Monday, December 29, 2008

Teaching A Lesson (Appendix)

The indispensable Tom Segev, on teaching miltary lessons as a way to establish deterrence. 

And here are only the most important past examples of lessons taught and learned: Qibya, 1953,  Samu'a, 1966, "Security borders," 1967-73, Aerial bombing of Lebanon, 1974-5, Litani Operation, 1978, Lebanon War, 1982, "Iron Fist" suppression of the Intifada, 1988, Operations Grapes of Wrath, 1995, Defensive Shield, 2002, Second Lebanon War, 2006.  

ALL OF THESE operations have in common serious provocations from Palestinian and, after the extended occupation to South Lebanon, Hezbollah insurgents; provocations including the loss of Israeli lives. The response of Israeli military professionals, in all cases, was that Israel's response would have to be disproportionate; that the attack was coming because Israel was perceived as weak and needed to improve its deterrent power. 

But in no cases did the Israeli attack deter further attack and in many cases it unleashed unanticipated violence, prompting new alliances against Israel which then led to new, more complex attacks, along with increasing diplomatic isolation. 

This morning, another Israeli was killed, as 57 rockets were launched from Gaza. Hezbollah is threatening to be drawn in. Israeli radio is reporting that Israel's ambassador to Jordan is being asked to leave "for his safety," and four Israelis were stabbed in Modiin.  Meretz leader Haim Oron is arguing that Israel must immediately work to establish a new cease-fire, that if the shock of this attack leads to a firmer, better calm, Israel should accept this; that there is no military solution to Palestinian insurgency. 

But can Israel's military leaders accept a cease-fire, after all this carnage, when 57 missiles have just fallen? When you are a hammer, is not every problem a nail?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Teaching A Lesson

Actually, we see what you see at times like this, images transformed into (momentary) icons, the continuous loop of 24-hour news: Gazan teens, shocked and fascinated, milling around smoking buildings; Gazan men, mobilized, pulling an unconscious man from the back seat of a car, too many frantic hands loading him onto a stretcher; grimy bodies in the rubble, a mourner kissing something. Then, the other side, our side, an apartment block where ambulances, lights flashing, had carried away a victim of a missile; the hole in the wall of a living room, the pictures above it strangely undisturbed.

But above the images, we hear commentators you probably do not hear: laconic former generals, mainly, speaking in measured, rationale sentences; not bullies or even mean men, not fanatics, war-weary, proud of their lives; the people we really do rely on to train our youth and keep us safe, now pundits with a special authority. They speak about the need to "fundamentally change the character of the south," to attack "terrorist infrastructure," to show that the "lives of Israelis are not cheap," and that the citizens of the south, who have suffered "for seven years," cannot expect their state to turn them into hefker, in effect, treat them like abandoned property. Hamas will "now think twice," they say, and that is the point. The attack will "lower their motivation."

There is no gloating, none, yet there is an obvious satisfaction that the air force and intelligence services are "back to normal"; that only enormous care has kept down the number of "non-combatants" killed; that the IDF seem to have planned this attack much more professionally than the impetuous Lebanon war in 2006; that the political leaders have learned to keep pronouncements modest, solemn--not set unreasonable expectations or tip the IDF's hand.

The IDF, the experts, say, "have acted with precision and tactical surprise." There was training, planning, and operational success. "The lessons of the Lebanon war have clearly been learned," one military correspondent said. As I write, 6500 reservists are being mustered. There is talk of a ground invasion. When will the operation be over? "In its time," a general said. Reticence is competence.

AND YET THIS time, other journalists, even one TV anchor, are asking quetions. What are the end goals, they ask, echoing the Winograd Report? What will change once the guns fall silent? Didn't politicians all rally to the government in 2006 only to see that getting into punitive raids is not as hard as getting out? There are other implied questions, tactless to raise just now on television, but there between the lines. Didn't the first two days of the Lebanon retaliation seem a tactical success, too? And yet if the missiles keep coming, who has won? Then again, how can the missiles stop coming without a ground invasion? And if there is a ground invasion, how can Gaza be held without recreating the deathtrap Israeli soldiers were in before 2005 ?

And if the missiles stop because of a cease-fire, which depends on a new negotiation and Hamas restraint, why was there not a negotiation in the first place? Did Hamas need to be taught a lesson, of all things, that Israel is powerful and ruthless, or is this the lesson Hamas is trying to teach everybody else? While we're on the subject, did Hamas, alone, break the last cease-fire or did Israel break it, too, by refusing to apply it to the West Bank, closing the border and trying to starve the regime? Is it necessary to isolate Hamas, if this is the price--would it not be better to isolate Hamas in a sea of hope generated by a peace deal with Fatah? Did not Fatah people, and Irgun people, for that matter, engage in terror? If terror means killing categories of people at random to make a political point, whose hands are clean?

What is Hamas infrastructure if not the ambient support of the population? Doesn't this attack make support stronger in the long run? Can any ground operation hope to topple the regime? What will stop the attack if not world opinion, that will not think about missiles on Shderot, but a "disproportionate response" to missiles on Shderot? Come to think of it, will they not think about Gaza under siege and what brought the place to desperate poverty? How will West Bankers react when they see Hamas standing up and dying while they feel the settlements growing around them?

And how will Egyptians react? And Jordanians? And Israeli Arabs, who are spontaneously demonstrating against the attack? And the Intel board, whose $4.5 billion dollar fab is in range? How do we build a future with Palestine when we are seen through a prism of vendetta? Will not the families and widening circles around the dead hate you forever? Do not terrorists come mainly from the ranks of youth who are ashamed to have survived? Was there not another way all along, which we cannot see now?

OUR GENERALS DO not address these questions. That is not their job. They speak instead about the need for hasbara, literally "explanation," public relations, those critical soft skills the people in the Foreign Ministry are supposed to have, but judging from the world's reaction seem not to have in abundance, at least, not to compare with the competence of generals, proven once again.

(Photo: Dudu Bachar, from today's Haaretz)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

What Every Child Knows

Over 8o Qassam missiles landed in areas bordering Gaza over the past 24 hours. Nobody should doubt how insufferable this is. But what should Israel do? Every child knows that you are attacked because the other person doesn't realize you can hit back, that your hurt can become his hurt. Reasonable people want action.

"We have no father, we have no mother," a resident of Shderot screamed at a radio journalist this past week, understandably in despair about his government's inability to protect him from explosions; in despair also, no doubt, about his children's growing realization that he cannot protect them. "Our response will be substantial and painful to Hamas," an Israeli government official said this morning.

Then again, children don't know everything

ONE CANNOT INFLICT pain on Hamas without magnifying pain on the residents of Gaza, whose support for Hamas was born out of just such violence and political stalemate. One cannot magnify pain on the residents of Gaza without further discrediting the Palestine Authority in the eyes of West Bankers, particularly the youth, whose relative affluence only makes them feel like traitors. Spreading violence means not only new and tragic deaths, but new pictures on al-Jazeera of ambulances pulling bodies from crumbled buildings; new reports on the BBC, or CNN, adding up the casualties, implicitly daring viewers to value the lives of Israeli children over those of Palestinian children. Still want to hit this tar-baby one more time, but harder?

The sad truth is that exercising sovereign power is a more complicated thing than getting your father to beat up his father. In his weekly newsletter, M.J. Rosenberg astutely quotes former Mossad chief, Ephraim Halevy: "'[Hamas] leaders entered into the arrangement . . . with the intention of making it the beginning of a process.' They sold the cease-fire to their followers as means to achieve certain 'deliverables': a prisoner release and an easing of border restrictions. But Hamas got neither, just as Israel did not achieve Gilad Shalit’s release."

Rosenberg continues: "Israel has no difficulty blaming Hamas for breaking the cease-fire. The logic sounds impeccable. If Hamas stops shooting, it will get quiet in return. From the Gazans’ point of view, however, the Israeli blockade is a form of violence. How can Hamas be expected to stop its attacks if Israel keeps a million people penned up in what they view as a vast prison camp?"

Indeed, if you were the leaders of Hamas--Islamist, rejectionist, housed in Damascus, supported by Iran, and so forth--and you saw Israeli peace talks with Syria taking shape, Obama hinting broadly about a moderate alliance of Arab states, a rekindling of the Saudi peace initiative, a tightening of cooperation between Israel and Egypt, and a desire by the current Israeli government to extend the status quo indefinitely, so that Gaza residents have nothing to think about but their poverty, well, what would you do? Older kids know about it. It's called a sucker punch.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

No Preconditions, Redux

First time tragedy, second time farce, fifth (sixth, etc.,) time, repetition compulsion. This morning on the radio, Israel's wake-up: Benny Begin, the son of Menachem, now high on the Likud list, is warning about Olmert's negotiations with Syria:

"There must be [I am remembering this without notes] no preconditions for talks," he said; the Syrians must understand that if "they change their behavior," we will be prepared to negotiate; but they cannot expect us to negotiate with them and, in effect, agree in advance to show what our final position will be. But would Begin--the interviewer, Yaacov Achimeir, asked--be open to the evacuation of Israeli settlements from the Golan? Stupid question. How could Israel consider "descending from the Golan"?, he answered. How could we agree to such things, and certainly not as a condition for face-to-face talks? "No, our government will insist on talks with no preconditions."

THE SAME CADENCES as his father, the same grand phrases suggesting prideful unbendingness, the same mocking tone, the same faux-diplomatic grandeur--you know, the kind of rhetoric a nervous Jewish kid in pre-war Poland, imagining great-power diplomacy, thinks he has to default to. There is even the same adversion to liturgical nuance, just to show-off to the Orthodox how entrenched in the tradition he is: What then, Achimeir asked, about restoring the "quiet" with Hamas in Gaza? What kind of quiet?, Begin rolled on, his voice rising and falling, as if on stage, and not on the telephone: "Birzono sheket, birzono himum; birzono...," which translates roughly as "By his will, quiet, by his will escalation; by his will, etc...," ostensibly referring to Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh, but first meant to rehearse that lovely prayer from the Yom Kippur liturgy, about God's ability to make of us what He wills. Who does Haniya think he is! God? (One can almost hear the heavenly reverberations: "President Carter: don't you know Jews don't kneel!")

As if a peace treaty with Syria would not transform the region, pulling Assad from Iran's orbit, and opening the door for Obama; as if it would not begin to relax Israel's trip-wire confrontation with Hezbollah, and launch negotiations with Syria over ending the funneling of Iranian arms to jihadists; as if it would not mean Israeli diplomats on the road to Damascus, the heart of the Arab nation, the city now harboring Hamas's Khaled Meshal, opening the possibility of bringing water from Turkey, and eventually even bringing Hamas, too, to open recognition of Israel; as if it would not mean giving new momentum and bite to the Arab League's peace initiative. 

AND AS IF we don't already know the quid pro this quo, after a dozen years of contact and open secrets about failed negotiations; Christ, as if Cambodian peasants don't know by now that it means Israel will have to give up sovereignty on the Golan, yes, including a few meters of shoreline on the Sea of Galilee; as if the negotiations should not be about how to demilitarize the Golan, and turn it into a nature preserve, a tourist attraction; as if they should not be about providing a way for Israeli residents to vacate with dignity; as if the early warning stations on the Hermon have not been trumped by aerial intelligence, as if Israeli sovereign pride would really be wounded by getting all of these benefits at the cost of accepting the principle that every inch of Arab land won by force must be returned.

Oh, and as if Menachem Begin, for all of his tiresome posturing, did not return every inch of the Sinai to Sadat in return for peace, including dismantling the settlements of Yamit; as if he did not, through Moshe Dayan in Morocco, agree in advance to do so in principle before Sadat came to Jerusalem; and as if he did not, nevertheless, try following to the end the implications of the hard-line with Syria and Palestine, launching a bloody, needless war in Lebanon in 1982, and dying a broken, catatonically depressed man, reviewing his sovereign folly, adding up the many Israeli soldiers and others killed.

Funny, here they were, interviewer and interviewed, two sons of former leaders of the Yishuv's terrorist underground (Achimier's father was Abba Achimier), speaking about diplomatic signs as if they were the sons of Metternich, the latter telling the former how, if only the Syrians withdrew their preconditions, then it would be a sign for possible talks, for it would mean that they would not need Israelis to retreat from their preconditions. In other words, Jewish power has been recognized. Things can stay as they are. And all before coffee, for God's sake.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Hebron Agonistes: Too Much For Israel

The apartments of Kiryat Arba, as seen from the yard of the el-Hai family in the wadi below.

It has been common for educated Israelis to think, and Israeli diplomats and American Jewish leaders to present, the settler community of Hebron as a kind of radical nuisance. Presumably, the settlers are a side-show of a defensive strategic policy, a touch of hubris gone wrong, a little understandible selfishness after centuries of self-effacement—anyway, a line that can be moved when the time is right, certainly not a country within a country that has grown, SimCity-like, into something the size of the Jewish colony in Palestine in 1946.

In this view—not entirely wrong—the settlers were post-1967 Israelis only more so: people who took classical Zionist ideas about settling the Land of Israel a little too seriously, or took the Jews’ election a little too literally, or accepted cheap mortgages from the Jewish Agency a little too opportunistically; people who have randomly scattered themselves in the occupied territory in a now obviously failed effort to annex the holy land, or just to show that Jews can live everywhere in it.

The settlers, presumably, have settled under the nose of a forbearing, once vaguely sympathetic Israeli government, otherwise preoccupied by encirclement and terror. But they are people whom the Israeli government—if it ever had a real peace partner in the Palestinians, and not jihadist terrorists firing missiles, or sending in suicide bombers—would clear out in a great show of sovereign will. The recent clearing of the “House of Contention” by the Israeli Army is proof, so the argument goes, of the Israeli army’s residual power. The more recent breakdown of the cease fire with Hamas is proof of how Israel faces an existential threat, and dares not be distracted by the settlers.

Benjamin Netanyahu, who’s picked up the scent of power, is defining a new centrism by triangulating these poles. He knows that Israelis have lost patience with Judeans, or at least the disquieting ones. He’s made a show of purging one of the most fanatic of the settlers, Moshe Feiglin, from the 20th. position in the Likud list for the Knesset (though many more remain in 
the top 30); and he is simultaneously telling us that both the peace talks Olmert conducted with the Palestinian Authority, and the “time of retreat” in Gaza, are over. No two-state solution will compromise the existence of Kiryat Arba (no more than the unity of Jerusalem), he says. But neither settler zealots nor Palestinian terrorists, presumably, will be allowed to challenge the existence of the state. Each side—some now, some later—will be forced to change their behavior by Israeli state force.

I WENT TO Hebron a couple of weeks ago, as part of a delegation of Israelis hoping to show a measure of solidarity with an Arab family whose patriarch, Abed el-Hai, had been shot at point blank range defending his home from one Kiryat Arba settler as the House of Contention was being cleared. There is no need to sentimentalize this gruff, stolid man—whose many barefooted grandchildren, sticky from holiday candy and twittering over
 our cell phones, will be run over by global forces if peace should ever come. But let’s just say that a day in Hebron focuses the mind. 

You think out from Hebron, and the holes in the common wisdom become obvious, well, certainly less abstract. A different pattern takes shape, and virtually every premise of the common wisdom falls away.

1. Kiryat Arba, with surrounding settlements, is a solid town of about 10,000 people and growing. Many of its youth were born there, marinating in a peculiar and vicious righteousness. But there can be no Palestinian state if Kiryat Arba remains; to keep its residents under Israeli sovereignty, you would have to cut the southern West Bank in half, and keep checkpoints all along the route from Gush Etzion. Kiryat Arba’s residents would never accept Palestinian citizenship, even if this were offered. Imagine offering Klansmen rule by Stokely Carmichael, or Martin Luther King, for that matter. 

2. According to army intelligence, and demonstrated precedent, a substantial number of Kiryat Arba residents would be willing to violently resist the Israeli army. Reserve army units—young men from Herzliya or Netanya—will tell you the settlers are out of their minds. But this is not the only army. An increasing number of junior officers conducting the occupation come from the movements and homes of the settlers. The army is there, soldiers say, to keep the peace. But in any case, this means enforcing the status quo, in which settlements naturally expand. 

3. There is nothing random about what the settlers are doing. In Hebron, the idea is to create a land bridge from Kiryat Arab to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. It is Abed el-Hai’s bad luck that his home is in the way, in the wadi below Kiryat Arba, which the settlers want to turn “Jewish.” Most nights, Kiryat Arba residents throw rocks, garbage, and bags of urine into his yard. 
In the area known as H-2, where the settlers have rights under the Wye Agreement (you know, the agreement then-prime minster Netanyahu negotiated in 1998), the Arab population has declined from about 35,000 to 18,000.   

The road from Kiryat Arba to the Tomb has a yellow (that's right, yellow) line on it, indicating that no Arab is allowed to walk on it; the settlers push their baby-strollers freely, while army jeeps patrol up and down, and Arab kids watch from third floor windows, many of them with iron screens to protect them from rocks, etc. 

The settlers have set up a synagogue on the land of Jaabri family—another family in the way—which the Israeli High Court has declared illegal, and the army has taken down over 30 times, only to have the “minyan” rebuild it. During prayers, their children often throw rocks, etc., onto the homes of the Jaabris. A stone’s throw in the other direction is the grave of, and monument to, Baruch Goldstein

4. Multiply the Hebron problem by twenty, and you have the real, grotesque problem that occupation has engendered. Jerusalem is the radioactive core of it. Try to evacuate Kiryat Arba by force and tens of thousands will stream down from yeshivot in Jerusalem to stand with them. 

No Israeli leader wants to deal with facing down the new Judeans—or can, without destroying Israeli social solidarity. I have written here before about how all fanatics live within concentric circles of support. No matter who wins a majority in the next election, about half of Israeli Knesset members will be from circles which the settlers count on—National Orthodox, Shas, Leiberman’s Russians, Haredi—people concentrated in and around Jerusalem, whom the settlers will tell you would be in settlements themselves if they had the guts; people who will nevertheless apply the “values” the settlers stand for to Jerusalem. 

Again, Netanyahu has demoted Feiglin. But the government he will form will rest on this Judean coalition. And if Livni-Barak win, they will face an opposition nearly the size of their own bloc, with many sympathetic members, and a fear of resting their coalition (as they will have to) on the Arab parties. 

5. Hamas is growing in power—in the West Bank, too—directly as a result of this grotesquery. It is absurd to think of Gaza as a separate matter. Nor will the Hamas leadership be intimidated by shows of force. Actually, they thrive on it—precisely because eruptions of violence allow them to be seen as the steadfast opposition to the inertial expansion of Israeli occupation. An Israeli attack on Gaza, which must be bloody, will be play right into Hamas’s hands. 

6. True, Israelis on the coastal plain are increasingly appalled by the settlers, and will tell you so. Livni’s biggest applause line at the Globes business conference last week was her insistence that, under her leadership, peace talks with the Palestinians will continue. But taking on the settlers is another matter. It is more politic to talk about smashing Hamas, whose missile attacks on Shderot truly are insufferable.

7. Netanyahu speaks of "economic peace" as alternative to the peace process. This is also absurd. Palestinians cannot build businesses with 500 checkpoints across the West Bank. Those checkpoints are mainly to protect the settlers. 

WHERE DOES THIS leave us? The simple fact is, this problem is too big for Israel. We will need the world’s involvement; anyone who tells you different is either covering for the settlers, or afraid for electoral reasons to appear squishy about Israeli autonomy, or arrogant, or ignorant, or thick, or all of these at once. This post is not the place to describe what involvement means, though the contours of a two-state deal have been obvious for many years. The point is, what Hebron represents cannot be solved by this deal in a few decisive months, like the evacuation of the Sinai was. New changes to the landscape will take years. Or the landscape will look like Bosnia.

Perhaps the saddest part of all of this is that first patriarch of Hebron, Abraham, never turned promised land holy. When faced with contention, as his herdsmen quarreled with Lot, he said something unforgettable but forgotten: "Is not the whole land before you? Let's part company. If you go to the left, I'll go to the right; if you go to the right, I'll go to the left."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Season's Greetings

(This post, from last year, seems worth republishing in this season of dark hope.)

It is not a simple matter to be a Jew in America this time of year. Not in Jerusalem either, a few miles from Bethlehem. Christmas, as John Updike writes, is Christianity "at its sweetest." Many have written, some with an air of sweet resignation, about the yearning Jews feel as the days darken: to share in the melodies, the hearth, the love of the child.

It was only a matter of time—was it not?—that we would start finding ways to be absorbed into the spirit of the moment. So we exchange presents, greet the "season," tease out of the ancient Chanukah story our own celebration of light and grace—God bless, eight days, not just one! And we leave behind, in mildly embarrassed obscurity, the tale of Maccabean guerrilla war against Greek occupiers around 165 BC—a mythical victory that had been so much solace for medieval rabbis, forced into ghettos, and more recently, for outnumbered Zionists.

Read the rest of the post here...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Connect the Dots #8: Imagine

On Reshet Bet, Israel's dominant radio station, this morning between 9:30 and 10:00: 

1. A 10-15 minute report on today's Likud primary, in which the radio host interviewed a succession of Likud candidates and officials, all outdoing themselves to explain why Benjamin Netanyahu is headed for the prime minister's chair: how the "neighborhood" as he likes to call it needs a tough leader; how (responsible) settlers need a champion; how America needs to persist in the war on terror, and Netanyahu is the man to tell them; and so forth.

2. A short reminder that today's the anniversary of John Lennon's murder, followed by a sentimental tribute, and a play of "Imagine."

3. A 10-minute report about the relatively large number of young people coming back from India, after their stint in the army, and suffering from mental illnesses; the focus of the report was a young man who has been diagnosed as schizophrenic.  "He was fine in the army," his father said, "but after he returned he deteriorated fast; he had tried all manner of mushrooms there, apparently."

Extra credit: Listen to "Imagine" while reading the Likud platform. Then play "Fool on the Hill" and try not to think of that benighted young man.  

Friday, December 5, 2008

Congress to J-Street: "Where Have You Been!"

Members of Congress welcoming J-Street, some of whom are pictured above:  Jan Schakowsky, Steve Cohen, Keith Ellison, Bob Filner, Bill Delahunt, David Price, Tom Allen, and many others. 

The Advisory Council of J-Street, the new peace lobby, met in Washington in mid-September to plot (actually, to hear its staff articulate) the organization's strategy for the remainder of the election campaign and the year following. Among the various discussions Jeremy Ben-Ami, J-Street's immensely gifted Executive Director, had planned for the day was a lunchtime forum with eight of the congressional representatives who had accepted the lobby's endorsement.

We thought this would be a courtesy meeting, with gracious if not perfunctory remarks. J-Street had already signed up over 70,000 to its email network--the number is now over 90,000--but J-Street is a very new organization, with little of AIPAC's accumulated clout. What we got was a meeting of unexpected honesty, even poignancy. 

"Where have you been!" California's Rep. Bob Filner asked us, not entirely rhetorically. His challenge was repeated again and again by members of Congress from across the country. As Filner put it, progressive forces in this country used to count on Jewish groups, and nobody doubted the persistence of progressive sentiments among the vast majority of American Jews; a great number of representatives have seen advocacy of a Middle East peace along the lines of, say, the Clinton Parameters as the touchstone of their friendship for Israel, and their absorption by Israel's tragic conflict with, and in, Palestine. 

In a way, the Israel-Palestine conflict seemed to them a kind of litmus test for how American foreign policy would be conducted after Iraq: would there be a Western alliance, coordinating its many kinds of power to pursue peace and common interests, or, a Global War on Terror, with force the only language Moslems and Joe the Plumber are presumed to understand?

Curiously enough, AIPAC's approach has also been to turn the way Israel is supported into a test for managing foreign policy more generally, with a steady drumbeat favoring the use of force on Iran; and it seems that being the target of AIPAC's attention has not been an entirely enchanting experience. AIPAC began as a broad-based organization after the 1973 war, anxious to develop a counterweight to the State Department's traditional coziness with oil interests favoring the Arab version of Zionism. That was then. AIPAC has since become a kind of bastion for self-hating neocons: people who insist they are bipartisan, but who are really quite comfortable with the clash of civilizations, since it allows them to sell Israel as America's biggest Middle East based aircraft-carrier. Think of (though it is unpleasant) Joe Lieberman. 

IF THESE CONGRESSPEOPLE were to be believed--and the meeting was open--AIPAC had become one of the most feared, and secretly loathed, presences on Capital Hill. One got the feeling that a much larger number of congressional representatives were hungry for a broad-based, progressive, Jewish-led (but not exclusively Jewish) organization to (as one Congressman put it) "protect their back." Which brings me to the present.

Jeremy Ben-Ami has set the perfectly reasonable goal of signing up 100,000 people by the end of the year. You can hear his pitch, and explore the J-Street site, by clicking here.  I urge all of you, Jews and not, to get involved.  As the Hebron riots show, Israel and Palestine will blow unless the world forces the people here into a change in the conversation.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Terrorist Circles

As I considered Mumbai, living in Jerusalem, a few hundred yards from many such attacks, I came upon this paragraph during my bedtime reading, in Adam Gopnik's lovely book, Through The Children's Gate. Adam is recalling a conversation in New York, just after 9/11. Think of it as we judge what President-elect Obama means by wedding military power to other power:

Later that day, I bump into F.A., the Arabist, and we have a talk about What Is To Be Done. I ask him if there is anything we can do about madmen who worship psychopathic gods. And he says something obvious but interesting: that there's nothing to be done about the core, the real nuts, but they exist, as human beings must within concentric circles of culture: an immediate circle of murder-minded sympathizers and financiers; a circle just outside that of sympathizers who would not do such things themselves but will not stop them from happening; a circle beyond that of people who choose not to know what is being done but sympathize with the radical purpose; a circle beyond that one of the fearful and even sentimentally sympathetic--and on and on, each circle of culture outside the actual nucleus of evil a little larger and a little less regular in its orbit than the one before, and therefore able to be dried up, reduced, set loose. Attack and persuade the outer circles of culture to abandon the inner circles, and eventually, the core will be all alone, isolated and futile.