Wednesday, January 23, 2008


It's been quite a day around here. Residents of the Gaza Strip blew up holes in the wall separating them from Egypt and scores of them rushed into the northern Sinai to buy food. Egypt let them in, Israel and the U.S. protested. Of course some of them will return with guns, but that doesn't change the basic fact: a million and a half human beings are starving, while we're keeping them under siege, waiting for them to die, and hurrying up the process by bombing them from the air.

2008, 1.5 million human beings corralled by a wall in an area smaller that that of Queens, with no support and no hope. Anyone who criticizes them for getting weapons, has to prove to me that he or she too is corralled by a wall, is starved and being shot at. I will not take criticism or condemnation towards the Gazans from anyone who is not in a similar situation, since empathy seldom come naturally.

Of course I don't empathize with violence or fundamentalism, but the way Israel treats the strip there makes it looks like we are being payed by the Hammas to empower it. There's too much suffering going on one hour down the coast from where I am and it turns into violence and fundamentalism. How should we solve this? should we cut off their electricity? already tried that. Should we deny them access to food and fuel in the middle of winter? hmmm. tried that. Should we kill them at a rate of 19 a day? been there, done that. So how come Gaza isn't flowering into a kind, moderate, pro Israeli and affluent community?

Could it be that we are just dumber than pickled carrot?

Now to another war-front. I went to a second doctor yesterday, since things aren't getting any better. He gave me another diagnosis (some mystery virus) and sent me to a lab in Bat-Yam, south of the city, to give a blood sample.

I got there this morning at 9:00. The nurse was extremely hostile because the lab is open precisely till 9:00. She didn't use the needle to hurt me, bless her heart, but later called and told me that she can't find the name of the doctor who sent me on the computer, so she's "getting rid of the blood".

"What?!" I started, "Don't get rid of the blood! I'm ill! I can hardly make it out of home, I don't want to go to Bat-Yam again at nine in the morning, or I mean before nine."

"Stop lying!" she blurted.

"When did I ever lie to you?"

"Your doctor is not on the computer, I need to go home, I've wasted an hour on this already."

Following continued pleas, she ended up agreeing to keep the blood sample at the Bat-Yam clinic, "If you get results, good. If you don't, you don't." She said and hung up(!)

Don't blame Israeli chutzpa, she's Russian. Don't blame lack of experience, she's unflatteringly middle aged. I called again to ask her her name, at which point she claimed she already threw away the blood. I then called the manager of the clinic to place a complaint.

At least I have someone to complain to when I'm met with a lack of empathy. Sure, the nurse deserved empathy too. She wanted to go home, maybe her kid is ill, maybe she has an appointment for getting her nails done. Maybe I should have spared her and not placed a complaint, like the Hammas should refrain from shooting at Sderot, but the fact is, when you get unnecessarily provoked, are left at the mercy of an unemphatic stranger and your blood gets pointlessly spilt, you look for a way to retaliate. That's the way of the world.


tal said...

I wish things were as simple as you portray them, but maybe the Israeli government shouldn't be blamed for everything. why not also point a finger at the palestinian government who is too weak to stop the hammas from attacking Israel, thus causing all their brothers and sisters, truly innocent people in Gaza to suffer needlessly. things in this world are not always painted just in black and white and not one of the sides in this bloody war is innocent.

Yuval said...

The PA is so convinient in that it gives us Israelis someone to easily blame. Instead of taking ANY responsibility we always busy ourselves with why the other side doesn't take responsibility etc. etc.

So granted, that powerless, mock "government", bereft of a military, not in control of Gaza (or even in contact with it, nor in control of the West Bank - since the IDF is its de-facto ruler), is to be blamed. OK, we blamed it. Now what?

Yuval said...

Another thing, Tal. You claim that by preventing Hammas violence, the PA would have caused Israel to be less violent, thus protecting the Palestinians from suffering. This should work the other way around too, so if we reduce or prevent Israeli violence, the Hammas will act less militantly and the people of Sderot would be safer. (case in point: while Bush visited Israel, Israel made no assaults at Gaza and consequently there were no bombs shot at Sderot).

So if you are critical at the PA for not doing enough to protect their Gazan peers, why aren't you critical at the militant elements in Israel for putting Sderot at risk? It is by the perpetuation of fire that they preach that the cycle of violence continues.

Minister of Defence Ehud Barak said yesterday: "We will attack Gaza again and again. The safety of children in Sderot is more important than that of Gaza". Even if we are to dehumanize ourselves to the point of agreeing that some children are more deserving of safety than others, isn't the safety of children in Gaza and Sderot interwoven? If the Palestinians should stop violence in order to gain safety, the same should be true to us. Mind you, I consider corralling, forced starvation and the likes to be forms of violence too.

One last thing. Why blame me for being simplistic and seeing things in black and white? I see responsibility in everyone, including the Gazans. I just can't ignore the fact that they are prisoners, whose state is not at all comparable to ours. Also, there's little I can say about their responsibility that would make a difference, while concentrating at my own responsibility and that of my country and community may lead to some kind of change.

lazy_n said...

hey yuv, i'm sorry to hear you're not feeling well. About the other thing. Well, I have a lot to say about it, as you can imagine, but I will try to restrict my comment to, well, a comment, rather than an essay.

You correctly mention that varying degrees of collective punishment have been tried in the past, by Israel, and have failed to consistently influence the Gazans' will or ability to fight. You forget though that varying degrees of nice gestures have been made by Israel in the past, with equal lack of influence on said Gazans. People used to scare teenagers by saying that masturbating will give them acne. A very convenient threat, considering that all teenagers masturbate, and all teenagers have acne.

But this is neither here nor there. The question is now, why can't I feel more sympathetic to the obvious suffering of the Gazans? We all know that "do good and good things will happen to you" doesn't work. I guess I am a little gratified when "do bad and bad things will happen to you" is implemented on someone else. What is the bad thing that Gazans did? I can't say because I am not occupied, besieged, and starved to death. But I think that if a group of tough bullies came to you and said: "drop the complaint against our sister the nurse, or we will murder an innocent child every hour," you would probably swallow your pride and drop the complaint. If you didn't, the mothers of countless innocent, murdered children would curse your name, rather than elect you leader of their city/state. At least Israeli mothers would.

Yuval said...

This analogy only works if you regard what Israel does as pure retaliation. From the palestinian point of view, it's them who are retaliating. So it would be a little more as if the bullies are murdering children to begin with and your only way to get back at them is to file a complaint against their sister, the nurse.

I mean, if ALL you could do against these crazy assasins was to file a compliant, would you not? and if only one person dared to do so, would that person not be seen as a great candidate for mayor of the city-state?

I'm not neccesarily saying this is how things are, but this is the logic that put the Hammas in power (also they kind of AK47ed their way into more power, let's not forget - Gaza isn't a democracy) so if you present the Palestinians as fools paying with blood for their stupidity, just be aware that their propaganda makes them see things very differently from how our propaganda makes us see things. We're all acting quite sensibly within the frame of the universe as it is presented to us.

lazy_n said...

Yes I regard what Israel does NOW as pure retaliation. True, the original sin, if you will, was the larceny by fraud of the land of Palestine by the Jews. And true, the plight of the Palestinians was so thoroughly ignored until the mid 80's that I can hardly blame them for turning to terrorism. But things have changed somewhat. When you and I were in middle school, saying "Palestinians" in Israel was tantamount to treason. The "Arabs" had 21 countries of their own and for some reason they were bent on taking our single little one. So yes, the first intifada was a fight for freedom. But during my first year in university Israel was led by the most, by far the most, liberal left wing governments it is ever likely to have. Many Israelis were, and still are, dead against any interpretation of the Arab-Israeli conflict different from what we were taught in middle school, but at least 60% of Israelis, led by Ehud Barak, were in favor of establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with Palestinian sovereignty in East Jerusalem. Under Ariel Sharon, and after much more bloodshed, 70% of Israelis still support leaving all occupied territories for a Palestinian state. The freedom fighters have won! The Palestinians could have had freedom five years ago. But another breed of fighters emerged. Hamas wasn't around for the first intifada, and unlike the secular PLO, I don't believe they have any agenda but religious dogma. I doubt that freedom or statehood are anywhere on their priority list.

So, are all Gazans to blame for what Hamas, and the world's islamist movements are doing? Another thing we were taught in middle school was that after WWII most Germans claimed ignorance of the actions of the Nazi Party. That the whole of Germany was just another victim of the Nazis. How many Nazis should there have been for the whole of Germany to start sharing the blame? Too few and the rest of the population could be expected to resist their rule. Too many and the distinction between rulers and populace fades. I don't know what percent of Gazans support Hamas, deep down in their hearts. I know that outwardly at least the vast majority does. If they want my sympathy they need to show me that they are more like occupied France than Nazi Germany. I want to see a large resistance movement, brave Palestinians who risk their lives to help the Israeli military bomb their own towns. I want to see Gaza women seduce Hamas officers and then poison their drinks. It may very well cost them their lives, but it will earn them my sympathy and respect. Whatever they choose, I would hate to be in their shoes...

Yuval said...

If anti-Nazi Germans during WWII harbored the same old memories of, say, Britain, that Gazans have of Israel, there would not have been any anti-Nazi Germans, no poison in the drinks nor aided air strikes (was there any of this for real anyway? I'm playing off of your post.)

I think even Palestinians who dislike Hammas regard it as a lesser evil compared to Israel, that enslaved them and hurt them for so long. You and I would too if we were in their place, and when a lesser evil is faced with a greater evil, hell, the lesser evil doesn't look so bad at all.

I'm just as cynical as you are about Hammas. I'm not like Noam Chomsky who goes to support Nasrallah, forgetting that Nasrallah actually represents everything he stands against.

Hammas represents everything I stand against: warmongering, fundamentalism, disdain for democracy and human rights, bigotry, tottalitarianism. This is exactly why I cringe whenever I see Israel strengthening it politically by showing off to the Gazans and playing a mightier evil.

HR said...

סורי על התפרצות כזאת בעברית בבלוג שכולו אנגלית, השעה מאוחרת ואפילו לא בא לי לנסות
האמת היא שזה כל מה שהיה לי להגיד
תחושת הבטן שלי אמרה לי היום שאתה בטח מרגיש קצת יותר טוב, ושאעזוב אותך קצת, אתה ילד גדול - מזה צריך להיות?!

lazy_n said...

Ok, these are good points. My knowledge of the french resistance during WWII is derived almost entirely from episodes of Allo Allo. I am more versed in science fiction though. A short story by Larry Niven tells how a man is forced to kill his best friend. A malfunctioning auto doctor denied the man his anti-psychotic medication, and in a paranoid state he kills his friends family. Ashamed, remorseful, he runs away. The friend pursues, intent on revenge. Unable to placate his friend, he ends up killing him.

So who is who? The original sinners are the zionist thieves. Even they weren't monsters. They were sick with the 19th century European disease that caused darker skinned people who didn't speak english french or german to appear less than human. Especially if they didn't know how to build steam engines or vote.

You and I, we are medicated and sane. We know the Palestinians are human, and we know we have wronged them. We are sorry. We are ashamed. We want to make it right somehow. We also want to live. If the Palestinians can't forgive us, or at least let go of their vendetta, then we must kill them.

But the one thing that puts the most empathic distance between myself and the Palestinians is their inability to concede defeat. They cannot win. Israel is fantastically more powerful. I never considered it noble to fight to the last drop of your children's blood against an impossible enemy. Only fundamentalists do that. It's human to surrender. Surrender and live. Surrender, or die! It's their choice, let us respect it.

Yuval said...

Dude, you crack me up. this is some of the most bizzarly put rhetoric I've read in years. I have no idea what "Allo Allo" is, but it fits really nicely in.

My favorite line is: "If the Palestinians can't forgive us, or at least let go of their vendetta, then we must kill them." Forgive me or I'll kill you! I love Middle Eastern common sense.

Mind you, the only way to end a vendetta is to decide not to retaliate. Waiting for the other side to make that decision is a sure recipe for the perpetuation of the vendetta.

Helen said...

'Allo 'Allo! That made me laugh out loud! (You can find plenty of footage by typing it into Youtube - A British comedy I watched as a kid, it pokes fun at every side, full of European stereotyping, unsubtle sexual innuendo.)

I'm going to ignore Yuval's last comment about not retaliating... Ok I have very little clue about the complexities of Middle Eastern politics but I'm not seeing the comparisons between Gaza and Nazi occupied France or Germany...actually I would be more inclined to compare some Israeli mindsets to those of German citizens under Nazi rule - a bit outrageous to say but there is some outrageous blindness to the human rights of Palestinians going on right now. Note: HUMAN rights, not Jewish, Arab, Religious, Non-religious etc.

'They cannot win. Israel is fantastically more powerful. I never considered it noble to fight to the last drop of your children's blood against an impossible enemy. Only fundamentalists do that. It's human to surrender. Surrender and live. Surrender, or die!'

Do you have any idea how arrogant you sound? -That doesn't get my empathy.

And surrender?! Did Israel surrender in any wars lately? Never mind that. There are plenty of noble reasons why it is truly human NOT to surrender (I'll throw in some examples but not comparisons of individuals - Gandhi and Mandela), as well as plenty of other reasons, such as false pride, greed and stupidity that make not surrendering lesser than human (again just an e.g. Vietnam).

The psychology of Palestinian 'surrender' is way complex. And as for Hamas - they believe in Jihad - we could open a whole global can of worms with that as a topic for conversation.

Try William Dalrymple's articles 'A Global Crisis of understanding' and 'Who is the real enemy?' for some ideas...,6121,1001499,00.html

Rachel said...

Yuval, I love your political posts, and I'm awfully disappointed that I don't have much time to get involved in this commenting frenzy now. I just wanted to tell you that your nurse story was hi-freakin-larious (and I once had to deal with a similar Russian nurse). Anyway, hope you feel better.

As for Lazy_n, I was skimming through your comment and saw this statement: "True, the original sin, if you will, was the larceny by fraud of the land of Palestine by the Jews." I just had to add that such a statement sounds insanely inaccurate. I'm currently taking a course in the History of Israel in a highly left-wing, liberal university and even a pro-Palestinian professor has failed to be able to prove such against the Jews.

3asl said...

Hey Yuval, interested to think what your take is on this right wing post...I was pretty surprised by it.

lazy_n said...

Yike, people actually read these posts. I guess I kind of assumed that Yuval will be the only one reading, which is why I allowed myself some hyperbole.

Helen. Thanks for the links, I'll check them out in a minute. Some analogies have been mixed, it's my fault. Nazi occupied france, and Nazi germany, have been resurrected here to try and answer this question: If, for the sake of argument, we accept that Hamas is unequivocally evil, and is terrorizing innocent Israelis for no reason, should the innocent civilians of Gaza pay for it. The answer would be a personal decision. I guess it depends mostly on how much empathy do you feel for the people in question. The fact that their psychology is so alien to me decreases my capacity for empathy towards them, and with it the likelihood that I will wake up early to go protest on their behalf.

Rachel. When I am faced with a complicated question I like to imagine some extreme case to see if it might simplify the reasoning. So, if, for the sake of argument, the land of Palestine was stolen, with premeditation and for the sake of cruelty, by people who had absolutely no claim to it, the Palestinians should still forgive the thieves today, or at least agree not to murder them too often. (If for no other reason then for the chance of getting their land back!) Conversely, if the Palestinians were the ones who had no historic claim to this land I would still say that they deserve freedom and sovereignty where they live. So the subtleties of the zionist movement and the history of Palestine really don't matter that much when we come to decide the future of Israel/Palestine. At least not logically. They may still influence our empathies...

Rachel said...

I stumbled across an idea on another site, and it reminded me of this post (or the complete opposite of this post). (I wasn't sure how appropriate it would be to post it as a comment here, but with undying chutzpah I decided to do so. ;) ) Emotions aside, if we were to look at who is to blame, does the following seem completely absurd? :

"One small problem with this version of events. It wasn’t Israel that shut down Gaza’s electricity supply. It was Hamas. What Israel did was close its border crossings to all goods (eased yesterday) in response to intensive Qassam rocket attacks on the western Negev – 220 rockets fired in four days. Hamas promptly plunged Gaza into darkness, knowing that the west would uncritically swallow its claim that Israel was to blame for the distressing accounts that would follow of a humanitarian crisis. Naturally they did -- just as they continue to pretend that Hamas has only the one border with Israel through which it can obtain supplies, and therefore it is Israel which always 'blockades' it; whereas of course Gaza has a second border with Egypt through which it could certainly receive a flow of goods and fuel – especially since it continues to receive through it an uninterrupted flow of weapons with which to attack and kill innocent Israelis. Indeed, the border with Egypt means that the idea that Israel can ever 'cut off' Gaza or that it has turned it into a sealed 'prison' is entirely false.

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, normally so slow to defend its own actions, is on this occasion clearly incandescent at the gross unfairness of the coverage and has issued this furious statement:
The supply of electricity to Gaza from the Israel and the Egyptian power grids (124 Megawatts and 17 Megawatts respectively) has continued uninterrupted. These 141 Megawatts of power represents about three quarters of Gaza's electricity needs. While the fuel supply from Israel into Gaza has indeed been reduced, due to the Hamas rocket attacks, the diversion of this fuel from domestic power generators to other uses is wholly a Hamas decision - apparently taken due to media and propaganda considerations. Noteworthy is the fact that while the Gaza population remains in the dark, the fuel generating power to the Hamas rocket manufacturing industry continues to flow unabated. The Hamas claim of humanitarian crisis in Gaza is also greatly exaggerated. There is no shortage of basic foodstuffs, and Gaza patients who need treatment in Israeli hospitals continue to travel into Israel for care.
Far from Israel imposing ‘collective punishment’ or taking ‘revenge’ upon Gaza, as the EU, UNWRA and the media have claimed, it is almost certainly the only country on the planet which continues to provide fuel and other supplies to people who use them to continue to wage war upon it.

But then, people in the west don’t know about those 220 rocket attacks in four days because the western media simply refuse to report them. Instead they only report Israel’s attempts to defend itself which are thus represented as ‘revenge’, ‘punishment’ or simple aggression. Vile. As usual."


Rachel said...

By the way, I sure as hell hope it doesn't contribute further to making you more ill. :)

Helen said...

Lazy_n. Ok, your hyperbole and my getting wound up by it: over.

Still not sure what you're trying to say, or maybe I just don't agree with it?...You say that the answer to your question of who should pay for Hamas' evils is a personal decision... depending mostly upon how much empathy one feels for the people in question.

Firstly when is it ever right for innocents to pay for the wrongs of others, whether with poverty, blood or any other oppression? The sad truth that we live in an unjust world doesn't ever make it right.

'The fact that their psychology is so alien to me decreases my capacity for empathy towards them'

Secondly, the anatomy of empathy... what you said interests me as I would say that understanding another's psychology isn't a prerequisite of feeling any empathy for them. I mean I was perfectly wrong in saying that sounding arrogant doesn't get my empathy because I'm human and share human downfalls - if I search truthfully inside myself I can recognise all kinds of negative emotions and behaviours that revolt me from others & at some point arrogance is one of them. So I can empathise with arrogance and choose to forgive it in myself and others (because I definitely don't like it). (I have applied a certain amount of understanding to that example, but...)

I would illustrate how I experience empathy though on the most basic level with say... someone in front of me has a fresh cut on their finger or a dirty, grazed knee - I'd normally feel an initial shoot of pain go through my own body...

If something is alive, eats, breathes, sleeps, I can feel empathy for it. There are also plenty of times when I try to numb or ignore my empathy - it's not exactly always comfortable or convenient. I'm sure we're each unique in how we experience the world around us, but I believe that to the greatest extent it is our own decision to decrease or increase our capacity to have empathy for another.