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The Battle Israel is Losing

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It would seem, to the casual observer, that Israel is winning on all fronts. Militarily, its army is unequal in the Middle East, and as result Israel—not from today, mind you—is no longer facing an existential threat to its existence. Forty-five years ago the ‘Yom Kippur War’ of 1973 was the last major war of such magnitude. Yes, Iran still possesses the power to be a major threat, but it still abides by the nuclear deal, in spite of America’s withdrawal from it, and begins to lose its grip on Syria, where Israel controls the skies, and where Russia calls the shots on the ground.

On the political front, while Israel continues to face challenges, the current situation still favors it. First, with its major ally USA, where the Trump administration is practically in PM Netanyahu’s pocket, and doing his bid. Every wish—from moving the embassy to Jerusalem, to cutting off all financial aid to the Palestinians—is being met. And while the EU, mainly Germany, France and the UK refuse to align with Israel’s demands and policies, other countries—Russia, Poland and Hungary—are eager to form new alliances with the Jewish state. Just as some Arab states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt are eager to be among Israel’s friends, rather than its enemies.

Economically, Israel is flourishing, and its citizens—seventy years since independence—are mostly happy with their lives. Culturally, Israel’s artists continue to supplement American television with plenty of shows and creative personnel, and even one of Hollywood’s biggest stars du jour—Gal Gadot—is an Israeli. Another artist, Netta Barzilai, had won the last Eurovision contest and as result, the competition will take place in Israel next year. Even Israeli athletes—admittedly mostly not born and even raised for long in Israel—are making their mark and achievements felt in the international arena.

The Palestinian conflict, internally anyhow, while still possesses limited risks and threats—such as on the Gaza Strip’s border, and random terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank—is also dying a slow death. Even the threat of a new Intifada, following the USA embassy move to Jerusalem, didn’t materialize. PA President Abbas is old and ailing, and losing touch with his people, maybe with reality too, while still staying put and grooming no viable successor. Israel’s strong grip on the West Bank’s territories is unchallenged, and with it the settlement endeavor marches on, solidifying the occupation—most probably—for eternity.

Well, you may ask yourself—and me—if everything’s so good, what’s wrong? And which battle Israel is losing? Hang on, I’m coming to it: Israel is losing the PR Battle; the BDS Battle; the Cultural Battle; the Perception Battle. You name it—Israel is losing it. Here’s why and how:

To begin with, the current rightwing governing party in Israel—in power consecutively for almost eighteen years—greatest wish is for the Palestinian problem to go away. To be swept under the rug of history. And yet, it’s staying put and going nowhere. Even Netanyahu/Trump latest efforts, cutting off all financial aid to UNRWA, to an East Jerusalem Hospital, and to coexistence efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, and closing the Palestinian Diplomatic Delegation—the Palestinian de facto embassy—in Washington, won’t stop it. They are here to stay. And so is their just, unrelenting effort to be recognized as a people with a state to call their own.

The Palestinian cause and people are enjoying more support around the globe than ever before. In the UN General Assembly, where 137 nations have already recognized a Palestinian State, they will outmaneuver, and out-vote Israel and America easily. The move of the American embassy to Jerusalem has produced no followers, other than two small South American countries, one of which has already reversed its decision. Even in America, troubling signs are growing for Israel. The millennials—but also their liberal parents and grandparents, it is now apparent—are increasingly disillusioned with Israel and its policies; especially its treatment of the Palestinian people. These young people, whom we count on to bring change to this country, identify with the Palestinian cause and suffering more than with mighty Israel.

Israel—which is in the process of becoming less and less democratic—can arrest an American professors in the West bank, can prevent Jews and others they don’t like from entering the country all they want. But outside Israel, the BDS forces are winning the day. In the last couple of years more than twenty artists, mainly musicians, have canceled their trip to Israel as result of pressure brought to bear by that PR Battle. From Lorde to Lana del ray; from McCartney to Elvis Costello and Cat Power, they all have canceled gigs in Israel due to the BDS pressure.

Worst of all: Natalie Portman. The highly regarded Israeli born American star. Serious star, I’m talking about, not light star. She refused to come to Jerusalem to accept a special humanitarian prize in order not to shake hands with Netanyahu. The big win in the Eurovision contest is already marred with controversy (and I’m not talking about the song apparently plagiarized from an American pop song), and will not take place in Jerusalem—as the Israeli government so much wanted—but in Tel Aviv. Worst of all, the Eurovision governing body has sent Israel a letter demanding conformation that Israel will respect the human rights, traveling rights, speaking rights of all visitors coming for the contest.

Israel took offense, but the facts are, Israel is no longer considered a free, democratic country. And the problems with the Eurovision competition—Israel’s biggest chance to make amends, to rescue the cultural narrative—are just beginning. I foresee more to come, such as artists, winning ones in their countries, refusing to compete in Israel. Maybe even countries banning the competition altogether. ‘Wolf Alice,’ North London’s alternative rock band, signed a letter calling for a boycott of the event, together with musicians Roger Waters and Brian Eno, in addition to writers, theater directors and filmmakers.

Truth of the matter is, this is not really a PR Battle. Israel cannot win this battle no matter how much resources and personal its investing in fighting it. Because, this is really a ‘Heart and Mind’ battle. Maybe even an all-out war. Israel cannot win that war because the heart and mind of living, thinking, feeling people are not with the mighty power of occupation, settlement, and ruling over other people for so long. Israel is losing this fight because in the process of being so powerful, and winning in all the other fronts mentioned above, it lost its own mind and heart.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

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The Absurd Regions


To mark the tenth anniversary to the launch of my Political Blog, Good4Jews, and the seventieth anniversary to the launch of the Jewish State, Israel, I’ve decided to take a diversion and make an exception. To that end, I’m publishing here—for the first time in English!—four short vignettes (out of twelve) that were published way back in ‘Iton77;’ the esteemed literary, cultural Israeli magazine. In the future, I may revisit this reportage, which was titled then, ‘The Absurd Regions’ (you may argue, with some justification, that the title still applies today), and publish more of its lyrical impressions, which I wrote during the First Lebanon War of 1982-85. So stay tune, and here goes:

First Gathering

No smiles on the rough faces. The regular questions: How things? How’s life? The answers are heavy, occasionally harsh: shit, life’s in the dumpster. Ninety percent of our battalion’s command personnel identify with the ‘Peace Now’ movement. Objecting to the war. Objecting to the stay in Lebanon. Detesting what’s require of them to do next. One of the officers demonstrated yesterday in front of the Prime Minister’s house in Jerusalem. Before that, he marched from Rosh HaNikra up north to Tel Aviv. His wife advised him not to come this time. Refuse to go. But he is here—of course he is. Maybe because his friends are here. Who is he that he will allow them to be fucked with this shitty job without him. Maybe for the sake of democracy he came. The democracy Sharon and Raful crushed when they started this war. It’s been proven already before that there are more important things than this war: you, me, son, daughter. Life.

Traveling

The visions passing by us reflect a mixture of the bizarre and the absurd. Beautiful countryside, on the one hand: the small villages are cuddled by the rolling hills, while the mountains merge so nicely with the scenery and don’t bite at it, like some of our mountains do back home. On the other hand, dirt and filth everywhere. Ecology is a nonexistent word in the local jargon. Here, one does as one pleases.
It’s harvest time now. The small fields in the bottom of the hills are harvested using sickles, and the sheaves are gathered by hands. An old combine then sorts the wheat grains apart and fill the air with golden dust, fog like. Peaceful cows are grazing in the meadows. The shoulders in the narrow roads are littered with potholes. And with old cars, scattered about here and there. One of them, you know that, is a death trap waiting for you.

Lawless Country

In Lebanon there are no taxes; no licenses; no one pays for electricity. Teenagers drive the cars on the roads. Kids drive the tractors, with dark covered women walking beside them, majestically balancing sacks of wheat grains and tobacco leaves on their heads. New, shiny vehicles zoom by, passing by old ones whose guts are exposed.
Muslims, Christians, Druzes, Shiites and Khomeini supporters coexist in this country side by side. Mixed multitude. And there are, of course, the Christian Militia and the Chadad Falangists. The latter are the road-robbers of this country. They reside under the shade of the Israeli Army’s camps and wear its uniform. “Tell me who your friend is, and I will tell you who you are.” So say the soldiers here, who play bad cops in this grotesque drama.
The circle is rounded and closed with the UN soldiers from Holland, France, Senegal, Ireland… you name it. Some are friendly to us; some hate our guts and look down on us. A black soldier wearing blue uniform and brown overcoat stands in attention in a remote, forgotten ravine. His rifle is erect in his arms. No enemy in sight, though. He belongs, like all of us, to a different world.

The Village Women

Before sunrise the women of the village go out into the small tobacco fields that close in on their houses. They pluck the green leaves and put them in their brown sacks. After that, in full morning light, they carry the sacks on their heads to the houses. There, with their children, they sort the leaves and hang them on thin ropes to dry them up in the hot sun. Later still, they will milk the cows, lead them out into the field to graze, feed the children and clean the houses. They shoulder their responsibilities with primeval dedication.
The husbands, meanwhile, will enter their Mercedeses late in the morning, and will drive to town to attend to their businesses. Maybe visit the coffee house in a nearby village. Play backgammon there with friends and smoke the narghile. In the evening they will return home and receive from their dutiful wives what they’re owed: food, love, and respect. The Bible, in certain terms, is alive and well here.

* Art by Yitzhak Shmueli: Border Crossing

** The “Leave a Comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

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