Trump as a Disrupter: Part III Responses to his Jerusalem Pronouncement

Trump as a Disrupter: Part III Responses to the his Jerusalem Pronouncement

by

Howard Adelman

Obviously, if the “deep” international diplomatic strategy outlined in the last blog lay behind the move, the U.S. was signalling that the Israelis were being given the benefit of the doubt rather than the Palestinians. The Palestinians were being considered the more intransigent side with less ability to back up that intransigence with actual force and now with an obvious threat that their situation would deteriorate even further in the future. America was clearly signalling, even if only symbolically at the present, that it had greater confidence in Israel in protecting the accessibility of all three faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – than the Palestinian regime, especially given what had happened when Hamas came to power in Gaza.

The U.S. was, at the same time, signalling to the rest of the world that hypocrisy and the huge gulf between real power on the ground and policy would no longer prevail. The move had global ramifications, even though at this time it was largely symbolic. The Palestinians had been sent a clear message – come to the negotiation table, but without an intractable position that made progress impossible. Come with no preconditions.

Signals will bounce back to indicate whether a disruptive process might succeed where traditional methods failed. Will the demonstrations of the Palestinians stop short of becoming an all-out intifada? Will other countries travel the same path and reinforce the American signal? Though scotched by the Prime Minister, the President of the Czech Republic signalled a willingness to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Philippines may be ready to do so. In fulfillment of the King of Bahrain’s promise restrictions on his subjects traveling to Israel would be lifted, a Bahraini delegation of 25, though not consisting of government officials but representing all faiths, will still be visiting Israel to discuss peace and coexistence as a step in normalizing relations, despite the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Will the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, signal they are willing to take a new course by restricting any protests to rhetorical ones only? The signal had to be one that, while leaving the door wide open to negotiating anything and everything, also sends the message that if there was no movement, America would be prepared to up the ante to the disadvantage of the Palestinians.

If Trump’s pronouncement had been an expression of the ancient art of international diplomacy, it had to conform to certain general rules. Sun Tzu in The Art of War, published about 2,500 years ago in China, offered the first basic rational foundation for an art of international diplomacy and military strategy. The use of the military was to be a last resort. Before the military was deployed, a long period of military preparation was required based on a combination of deceit and diplomacy to forestall war if possible and seek a peaceful resolution of a conflict. Sun Tzu offered the prototype for “balance of power politics” that formed the foundation of international relations for the previous two centuries in our time. The goal: to minimize the disruption, economic and social costs of increasingly bloody wars. The issue was how to subdue an enemy without fighting at all. Using the manipulation of both allies and enemies, rational international policy was viewed as an effort to end the prospect of war, minimize its effects if avoidance was not possible, and create a stronger foundation for peace following a war.

However, as part of the theory of a balance of power, the formula insisted that it was best first to attack strategies, then alliances and finally armies. But what if the very strategy of a balance of power approach to international diplomacy was itself attacked by disruption as a new means of conducting international relations? After all, disruption of communications has always been a hallmark of authoritarian regimes domestically. Such regimes have extended its use to the international sphere. Putin proved its effectiveness in attacking America during the last election. This was complemented by Trump’s tweets used for domestic distraction.

Part of the context for the re-emergence of disruptive versus so-called rational international diplomacy has been the existence of irresolvable paradoxes in other international crisis areas. To cite one such paradox, after our studies of the Rwanda genocide and our attack on the complacency of bystanders, it became clear that the greater the righteousness with which the problem was approached, the greater the number of casualties. The loftier the rhetoric, the less likely there was to be any action. This was true of the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). That Canadian initiative was endorsed unanimously by the United Nations, but the initiative only received that unanimity by gutting its central foundation, the limitation of national power and legislating the right to international intervention in cases of genocide. RtoP gained universal support only by requiring national consent for an intervention. The greater the support, the weaker the application of the principle! Hence the tension between humanitarian intervention and sovereignty re the ethnic cleansing in Darfur as it played itself out clearly in favour of the superior status of sovereignty. (Cf. Alan Seelinger (2009 Does the International Community Have a Legal Responsibility to Protect?  An Analysis of Norms Regarding Humanitarian Intervention in Africa since 1990)

Further, in traditional diplomacy, negotiations were conducted with the perpetrators of the crimes to mitigate the loss of life. When that door was increasingly closed, slaughters became more wanton in places such as Darfur, the DRC and Kenya. When Jan Egeland could not follow through in his negotiations with Joseph Kony for a deal to mitigate the slaughter; the murders continued. One could almost formulate a principle: the greater the degree that righteousness enters into international diplomacy, the less effective that diplomacy will be and the loftier the moral rhetoric will become, accompanied by reduced action rather than increased military intervention.

Thus, an alternative method of dealing with international diplomacy emerged in the face of the hypocrisy and impotence of traditional so-called rational diplomacy. The policy was one of disruption rather than a rational and systematic use of diplomacy to reduce the threat of war and the misuse of children. The gamble was introducing a controlled wildfire rather than continue the stalemate of a growing cold war between enemies, such as the Israelis and the Palestinians. For that was the source of the real danger, not the fulminations of Iran nor the resort to violence of Hamas.

Hamas was on the verge of being domesticated. The risk had to be taken to bring even Hamas under the auspices of the PA back to the negotiation table without Hamas retaining a veto. Advantage had to be taken of the new willingness of Saudi Arabia to use power and not just financial influence to gain traction in its competition with Iran. Advantage had to be taken of the new security needs of Egypt for Israeli support to stop the extremists in the Sinai. Advantage had to be taken of the declining power of Turkey in the region even as the Turkish voice had grown ever louder and shriller in its denunciations of Israel. Advantage had to be taken of the continuing decline of the status of a PA controlled by the PLO rather than the newly-born extremists.

World, get off your butts. The stalemate up to now only promised future disaster. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was indeed a keg waiting to explode. That was all the more reason to light a controlled fire to divert the path of the flames away from such a potential explosion. After an initial controlled fire, after a cooling off period, after secret support and actions now by key Arab countries, after America sent a clear message that the status quo and complacency were no longer tolerable, after the U.S. had once again assumed real leadership on the peace issue and gave up on the illusion that international cooperation was a prerequisite to a breakthrough, the latter stance favouring the Palestinians and disadvantaging the Israelis, and only after the 1947 UN partition resolution decisions had been buried as a reference point, only then could the problem of Jerusalem be settled.

America was indeed signalling that the problem would be resolved in favour of the Israelis even as it reiterated that all parties had to come to the table without preconditions. The context on the ground had changed. Tiny Israel had emerged as a world economic power and as a regional military power. More and more, Israel was being accepted for what it had become. The participation of the IDF in military cooperation in Cyprus was simply an indicator of this change. Traditional diplomatic ambiguity and equivocation, that had always been the order of the day internationally, had to be buried alongside Palestinian dreams that it could and would inherit the Old City. Israeli expansionism had to be stopped, but the international benediction of mythical reversibility had to be buried as well.

Did the Trump initiative offer clarity based on a deep strategy or was it a toss of the dice when rationality has proven to be impotent? In traditional diplomacy, equivocation rather than clarity is highly valued. But equivocation in this situation would mean a clear signal (that the Palestinians could not eventually win the day) could not be sent to the Palestinians, for such a message would likely trigger escalating initiatives in the same direction. However, the gamble also meant that if Palestinian intransigence was deemed counter-productive, this would just reinforce it and thereby create more of a long-term concern for Israel.

Rather than refocusing on the two-state solution, disruption might force the Palestinians, as Saeb Erekat prophesied, to give up on the two-state solution and now push for equal rights for all Palestinians in the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. By sending the sham of a peace process and the vision of a two-state solution to the ash heap of history, the one-state solution might gain real traction even if the U.S. finally formally adopted the two-state solution as the preferred outcome. Would the game then be worth it if that was a likely or even possible outcome?

However, if Donald Trump’s mode of acting was aberrant, was intentionally non-rational, was driven by instinct rather than a rational and deliberative approach, was a belief resting on years of experience in defying conventional wisdom, then disruption as a mode of diplomacy could become the order of the day. If the Trump administration has deliberately abandoned cautious regional and international diplomacy, is the above then the rationale for the employment of irrationality?

What I believe has occurred is that James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, Mike Pompeo as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, all openly opposed Trump fulfilling his promise to move the American embassy to Jerusalem. Jared Kushner himself had urged caution. Tillerson, Mattis and Pompeo privately urged Trump to reconsider recognition of Jerusalem’s capital while Kushner and even Jason Greenblatt asked to delay the embassy move.

But no one can stop Donald Trump when he is on a tear. The use of disruptive international diplomacy had the added advantage of serving as a distraction from the Mueller inquiry. Tillerson, the Director of the CIA, Trump’s Defence Secretary and even his son-in-law went to work to massage an irrational initiative and cover it with a patina of rationality. Hence the well-crafted and nuanced policy statement. Hence the reading from the monitors. The principles behind the rational approach to international diplomacy were married to disruptive methods. What an unholy marriage! How could the two methods work together on the operational level when the premises were so disparate?

Rational Diplomacy                           Disruptive Diplomacy

The Primacy of National Interests    Personal Preferences Prevail

Emphasis on Diplomacy                       Emphasis on Pronouncements from

on High

Foundation in Strategic Analysis         Ignorance and Thoughtlessness

Perceptive                                                 Blind

Equivocation to Disguise Differences Absolute Clarity

Circumspection                                        Indiscretion

The Importance of Credibility             Introduction of the Incredible

Comprehensiveness                               Piecemeal

Confidence-building                               Emphasizing the Unexpected

Caution and Indecision                           High Risk Diplomacy – Recklessness

Indecision                                                  Decisiveness

Predictability                                            Unpredictability

The new disruptive methodology has not been restricted to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The international area offers a plethora of paradoxes that have not been resolved by rational diplomacy. No one knows how Trump will handle the consensus on dealing with other paradoxes in the international sphere: stopping nuclear proliferation while basing ultimate strategies on nuclear deterrence; an emphasis on economic sanctions that may run counter to national interests. The list goes on. The negotiations on Iran’s nuclear capability may have been the last great victory of rational diplomacy even as Trump pronounced it the worst deal in history. As much as I supported it, in one sense it was a weak deal. For it favoured nuclear deterrence, but allowed Iran to grow as a regional power and expand its use of proxies to engage in ideological warfare. Iran became a more dangerous state when denuded of its nuclear capabilities.

If diplomacy is the art and practice of negotiating to maintain peaceful relations between and among states while reducing animosity through the use of confidence-building measures, quiet diplomacy, and engendering goodwill and mutual trust, Trump has thrown all these practices into the fires raging in southern California and, instead of stressing communication between different parties to reach agreement on issues of fundamental disagreement, he has pronounced. He has announced, all the while paying lip service, but only lip service, to negotiations between the parties.

 

Tomorrow in a subsequent blog I will examine other versions of the disruptive thesis than the unholy alliance between rational and disruptive international diplomacy over the endgame with respect to holy sites.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Parshat Matot: Numbers 31-36 – Justice

Parshat Matot: Numbers 31-36 – Justice

by

Howard Adelman

Eye in the Sky is a 2015 British thriller that applies the laws and ethics of just war theory to drone warfare. Whether in the ceilings of gambling casinos or in weather helicopters above our cities, whether the pictures are taken by satellites flying above the earth or by tiny robotic flies entering a house through a window left ajar, these ubiquitous surveillance cameras are now omniscient and omnipresent. In the Torah, God is the eye in the sky who can attend even to the pecking of a tiny sparrow.

One can, of course, be absorbed in this all-pervasive point of view and the technology or theology behind it. But one can also find it captivating and totally absorbing to use the eye in the sky to reveal dilemmas of justice in the lives of humans. The latter is the real purpose of the 2015 movie and of this week’s Torah portion.

In the movie, surveillance cameras from satellites zero in on a house in Eastview, the Somali section of Nairobi and also enter in from within the house using a surveillance camera is a mechanical flying insect. I had problems personally with the scene being placed in Eastview since, though I have not been back to Nairobi since the real rise of fanatic Islam began to spread all over the world in this century, I found it hard to believe that the Kenyan army would permit armed fanatics to control the streets and entry to a villa in the Somali part of Nairobi. But the movie quickly made me suspend such sources of disbelief. For the issue was credibility, not truth. The issue was a moral and legal issue and not the empirical reality of the dilemma. The situation merely needed to be plausible; it did not need to be credible.

The film opens with a Somali Muslim father who works repairing bicycles. He has made a hula hoop for his ten-year-old (???) daughter who is delighted by her present. Her father is also pleased and overjoyed watching his daughter play – that is, until a strict Muslim enters the courtyard to redeem his repaired bike and remonstrates the daughter and the father for allowing his daughter to play in such a provocative way – the swinging of hips, one presumes. This is important because we can identify with the daughter forced to conform in her play to a very strict interpretation of Sharia law, a stricture to which her own father agrees given the intimidating environment in which they supposedly live.

The girl will be the focus of our concern throughout the movie as Hawkeye missiles are to be shot at a house in which there are two leading terrorists and, as a bonus, two martyrs preparing to blow themselves up and sacrifice themselves for their fanatical belief in Islam. The young girl is selling her mother’s baked bread outside the walls of the compound that is being targeted. She is the potential and likely collateral damage with which the military officers concerned with military urgency are wrestling as they try to take advantage of a rare opportunity. The Attorney General and lawyers from the justice department are there as well, focused on the interpretation of international law concerning the conduct of war. There are also politicians concerned with the issue of how the collateral damage of the death of the young girl will be viewed by the media, quite aside from the importance of military action even for humanitarian reasons. To top it all off, there is a holdout moralist who, in addition to her concern with the perception of the public, goes beyond that and finds the potential killing of a girl to be beyond the pale, even when the targets are terrorists and the threat is imminent.

Key issues of law and morality, military necessity and moral considerations, weigh on contemporary society in the context of warfare. So too in the Torah. Ethical questions always arise in such life-and-death situations. However, in the film and in the Torah, the ethical outcomes are radically at odds. In the movie as the urgency of this situation grows, ethical necessity dictates a willingness to sacrifice the innocent daughter of a Somali bicycle repair man in the interest of advancing the war against radical Islam. From the legal perspective, once proper legal procedures have been followed and the responsible authorities authorize the decision, the lawyers from the justice department advising on the law applied to the terms of engagement can be persuaded to authorize an action in the name of military necessity.

But the politicians take longer since the perception of how the action will be weighed, how the death of one girl will be weighed on the scales of justice, against the likely but still only possible large number of deaths from the vest bombs of the fanatics weigh heavily. And then there is the moralist. She will never be persuaded that the possible loss of the life of one young girl by a deliberate action with knowledge aforethought should not outweigh the highly probable but still uncertain deaths of many more sometime in the very near future. The tension of the movie is built around these conflicts.

Of course, this is a totally false picture of the doctrine of just war and the terms of military engagement applied to such a situation, for this is an open and shut case militarily, legally, politically and even morally. The sacrifice would certainly be permitted under the laws of necessity and proportionality, under the laws of proper authority and procedural regularity of just war theory. But, after all, this is a Hollywood film even if made by the Brits. For though the decision is British, the implementers are Americans. It helps that the British military officers are played by Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman to allow even me to set aside my incredulity at the overt manipulation of my emotions for such a distorted moral dilemma. I know better, but I was totally sucked in. Aaron Paul, the pilot of the drone, may have tears in his eyes, but I actually wept as I, in my mind, berated the legalists, the weak-kneed politicians and the ideological moralists who stood in the way of military necessity and a just decision – with one small qualifier which I will not reveal lest it spoil the movie for those who have not seen it and may want to.

What has this all to do with this week’s Torah portion? Well the latter is also all about justice, even though the norms of justice are totally at odds. They are the other extreme of the situation in the film cast in the context of political and moral correctness which is portrayed as such a heavy handicap on the military carrying out its duties of protection. Look at the series of moral issues raised in chapters 32-37 of Numbers:
1. With the background of Jephthah and the insistence that he must keep his vow to sacrifice his daughter because he did make the vow to sacrifice the first one who greeted him if he achieved military victory, chapter 30 explores the same issue from the perspective of the daughter, that is whether she was obligated to follow through on the vow to carry out the terms of the contract made by her father; chapter 30 takes up that issue and permits reversion of the vow under very specific patriarchal conditions – the father (or the husband if she is now living in his house) hears the vow and immediately takes action to revoke it; unlike Jephthah’s vow that he alleged could not be reversed, the vow in such circumstances can be revoked.

2. The decimation of all the Midianites, men, women and children, with the exception of female children who have not reached the age of sexual maturity – like the girl in the movie; this genocide is not only permitted, but authorized by God. On what spurious grounds? Because Balaam blessed rather than cursed the Israelites? The real reason is given since the men, including all male children, had already been slaughtered. Moses became angry that mature women had been spared for, lest we forget, the real outcome of Balaam’s blessing was that he, with his blessing, cursed the Israelites by allowing cohabitation between Israelite men and Midianite women. Moses insisted that these mature women had to be killed as well. According to Rashi, God authorized such action lest the preservation of his chosen people be endangered by ethnic intermixing, yet Moses himself was married to a Midianite woman and, as I have said many times before, King David would descend from the loins of one of Israel’s greatest prophets, the Moabite Ruth.

3. The issue of what plunder was acceptable, under what conditions and how it was to be justly apportioned between the military and civilians, between the priestly class and other civilians. (I wanted to write a separate commentary on this, but not enough space and time.)

4. The next issue was the just allocation of lands to the different tribes of Israel and the lands to be set aside for the priestly class.

5. The fixed boundaries of the nation and the setting up of a sufficient number of cities of refugee (6) within that land for unintended murders (what we now call manslaughter) from family members who would otherwise seek and be entitled to vengeance.

6. The restrictions preventing the daughters of Tzelafchad from marrying outside even their tribe when there were no male heirs lest the lands they inherit be allocated to another tribe upon their father’s death since there was no surviving male heir.

The Torah in this section, with God’s imprimatur, sanctions genocide and ethnic cleansing, never mind when it is moral and proper to allow an innocent young girl to be sacrificed is collateral damage in an operation driven by military necessity. This is the other extreme of the moral universe than the one presented in Eye in the Sky. Other than a universe totally free of moral and legal constraints, this is about as close as you can get to a totally morally debased world portrayed as belonging to a moral and legal worldview and sanctioned, indeed instructed, by God.

One can only hand one’s head in shame and offer retrospective apologies to the Midianites (and the Amorites).

I will end here because I have to prepare to be a witness at a wedding of a couple who are Seventh Day Adventists. Yesterday afternoon I spent with a former graduate student who now directs a unique program in diversity studies in an American university and his wife chairs another program at a different nearby university. They also had their grandson with them whom we made an effort not to become collateral damage to a discussion about intolerance and Donald Trump.

There are so many times I feel so blessed to live in the present, when diversity is so valued and in a country like Canada that has made such a value central to its very being.

My Promised Land VI Lydda 1948

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel

by

Ari Shavit

VI:       Lydda 1948

Lod airport is located in the Lydda valley and near what was the Arab city of Lydda. Why choose Lydda as the central symbol of the 1948 war? There are a number of possible reasons. Historically, after the second return from Babylonia, Lydda was the most westerly of the settlements of return. In the third return from exile in the twentieth century, Lydda is located between the ancient city of Jerusalem and the new city of Tel Aviv; Lydda is used because it is a geographical marker. Secondly, unlike Jerusalem, which is a city associated with religiosity, or Tel Aviv, which is a city associated with business, in the Gehaharashim, Lydda is identified as the valley of craftsmen, of practical men who can work with their hands and not as material or spiritual calculators. Third,  Lydda was a pagan town in the ancient world and an Arab city before most Palestinians fled in 1948. It was not only a geographical marker but represented both a cultural divide and a cultural link and both were severed by the 1948 war. There is a fourth and the most important reason. Lydda is the symbol of the paradox of Zionism built on a humanist ideology and forced to get its hands dirty and commit atrocities, forced not simply by outside circumstances but by the inner logic of the ideology. This essay is mainly an unpacking of that fourth reason.

In the beginning of the twentieth century, the Sixth Zionist Congress purchased 2,330 dunams of land in the Valley of Lydda. Most of that land was fertile, not barren. The new story or myth will not be based on making the desert bloom. The new mythos will not be based on a people without a land for a land without people. Rather, this long fertile valley that stretched from the olive orchards of the Arab city of Lydda to the foothills of Jerusalem lies at the heart of the new Israel.

At first, as is usual in Ari’s structure of a chapter, there are a series of failures – the Arid factory to press oil and make fine soaps in 1905 was the first. Kiryat Sefer, the agricultural school founded in 1907 for the orphans who survived the Kishinev pogrom, was the second. The planting of a thousand olive trees in 1908 to honour Theodor Herzl after his death between Kiryat Sefer and the Atid facory, first with hired Arab labour and then replaced by saplings planted solely by Jewish labour, was also of no avail. The trees die, or are uprooted or damaged in the Great War; Herzl’s olive forest in the Valley of Lydda disappears.

These are symbolic as well as concrete failures. The soap factory to cleanse the past is an abject failure. The bet on future youth as a remnant of European persecution and rooting them in the land is a failure. The effort to commemorate the greatest ideologue of Zionism is also a failure. The new Israel will not be created based on cleansing the past of dirty secrets, of survivors of Europe simply transplanted as agricultural workers or from new ideological trees from which a new belief system will be created.  In fact, the fourth effort, the attempt to found a colony of craftsmen in 1910 by transplanting Yemenite artisans to replicate the ancient world is also defeated by the harsh conditions, the shortage of water and the high infant mortality rate. Even the fifth, Vilkansky’s experimental farm based on new science, though a success for sixteen years unlike the others, was transplanted to Rehovot in 1926, a story which Ari already told.

The sixth success forms the core of the story – the youth village established by Dr. Siegfried Lehmann in the abandoned Kiryat Sefer school for the Kishinev orphans twenty years earlier. Why did this succeed whereas the other efforts failed to take root? First, and unlike the kibbutzim founded on an abstract socialist ideology, the youth village was premised on the centrality of family warmth. Second, it was founded on both a humanitarian rather than a narrowly-focused ethnic Zionist mission and a broad historical context, again in juxtaposition to a ghetto centred past. Zionism was there not just to save Jews but to provide a light unto the nations, to save humanity from its physical, mental and spiritual alienation. Lehmann “wanted it to fulfil an urgent national task in a manner that would benefit all humanity. He wanted Zionism to be a settlement movement that was not tainted by colonialism, a national movement not scarred by chauvinism, a progressive movement that was not distorted by urban alienation…Zionism must plant the Jews in their ancient homeland in an organic fashion. It must respect the Orient and become a bridge between east and West.” (103) Zionism was a project of renewal to give roots to the uprooted, homes to the homeless, to restore meaning to life. Bet Shemen would offer harmony to the children and to the era that had lost all harmony.  

This vision of a Zionism integrated into the Orient, not through an alliance of business à la Bernie Avishai centred on Tel Aviv, but on an ideology and mythology of home and hearth and harmony. Founded on friendship, the surrounding Arabs were welcomed. Medical assistance was offered to the Arabs. The humanist utopia was the other side of the Janus-faced Zionism willing to resort to atrocities against Arabs to ensure Jewish survival, but the utopian side of that Janus face was crucial to preserving the soul of Zionism as military training was to preserving the body politic of Zionism. Zionism for an orphaned people based on humanitarian outreach, paradoxically, had to be twinned with military ruthlessness.

Ari in his mythological reconstruction of history, without any evidence, suggests that the visit to Ben Shemen in 1947 became the turning point in the deliberations of the UNSCOP committee. While it is clear from the accounts of the members of UNSCOP that they were distressed at visiting Arab factories that employed and exploited Arab children and were enthused by the visit to the youth villages of Zionism, there is no indication that this was a turning point but only one impression among many that reinforced the recommendation of partition to the United Nations.

But Ben Shemen is a turning point in the war that starts before May of 1948. In December 1947, a seven car convoy en route to Ben Shemen is attacked; 13 Jews are murdered. In February of 1948, the 400 students are evacuated. Humanitarianism, though necessary to a revived Zionism, is insufficient. The lessons of Gutman need to balance that humanitarian outreach. David Ben Gurion as the first Prime Minister of the reborn Israel orders the implementation of Operation Larlar in July 1948 to capture the Arab villages of the LyddaValley and the city of Lydda itself and expel all the Arab inhabitants.  

There will be no more effort to wash away Jewish atrocities. Instead they will be presented as necessary reprisal measures to counter Arab terror. Further, they will be twinned not only with the effort for humanitarian outreach but with the necessity for the renewal of that humanitarian outreach, but not without ensuring Jewish survival. The children of Gutman, now as warriors rather than as instruments of humanitarian outreach clear the valley of Arabs and claim the heartland of Israel for the Jewish people.. The atrocities in the City of Lydda are first explained as an accident of the fog of war as two Jordanian tanks mistakenly enter Lydda and the new Jewish defenders launch an all out attack that costs the lives of scores of Arab civilians.  200 are killed and the massacre of Lydda goes down in history. The massacre is compounded by Ben Gurion’s explicit order to expel the civilians of Lydda. Zioniasm no longer needs Benny Morris’ uncovering of the deep dark secrets of Jewish inhumanity. Rather, that inhumanity is set both in a survival context, the fog of war and deliberate strategic imperatives, but without abandoning the humanitarian core at the base of Ben Shemesh.

“Lydda is our black box. In it lies the dark secret of Zionism. The truth is that Zionism could not bear Lydda. From the very beginning there was a substantial contradiction between Zionism and Lydda. If Zionism was to be, Lydda could not be. If Lydda was to be, Zionism could not be.” (108) Ethnic cleansing was not an accidental by-product betraying the humanitarianism of Zionism, but the necessary twin to that humanitarianism.

In 1988, Benny Morris published, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947–1949 through Cambridge University Press. I met Benny Morris in the archives at KewGardens in London, UK. Benny wrote part of that book at the Centre for Refugee Studies that I directed. Ari Shavit discovers this black box of Zionist history in 1994. Without reference to Benny, Ari undertakes his own research and effectively confirms what Benny revealed, but not as historical revelation but as the murder weapon that destroyed the old mythology of Zionism and as the clue to the construction of a new mythology based on twin but opposing principles of universal humanitarianism and ruthless self-protection which ends up breaching humanitarian laws when necessary.

For Ari, it is insufficient to explain ethnic cleansing as simply demanded by the need for self-defence and immanent threat or the need to make decisions in the fog of war. Ben Gurion was under no such imperatives. Yet he ordered the expulsion. That expulsion was not an accidental betrayal of Zionism but at its central core. So the central core of Lydda is then broadened to other atrocities, to the evacuation of other cities, towns and villages of their Arab populations. Ari quotes a mentor and a friend from those atrocities:

When I think of the thefts, the looting, the robberies and recklessness, I realize that these are not merely separate incidents. Together they add up to a period of corruption. The question is earnest and deep, really of historic dimensions. We will all be held accountable for this era. We shall face judgment. And I fear that justice will not be on our side. (117)

Shamaryahu Gutman as de facto Israel’s intelligence chief and Israel Galili as chief of staff of the Haganah together recognize that “the first task in war would be to guarantee an Arab-free zone – a Jewish territorial continuum.” (119) This was an era of total war between the two communities that did not respect past friendships and past treaties. Gutman was named military governor of the Lydda Valley.

Atrocities are committed. A young Jewish sniper deliberately targets civilians, including women and even children. Another Jew, Bulldozer, shoots his Portable Infantry Anti-Tank weapon (PIAT ) at a mosque from close range where civilians have taken shelter. Seventy civilians are killed and scores of others are injured. Afterwards, since he is knocked unconscious by the recoil of the PIAT and the nearby explosion, his fellow soldiers commandeer eight other civilians to dig a mass grave. After they finish and the dead are thrown in the pit, the soldiers kill the eight so there will be no witnesses. “The damned war turned humans into beasts.” These atrocities are accompanied by thefts and looting. Though one soldier writes that, “We will all be held accountable for this era. We will face judgment,” they never are held accountable and they never face judgment. 

The Jews have captured the town. Shooting breaks out as the Military Governor, Gutman, is negotiating with the Arab notables. He not only orders his men to return fire but to shoot anyone suspected of being part of the “mutiny”. Afterwards, “The military governor orders his men to bury the dead, get rid of the incriminating evidence.” (121) Then he returns to his discussions with the dignitaries and he suggests to them that anything can happen in war and a great war is coming. The dignitaries deliver to him what he wanted all along without his having to order their expulsion. They ask to be allowed to leave as long as they can take the survivors of the mosque with them. Gutman agrees.

“Gutman feels he has achieved his goal. Occupation, massacre and mental pressure have had the desired effect. At then end of the day, after forty-eight hours of hell, he does not quite order the people of Lydda to go. Under the indirect threat of slaughter, Lydda’s leaders ask to go.” (122) Like the ancient Jews, the people of Kydda go into exile. No orders had to be given. But the general understanding of the Palmach leadership that the Arabs had to go is accomplished. So, finally, why Lydda? “Only in the city of Lydda was there a mess, because the city was large and the troops closed in on it from the east, so the Arabs could not flee during the battle itself.” (123) So Lydda was by far the worst massacre with an estimated 250 civilians killed in total compared to Deir Yassin with 100 civilian deaths, Salina and Abu Shusha with about 65 deaths each.

Gutman asks himself, “if he was right to encourage the regiment to shoot into Lydda’s houses, if there was a way to avoid all that has happened. Then he silences himself by answering that if it weren’t for what happened in Lydda, Zionism would be done for. As he watches the men and women marching, he is shocked to see the imperviousness on their faces, the loss of sovereignty, the loss of dignity.” (127) He watches a person fall into a well and other suck on the dead man’s clothes after they pull him up to get water to wet their dried throats, as he watches another trampled and a third mother giving birth to her baby in the dirt, as he sees his soldiers stealing watches and money from the columns of fleeing refugees, and stops their thieving, But he does not stop the exodus. However, distressed by the columns of suffering civilians, he is reconciled to the fact that there exodus was necessary to ensure the success of Zionism.

Ari then offers a Palestinian perspective, that of Ottman Abu Hammed of Lydda, the prosperity before, the collegiality between Jews and Arabs before the outbreak of the war, prosperity enhanced by Arabs fleeing other centres, the atrocities against Jewish civilians committed by Arabs, including the mutilated corpses of two young men and a young Jewish woman who had been raped. But all this was nothing compared to being strafed from the air, of shots fired at civilian houses, of the massacre at the mosque, of the groping of the Arab women as they searched them. Since he was friends with the Jewish commander, why did he not elect to stay behind when he was offered the opportunity as his family was in the column marching out of the city? Because if he stays he will be considered a traitor and would be executed.

There is a final reason offered on the choice of Lydda. Because Lydda remains mired in the past and the past remains present in Lydda. Palestine is still felt in Lydda. But the central point is that Lydda was an “inevitable phase of Zionism”. The choice is stark: “either reject Zionism because of Lydda, or accept Zionism along with Lydda.” (131) Bulldozer and the sniper could be rejected for breaking the laws of war. But not the quasi-forced exodus. “I condemn Bulldozer. I reject the sniper. But I will not damn the brigade commander and the military governor and the training group boys. On the contrary. If need be, I’ll stand by the damned. Because I know that if it wasn’t for them, the State of Israel would not have been born. If it wasn’t for them, I would not have been born. They did the dirty, filthy work that enables my people, myself, my daughter, and my sons to live.” (131)

This is the central thesis of the book. This is the core of the new mythology to counter the bleeding heart Israeli liberals who weep for the Palestinian refugees and condemn those who oversaw the exodus of Palestinian civilians. The myth requires acknowledging, recognizing, accepting the atrocities and the ethnic cleansing, but also accepting they were necessary for without them the Zionist enterprise would not have succeeded. Ari okays the ethnic cleansing but not the atrocities that encouraged the Arabs to “voluntarily” leave.

So the principle Ben Gurion enunciated of the purity of arms, that Jews must fight in accordance with the laws of war but fighting must be based on moral grounds, is abandoned. Ethnic cleansing of civilians is not a moral act. So if ethnic cleansing can take place with the immoral use of force by targeting civilians, then it is ok.  In the example of Deir Yassin, the fear of further atrocities was the main impetus for the “volunteer” Arab exodus elsewhere; in Lydda, the atrocities are directly and causally connected with the exodus itself.

Shavit’s argument is clear but not his logic, further reinforcing the view that he is into mythmaking. For the logic says that if the massacres were necessary to encourage the ethnic cleansing on a “volunteer” level, and the ethnic cleansing was necessary to the success of Zionism, then the massacres and the breach in the laws of war were as necessary as the ethnic cleansing. (See Saleh Abd al-Jawad (2007) Zionist Massacres: the Creation of the Palestinian Refugee Problem in the 1948 War)

Ari not only avoids sorting through the various different accounts of what happened at Lydda and settling on one that clearly points to deliberate killing of Arab men, women and children by Jewish soldiers. He does so that the historical variations and clearing through the underbrush of just war theory and the obligations to discriminate between civilian and military targets is accepted as abridged. The only question remaining, for him, is whether the dirty work was necessary to encourage the exodus or not since he justifies the exodus itself.

If Ari’s mythology takes hold, the doctrine of purity of arms has to be abandoned. If Ari’s mythology takes hold, breaches of humanitarian law become justified. If Ari’s mythology becomes the core of the new Zionism in the cause of open truth=telling, then atrocities that serve as a catalyst to ethnic cleansing become acceptable in spite of Ari’s insistence that he will not stand my the war crimes of the Bulldozer and the sniper.

 

Tomorrow: The Resettlement of Jewish Refugees 1957

Life versus Desire – August: Osage County

Life versus Desire – August: Osage County

by

Howard Adelman

Last night, August: Osage County did not win a single Golden Globe Award. Though Meryl Streep was nominated for an award for the best performance by an actress in a motion picture – comedy or musical, Amy Adams won for her excellent performance in American Hustle. And although Julia Roberts was nominated for best performance by an actress in a supporting role in a motion picture, Jennifer Lawrence won for her exceptional and quite unique part in American Hustle. Amy and Jennifer were both superb and gave outstanding performances. But they were just that, performance, brilliant improvisations and great exhibitions.

But they will not be remembered through the years. Because playing Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) and Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence) had none of the depth and profundity of the roles that Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts had to exhibit in August: Osage County which I saw yesterday late afternoon. (I actually forgot we were going to see that movie and mistakenly thought we were going to see Saving Mr Banks and I had been reflecting on the notion of sentiment in preparation for watching the film so I was totally unprepared for the dark troubled tale of August: Osage County.)

Before I discuss the film itself and their two performances, I am going to make my argument in a round about way, first by discussing, very briefly, the ethnic cleansing of the Shawnee tribe and then, hopefully even more briefly, one small but crucial section of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, the one dealing with desire and life in the first section of self-consciousness.

In my scholarly work, I have written before about the American War of Independence as primarily a war against the British for the Indian territories and, after the Americans defeated the British and the thirteen colonies gained their independence, the Americans returned their focus to ethnic cleansing of the Indian tribes in Ohio and westward. After the American Revolution, the Northwest Indian War took place between the Americans and the Shawnee in alliance with the Miami. The latter were finally defeated in the Battle of Timbers in 1794 and the Shawnee were coerced into signing the Treaty of Greenville ceding most of their territory in Ohio to the new United States of America and were forced to move further west largely into Missouri.

In 1811, Tecumseh wrote: “Where today are the Pequot? Where are the Narragansett, the Mohican, the Pocanet, and other powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the avarice and oppression of the white man, as snow before the summer sun … Sleep not longer, O Choctaws and Chickasaws … Will not the bones of our dead be plowed up, and their graves turned into plowed fields?” Tecumseh saw not just ethnic cleansing but genocide. The War of 1812 on the American side of the border was centred on Tecumseh, who led the Indians who refused to sign even further treaties of concession in 1809 ceding a further 3 million acres to the United States of America (Treaty of Fort Wayne). Tecumseh joined with Joseph Brant leader of the Mohawks in fighting the Americans after Tecumseh lost the initial battle at Prophetstown in 1811. In May 1813, Tecumseh won the battle at FortMeigis in northern Ohio but could not consolidate his victory and had to retreat to Canada. He was subsequently killed in the Battle of the Thames in Upper Canada in October of 1813.  Henceforth, the Absentee Shawnee, as the portion of the Shawnee were called because they were not initially part of the original treaty of settlement, went south first to Kansas and then largely to Oklahoma but also Texas as part of the forced resettlement known as the Trail of Tears.

The movie is set in OsageCounty. Osage are a Shawnee people who speak the Siouan language, akin to the language of the Algonquin Indians who are descendents of the Paleo-Indians of the American midwest, hunter gatherers in the Pleistocene Age that ended in 11,700 BC with the coming of the last Ice Age. Meryl Streep as Violet Weston is at the opposite pole from any shrinking violet and ruthlessly derides the new servant hired by her husband Beverly at the very beginning of the film. Beverly was once a male name that meant a a beaver stream that fowed with creativity and energy but it was usurped for women as the poet became damned up with the vituperative wrath of his wife. Violet asks belligerently, “Are you Cherokee?” Johnna Monevata played by Misty Upham stands her ground against what is clearly an oppressive and overbearing new boss and replies, “I am Shawnee.”  (In the play, I believe she was Cheyenne.) This conversation all takes place “in a dim room, the blinds grimly endure the dead light, protecting the machined air, as the watchers watch the old lady die.” (Howard Starks)

Later there will be an early confrontation between Violet and her daughter Barbara played by Julia Roberts who insists that the servant be referred to as a native American and not an Indian because that is the name they prefer. Throughout the play, and in some revelations, it is clear that what Violet most wants is a reconciliation with her daughter but she will never risk trying for one and instead relies on barbiturates or barbs rather than Barbara. Violet replies to Barbara’s challenge, “I am as native as she is.” The reply is ironic both in Violet’s total ignorance of native American history in her overt racism, but also because Violet in her reduction of all of life to bare survival is, in another sense of the term, more native than anyone in the movie meaning not just indigenous to an area but identified with an area, in this case, with the heat, with the emptiness, with the deep overriding sense of desperation of the place, with all the ghosts that haunt the landscape of Oklahoma, both historical and family shadows. Oklahoma is not doing fine and is not A-OK. Those shadows include Letts’ own family; his grandmother was an addict who abused all her children.

This is not the happy singing Ooook-lahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain and the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet when the wind comes right behind the rain. There is no rain in sight in this movie. And no wind either. What we feel is the interminable heat and deadness in the air of a very opposite Oklahoma. As Howard Starks, the poet, wrote in the poem from which Letts openly stole his title, in “the heat thickened air, no rain in three weeks, no real breeze all day.” We are in the midwest version of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  We are in the land of shadows where whole populations of people have vanished before the avarice and oppression of the white man, as snow before the ninety degree summer heat.

But more of that later. Readers may complain that I am reading too much into the film when I suggest that the movie is as much about Oklahoma, initially called the Indian territory, that  was in turn also stolen from the native Americans, as it is about a dysfunctional family. Since I now want to suggest so much more, I will hold my firepower for now and turn to Hegel.

Consciousness depicts what our minds do when we look at things (including people often) as objects. Self-consciousness is when we look at ourselves as subjects and not just objects, as agents acting in the world and not just sensing, observing and understanding. As self-consciousness begins to develop, we become aware that other humans also regard themselves as subjects or agents. But at a more primitive stage, before engaging in the life and death struggle for recognition between selves, there is a battle within each self acted out in relationship to other selves between the need to survive as a physical being and the desire to overcome mere survival to become much more than simply someone out to survive, to become a fully self-conscious human being. This can only be done by connecting to and in relationship with an Other person. As Hegel writes, “self-consciousness is desire itself” that only attains satisfaction in another self-consciousness and you find peace with yourself only in another self-consciousness in the binding form of love. The characters in August: Osage County, with enough exceptions to prove the rule,  never find that peace and tear each other and mostly themselves to shreds because they never learn the first meaning of love.

But this opposition between its appearance and its truth has only the truth for its essence, namely, the unity of self-consciousness with itself.  This unity must become essential to self-consciousness, which is to say, self-consciousness is desire itself. (PofS 167)

Desire once fulfilled becomes the realization and expression of love. But that is not how it starts. The pathway begins in the fight to survive versus the desire to realize oneself. Violet, as she explicitly states as she reduces all the members of her family to quivering cowards in various ways using cutting comments thrust out by a razor-sharp tongue that shrewdly and cunningly probes the members of her family at their weakest points, tells them what it took for her to survive her own cruel mother who, knowing her daughter wanted riding boots to get recognition from a potential beau, in her mother’s wrapped present for her for Christmas and her black humour, gave her daughter Violet boots encrusted with mud and with holes in the soles. To survive a mother like that, one had to be strong, including the strength to devour your own children in turn and steal their inheritance to boot, which is precisely what Violet does at the family dinner. The story is about the hooks a parent puts into his or her own children, not out of love but out of blood greed. As the poet, Robert Penn  Warren wrote in All the King’s Men, “When you get born your father and mother lost something out of themselves, and they are going to bust a hame trying to get it back.” Survival demands eating your own children.

The movie is not just about a dysfunctional family – the Westons, that literally means a western town or settlement – though it is certainly that. Barbara Weston’s married name is Fordham, which combines ford and ham, transit across the waters to a home or founding a homestead. The name goes back to the tenth century and the Norman conquerors of the British Isles. This dysfunctional family are descendents on all sides of the homesteaders who took the lands of the native peoples but have never come to recognize their crimes. The unacknowledged past has rotted their souls. In the ruthless quest for survival and acquisition and appropriation of lands as they made their homesteads, they engaged in betrayal, theft, mass murder and expropriation.

There are exceptions in the family. Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae Aiken, also performed brilliantly by Margo Martindale, is not one. She is as much in her own smiling way a castrating bitch as her sister Violet with her withering twists of her verbal knife at the weaknesses of each of her children, but in the end Mattie Fae’s husband, Charlie Aiken, played by Chris Cooper with total conviction, stands up to her and on behalf of his almost totally destroyed son by his own mother, resumes the meaning of his namesake, “Aiken”, an oak tree. He expresses un unqualified love for his son, little Charlie, played by Benedict Cumberbatch with equally exquisite precision, and finally declares war on his wife.

The centre of the drama of the movie is the struggle between Julie Robert’s character (Barbara) and her mother, Meryll Streep (Violet). Meryll Streep is one of the best actors in the world. Julia Roberts surprised me. Not only is the movie a struggle between a mother and daughter for supremacy, a struggle between life as the will to survive versus desire as the passion to realize oneself through and in the love of another, but Julia Roberts matches all the brilliant acting skills of Meryl Streep and proves herself an actor of the first order.

The movie was adapted by Tracy Letts from his own play that won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama as well as five Jeff and five Tony Awards and three Outer Critics Awards and the New York Drama Critics Award for best play.  The play was three hours and the movie is only two hours. Since the movie also includes the many scenes outside of driving alone on the seemingly empty roads of Oklahoma, of necessity there had to be many excisions, including the reduction of roles such as that of the sheriff who was Barbara’s Weston’s love interest in high school, and, more importantly, the role of the Shawnee servant, Johnna with the feminized male name, who is hired at the very beginning of the movie as a cook and caregiver by Beverly Weston (Sam Sheppard) for his wife, Violet who is suffering from cancer of the mouth, aptly so given her poisonous cascade of words and her ingestion of barbiturates and other pills in inhuman quantities. The relationship between Barbara Weston’s daughter and Johnna was dropped. But the essence of the play is kept. Of course, the movie cannot lose all the concentration on one place of the play, but the passions that are so raw and are thrown with such rapidity with only the odd concession to comic relief carries us past the static quality. In fact, the static sense adds to the sense of a place frozen in a purgatory of the shadows of the past.

Beverly, a former once highly recognized poet who has given up to the bottle, when he hires Johnna, gives her a book of poetry by T.S. Eliot and says “Life is lived too long” to which he comments cynically that now we cannot utter such a truism because a famous poet used it and now we have to add the credit: T.S. Eliot. The sentiment is the exact opposite of  “Nothing lives long except the earth and the mountains,” taken from Letts’ friend, Carter Revar, and his poem “A Song That We Still Sing” about the displacement of the Cheyenne.

The quote both adumbrates what Beverly is about to do to himself, but also echoes the sentiments of T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Hollow Man”: “Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act. falls the shadow. Between the conception and the creation, between the emotion and the response, falls the shadow. Between the desire and the spasm, between the potency and the existence, between the essence and the descent, falls the shadow” to answer his own question: “Where is the life we have lost in the living?”  It is lost when we descend into the shadow world before creation towards thoughts, before responses to raw emotions, towards spasm instead of desire, towards bare existence instead of potency, in descent instead of the realization of one’s essence. The movie is the world of shadow boxing in the struggle just to stay alive. And the film ends with Violet’s head in Johnna’s lap and alluding to another line and poem of T.S. Eliot’s, “This is the way the world ends”.

I won’t go through the plot. The movie simply bounces from one bang on the head to the next just when you begin to believe that surely in this shadow world there is not another bombshell to be released.  Suffice to say, Violet is not only one of the most castrating roles in fiction, but she also practices symbolic vaginal mutilation. Her greatest victim is not her middle daughter, Ivy (Julianna Nicholson) but her youngest daughter, Karen who has opted for empty clichés and an engagement to a “successful” real estate developer who we are led to believe belongs to the same class of skanks and scumbags as the heroes in The Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle.  She is merely acting out the same self-destructive story. In doing so, she reveals the essence of the American murderers and thieves who stole Indian land. They were not courageous homesteaders pioneering in an empty land but used force and coercion to steal land and get the defeated peoples to concede more and more time and time again, just as Violet cuts deeper and deeper each time when you begin to believe things cannot get worse. She is a spiritual rapist. The whole movie is captured in one moment when Johnna bursts through her retiring and quiet demeanour to express her wrath on the world of rape  in the widest sense. That brief scene and the other with little Charlie at the bus station when he arrives late compete with the long family dinner scene for the most powerful moments in the film.

The movie ends as the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper but with a glimmer of hope for Barbara as she drives in her pickup in pajamas and a dressing gown back to Colorado, abandoning her mother. This is not a spoiler, just inevitable.