Archive for November, 2007


“The gift of Israel to the world”

November 30, 2007

On 29 November 1947 the United Nations approved Resolution 181, which brought Israel into the world. It sought also to create a contiguous Palestinian state, a move rejected by the Arab nations.

Today (or yesterday? I get confused by time zones), Dan Gillerman, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN and a hugely impressive orator, delivered this speech to mark the 60th anniversary of that decision.

(With thanks to Aussie Dave. Video here, commencing at 1 hr 35 mins.)

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

I know these words evoke a different voice and a different precedent. But with all seriousness, Happy Birthday. On this day, 60 years ago, the Jewish State was born out of the historic 1947 General Assembly session, where two extraordinary gifts were given to humanity: the gift of a modern state for the Jewish people and the gift of Israel to the world.

Read the rest of this entry ?


Favourite songs

November 30, 2007

Lotte Lenya sings Seerauberjenny (Pirate Jenny) from Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera).  The clip is from G.W. Pabst’s 1931 film of the original stage play by Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill.  No-one has ever sung it better than Lenya.  After all, Weill did write it for her.


“A Stranger By the Gulf”

November 29, 2007

Another marvellous poem by Iraq’s greatest poet, Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, translated from the Arabic by Shareah Taleghani.

“A Stranger By the Gulf” is from 1953.

The wind gasps with the midday heat,
like a nightmare in the late afternoon
And on the masts, it continues to fold, to spread for departure
The gulf is crowded with them–laborers roaming the seas
Barefoot, half-naked
And on the sand, by the gulf
A stranger sat–a baffled vision wanders the gulf
Destroying the pillars of light with the rising wail
Higher than the torrents roaring foam, than the clamor
A voice thunders in the abyss of my bereaved soul: Iraq
Like the crest rising, like a cloud, like tears to the eyes
The wind cries to me: Iraq.
The wave howls at me: Iraq. Iraq. Nothing but Iraq.
The sea is as wide as can be, and you are as distant
The sea is between you and me: Oh Iraq.

Yesterday, as I passed by the café, I heard you Iraq . . .
You were a spin of a record
This, the spin of the cosmos in my life–it rolls time on for me
In two moments of tranquility if it has lost its place
It is the face of my mother in darkness
And her voice,
They glide with the vision until I sleep
And it is the palm trees that I fear if they grow dim at sunset
Crammed with ghosts snatching every child
who doesn’t return from the paths,
And it is the old woman and what she whispers about Hazam

And how the grave split open over him before the beautiful, young Afra
And he took hold of her . . . except for a braid

Rose red . . . do you remember?
The glowing fireplace crowded with palms seeking warmth?
And my aunt’s whispered tales of bygone kings?
And behind a door like a decree
That was closed on the women
By hands forever obeyed–as they were the hands of men
The men would carouse and pass the night in revelry
without tiring

So, do you remember? Do you remember?
Content, we were resigned
With those sad stories–as they were the stories of women.
A collection of lives and times, we were in its prime
We were its two spheres–between which it rested
So, isn’t that nothing but dust?
A dream and a spin of the record?
If that were all that remains, where is the consolation?

In you Iraq, I loved my spirit or I loved you in it
Both of You, the lantern of my spirit, you–
and evening came
And the night pressed down–so let both glow in the darkness,
so I will not lose my way
If you came to me in a foreign land–the encounter would be
Meeting you–Iraq at my hand . . . this, the encounter
Longing for it penetrates my blood, as if all of my blood is desire
A hunger for it . . . like the hunger of the blood of the drowned for
The desire of the unborn stretching his neck from the
darkness to birth
I wonder how it is possible for traitors to betray
Does one betray his country?
If he betrays the meaning of being, how can he be?

The sun is more beautiful in my country than any other, and
Even darkness–there, is more beautiful
for it embraces Iraq

What a pity . . . .when will I sleep
And sense on the pillow
Your summer night–gilded by your perfume, Iraq?
Between timid villages and strange cities, my footsteps
I sang your beloved soil
And I carried it–for I am the Messiah in exile dragging his cross
And I heard the footfall of the famished moving, bleeding
from faltering
And dust, from you and from padded feet–my eyes filled with
I still walk, disheveled–with soiled feet on the roads
Under foreign suns
In tattered rags, hands outstretched, calling
Pale from fever and disgrace, the disgrace of a strange
Amidst foreign eyes
Amidst scorn, and rejection, and aversion . . . or pity
Death is easier than pity
Than the pity foreign eyes squeeze out as
Drops of mineral water
So be doused, you, Oh drops, Oh blood, . . . oh . . . currency
Oh Wind, Oh needles tailoring the sail for me,
when will I return
To Iraq, when will I return?
Oh Flash of the waves staggered by oars—
carrying me to the Gulf
Oh great constellation . . . oh currency.
If only the ships didn’t charge their passengers for traveling?
If only the earth like the vast horizon was without seas
I am still calculating, oh currency, I count you–I ask for more

I am still repelled by you from the intervals of my alienation,
I still ignite my window and my door with your glow,
On the other shore over there,
So tell me, oh currency . . .
When will I return, when will I return.
Do you see that joyous day approaching before my death?

And in the sky, in the fragments of clouds
And in the breezes, hailstones saturated with August perfumes
I reveal with a cloak, the remainder of my lethargy, like a silk veil
Disclosing what is and is not visible,
What I have and barely have forgotten,
when doubt is within certainty
It is clear to me–as I extend my hand to slip on my clothes–
What answer was I searching for in the darkness of my soul
That the hidden joy did not fill the abyss of my spirit like fog?
Today–as delight floods through me–surprising me–I return

What a pity–
I will not return to Iraq
And will he who lacks currency return?
And how is it saved?
And will you eat when you are hungry? And will you spend
Dignity deems generous, on food?

So cry for Iraq
For what do you have but tears
But your futile anticipation, for the winds and the masts.


Jenin, Jenin….whose Jenin?

November 29, 2007

In April 2002, the Israeli Defence Forces mounted a major operation in the PA-administered West Bank town of Jenin, identified by the IDF as the major fountainhead of the wave of terrorist suicide bombers then infiltrating Israeli territory and killing scores of Israeli nationals. Before long, the western (and Middle Eastern) media were full of horror stories about the operation, including reports of hundreds of innocents deliberately killed by the IDF. “Genocide” was a term freely employed by local journalists (mainly Palestinian stringers), and repeated uncritically in the MSM.

What actually happened back then was hotly contested at the time, and has been ever since. Eventually, a report by a UN investigating team found that only 56 Palestinians had been killed in fierce street fighting, and 23 Israeli soldiers.

In this connection, there was an interesting report yesterday on YNet:

Reservists to receive compensation for ‘Jenin Jenin’ screening

Tel Aviv, Jerusalem cinematheques to pay NIS 40,000 to five IDF reservists who claimed screening of contentious documentary about Operation Defensive Shield in West Bank town offended them

Yoram Yarkoni

Published: 11.26.07, 10:11 / Israel Culture

Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv cinematheques will pay NIS 40,000 in restitution to five IDF reservists who were offended by the screening of the contentious film “Jenin Jenin”. The reservists maintained that the film, in which actor and director Mohammed Bakri depicts IDF excursions into Gaza during Operation Defensive Shield, is defamatory and slanderous.

First screened in 2002, the documentary “Jenin Jenin” asserts that the IDF committed atrocious war crimes and deliberately slaughtered innocent civilians during Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank town. Following the screening, the reservists filed suit for defamation against both Bakri and the cinematheques that screened his films to the tune of NIS 2.5 million.

CAMERA critiques the film here, and compares it with the counter-narrative described in The Road to Jenin.

Jenin, Jenin‘s maker, Mohammed Bakri, lauds his own film thus:

I’m proud that justice was done and the truth came to light,” filmmaker Mohamed Bakri exulted in November 2003 when the Israeli Supreme Court reversed a ban on his controversial documentary Jenin, Jenin. “Every truth has two sides–our side and your side–and the two truths are one big truth.”

Ah-ha — “the accidental post-modernist”.


Here are the “two truths”. You decide. I’ve already made up my mind, of course.

Jenin, Jenin

The Road to Jenin

And finally, a footnote from Richard Landes, of Augean Stables and Second Draft fame: The Living Dead — Resurrection in Palestine. This footage of a funeral in Jenin involving an over-active “corpse” was taken by an IDF surveillance drone.


There is much that needs to be said about the role of the media in situations such as at Jenin — and, even more crucially, Iraq. Fortunately, Yankee Wombat has said it far better than I could.

I think the intentional creation of footage – real or faked – by our enemies to sell to our media is possible only because our media is open to it. One vector is the endless appetite of TV for dramatic footage to maximize the emotional impact of their coverage. Another is the general disaffection of our press with the goals of our government and military.’


Combat pictures from Afghanistan

November 29, 2007

From the British Army’s 40th Commando.

More over at Defence of the Realm.


Middle East apocalypse

November 28, 2007

I happened on this 55-year old quote today, from a man long dead — legendary British diplomat Sir Reader Bullard — which really struck me:

It is through the Middle East — Cairo, Baghdad and the Arab shore of the Persian Gulf — that the great airlines run connecting Europe with India, Australia and the Far East. Ancient and modern commerce join when the pipeline which carries oil from Iraq to the Mediterranean forks at the Euphrates and embraces along the coast, a territory which was in ancient times Phoenecia. Not far away, in Palestine, is the traditional site of Armageddon, where those who read prophecies into the Book of Revelation look for a battle to be waged in which evil will finally be overthrown. If an ideological war will satisfy them, let them know it has begun in the Middle East already.

Sir Reader Bullard
Britain and the Middle East
Hutchinson’s University Library, 1952

Something to ponder in the wake of Annapolis. Maybe.

Interestingly, Bullard described himself, at the time of his diplomatic posting to Stalin’s Soviet Union, in 1930, as a ‘former rebel and socialist’. Gosh, there were some of us around even then.


War and peace in Annapolis

November 27, 2007

Annapolis, the capital of Maryland, is a very beautiful town. In the old downtown districts, the 18th and 19th centuries survive with surprising grace and resilience. It’s the best town I’ve ever known just for walking around. I’ve been a few times: eaten good food there, and bought some great books, too, at Briarwood Book Shop on Maryland Avenue.

This week in Annapolis there will be a gathering of hawks and doves. Israel and the Palestinian Authority will be there, as will Syria and Saudi Arabia, under the hopeful, watchful eye of President George W. Bush, eager to rescue his reputation as international statesman with some kind — any kind — of breakthrough in the Middle East. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be there too, equally anxious to influence history’s verdict on her secretaryship.

Hopes are not high. So far, the parties cannot even agree on a framework for discussions. The Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick, with her customary incisiveness, sails into the whole process here:

The mood is dark in the IDF’s General Staff ahead of next week’s “peace” conference in Annapolis. As one senior officer directly involved in the negotiations with the Palestinians and the Americans said, “As bad as it might look from the outside, the truth is 10 times worse. This is a nightmare. The Americans have never been so hostile.”

On Thursday a draft of the joint statement that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are discussing ahead of the conference was leaked to the media. A reading of the document bears out the IDF’s concerns.

The draft document shows that the Palestinians and the Israelis differ not only on every issue, but differ on the purpose of the document. It also shows that the US firmly backs the Palestinians against Israel.

And Carl in Jerusalem, an Israeli blogger I check out every day, has been arguing against the conference for weeks now.

These guys are a lot smarter than me and are much more likely to be right than I am. But I have a slightly different take on Annapolis.

For decades, the problem of Israel vs. Palestine has been helplessly awaiting its solution. Many things have been tried, and they have all failed. Wars have been won and lost, and none has made any difference. Oslo was a hugely unproductive bribe, proffered by the US and Europe to induce Yasser Arafat to say, in his broken English, something that could be construed as conceding the right of Israel to exist (in Arabic, he said exactly the opposite). Limited democracy — and the grant of a free vote in the absence of the institutions and the expectations of a democratised polity can only be limited in its democratic effect — has brought about no more than the ascendancy of a terrorist clique (Hamas) over a criminal kleptocracy (Fatah). Disengagement, whether from Lebanon or Gaza, has achieved nothing for peace — rather its reverse — in the desperately troubled and traumatised strip of land on the Mediterranean littoral.

So why on earth should anyone entertain the remotest optimism about the possible outcomes in Annapolis?

The principals involved certainly don’t inspire confidence. Olmert leads the weakest Israeli government that I can remember, and is its weakest ever leader. Abbas has a suspect past, to say the least, and is as powerless as Arafat was reluctant to rein in the terrorists in his own ranks. And, rightly or wrongly, Bush wears the legacy of his Iraq adventure like a poisoned crown of thorns he will never be free of, regardless of Annapolis.

The reasons for optimism, then, lie not in the players but in the patterns. Not in the men (no disrespect, Dr Rice), but in the moment. We have seen before, in the case of the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa and the collapse of the old Soviet Union, that a ‘problem’ long seen as intractable and irredeemable somehow proved to be its opposite, much to the world’s astonishment. Some would say it was the man, and not the moment: it was Mandela (and de Kierk), and Gorbachov who wrought those protean changes.

But maybe not. In both those cases there came a time when it became starkly clear that it was impossible to go on; it was impossible not to change. And the right men, at the right time, recognised the fact and seized the day. I think that day may have come in the Middle East — and it has come precisely because everything else has failed up to this point. It can’t go on as it has done any longer.

Israel cannot go on as before. The summer war in Lebanon demonstrated the limits of its military power. It cannot defeat a terrorist army dug into the bedrock and protected by the civilian infrastructure. Whether it’s fair or not, world opinion will not allow Israel that victory. We saw that at Qana, when Israel’s moral case for war evaporated in the wake of a few minutes’ coverage on CNN. We see it every day that the Qassams fall on Sderot and the world pays no mind until Israel strikes back.

Nor can Palestine. The only thing that holds the West Bank back from becoming the disaster that has enveloped Gaza is the Israeli security presence. Somehow Palestine has to shake off the dreadful legacy of Oslo, which established it as a perpetual beggar state bereft of dignity and self-respect, eternally beholden to outside funding, and eternally resentful for such. It needs an economy, infrastructure, jobs, growth, wealth. And Israel could teach it such a hell of a lot.

I don’t know that the time has come, but I hope it may have. I hope that the strange, unexpected and mysterious confluence of forces that resolved the problems of South Africa and Eastern Europe will configure itself again above this lovely port city on the shore of Chesapeake Bay, and fall like the rain.

It may be, precisely because of the weakness of each of the key players, that this is the time of the moment. It may be, according to the principles of game theory as applied to the theatre of politics by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, that now, more than at any time before, the principals may realise that it is inescapably in their own interests to seek peace rather than war. Few politicians could withstand that particular siren’s call.

We shall see. But somewhere, in these unpredictable and conflicted spirals of strength and weakness, hope and fear, hate and joy, there may — just — be a distant chance that each side will agree to forgive the other for the blood of the past and the pains of the present. No catalogue of the possible can include a perfect future for Israel and Palestine, but at least we can envisage one that does not require a constant and continual investment in death.

Maybe Annapolis will bring us closer to that state.

Carpe diem.

More, and countervailing, from Carl, Melanie Phillips. I’m a bit closer in opinion to Dalia at Good Neighbours.