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The Colonel and the Shepherd

This story is dedicated to the memory of a dear friend and colleague, Dan Gorfain, who passed away recently after a valiant battle with cancer. It’s a story about territory; it’s a story about occupation; it’s a story about oppression; and ultimately, it’s a story about the battle for peace. You’ll be the judge, I’m just reporting the incident. Here goes:

The Colonel gets out of his armored vehicle, leaves it behind on the winding dirt road, and climbs the low hill ahead. Behind, a convoy of armored army vehicles, a whole battalion in fact, comes to an abrupt stop. Some of the Colonel lieutenants, and lower rank soldiers—their weapons at the ready, just in case—follow the Colonel up the hill. There, the Colonel—dressed neatly in his military fatigue—halts and looks around. Ahead of him, far in the distance, he sees the beautiful silvery lake glistening in the valley below. He puts his binoculars up to his eyes, which enable him to see the green river, and how it flows majestically into the lake. Behind it, he can see the high, red mountain range, from where the blazing sun is now appearing. The Colonel breathes deeply, his heart full of joy; he can never get enough of this glorious site.

But then, as if out of nowhere, a Shepherd comes into view from within the rolling hills below. He’s dressed as if he were an old Biblical figure, holding his rough wooden stick, leading his white sheep and black goats ahead. It’s not a large herd: fifty animals at the most. At the tail end of it walks a boy, twelve or maybe thirteen, playing a simple tune on his crude flute. He has a yellow, happy dog running by his side. Now, while the Colonel is mildly disturbed by this sight, and by this sudden interruption of his morning moment-of-peace, the Shepherd continues to walk slowly, letting his sheep and goats graze the meager grass and shrubs around, as if he has no worry in the world; as if he owns this place. So thinks the Colonel.

Thinking and seeing that, something possesses the Colonel suddenly. It’s as if a foreign element, a complete stranger—though in truth, the Shepherd and his ancestors have been living here for many, many years—has captured this land, this magnificent holy land, and has grabbed it away from him. The Colonel takes it personally, and with a swift urge for action—of teaching the Shepherd a lesson, maybe—he goes downhill towards the Shepherd and his herd. Behind him, his lieutenants and soldiers, with their guns of various kinds pointing forward, follow him closely. Farther behind them, the golden city perched on the highest hilltop, watches after them.

The Shepherd—how so?!—is not entirely surprised to find the Colonel in front of him, blocking his path. Even more alarming, with a smile on his face, he greets the Colonel humbly. The Colonel is surprised somewhat, since the Shepherd says “Shalom” in the language the Colonel speaks. Nonetheless, the Colonel demands to know what the Shepherd is doing here, disturbing the peace. The Shepherd answers quietly that he is doing no such thing, just leading his sheep and goats on their daily outing, as his family has been doing for a thousand years. And where do you live, demands the Colonel. Some distance away down the hill, says the Shepherd, but you cannot see it from here.

As they are talking, the sheep and goats disperse around, no longer in a close group, yet still grazing peacefully. The boy, meanwhile, has stopped playing the flute, as he becomes very worried about his father. His dog, irritated, begins to bark. He orders him to be quiet, as he sees with alarm how the Colonel commands his father to sit down on the ground, pointing his gun at him. When his father refuses, protesting he has work to do, and accidently raising his stick, one of the lieutenants punches him in the face. He falls to the ground; his stick taken away from him.

The boy cannot understand what has brought that about. Instinctively so—after all, he’s just a kid—he picks up a small stone from the ground and throws it at the colonel. The stone misses its target, but that doesn’t prevent some of the soldiers up the hill from shooting at the running boy and the barking dog. Indeed, his flute flies out of his hand when he is hit by one of these speeding bullets, and falls to the ground. The dog stops too, yelling first, then licking the boy’s face.

Seeing that, the Shepherd gives a cry of anguish, and tries to jump to his feet. That doesn’t work so well, as one of the lieutenants by the Colonel’s side knocks him down to the ground, using the butt of his rifle. Then, as the Shepherd is lying on the ground on his back, helpless and injured, the Colonel puts his heavy army boot on the Shepherd’s chest, pressing down on it. The Shepherd stops crying, as he could hardly breath now. He can no longer see his beloved sheep and goats, as his eyes are full of tears. They took off running anyways, the animals, upon hearing the shots ringing in the previously tranquil air. And of course, his son’s fate is piercing at his heart like a sharp dagger.

This has no effect on the Colonel, as his boot continues to press hard on the Shepherd’s chest, his gun pointing at his face. The Colonel instructs the Shepherd to never return with his herd to graze on these hills. Surprisingly, the Shepherd still has the audacity to demand an explanation. My soldiers are going to build an ‘outpost’ here soon, the Colonel tells him. What’s an ‘outpost,’ the Shepherd asks. A temporary habitat, the Colonel patiently explains, before a large settlement is to be built right here on this beautiful, strategic hill.

Why is it strategic, the Shepard has the ‘chutzpah’ to ask. Because you can see forever from here, comes the reply, and because this land is our ‘promised land.’ It’s belongs to ‘my’ people!

And who says this land belong to ‘your’ people, and not to my people, insists the Shepherd. I say so, says the Colonel. I’m the ‘decider’ here from now on, and my word is the law. If you want to live in peace, continues the Colonel, go gather your herd and never come near this hill again.

But what kind of peace is that, asks the frightened, terrorized Shepherd. My kind of peace, replies the Colonel. Take it or leave it.

I rather die, says the Shepherd.

Boom!

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Democracy Dies in Silence

indiaopines.com

The order to silence the messenger, kill him or her if necessary, came directly from the Prime Minister. He commanded his top four ministers—Security, Justice, Culture and Education—to do all in their power to establish and maintain the big hush. The people must realize, he instructed, that there’s law and order in this country. Voices—such as those in the opposition, especially artists, writers, journalists, bloggers and the like—must not, “I repeat must not,” disrupt the ‘peace’ with their loud messages of protest. We can continue to have control over the people, and win future elections, only if we can continue to have control over the media. When you leave this office, go out into the streets of the country and silence them all. Literally.

Of course, my dear readers, you think to yourselves that here he goes again. Fantasizing. Our devoted blogger, you say, is resorting to his old ways. Think himself Kafka again. Or someone like him. Talking probably about Russia, or Turkey, or China. Certainly not about Israel. Not about us Jews. Of course not. That’s impossible. But you’re wrong, my friends, because I am talking about Israel. About the Jews of Israel. I realize, though, that I must convince you in the seriousness of my accusations. So here are three cases (out of many others), occurring lately in our ancient holy land, to illustrate my point.

First, I let you read this sentence, published in Ha’aretz’ article on September 7th. I myself have read it again and again, yet couldn’t get enough of its contradictions. It defies all logic in its absurdities. So here it is: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Government Press Office to remove Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau chief Walid Al-Omari from a state-sponsored seminar on freedom of speech planned for Thursday.” Furthermore, it continued, “The prime minister instructed that legal steps be taken to deny press passes of all Al Jazeera journalists working in Israel (among them Israeli citizens, H.D.), and to close their offices in Israel.”

Now, let’s try to analyze together what we’ve just read. There is a ‘seminar on freedom of speech,’ fine and dandy, but… it’s ‘state-sponsored.’ Got it? That’s absurdity number one: ‘state-sponsored.’ Then we have the head of that state, the Prime Minister, orders that a certified, known, respected global media organization, and its journalists, would be excluded from said seminar. Hear me on this? ‘Freedom of speech’—but you, with the Arab name, though you carry a press-card issued by the state—you are not allowed in. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, anybody? That ‘freedom’ here is limited, and is ‘sponsored’ by the state, and I’m the head of that state. Orwell is probably rolling in his grave laughing.

I can go on and on about this story, but you probably get the gist of it already, and we have other cases to cover here. So let’s go right to the next example. This one involves the new Israeli film “Foxtrot,” which has won recently the ‘Silver Lion,’ the grand jury prize at the Venice Film Festival. A major film festival—considered the third most prestigious film festival in the world—and therefor a significant award and achievement for the Israeli filmmakers. You’d think that folks in Israel, especially those in political power—who are usually so eager to congratulate, and celebrate any minor achievement for the state in the international arena—would jump on the opportunity to do so in this case as well.

Not so. One of the four ministers receiving the order to ‘kill the messenger,’ as mentioned above, is none other than the Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev. She attacked the film furiously—mind you, before even seeing it—claiming it tarnishes the Israeli army’s reputation. Apparently, she was told by a senior official at the ‘Culture Ministry’ about a scene where a group of soldiers at a checkpoint turn violent on Palestinians. As if that has never happened. “It the type of film that gives tailwind to the Israel boycott movement,” she was quoted as saying. In other words, as we continue along this path of absurdities, never mind the actions themselves, they are fine. The depiction of them and their messengers are the problem. Go figure.

The film went on to win eight major Ophir Awards—Israel’s version of the Oscars—and most probably (unless a government special decision to the contrary intervenes) would represent Israel next year in that most prestigious American, global competition. All the same, Mrs. Regev threaten to withhold all financial support from now on from any film that doesn’t subscribe to her—i.e. the Prime Minister’s—version of Israeli patriotism. Get the picture? And did I mention already here the country of Russia?

Over a year ago, the Educational Minister Naftali Bennet—another of the four executioners of the apocalypse in the Prime Minister’s office, as described at the outset—had “disqualified a novel that describes a love story between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man from use by high schools around the country. The move comes even though the official responsible for literature instruction in secular state schools recommended the book for use in advanced literature classes…” Reported Haaretz on 12/31/15 “Among the reasons stated for the disqualification of Dorit Rabinyan’s “Gader Haya” (literally “Hedgerow,” but known in English as “Borderlife”) is the need to maintain what was referred to as “the identity and the heritage of students in every sector.”

Need I say more? Only that one of the corruption investigations currently ongoing in Israel by the police is of PM Netanyahu’s attempt to influence, and strike a deal with the publisher of the widely read newspaper in Israel ahead of the last election, in order to sway media coverage, and have favorable stories and editorials about him in that paper, Yediot Acharunut. As if he doesn’t have already another paper, Israel Hayom – Israel’s Pravda—as his private newspaper.

I can go on, but enough said. So I say to you my friends and colleagues in Israel, and everywhere else for that matter: Keep writing; keep talking; keep showing; keep playing; keep filming; keep producing. Because remember: It’s not only that democracy dies in darkness, as the Washington Post reminds us daily on its pages, but it’s also that democracy dies in silence.

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

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