Sunday, January 18, 2009

From Despair to Hope -- in Ten Hours

In a few minutes I leave behind my Jerusalem home, and I board a plane for my DC home. The Jerusalem I leave behind is sullen and grey, defensive, and self-righteous. In three weeks the Israel Defence Forces wreaked more havoc, killed more civilians, including hundreds of children, and raised the century-old cycle of violence to a new height – or low. Israel won't mourn now, not when it is only Arab children we have killed. Our time to mourn will come in the not-too-distant future, God forbid.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Out of the depths of pain -- for the blood of innocents on my, yes, my hands, since I am as implicated as any citizen in the madness. Out of the depths of pain for those who can feel no pain, no emotion, at the passing of children. And why not? Well, take your pick: a) it is us or them; b) they started it; c) they could have acted better; d) all or none of the above, and a thousand other asine and idiotic justifications that only selfish children and -- world-famous novelists like A.B. Yehoshua – are capable of coming up with.

Yes, there is despair, but there is also disgust, both self-disgust and disgust and those who are not disgusted. Were it not for the fringe, the righteous in Sodom – no, were it not also for my belief that the public façade of self-justification and self-righteousness masks a lot of discomfort, even with all the cliches that we repeat like mantras to soothe ourselves – then my despair would be even greater.

Two plane rides, a half of day of traveling, and I will be in Washington, DC, the City of Hope, watching the inauguration of Barack Obama. I will rejoice in the national celebration of one fatherland, and try to suppress the memories, and the images, of the other.

Will the "audacity of hope" spill over from Washington to Jerusalem?

My fellow-blogger, and eternal optimist, Gershom Gorenberg thinks that it will. In an op-ed in Haaretz today, Gorenberg rejects the doom-and-gloom forecast of Husein Agha and Rob Malley in the current New York Review of Books and prefers the upbeat tone of Martin Indyck's latest book, where it is claimed that what we need now is an intensive effort on the part of the new president. (What would-be peace-maker doesn't make that claim?) Surprisingly, and without any argument, Gorenberg says that Indyk is right and Malley wrong – and that the Gaza War proves Indyck right.

After the years of neglect under Bush, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has blown up again, on Obama's doorstep. Grim photos appear in the media. Relations between Israel and Turkey, both American allies, are crumbling. While careful not to conduct foreign relations before the inauguration, Obama promised last week that his team would become "immediately engaged in the Middle East peace process." At her confirmation hearing for secretary of state, Hillary Clinton spoke of the "tragic humanitarian costs" borne by Gazans and of the incoming administration's "determination to seek a peace agreement."

But the last time the Israeli-Palestinian conflict blew up was after the American Administration made an intensive effort – some say it blew up partly because of that effort -- and two strong leaders (well, Arafat, anyway), were running Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The point of Agha and Malley's article was that no matter whether the American effort was intensive or half-hearted, whether the leaders were strong or weak, at the end of the day, the two0-state solution did not interest enough people on either side. (The Israelis are always in favor of the Palestinians having a "state," not a state.)

For Gorenberg, who wrote a great book on the beginning of the settlement enterprise on the West Bank, everything begins and ends with the 67 Occupation – as if one could only get Israel to evacuate settlements, and to withdraw to the 67 borders, all would be right with the world. That, of course, is the faith of the liberal Zionist. But on what is that faith grounded? Blessed are the peacemakers, and I include within that Indyk, Ross, Miller, and, yes, Kurtzer. But they are all failed peace-makers, and I don't think it is for lack of effort.

I am going to the City of Hope in a few minutes. The problems that Barack Obama face are extraordinary. But the economy will one day recover. The Iraq War will one day end. The war in Afghanistan will one day end.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I am afraid, will never end – not as long as Israel is Israel and Palestine is Palestine. It has been going on for a century. During that time the Soviet Union rose and fell, there were two World Wars, Europe began to adopt a federal model.

Yes, there were three years of hope, cut short by a Jewish assassin's bullet. But that hope may have been as false as the Middle East hopes of the new administration.

Things may get better at some distant time in the future. But not with the current constellation of power.

I sure hope my mood changes when I get to DC.


Anonymous said...

When you say 3 years of hope I presume you are referring to Rabin. Irony of ironies, Rabin was never really dedicated to "peace". Some people just come with a nicer-looking gift-wrapping than others... Irony of ironies, in 1995, mere weeks prior to his assassination by what you call a "Jewish assassin", Rabin stated that he was against the establishment of a Palestinian state, and that whatever he was trying to do, would result in an "entity" for the Palestinians that was "less than a state". I wish I could remember the exact quite. I have it written down somewhere, just can't find it at the moment.
Neither the extreme-right nor the extreme so-called "left" in Israel wants a Palestinian state, and both camps would LOVE to see Palestinians disappear into thin air.

Tikkunknitter said...

Come to Philadelphia! There are many who gladly share a Sabbath with you, who need the intellectual, ethical and spiritual sustenance of your company.

Anonymous said...

Has there been any war in history which hsd just cause according to your reasoning?

Anonymous said...

Last October Malley's and Agha's "doom & gloom" was echoed by Giora Eiland, of course with an entirely different agenda:
Frankly, I think his "solution" is nothing short of bizarre - while he's at it moving Palestinians (and Jordanians and Egyptians) around like pawns on a chessboard, why not exchange a piece of green-line Israel for the Gaza strip, so to-be Palestine could have territorial integrity? Selling point to the right: "we're taking away their access to the Mediterranean"

My first thought when I read Gideon Levy's response to Yehoshua was, are we seeing the beginning of Lettres à un ami israélien?

Oh well, I sure hope you and Gershom and Indyk are right about Obama, though holding my breath I won't.

Anonymous said...

Well, I am also pessimistic. For at least 4 reasons.

1. Look at Iran. This war was just an appetizer. The standoff with Iran only begins. I suppose Israel has given Obama some time (one year ?) to find a way to halt Iran’s nuclear program and ambitions. If Obama fails, Israel will stop Iran as it always said it will do.

2. Look at the map. Where do you built a proper Palestinian state ? It looks already like a big patchwork of settlements, roadblocks, military outposts. with some Palestinian enclaves lost in the middle.

3. Look at the leaders. Politicians from both sides are weak, mostly corrupt, and have no real vision. I can’t see the difference between Labor rand Likud anymore ? In Israel nobody seems to be prepared to sacrifice an inch, to risk losing seats in the Knesset and to confront settlers, religious zealots and the extreme-right for the sake of an (elusive ?) peace settlement.

4. Look at the people. There is a clear radicalization in both sides. The general mindset is not the same as in the nineties, that blessed period when Israelis and Palestinians were hopeful and open-minded.

Jerry Haber said...

A blogger from Lebanon...

I agree with you, and if you read more of the blog, you will see how much we agree.

But that is the funny thing about hope -- in the face of all evidence to the contrary, one still hopes when there is even the slightest reason. And I can tell you that 93-95 was a period of hope for many Palestinnians and Israelis. Would anything have come of it had Rabin not been killed? Probably not. But the tone of the discourse was so different then.

I don't think Obama will change much either. But there is hope, and in the absence of anything else, that is still something.

Jerry Haber said...


There have been some wars that have been conducted more justly than others. Just war theory (of which, by the way, I am not a big fan), has criteria.

Look, if you are a pacifist you believe that wars are ipso facto unjust. And there is a great deal of attraction in pacifism. But even pacifists would distinguish between levels of unjustice.

The problem in Israel is that because the IDF has the power to completely wipe out Gaza, we all pat ourselves on the back when we do something less. Ditto for the US.

By the way, much of my criticism applies, mutatis mutandis, and with greater forces, to American's Iraq war. Isn't that obvious?

Anonymous said...

That's a pretty wishy-washy answer about whether war can ever have just cause. OK, some are better than Israel v. Gaza, which is itself better than U.S. v. Iraq. Not only does that not answer the question, but it's not even interesting.

Has Israeli military force ever been justly used? Has it ever been justifiable in theory even if the execution thereof was flawed? Is there any acceptable military solution to help the people of Sderot, Beersheva, Ashdod, Haifa, etc., avoid rocket attacks? Recalling Israel's errors in '47 and '67 does not (alone) provide such protection.

Jerry Haber said...


Quick answers to your questions. For a fuller analysis of how Israel's military operation in Gaza do not fulfill the criteria for jus ad bellam and jus in bello, see Prof. David Luban's piece here:

However, he does claim that the decision to go to war was legal if the diplomatic options were exhausted, an assumption he makes, and, as I pointed out to him, is debatable.

The 1973 war would fit the criteria, since Israel was attacked. It doesn't matter that they were holding the Occupied Territories, or that Egypt and Syria had just grievances.

As for the other wars, well, the 48war, if it had a defensive stage, would fit the bill.

All other wars, in my opinion, were wars of aggression. But Michael Walzer thinks the 67 war was justified. Then again, he tailor-makes just war theory to fit the 67 war.

"Is there any acceptable military solution to help the people of Sderot, Beersheva, Ashdod, Haifa, etc., avoid rocket attacks?" Well, of course there is, on just war theory. Any military operation which is proportionate and avoids as much as possible harm to civilians -- assuming that diplomatic avenues have been exhausted.

You seem to be pushing me to some pacifist position which I don't hold. Israel can respond legitimately militarily; it just rarely does.

The problem with some of my readers is that this is their assumed definition of just conduct of war; destroying less than we could. So if we kill 1500 civilians, that is no big deal, since we could kill 150,000 if we wanted to.

That position is quite understandable, since it is held by bullies everywhere. I just don't hold it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for clarifying. It's easier to be a pacifist from a line-drawing perspective, so those of us who are not pacifists have a difficult time doing so, and I appreciate that.

I don't quite get the proportionality issue, though.
From the left: Sderot suffers, say, 4 deaths, and 10,000 cases of fear/apprehension/life disruption, so Israel can kill four Gazans and scare 10,000, just as long as those numbers aren't exceeded? Then, if 100,000 Beershevans run to bunkers we can send 100,000 Gazans scurrying too?

From the right: Should the US have responded to Pearl Harbor by attacking one major Japanese base and calling it even? (OK, logistically, that would have been impossible, but work with me...)

Or another way of looking at it: If 10 people are trying to kill me then, in self defense, can't I kill all 10? Isn't the moral problem in Gaza one of civilian suffering and not one of kill ratios?

Jerry Haber said...


Rather than listen to what I have to say about "proportionality," you should check out discussions by moral philosophers and experts in international law. In international law, the issue is not the balance of pain: rather, it is the proportion of civilian suffering to military advantage.

For example, say that establishing an outpost provides a certain military advantage. If the only way that the outpost can be established is by harming many civilians, and if the military advantage is slight, then one cannot harm the civilians, despite the fact that the military advantage is lost thereby.

In just war theory (from Stanford E of P):

"6. Proportionality. A state must, prior to initiating a war, weigh the universal goods expected to result from it, such as securing the just cause, against the universal evils expected to result, notably casualties. Only if the benefits are proportional to, or “worth”, the costs may the war action proceed. (The universal must be stressed, since often in war states only tally their own expected benefits and costs, radically discounting those accruing to the enemy and to any innocent third parties.)"

Here, securing the just cause would be protecting the life and liberty of one's civilians and defeating a terrorist organization.

Now, Avigdor Lieberman says that this can happen only if we finish the job in Gaza. Let us say that this involves killing thousands of Gazans. The deep fear and psychic trauma and possible death of Israeli citizens does not outweigh the certain deaths of thousands of Gazans. It would be better to let your own people suffer such trauma -- or, when diplomatic efforts fail, to have a limited retaliation.

Read Luban's article -- hey, he is a Georgetown law professor!

One final point --

I cannot conceive of a single parameter of harm or damage in which the Gazans don't come out significantly worse than their Israeli counterparts: fear, trauma, uncertainty, feelings of defencelessness, you name it. The numbers are in their favor, too.

The main difference is the effectiveness and the sheer amount of destruction.

Of course, I don't envy people in Sderot, but I can't see how they are worse off on any possible scale then their Gazan counterparts.

Joe Coletta said...

"Isn't it a pity? Isn't it a shame?
How we break each other's hearts
And cause each other pain."
Yada yada yada, blah blah blah.

I'm so sorry that you let yourself get distracted again by the trolls professor. Don't you understand yet that if the appellation is justified it's all about those who don't want to have a real debate or dialogue? They just want to sidetrack it.

Nice detour, I hope your powers of concentration are better when you're on the job. But if you really think that Washington D.C. is the "City of Hope" then you should know that you're helping me to lose my hope in doing so.

That's okay professor, I've come to the point that I welcome every new disillusionment. Illusions are for children who believe in Santa Clause & the Bogeyman. And didn't Mr. Hope just tell us to "put away childish things"? Yeah right, in all his pedantic pomposity brandishing it as "humility". God help us when these people give up trying to be "humble".

Hope?! You want hope?
Try Eric Fromm or Krisnamurti or Joseph Campbell. Don't beseech the rest of us to look to these politicians for what they call "hope". They're holding up four fingers telling us we see three. Do you really need one of them there college deeeegreeees to understand that?

If there's any hope it's in the common sense & decency of the common people, not these vampires you're looking up to.
If you're an American as well as Israeli then you should understand why the term "yuppie" went from an innocent acronym to an epithet. . . don't you?

The common people had to be lied to, stampeded & terrorized by these vultures to go along with this madness.

I used to think, "it doesn't need to be this way", but it does.
It needs to be this way & it needs to get worse.

"all my heroes have been slain
exiled or put in prison
for speaking up
when everyone else didn't"

The birthing of a global consciousness (complete with empathy) from a primitive state of mind is a painful & messy process and having a democratic means of mass communications is integral.
The powers that be knew full well what they were unleashing on the world with this computer network, that's why they kept it bottled up for thirty odd years.

The power is back in our hands if we have the imagination to use it professor. And there's a four letter word for imagination; dare I say it?

The common people are not apathetic because they're lazy & stupid, just the opposite. They see through this charade alright, but then what? Intellectuals & activists should be pointing the way out of this mess, but you all are just pointing further into it. That might work with nightmares in the dream state, but not in real life.

Such a shame, you started out so strong too, I could feel it.
"From despair to hope". . . I was waiting. . . and waiting.

And what? You give us, "Blessed are the would-be peacemakers"?!

Did I wake up in a parallel universe?

Sometimes I wish I was living in even the most perverse dystopia that Rod Serling could imagine for the Twilight Zone.

It couldn't be any worse; and at least Rod Serling would be my creator instead of some lame ass sky god.

And "so it goes".

Jerry Haber said...


Speaking of Rod Serling, I actually got his autograph once. My family traveled to NYC for the 1964 (?) Worlds Fair. We were staying at a hotel in Manhattan, and we went down to the coffee shop. And there he was, drinking a cup of coffee. So I went up to him (I was 11) and I asked for his autograph. He said, "Sure," but I didn't have a pencil or paper. So he wrote it on a paper napkin. Of course, I lost it the next day. But it didn't matter. I met Rod Serling!