Sunday, December 21, 2008

Revising Zionist History

Abu Hazem, in a comment to my lost post, brought to my attention this article by Schlomo Sand, a professor of history from Tel Aviv University and author of Comment le people juif fut inventé. The article summarizes Sand's thesis and I thought it intriguing enought to provide a link to it. It is titled: Israel deliberately forgets its history. An Israeli historian suggests the diaspora was the consequence, not of the expulsion of the Hebrews from Palestine, but of proselytising across north Africa, southern Europe and the Middle East (Read More).

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Cracks in the Israel's Fortress Mentality?

Much of the success of Israel over its sixty years can be accounted for by it strict adherence to and enforcement of a collective, uniform Zionist narrative. Israelis who dissented from this narrative are promptly marginalized. Three generations on, however, the fanatic settlers not-withstanding, there seems to be an increasing number of Israelis who are challenging the basic tenets of this narrative.

Avaraham Burg, a onetime speaker of the Knesset has created outrage in Israel with his book, recently translated into English: The Holocaust Is Over; We Must Rise From Its Ashes. None of Burg's assertions are new or earth shattering, but any non-Jew who made these same assertions would be promptly labeled anti-Semitic. The novelty here is that such ideas are being expressed by a mainstream Israeli figure. Consider this statement:
  • “I realized that Israel had become an efficient kingdom with no prophecy. Where was it going? What is a Jewish democratic state? What does it mean that Jews define themselves by genetics 60 years after genetics were used against them?”

In a radio interview, Burg gives a telling anecdote about the centrality of the Holocaust to the Israeli narrative. He recounts the story of a colleague leaving to Poland on a business trip only to return prematurely a couple of days later. When he asked him what happened, his friend said that while traveling by train across Poland it all came back to him: the trains, the concentration camps, the gas chambers. He could not take it and promptly returned to Israel. The problem was his friend was an Iraqi Jew with connection whatsoever to the holocaust. In his book, Burg asserts that Israel has become a self-justifying Sparta, that Israel should not be a Jewish state and that its law of return granting citizenship to any Jew should be changed. The English version of the book, interestingly, is a watered down and skips over some controversial statements he made in the original manuscript such as the assertion that the Israeli government will pass a law prohibiting the marriage between Jews and Arabs.

Why should I care? Because no real sustainable Middle Eastern peace is possible when Israel's very identity is based on the concept of perpetual victimhood and perpetual conflict.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

HM the Amnesiac

Henry Gustav Molaison, a man suffering from post operative amnesia died a week ago at the age of 82. Until his death, Molaison was known to the world as HM, the amnesiac who helped neuroscientists understand the processes involved in short and long term memory. For the first 27 years of his life, Molaison suffered from intractable seizures. In 1953, in a drastic attempt to treat his seizures, his doctors resected his brain's temporal lobes. His seizures improved tremendously but he lost his ability to acquire new memories.

Imagine this, for 55 years until his recent demise, this man lived with memories he acquired in the first 27 years of his life. None of the life experiences of the last five decades have lasted more than thirty seconds, the average duration of short term memory. He was unable to remember anything new he saw, read. smelled, tasted or heard. One can also imagine that any emotion aroused by these new sensory experiences would be equally lost. Nothing stuck; not the sight of a beautiful woman, nor a gorgeous scenery, nor a sublime painting, nor a catchy melody, nor an enchanting scent. The taste of a delicious new dish would dissipate into the ether as soon as the meal was over and the name and appearance of a new friend would elude him as soon as he turned his back. It is hard to overestimate the importance of memory to our existence, to our humanity and to our life's experience.

tragic life fascinates me. For as much as he has helped neuroscientists understand the brain's memory processes, I am intrigued by Molaison, the human being and how his memory deficit affected his personality and his outlook on life. Since we are the sum total of our life experiences, was Molaison then the same man at 82 that he was at 27? And if so were his established memories more vivid because there were so few memories for a man of his age or had his memories faded with the passage of half a century? And how does a man like him face life every morning?
I can imagine him waking up every morning full of optimism and wonder at all of his new experiences, his mind, a nearly blank slate, unencumbered by the unpleasantness of the recent past. The quarrel with a friend or the illness of a loved one would be forgotten as would be all the trickle of grim news about war, pestilence and hunger from around the world. On the other hand, I can imagine him waking up flat-affected, somewhat confused by his inability to interpret his new experiences without the context of any similar recent experiences. That last description of him, I believe, is the most likely to be accurate. We learn from experiences carefully laid down in our memory. We are conditioned by these experiences. Without the context of these experiences, it is difficult for us to interpret new ones or even assign values to them. Molaison's amnesia left him unable to build on the ebb and flow of good an bad life experiences and instead committed him to live a diminished life, lived in increments of thirty second slices each completely disconnected from the next.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Al-Khalil (Hebron) in Their Words

The article below is from the New York Times today as it finally deems it fit to write something about the continuing violence by West Bank settlers against Palestinian residents in Hebron. See here settlers shooting Palestinian men at point blank range. It is interesting that NYT chose to put pogrom in parentheses. Typically pogroms is a term that Israelies reserve exclusively for violence against jews; so it is telling when Olmert, the architect of the 2006 war on Lebanon, uses that word to describe what the sttlers are doing. He is not the first, a Haaretz article on December 5th, also used the pogrom label in the title of a story on the Hebron violence.

Olmert Slams "Pogrom", Palestinians Still Fearful
December 7, 2008
HEBRON, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday that attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinians last week were a "pogrom" and that Israeli police must end "intolerable leniency" toward such violent offenders.
"As a Jew, I am ashamed of other Jews doing such a thing," Olmert told his cabinet, referring to a shooting incident.
But in the West Bank city of Hebron, where at least three Palestinians were wounded by gunfire on Thursday after troops cleared dozens of hardline, religious settlers from a large building, many locals were skeptical of such Israeli promises.
"We're expecting to be attacked again at any time by the settlers," said Bassem al-Jabari, as he and other neighbors looked at the evacuated site on Sunday. "No one cares about us."
Olmert, who has resigned over a corruption scandal but stays on as caretaker until after a February 10 election, has lately taken to describing settler attacks as "pogroms," using the Russian term for violence against Jews a century ago that drove some to emigrate to Palestine and, in time, establish the Israeli state.
"We are a people whose historical ethos is built on the memory of pogroms," Olmert told his cabinet, according to a statement. "The sight of Jews standing with guns and shooting at innocent Palestinian civilians can only be called a pogrom."
His latest remarks were among his strongest yet. They follow the broadcasting of video apparently showing a settler shooting and wounding Palestinians, as well as stone-throwing and other violence across the West Bank, including the torching of olive groves, which Palestinians leaders described as "waging war." Olmert said he was pressing for prosecutions and "an end to the intolerable leniency ... toward settlers who break the law." An Israeli court remanded one settler in custody on Sunday over the shooting allegation and released another on bail.
The United States, which failed in efforts to broker a peace in this final year of
George W. Bush's presidency, has described the settlement of half a million Israelis in the West Bank since Israel captured the territory in 1967 as an obstacle to peace.
Olmert says Israel should clear outposts but draw borders with a new Palestinian state to ensure major settlements, deemed illegal under international law, are incorporated into Israel.

In Hebron, troops now occupy the building, dubbed "House of Peace" by the dozen or so settler families who refused to obey a court order to leave last month. A Palestinian denies selling it to them and is asking Israeli courts to return his property.
Mohammed al-Jabari, who lives close by the building, on a strip of hillside separating Hebron's ancient center from the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, said neighbors were glad the army was now in control: "It's better now. There is respect for the law. When the settlers were here, there was no law."
Longer term, however, his neighbors are not optimistic.
Jabari and other householders, mostly also from the Jabari clan, living in flat-roofed houses among patches of field and olive trees around the evacuated building recount a year or more of tension and clashes with the Jewish former occupants.
Though the allegations could not easily be verified, tales of rocks thrown at homes, women intimidated, a dead dog tossed into the courtyard of the local mosque, a horse poisoned, and so on were repeated by several Palestinians living close to a hard core of settlers. These see expansion in Hebron, which is home to the tomb of Abraham, as a religious and nationalist duty.
Israeli troops protect some 650 Jews living in the center of Hebron, a city of 180,000, as well as surrounding settlements.
Palestinians say Israeli forces turn a blind eye to settler attacks while punishing Arabs who resort to violence: "It's double standards," Issa Amro, 28, a human rights activist.
He said local people were particularly fearful that settlers are allowed to carry rifles: "There is an Israeli soldier to protect every one of them," Amro said. "Why do they need M-16s?"
Another neighbor, using his nickname Abu Firas, recalled how his children had been terrified as settlers attacked their home with burning material and stones on Thursday: "They burned our homes with the protection of the Israeli state," he said.
"Right now, I see no Israeli government. I see gang law," he added, surveying the hillside from a cemetery where at least two Muslim headstones have been daubed with a star of David.
"The only way to end this is for Israel to pull all settlers from the West Bank. It's a fight for survival. It's us or them."