Sunday, July 16, 2006

"Virgin hillsides"

Nick Thorpe of the BBC wants to present a balanced piece on the war in Israel and Lebanon, but this article is such a self-righteous, linguistically self-indulgent joke, I don't even know where to begin.

Let's start with Thorpe on the rockets Israel has so rudely refused to invite into the country:

The Qassams mostly needle the Israelis, like pinpricks in the ankles of a giant, taunting him to stamp back with his big, US-issue army boots. The Katyushas are like poisoned arrows. They drive him mad.

So, justice-via-asymmetry. Were some entity to throw pins or poisoned arrows at Britain--also a big-boot country as countries go-- presumably that nation would remain calm, cool, and collected. I don't know enough about the story with Ireland, but maybe someone who does could fill me in.

Now this would be more a question for the fashion-oriented among my readers, aka Julie Fredrickson or my mother, but who makes IDF uniforms? A Google search suggests that the IDF does its own couture, and that the boots are not made by Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, or anything else issued by the US.

But moving on. Thorpe gives the Israeli side of the story, which he's only just discovered:

Driving through sleepy mountain villages in northern Galilee this week, along Israel's border with Lebanon, I began to understand Israel's fear. Different Arab peoples in this region are vying with one another to become Israel's greatest enemy.

For lack of other possible responses: no shit.

And, on the other side:

Driving down Highway 60 - the spine of the superstructure Israel has built on the West Bank - one understands the resentment and the sense of oppression the Palestinians feel. Smart, middle-class Israeli settlements have sprung up on virgin hillsides, watered by springs often diverted from Palestinian villages. Tunnels and fences have been erected by the occupier to keep Palestinians away from Israeli roads, Israeli settlements and Israeli soldiers. Increasingly confined by barriers and checkpoints into little reservations, it is little wonder that Palestinians applaud Sheikh Nasrallah, the spiritual head of the Hezbollah, when he calls for the release of some of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

"One understands" and "it is little wonder"-- Thorpe understands, and finds it little wonder, that so many perfectly reasonable people are out to destroy the Jewish state. I suppose the assumption is that these thousands of prisoners are innocent on all counts. The language Thorpe uses is really special-- Israeli houses were crudely erected on "virgin hillsides"--because of course the Palestinian villages were built on hills that have been around the block a few times.

At last, Thorpe makes his point, loud and clear:

In Jerusalem I met my old friend, Dov, who works for the Jewish People Planning Institution - a think tank trying to forecast and defuse new sources of danger to Jews the world over. "As we try to protect the Jews in Israel from attack," he told me, "we're increasingly afraid of attacks on soft targets abroad - like Jewish schools and synagogues in Europe and beyond." One of his institute's initiatives is to try to influence young Muslims in France, whose grievances are sometimes expressed in anti-Semitism and who drew world attention during last year's riots in the suburbs of French cities. "On your travels, you must often be asked to justify Israel's policy towards the Palestinians?" I asked, innocently. "We don't engage with that question at all," he said. "We just ask people to tell us about their own lives, their own problems." I disagree, as gently as I can. Until there is a broad peace agreement in the Middle East, it seems to me, not imposed by Israel, but agreed by all sides, I fear his people, and for that matter mine, will be the targets.

Ugh. Agree with it or not, what on earth does Israel's policy towards the Palestinians have to do with how French Muslims--a decent number of whom are in no way Palestinian--treat French Jews--Jews who are constantly told to leave for Israel but who nevertheless choose to stay put? This diversion makes clear not only which side Thorpe is on, but also that he considers it perfectly reasonable, innocent, even, to assume that French Muslims should seek revenge for injustices (real and perceived) on the streets of Paris. How can general grievances, with no particular relation to Jews or Israel, be "expressed in anti-Semitism"? It's as if I said, "I had to wait a while for the subway today on a hot platform--I'm really going to give to those Koreans!" French Muslims certainly face a number of challenges at the moment, but in France, not in the Middle East.

Nothing done by Israel could possibly justify the destruction of Jewish schools or synagogues in France or elsewhere in the Diaspora. And regardless, such actions lead not to greater French-Jewish sympathy for the Palestinian cause, but rather to greater numbers of francophone Israelis.

What's key in this last passage is Thorpe's notion of "his [Jewish friend Dov's] people" as "the Jews." Not only are the Jews in general seemingly responsible for providing world peace, but they are a people apart from that of one Nick Thorpe. Jews worldwide are certainly treated as a single entity by anti-Semites, and so any Jewish self-defense organization is correct in defending the Jewish people as such. And Thorpe is right in referring to the Jews as a people-- throughout Jewish history, a Jewish nationality separate from any physical Jewish state has existenced, such that a person can be nationally, say, Jewish-American without having any particular ties to the state of Israel, beyond an understanding that Israel is the Jewish nation's geographic center. That said, it should be obvious that not all Jews share responsibility for Israel's actions. Israel is the Jewish state, not the Jewish people.


Petey said...

"a person can be nationally, say, Jewish-American without having any particular ties to the state of Israel, beyond an understanding that Israel is the Jewish nation's geographic center."

Am I still allowed to be Jewish-American if I don't agree that Israel is the Jewish nation's geographical center?

I live in the country with the largest Jewish population in the world. I live in the city with the largest Jewish population in the world. And yet I don't live in Israel!

They don't call the western hemisphere The New World for nothing.

My cousins in the Levant are certainly a branch of the family, but they seem quite backwards to me in various ways. You'll have to forgive me if I think it is I who live in the center of the Jewish world, and not they.



I thought Thorpe was being quite generous to the settlers when he referred to "virgin hillsides". The implication is that the settlers' land was not previously settled by non-Israelis, and that the only thing taken was water.

And while IDF may certainly sew the seams of their own boots, a hefty percentage of the cost of each pair is paid for directly out of the U.S. Treasury.

xianerd said...

not that i read this whole thing. I am just browsing, but the guy who bought the boots for the IDF is my friend. They come from the US. The US gives israel x-billion each year with the stipulation that they spend it on US goods. If you are really curious as to exactly where they got the boots i can give you his email.