Friday, June 08, 2007

ca 380 A.D. 

In his Confessions (Book VI, Chapter 8), St. Augustine writes about his friend Alypius:

He, not relinquishing that worldly way which his parents had bewitched him to pursue, had gone before me to Rome, to study law, and there he was carried away in an extraordinary manner with an incredible eagerness after the gladiatorial shows. For, being utterly opposed to and detesting such spectacles, he was one day met by chance by various of his acquaintance and fellow-students returning from dinner, and they with a friendly violence drew him, vehemently objecting and resisting, into the amphitheatre, on a day of these cruel and deadly shows, he thus protesting:" Though you drag my body to that place, and there place me, can you force me to give my mind and lend my eyes to these shows? Thus shall I be absent while present, and so shall overcome both you and them." They hearing this, dragged him on nevertheless, desirous, perchance, to see whether he could do as he said. When they had arrived thither, and had taken their places as they could, the whole place became excited with the inhuman sports. But he, shutting up the doors of his eyes, forbade his mind to roam abroad after such naughtiness; and would that he had shut his ears also! For, upon the fall of one in the fight, a mighty cry from the whole audience stirring him strongly, he, overcome by curiosity, and prepared as it were to despise and rise superior to it, no matter what it were, opened his eyes, and was struck with a deeper wound in his soul than the other, whom he desired to see, was in his body; and he fell more miserably than he on whose fall that mighty clamour was raised, which entered through his ears, and unlocked his eyes, to make way for the striking and beating down of his soul, which was bold rather than valiant hitherto; and so much the weaker in that it presumed on itself, which ought to have depended on You. For, directly he saw that blood, he therewith imbibed a sort of savageness; nor did he turn away, but fixed his eye, drinking in madness unconsciously, and was delighted with the guilty contest, and drunken with the bloody pastime. Nor was he now the same he came in, but was one of the throng he came unto, and a true companion of those who had brought him thither. Why need I say more? He looked, shouted, was excited, carried away with him the madness which would stimulate him to return, not only with those who first enticed him, but also before them, yea, and to draw in others. And from all this did Thou, with a most powerful and most merciful hand, pluck him, and taughtest him not to repose confidence in himself, but in You—but not till long after.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

40 years after the 1967 war... 

And the future of Israel as a "Jewish State" is increasingly doubtful.

The various 40-years-after articles now in circulation--even the intelligent ones pointing out that Israel should have returned its conquests immediately--are more or less missing the main point. The main point is that the question of occupation has been answered. Israel has annexed the West Bank. It will continue to settle its people there, it will continue to build its wall, it will continue to prepare for long-term cantonization of the territory.

And the permanence of the occupation will reframe the Palestinian question. It will no longer be about freedom for the territories. It will be about equal rights for the oppressed Palestinian majority of Israel. The Palestinian population of Israel proper (the actual non-occupied second-class Palestinian "citizens" of the state) constitute one-fifth of its population. They are already the source of great fear in Israel, because they are starting to agitate for consitutional reform that would make them equal citizens. But the further implication of such activity is that the Palestinian minority of Israel proper could more actively support the Palestinians in the territories.

What the Israeli establishment doesn't see is that its own murderous and rapacious settlement of the West Bank has in fact ensured what it fears: the consolidation of the Palestinians in Israel proper and the Palestinians in the territories into a single block. The struggle will, more and more, be a struggle of the Palestinian majority against a Jewish minority that madly claims to be living in a democracy.

This is the background for the current persecution by Israel of Israeli Knesset member Azmi Bishara, as explained last April 16 by Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada:

...Bishara is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, one of more than one million who live inside the Jewish state, who are survivors or their descendants of the Zionist ethnic cleansing that forced most Palestinians to leave in 1947-48. Elected to the Knesset in 1996, Bishara is a founder of the National Democratic Assembly, a party which calls for Israel to be transformed from a sectarian ethnocracy into a democratic state of all its citizens.

On Sunday, Bishara appeared on Al-Jazeera, after weeks of press speculation that he had gone into exile and would resign from the Knesset. He revealed that in fact he is the target of a very high level probe by Israeli state security services who apparently plan to bring serious "security" related charges against him. Censorship on this matter is so tight in "democratic" Israel that until a few days ago Israeli newspapers were prohibited from even mentioning the existence of the probe. They are still forbidden from reporting anything about the substance of the investigation, and Ha'aretz admitted that due to official censorship it could not even reprint much of what Bishara said to millions of viewers on television.

...What he was clear about was that he is the target of a campaign, coordinated at the highest levels of the Israeli state to destroy him and his movement politically. He is undoubtedly right about this and there is long precedent. In 2001, Israel's attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein charged Bishara with "endangering the state" because of comments he made during a visit to Syria, and the Knesset voted for the first time in its history to lift the immunity of one of its members so Bishara could be prosecuted. In 2003, the Israeli Central Elections Committee attempted to disqualify Bishara and his party from standing in national elections, on the grounds that the party did not adhere to the dogma that Israel must remain a "Jewish state." Under Israeli law all parties are required to espouse the dogma that Israel must always grant special and better rights to Jews, meaning truly democratic parties are always flirting with illegality. That decision was eventually overturned by the courts. (Though it should be noted that the ban was supported by former attorney general Rubinstein, who is now a Supreme Court judge!)

...Bishara sees Israel's latest gambit as signalling a change in the "rules of the game." If he, an elected official, a well-known public figure can face such tactics, what will the rest of the community face? Indeed, the recent publication by leading Palestinians in Israel of a report calling for mild reforms to the Israeli state prompted Israel's secret police, the Shin Bet...to warn that it would "disrupt the activities of any groups that seek to change the Jewish or democratic character of Israel, even if they use democratic means" ("Arab leaders air public relations campaign against Shin Bet," Ha'aretz, 6 April 2007).

...Palestinian solidarity activists must understand and act on the signal Israel is sending by persecuting Bishara. For years, the mainstream Palestinian movement and its allies have buried their heads in the slogan "end the occupation." If it ever was, this vision is no longer broad enough. We must recognize that Israel's war against Palestinians does not discriminate among Palestinians, sparing some and condemning others. It does however take different forms, depending on where Palestinians are. Those in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip live under an extreme form of military tyranny now often called "apartheid," though it is increasingly apparent that it is something even worse. Palestinians inside Israel's 1948 borders live under a system of laws, policies and practices that exclude them politically and oppress them economically and socially.

...In practice this means that the Palestinian solidarity movement needs to fashion a new message that breaks with the failed fantasy of hermetic separation in nationalist states. It means we have to focus on fighting Israeli racism and colonialism in all its forms against those under occupation, against those inside, and against those in exile. We need to educate ourselves about what is happening all over Palestine, not just in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. We need to stand and act in solidarity with Azmi Bishara and all Palestinians inside the 1948 lines who have for too long been marginalized and abandoned by mainstream Palestinian politics. Support for the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions is particularly urgent (see http://www.pacbi.org/). In practice we need to start building a vision of life after Israeli apartheid, an inclusive life in which Israelis and Palestinians can live in equality sharing the whole country. If Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and hardline Northern Ireland Unionist leader Ian Paisley can sit down to form a government together, as they are, and if Nelson Mandela and apartheid's National Party could do the same, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility in Palestine if we imagine it and work for it.

Azmi Bishara is the only Palestinian leader of international stature expressing a vision and strategy that is relevant to all Palestinians and can effectively challenge Zionism. That is why he is in fear for his life, safety and future while the quisling "president" Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah receives money and weapons from the United States and tea and cakes from Ehud Olmert.

The last reference is to the fact that the recent "violence" in Gaza is not an internal struggle between Palestinian factions, but an organized attack by the US and Israel, using its Fatah lackeys as proxy, on the Palestinian government of Hamas (which until recently was observing a ceasefire and calling for negotiations with Israel). Israel publicly opened the Gaza border a few months ago so that Abbas and Fatah forces could receive US weapons. There was no attempt to hide the preparations for the Fatah attacks, which began a few days later.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Katrina Principle goes to College 

NYRB regular Mark Danner catches Katrina Principle Fever! in his commencement address at Berkeley:

...all around us we've been hearing these last many months the sound of ice breaking, as the accumulated frozen scandals of this administration slowly crack open to reveal their queasy secrets. And yet the problem, of course, is that they are not secrets at all: One of the most painful principles of our age is that scandals are doomed to be revealed -- and to remain stinking there before us, unexcised, unpunished, unfinished.

If this Age of Rhetoric has a tragic symbol, then surely this is it: the frozen scandal, doomed to be revealed, and revealed, and revealed, in a never-ending torture familiar to the rock-bound Prometheus and his poor half-eaten liver. A full three years ago, the photographs from Abu Ghraib were broadcast by CBS on Sixty Minutes II and published by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker; nearly as far back I wrote a book entitled Torture and Truth, made up largely of Bush administration documents that detailed the decision to use "extreme interrogation techniques" or -- in the First President of Rhetoric's phrase -- "an alternative set of procedures" on prisoners in the War on Terror.

He used this phrase last September in a White House speech kicking off the 2006 midterm election campaign, at a time when accusing the Democrats of evidencing a continued softness on terror -- and a lamentable unwillingness to show the needed harshness in "interrogating terrorists" -- seemed a winning electoral strategy. And indeed Democrats seemed fully to agree, for they warily elected not to filibuster the Military Commissions Act of last October, which arguably made many of these "alternative sets of procedures" explicitly legal. And Democrats did win both houses of Congress, a victory perhaps owed in part to their refusal to block Bush's interrogation law. Who can say? What we can say is that if torture today remains a "scandal," a "crisis," it is a crisis in that same peculiar way that crime or AIDS or global warming are crises: that is, they are all things we have learned to live with.


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