Friday, January 2, 2009

To Save A Drowning Man, Punch Him In the Face

Israel No Longer Knows How To Save Itself
(published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette 7 January 2009)

It is a dangerous thing to save a drowning man. Lifeguards know all too well that a drowning person is so panicked by their predicament that they are as likely to drag their rescuer down with them, as cooperate in their own saving. Indeed, the heroic lifeguard must be prepared to pop up out of the water and punch the doomed swimmer in order to subdue them so that their life can be saved.
The lesson being that those most in need of saving are often too frightened to know their own best interest. And so have to have it forced upon them, or they will die.
The latest pictures from Gaza, the most recent slaughter and savagery and bombing and killing bring all this to mind.
For it seems the state of Israel is so panicked, so frightened, so obsessed with its own desperate thrashing that it simply cannot see that it is drowning. And threatens to drag any would-be rescuer down with it.
What a lamentable but utterly foreseeable tragedy. Sixty years ago Israel was created as the state which was to end the tribulation of the Jews. It has done anything but. Instead it has become a military juggernaught which tramples the aspirations and rights of those it humiliates and torments daily under its draconian military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
There might have been a time from its founding in 1948 to its capture of the occupied territories in 1967 when Israel was a beacon for something more than just itself.
But not any longer. Now it is, much like the United States, simply a proof that the ancient axiom “Might makes Right” is as alive today as it was 2000 years ago when the Romans -- who might have invented it -- used their might to drive the Jews from Palestine in the first place.
The nation and the people forged in the godless ovens at Auschwitz, were once the noble authors and guardians of the clarion call “Never Again!” And for a time Israel was the repository of humanity’s conscience – having suffered the unspeakable, its people were the watchdog on the ramparts of human history. On guard against all such evil. But not anymore.
Seventy years after the Holocaust began, a very fair lesson which can be drawn from it is that “Never Again” means never again shall Jews or Israelis be victimized without massive and/or disproportionate retaliation. Never again shall persecution be visited upon those who have already suffered. Everyone else is on their own. Such a philosophy so vigorously applied by Israel against the Palestinians calls to mind less the notion of “never again” than an old line from the poet W.H. Auden: “Many a sore bottom seeks a sorer one to kick.”
What all this means is that Israel has become a super power and like all super powers it inflates the value of its own worth and the worth of its citizens. Not unlike America, after all. The land which invented the phrase “Shock and awe.” The country which, because three buildings fell and 3000 people were killed on 9/11, has utterly destroyed one entire nation, is in the process of destroying another, and has wantonly caused the death of tens of thousands to slake its thirst for vengeance, but also to make itself feel safe.
Compared to that, how bad is Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians? Compared to what the Hutus did to the Tutsis in the Rwandan genocide, how bad is Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza? Compared to Pol Pot or Idi Amin, what crimes can Israel really be charged with?
And yet is this what the founders had in mind when they took up arms against Britain and the Arabs to create a homeland for the Jews? Is this what they truly wanted? To be compared favorably to the worst purveyors of violence in the world? To be fairly judged merely as “not as bad” as those others?
And so the picture of the dangerously thrashing, desperately drowning man returns. The crisis is such that it must be said the victim cannot read his own best interest and thus must be restrained, at all costs and by any means, restrained so that he can be saved.
If we surround Israel with enough rescuers, perhaps it can be saved from itself and not drown those who would pull it from the merciless pounding of history’s waves. If enough lifeguards clutch Israel tightly enough to their bosoms, perhaps its panicked thrashing, while dangerous, will spend itself before the rip tide of judgment carries it too far from humanity’s shore.
There is already so much hope pinned to the skinny shoulders of Barack Obama, we can fear he must break under the pressure. But to all those hopes we must add another: that in Hawaii he took a turn as a lifeguard, and so has learned that -- at least when saving a drowning man from himself -- a little hurt can do a lot of good.