely to be details having to be worked out. I aspire to being in Swift's league, but am probably not ready for it. Suggestions welcome.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:09 PM
October 25, 2007

Two things have happened in recent days, quite different in their substance, that have led me to think once again about the quandary of the intellectual.

One has to do with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, and the other the critical view of the Bible.

The first begins with what had been my displeasure at the annual celebration of Rabin. Since his assassination, the media turned him into a hero, father figure, and all else that was good, without blemish. He did have blemishes, no worse perhaps, but not much less than other figures who aspire to national leadership here or elsewhere.

Now I wonder about my displeasure.

The findings are that more than 45 percent of the religious Jews in Israel, and more than 25 percent of the general population do not believe that Yigal Amir killed him. There are conspiracy theories that explain away the film of the killing and Amir's recorded admission, with bravado, that he did it. See http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/123871 For those familiar with John Kennedy's assassination, all this may seem familiar.

The other issue comes from a meeting with a liberal American rabbi, as familiar as I with the critical literature about the stories in the Hebrew Bible. The rabbi acknowledges the lack of hard evidence about the Exodus and other heroic events, but is concerned that teaching them to the people would threaten their affinity to Judaism. The conversation reminded me about findings that numerous Catholic theologians view stories of the virgin birth and the resurrection not as historical fact, but as metaphors meant to portray the grandeurs of Christ and his teachings. Like my rabbinical friend, the theologians are are reluctant to teach the idea of metaphors to the faithful, or even to priests.

Common to both of these incidents are the intellectual's dilemmas. How broadly should we teach reality against myth? How insistent should we be that the mass of the population hear, or accept what we know?

Myth is useful. If a significant proportion of the Israeli public believes the fairy stories about Yigal Amir, then democracy and rationality may be in danger here. Perhaps we can strengthen democracy by propagating exaggerations about the character of Yitzhak Rabin as we emphasize the evil of assassination. If we believe that affinity to Jewish (and/or Catholic) communities and morals are important to social well being, perhaps we should not complain if clerics continue to teach mythic accounts about distant past.

As all you intellectuals know, dilemmas do not have simple answers.

Truth can be dangerous.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:44 AM
October 22, 2007
We are not all crazy here, but some are.

It is hard to determine if the Palestinians are players in a comic opera, simply nuts, or showing the effects of a culture shaped by a tragic history.

The latest flap concerns a plot that was supposed to shoot up the motorcade of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when he was on his way to Jericho for a meeting with Mahmoud Abbas. Israeli intelligence uncovered the plans, and Olmert never set out on that trip. Israelis informed Palestinian authorities about the men involved, who included members of elite Palestinian Authority security forces. The Palestinians arrested some of them, but may never have asked them about the plan, and released them after a few days. We have seen this before. It is called the revolving door of Palestinian jails for individuals accused of taking part in operations against Israel. A big show is made of enforcement, and shortly thereafter the captives go home quietly.

When Israeli media began to expose this story, and some politicians suggested that there was no point in negotiating with an Authority that could not do any better to keep the peace, the Palestinians put on another show of arrest. Some of those involved are in Israeli hands, and they will not go free so easily.

No surprise in all of that.

And not too much in the news that a group of Israelis are campaigning to demand the freedom of Yigal Amir, who killed Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Reports are that they have enough money to produce and distribute 50,000 copies of a film meant either to de-demonize Amir, or turn him into a hero. Leaders of the campaign are remnants of Meir Kahane's Kach Movement, and a prominent spokesperson is Larisa Trembovler, a Russian immigrant who married Amir in absentia, and then was allowed conjugal visits by the Supreme Court against the decision of the Prison Authority. She is scheduled to produce a little boy sometime in the next month, close to the 12th anniversary of Rabin's assassination. That birth will get media attention, and give a push to the campaign. The organizers are putting the emphasis on Amir's service to the nation, according to them, insofar as the Oslo Accord that Rabin signed with the Palestinians was a national disaster, and should not be repeated by any subsequent concessions.

Politicians are pressing the media to avoid coverage of the Free Amir campaign. One poll indicates that 10 percent of the population supports the definition of some limit to Amir's life sentence, a formal step that must be taken before any body may consider his release.

If anyone reading this wants to participate in a celebration of Amir's release, I would not advise buying tickets any time soon. The movement in his behalf may be no more popular than the people who make an occasional pilgrimage to the grave of Baruch Goldstein. He was the American-Israeli physician who killed a few dozen Palestinians while they were praying, and then died at the hands of those remaining when he ran out of ammunition.

Is it worth pondering the source of Palestinian or Israeli extremists? For one we can look at conquest, or a lack of national independence, plus six decades or more of education and media emphasizing that it is all Israel's fault. For the other, we might start with Jewish suffering culminating in the Holocaust, or some language in the Book of Genesis that all this land should be ours.

The supporters of Amir are more a sad curiosity than a problem. Israeli intelligence has a department that looks after Jewish extremists, and usually keeps them from doing any damage. More worrisome is the much larger number of Palestinian extremists, well represented among political and religious leaders. The source of potential assassins in their security services, and the revolving door policy of their law enforcement require us to ask if it is possible to reach agreements with such a people, or if it is even worth an effort.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 06:13 AM
October 20, 2007
The utility of threat

Every once in a while the Israeli tiger has to roar, and perhaps do a bit more than that.

Commentators are saying that was part of last month's operation in Syria, which is said to have taken out a nuclear facility being built with the technical aid of North Korea and the money of Iran.

Threat, or warning, is the name of the game. It is less costly than massive violence for the initiator and the antagonist who might be contemplating harm.

Most commentators say that Israel lost its threat capacity as a result of a less than final victory in the 2006 Lebanon war. I do not agree. Few victories are final. American veterans of Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq should know better. Israel did enough damage in Lebanon to scare the army of that country to move for the first time in its history against extremist Palestinians and others.

Will the attack on Syria convince the Syrians and their Iranian friends to behave? We should not expect words of compliance, but they might ratchet down their intentions. Muslims have their pride. They always proclaim total victory. Also, the Syrians can be vicious, especially against soft targets. Israel may be too hardened for them, but I would urge those attending an American synagogue or Jewish cultural center to look over their shoulder from time to time.

Those who talk about such things on Israeli media say that the next target is likely to be Gaza, where homemade missiles are fired against Sderot and elsewhere, and where more powerful things are being carried in the tunnels under the Egyptian border. There may be something big, perhaps delayed in order to avoid damage to the Annapolis conference. For the time being, it may be enough to keep sending small army units into one or another Gaza community each night, doing a bit of damage, seizing some of the wanted, and collecting intelligence to guide subsequent incursions.

Again the point is to do as little as necessary to threaten, in the hopes of minimizing one's own casualties and keeping the international humanitarians at bay. The United States felt it had to do more after 9-11. We have yet to see if all those casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan are worth it.

Life can be tough. There are not likely to be final victories. Nature is prettier; if not this year next year; if not here then somewhere else.

Annapolis is on our agenda. The date is not yet certain. It may never happen, despite the Bush administration's desire to go out with an accomplishment in the Middle East. If any of you expect anything dramatic to happen in Annapolis, I suggest that you prepare for a disappointment. There will be words of success. There always are. It will be more satisfying to go outside and look at a tree.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:56 AM