Saturday, December 04, 2004

When the battle’s lost and won

The 16 Dec edition of the New York Review of Books that carries Chris Hedges article (see previous post) also carries an advertisement from Princeton University Press for new titles, including Jews and the American Soul by Andrew Heinze and The Jewish Century by Yuri Slezkine.

Jews and the American Soul is described as “a pioneering history which shows how Jewish values reshaped America’s psychological and spiritual vocabulary”

The Jewish Century is described as “a masterwork of interpretive history that begins with a bold declaration: The Modern Age is the Jewish Age”.

These claims are bold. I haven’t read either book, but I wonder about them in relation to what I am reading at present: Richard Ben Cramer’s How Israel Lost.

Cramer summarises as follows:

If I had to sum up what I thought I knew – twenty years ago, after seven years’ contact with Israel – I would have called it “a nice little socialist country, with one problem”. The problem, of course, was the Jew’s relations with the Arabs – inside the country, in occupied lands, and in the nations nearby…Now I’d say the one problem (which the Israelis refer to in shorthand as “the conflict”) has eaten up the rest of the country.

Cramer, who grew up in upstate New York, and is Jewish says:

I love Jews precisely for [their] sense of being “other” – so many have them have it within their breast. It gives them not just the sense that they are different, but the imperative: they have to be different – because they are Jews. So there’s an earnestness about examining life (or at least living it by some rules and standards) that makes it interesting to me – or makes it seem to matter…

For Cramer, one of the key elements in what justifies the existence of the State of Israel was the adherence of its armed forces to the doctrine of Purity of Arms. This was in part expressed in the doctrine that Israeli fighters – in the early days – would go out of their way not to harm civilians, even when that meant putting the lives of their own fighters at risk

Emblematic of the change, argues Cramer, is an incident in the autumn of 2002 when Dan Halutz, a major general and commander of the Israeli Airforce ordered the Assassination of Salah Shehadeh, the leader of the military wing of Hamas. This was done by dropping a one ton bomb on an apartment block in an especially densely populated part of Gaza. At least fifteen civilians were killed (of which eleven were kids) along with Shehadeh. Some 150 others were wounded and lost their homes.

The corruption of language that goes with the corruption of the state and society is straight out of an ancient Confucian story:

But wait – there’s another thing. They aren’t assassinations. Once the IDF got into the business more or less every week, the professional hasbarah men started tinkering with the wording. So, then these attacks became “targeted killings” – which phrase caught on. It sounded surgical. But after a while, everybody knew this wasn’t the surgery, more like slaughter – so, the wording changed again. It wasn’t killing at all. The new idea was these guys weren’t actually people, but “ticking bombs” – about to blow up and kill more Jews. They must be defused!...So the IDF now announces the demise of selected Palestinians as “focussed preventative actions”…

On Cramer's argument, the Jews may have gained the whole world – or at least the United States – but they have lost their own souls.

Ironically, it is in post-modern Europe, struggling to awake from the nightmare of its own history, where something akin to the early Israeli doctine of Purity of Arms is most earnestly talked about – in for example, the human security doctrine promoted by Mary Kaldor and others (see here). How will Europe do in practice?

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