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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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The Battle That Never Ended

Just before dawn on March 21, 1968, our elite reconnaissance unit—the tip of the spear of the Israeli Army Paratroopers Brigade—took off in several helicopters, on our way to cross the Jordan River into Jordanian territory. We were in the air when the IDF began its first major operation against the PLO, who’d established its main base near the Jordanian town of Karameh. I was a young second lieutenant back then, commanding a platoon of soldiers. Our mission was to block the escape route of Palestinian fighters, capture or kill them. As I recall, my platoon happened to be engaged in the fiercest battle our company had encountered that day. We lost four young soldiers on the battlefield, among them an officer, a dear buddy of mine. As for me, after unwisely coming into contact with two flying bullets, I ended up in a Jerusalem hospital.

Though the Palestinian fighters (with considerable help from the Jordanian Armed Forces) suffered far greater casualties, dead and injured, and though this battle—directly or indirectly—brought upon them the disaster of ‘Black September,’ and forced their relocation to Lebanon, according to their legend the ‘Battle of Karameh’ was a great victory. Likewise, Israeli army historians, soldiers and officers, don’t consider ‘Operation Inferno’ a successful operation. The reasons for that, in an operation that came close on the heels of the monumental victory of the Six-Day War—a war in which our unit had participated, both in the Egyptian and the Syrian fronts—are varied. The reason for this piece, however, is not to reminisce, or to analyze the success and failure of that major battle.

The reason is altogether different, and pointing at a much greater failure on Israel’s part. We didn’t know that at the time, but with the passing of the years it became clear that the core idea behind that operation, and many others to follow, was the belief that we Israelis can solve our dispute with the Palestinians by first vanquishing them in the battlefield. If only we’ll be stronger militarily—if not morally—the problem will somehow solve itself. Of course, it never did. Furthermore, back then most Israelis didn’t even know, or acknowledge that there was such a thing as Palestinians. Case in point: we young soldiers. All we knew was that we were fighting terrorists, whose sole aim was to annihilate Israel. When Prime Minister Golda Meir claimed—she was not alone, mind you—that “there were no such thing as Palestinians,” it fell on welcoming ears.

The same cannot be said regarding the Palestinians’ attempts to dispel this notion. Last year, among the many words written about the 50-year anniversary of the 1967 war, a story came to light of how, before the guns were even silenced, a prominent Palestinian lawyer had offered the Israeli government a detailed two-state peace plan with the Palestinians (who played no part in that war), supported by fifty Palestinian dignitaries. I first read this story in Moment Magazine; confirmed later by another, Israeli source. In both versions, the detailed peace plan between Israelis and Palestinians, as put forward by Aziz Shehadeh, was never even discussed by the Israeli government, let alone replied to. A trend that has continued to date; most notably regarding the Arab League’s Peace Initiative of 2002.

Yes, the Oslo Accords were signed. And yes, some of that plan’s directives had been partly achieved. But not the ultimate prize: Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel, in peace and security for all. A young Israeli, religious-extremist of the worst kind, made sure of that. He assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the altar of peace, aiming for the conflict to remain unsolved; for the occupation and settlements to continue; for Israel’s control over the West Bank and Jerusalem to remain eternal. It’s why I consider the Two-State Solution—the best option of solving the conflict—no longer viable. Just as sometimes we hear of people who miraculously, after years in coma, suddenly spring back to life, so we can unreasonably hope that this solution, on its dying bed for some years now, also would.

But I wouldn’t bet on it. True, Israel made some unrequited overtures towards the Palestinians, but those claiming it proves Israel’s sincere wish for peace are missing the point. The point being: Israel had the power and means not to settle the occupied land, to withdraw to acceptable, secure borders, and to maintain military control over the territories until final peace agreement had been reached and had been established on the ground. But Israel’s interest in peace came—still does, unfortunately—second to settling the land and solidify the occupation. Israel could’ve prevented the conundrum looming large now: Binational state. Which either won’t be a Jewish state anymore, or won’t be a democratic state. Israel’s grand illusion that it can achieve both while preventing the Palestinians from having their own legitimate national aspirations realized, is not only a false narrative, but also an affront to Zionism.

* Previously published in Moment Magazine online under the title: “Fifty Years Later, the Battle That Never Ended”

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

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