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Once More, by Popular Demand, Israel’s Grand Illusion

dailysabah.com

The Film ‘The Grand Illusion’ by Jean Renoir, which I’ve been returning to occasionally throughout the years (and wrote about here before), is a 1937 B&W masterpiece that suggests, among other things, that “war is futile, and that mankind’s common experiences should prevail above political division, and its extension: war.” (Wikipedia.) “Renoir’s critique of contemporary politics and ideology celebrates the universal humanity that transcends national and racial boundaries and radical nationalism.”

I wrote about it a year ago, almost, during the latest Israeli-Palestinian flare-up with Hamas in Gaza. And what strikes me the most now—following the latest terrorist attacks, stabbing and shooting by ‘lone-wolf’ Palestinians, which caused the death of fourteen civilians on the Israeli side (and I believe some 28 dead on the Palestinian side, as Israel always about double the number of casualties it inflicts on the Palestinians)—as it did then, is not only the futility of war (it was the fifth such round-of-hostility since Hamas took over power in Gaza in 2007), but the complete collapse of Israel’s belief that the Palestinian issue and conflict has been put to rest.

The notion that—especially during the twelve years of Netanyahu’s rule, but also during this first year of the current government—the Palestinian political struggle for independence and a state of their own is practically all but over. It has been put to rest. Israel has succeeded, the motion goes, in squashing their national aspirations down. They will agree, the Palestinian people—as long as their economy is in good shape, Israel so believes—and get used to living as second, or third-class citizens under Israeli occupation for good. Problem and conflict, solved. Let’s continue with being the start-up nation. Light to the goyim.

Not so, obviously, as not only the latest Palestinian terrorist attacks in Israel so tragically prove, but Israel’s police brutality in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Israeli army in the West Bank during Ramadan as well. This notion, this ‘grand illusion’ that (as Gershom Gorenberg wrote in the Washington Post, April 8), “… ignoring settler attacks on Palestinians, or treating the deaths of Palestinians at soldiers’ hands in the West Bank as noise from distant galaxies, bring us any closer to peace.” Indeed, until it reaches closer, until it blows violently in your face inside Israel ‘proper,’ you drink your ‘upside-down’ coffee peacefully in a Dizengoff café and treat what’s happening in the occupied territories as “noise from distant galaxies.”

It won’t do. It’s not going to work. Deal with it. The ‘it’ being the Palestinians’ right to exist in peace and dignity. To have a state of their own. To be treated as human beings with equal rights under the sun. Not to be evicted at will from their homes in Jerusalem—where it all had started last time, and will end this time—and to end the occupation once and for all. To borrow and paraphrase Bill Clinton’s campaign slogan, it’s “The occupation, stupid.”

Israel’s refusal since the end of the Six-Day War of 1967 to realize that, to accept the consequences, and mostly its failure to stop the expansion of the settlement endeavor is very costly and now—flying in the face of reality once more—almost behind repair. The two-state solution is dead. It was declared so by yours truly here, and elsewhere, before. At best, it’s on its deathbed. Even with Biden in charge in Washington; even with a new Prime Minister in Israel (hard to believe that it’s almost a year to this unusual government); even if Israelis would realize their mistake (the minority do, the majority don’t), I don’t see how it can be reversed. I hope it can, but the facts on the ground, and the political challenges against it, are too immense. It is now a one-state solution. And how it would survive and thrive is anybody’s guess.

Case in point: Arab Israelis. For the first time in Israel’s history an Israeli-Arab Muslim party and its leader, Ra’am and Abbas (respectively), are part of the coalition and its ruling government. And despite all predictions to the contrary, it stayed in it and practically held it together these last ten months. But now, as a result of the eruption of violence in the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem during the Muslims Holy month of Ramadan, their participation is on shaky ground. Wisely, so far, Abbas declared that they would just freeze their participation in the government until the storm is over. ‘Freeze,’ that is, not participate and not withdraw. Let’s see how things progress. As it is, this government has only 60 MKs supporting it out of 120 members in the Knesset. How it will survive for long is anybody’s guess.

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Chanukah Miracle in the Lebanon War

southfront.org

Darkness. Heavy darkness. Our replacement soldiers are here with us already. The night is full of stars. The skewers are on the fire. The coffee is on the coals. The dog is yelling. She senses that we are leaving tomorrow. The Georgian and the Bedouin are brothers; the Persian and the Yemenite are brothers; the American and the Moroccan are brothers; the Ashkenazy and the Sephardic, you better believe it, are brothers too. It is a true, incredible situation.

It was a different story yesterday. A roadside munition exploded not far from here. Two soldiers were killed and sixteen were injured. Two of them critical. The mother of Amir from kibbutz Shamir—who was killed in that attack—was also killed by terrorists. Amir hated this war. He sensed it would kill him, but he didn’t refuse to come. He enlisted and died. On his bed, in his small room, they found his lonely guitar.

A respected journalist from a very popular newspaper arrived at the devastating terrorist attack’s location, where the 70-kilograms roadside explosion threw a truckload of soldiers 20-meters away. She came to see the charred remains of the truck. There was hardly a word about the dead in her report. She now sips cafe au lait at a breezy, trendy coffee place on the boardwalk in Tel Aviv. Maybe noshing on a butter croissant.

The local population, the papers further tell their readers back home, received the Israeli soldiers with cherries, flowers, and kisses in the air. The other side of the story is a lot less celebratory, and a lot more depressing. We don’t even receive smiles anymore. Only the kids, inexperienced in war and politics, sometimes raise a hesitating hand for a wave as we pass on the road. They stand on the roads’ shoulders, littered with burned armored vehicles. Above them, swarms of blood-sucking mosquitos constantly hover.

But tonight is a different story. The jokes and the laughter fly with the burning sparks into the night. We sing “How beautiful the nights in Canaan,” and “Hey to the South,” and “My flak-jacket is my Lover.” Since the regular war-songwriters didn’t write any war songs this year, only the wrath-poets wrote wrathful poems, the soldiers are forced to write their own songs. So we sing the most known soldiers’ song of this war, with one additional stanza of mine:

Go down on us airplane, take us fast to Lebanon; we will fight for general Sharon, and in a coffin come back home.
How it happened that the conquest, suddenly turned into bitter defeat; you should ask the pawn, deep in the king’s killing field.

We light the first Chanukah candle on a makeshift Chanukiah, made of standing rifles. The two candles are waxed into the mouth of two rifles. We sing ‘Ma’oz Tzur’. It’s our ‘Finale Party’ after all, so we allow ourselves to break some army rules. At the ‘Finale Party’ of the previous company, they didn’t sing. They didn’t tell jokes and didn’t roll laughter into the air. At their ‘Finale Party’ they stood in attention. A moment of silence for three of their comrades who got killed. They lit not Chanukah candles but memorial candles.

My commander is 50-year-old. His head is balding, his eyes need glasses constantly. His reserve duty service is voluntary. In his civil life, he is a high-school principal. He leads by personal example: stands on duty-guard at nights with his soldiers, goes out on patrols, sweeps the yard, and washes the dishes. He never raises his voice. Sometimes he is on the point of losing control of his nerves, but quickly regains control and resumes his duty. My commander is truly an exceptional person. He hates the war in Lebanon. He even said that much to a governmental security committee inquiring about the war. He stated that what’s being done to us here is equal to the Biblical story of “Uriah the Hittite.” Generally, he hates army life and wars. So why the hell is he here?

Why the hell all of us are here?…

Still, we are lucky: The next day, late at night, we pass the Rosh HaNikra checkpoint at the border in one piece. What a miracle? A Chanukah miracle. We cross from north to south, from Lebanon to Israel.

November 1982

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