Grumpy Reflections on Israel's Descent into Madness

By Michael Eilan

When I was a young and very inexperienced journalist I went to hear the late Rashad Shawa, the former mayor of Gaza, speak in Kibbutz Ramat Rahel, which at the time was still a kibbutz, and poor. It must have been some time in the late seventies, and the Gazans were still smarting from the wrath of their next-door neighbor, Ariel Sharon. I can’t remember exactly which troubles were happening just then, but they were there, as always, in the air. Shawa, a tremendously dignified and well dressed gentleman, made a simple plea.

“I don’t know one Palestinian who doesn’t trust at least one Jew, and no Jew who doesn’t trust at least one Palestinian. Let’s start from there.” That was in the good old days, when we were neither good nor old.

This came to mind two weeks ago when Shibli, another real gentleman and good friend from Abu Snan in the Western Galilee, told me he was too scared to allow his 13-year-old son go with a group of friends to celebrate a birthday with a movie in the Kiryat Bialik mall. “There are madmen out there, it’s too scary,” he said. So the fast food outlets in the mall got just a little taste of the deep slump all Palestinian Israeli business have felt for the last month. Great. continue reading…

Palestinian militants in Gaza resumed their rocket and mortar fire on Israel on Friday morning, following the failure of the indirect negotiations in Cairo to achieve a ceasefire. Israel duly responded with air and artillery attacks on Gaza.

At this point, midday Saturday, it’s difficult to predict whether the current round is just a flare-up or a return to the serious hostilities of the past month. My take is that it may be a macho, Middle Eastern pissing contest – a means of putting pressure on the negotiators – and that neither side wants to return to the dark days of July. We’ll  know soon enough.

What seems clear to me is that Hamas and its allies are determined not to return to the status quo ante and are willing to risk further death and destruction to ensure that they get more than simply quiet – the lack of Israeli military action – for their efforts over the past month.

Israel, for its part, would like to see a Gaza devoid of rockets and tunnels, but is unwilling to pay the diplomatic price, namely the lifting of the blockade, acceptance of land, sea and air links for Gaza and recognition (if only tacit) of Hamas as a legitimate player in the region – including the legitimacy of Palestinian reconciliation. continue reading…

One of my favorite literary images comes from George Orwell’s short story, “A Hanging,” in which he describes how a condemned prisoner being escorted across an open courtyard to the gallows, steps aside to avoid a puddle of rainwater in his path.

For Orwell, that small, barely significant action triggered a sudden awareness of the enormity of what was about to occur. “I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide,” he writes. “In two minutes, with a sudden snap, one of us would be gone – one mind less, one world less.”

All the legal and bureaucratic mechanisms that had brought the condemned man to that place at that time – all the colonial bullshit that Orwell was serving – fell away in a single moment of instinctive human movement. He observed a brain that was still reasoning, only minutes before it was to be stifled. continue reading…

Beyond the stated goals of both sides to the Gaza conflict – restoring quiet for Israel and lifting the siege for Hamas – is the symbolic significance of the latest clash between the sons of light and darkness.

The Gaza war of 2014 is a rite of passage; a handing over of the war baton from one generation to the next. It is an initiation into the hard realities of adulthood for a generation that may well have grown up thinking war was something played on computers. Every generation needs to learn the truth.

The war is a fundamental milestone in the life of every young Israeli and Palestinian, both those who fight and those for whom they fight. It is a necessary socialization of the younger generation; an event that imprints the basic lesson of life on their minds and in their hearts. continue reading…

It seems to be a peculiarity of the Jewish-Israeli mind that it can remember promises that God made over 5,000 years ago but not the (perhaps insignificant) fact that Israel occupied the Palestinian territories in 1967.

We have remarkable, almost palpable, memories of the Holocaust, but when it comes to the Palestinians we can’t remember as far back as two weeks ago.

Take, for example, the current round of butchery, which, if you ask nine out of 10 Israelis, began when Hamas started firing rockets at Israel a little over a week ago in an unprovoked and totally irrational attack. That and nothing else, is the background.

As for the Israeli military rampage through the West Bank that preceded the rockets, which was publicly proclaimed by Israel as a bid to cripple Hamas and its infrastructure in the West Bank … what rampage? Either it never happened or it had nothing to do with the rockets. So what’s the relevance? continue reading…

What do Israelis feel about the collapse of the peace initiative driven by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry?

My take would be that most don’t give a shit, while small minorities on both sides of the political divide are saying “I told you so” and waiting, with some trepidation, to see what happens next.

A comptroller’s report issued on Monday revealed that one-fifth of the Israeli population lives in “food insecurity” – a euphemism for the fact that they don’t have enough money to feed themselves properly. I guess Kerry seems less important when you’re scrounging through garbage cans.

And, of those who aren’t insecure about their food supply, my guess would be that most stopped believing in peace a long time ago. The concept of peace has been so debased through lies, hypocrisy and misuse that it has lost all meaning. In Israel these days, it’s much easier – and more sensible – to believe in leprechauns than it is to believe in peace. continue reading…

The paucity of senior foreign representation at the funeral of Arik Sharon pretty much said it all. Both the man and the Israeli lebensraum cause with which he was associated for most of his life are on the international shit list. Statesmen don’t want to be associated with either.

Even the typically euphemistic eulogies could barely conceal the darkness that lay at the heart of the man and his actions. Words like “complicated,” “complex” and “contentious” only served to highlight the absence of any true and honest account of the personal and national criminality in which Sharon indulged.

Arik Sharon was a warlord; vain, unscrupulous and inherently violent, as warlords are wont to be. He often bashed his (famously bandaged) head against the constraints of decency and justice that an increasingly enfeebled state attempted to impose on him, but he was a lot more successful than most of us would like to admit at molding the society in his own image. continue reading…

2013 was a year in which we saw far too much of Benjamin Netanyahu, Vladimir Putin, Miley Cyrus and Barack Obama, the latter looking appropriately shocked at how inept his administration actually is. Visually, therefore, it wasn’t a very good year.

On the other hand, we got to see a lot of Toronto’s bizarre mayor Rob Ford, whose admission that he smoked crack while “in one of my drunken stupors” has got to be one of the most honest political statements of all time. And, of course, there was also the Mandela sign language interpreter who mistook Obama for an angel or a prawn and embarrassed Zuma only slightly less than Zuma embarrassed himself. So, it was not a year without humor.

Locally, we got to see Kerry descending from a plane so often we began to set our clocks by it. We also got to read about Netanyahu refusing to get on a plane – to Mandela’s funeral – which is not something most of us expected to see from any Israeli politician in our lifetimes, never mind a devotee with a special flying bed. Unfortunately, the killjoy judges on Israel’s Supreme Court denied us the sight of Avigdor Lieberman being dragged off in chains, which would have made it a stellar year no matter what else happened. continue reading…

The common wisdom is that, barring an unlikely turnaround in the moribund peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, 2014 will be a year of increasing sanctions and boycotts aimed at Israel.

Next year, commentators are saying, could be the year in which the international community finally grows fed up with Israel and establishes a sanctions regime similar to that applied against South African apartheid in the Seventies and Eighties.

It’s not a far-fetched scenario. Over the past few weeks several organizations and countries have taken clear steps in that direction – the American Studies Association announced a boycott of Israeli academic institutions; the Romanian government said it would not send any more construction workers to Israel; the largest Dutch water company, Vitens, severed ties with its Israeli counterpart Mekorot; Canada’s largest Protestant church announced a boycott of three Israeli companies and a U.S. student group announced plans to boycott a graduation ceremony featuring an address by Israeli businesswoman Sheri Arison. continue reading…

Haaretz, December 9, 2013

In his tribute to Nelson Mandela following the South African statesman’s death, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described him as “a man of vision, a fighter for freedom who rejected violence.”


Here’s an extract from Mandela’s statement to the court during his 1964 trial for sabotage and treason: “We were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the Government. We chose to defy the Government. We first broke the law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence; when this form was legislated against, and when the Government resorted to a show of force to crush opposition to its policies, only then did we decide to answer violence with violence.”

Elaborating in the same speech on why he and his comrades had resorted to violence, Mandela said: “I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love for violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by the whites.” continue reading…