Thursday, August 13, 2009

Darkness visible


        A number of people who have studied with me have gone – often with a summer program at Hebrew University – to work in Palestine.  The letter below from Christina Harris reacts to evictions in East Jerusalem.  She notes one woman Um Kamel who had been evicted from her home and whose husband then died of a heart attack, and who was just evicted from a tent.  She mentions another who had died, and two months later, Israeli gunmen and settlers came in to take over her apartment, a beachhead in starting to evict the Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.  Christina knows the laws of war.  Occupying armies cannot do what Israel is doing.  Israel is unilateral about international law (as was the Bush administration until January).  But more deeply, why does the state of Israel pursue policies in the occupied territories that day by day turn American students, who have gone to Hebrew University to study in a very good program, and have no direct experience, passionately against it and with stories like these? (see also The news from Israel here).

       At the end of her post, Christina uses the phrase once connected inextricably with anti-semitism “Jewification”  (in German Verjudung in the works of anti-semites like Paul de Lagarde).  Then this phrase meant that the German democratic and secular culture of the Weimar period had been perverted by Jews, losing its ostensible Germanness.  A relatively few Jews had supposedly incorporated their “priestly” (Nietzsche) habits or modes of life in place of the true German middle ages.  They were a “foreign people” and Germany a weak and unformed culture.  In this setting, Nietzsche nurtured anti-semitism with his idea of slave morality which had transvalued  the meaning of the word poor (however brilliant he was otherwise and however much he detested gutter anti-semitism).  With his celebration of a contrasting solitary dancing warrior in the mountains who alone can see the stars, Nietzsche’s thoughts instigated German and European fascism and flowed directly into what would become a massive anti-semitic movement.  Perhaps the dangerous and glittering paragraph 195 of Beyond Good and Evil is worth conjuring:

         “The Jews – a people ‘born for slavery,’ as Tacitus and the whole ancient world say; ‘the chosen people among the peoples,’ as they themselves say and believe – the Jews have brought off the miraculous feat of an inversion of values, thanks to which life on earth has acquired a novel and dangerous attraction for a couple of millennia: their prophets have fused ‘rich,’ ‘godless,’ ‘evil,’ ‘violent,’ and ‘sensual’ into one and were the first to use the term ‘world’ as an opprobrium.  This inversion of values (which includes using the word ‘poor’ as synonymous with ‘holy’ and ‘friend’) constitutes the significance of the Jewish people; they mark the beginning of the slave rebellion in morals.”

Nietzsche, of course, admired Jews for their creativity, and imagined himself a "good European."

         Tragically, in East Jerusalem and the occupied territories, the phrase “Jewification” today signals a reality: Palestinians are being displaced by jews.  The phrase is instilled with another racism and should be avoided; the reality it refers to, however, is a horror and must be stopped.

          Obama is trying to rescue the Israelis and heal the incredible wounds of the occupation.  But much of Israeli public opinion is in denial and influenced by extreme reactionary forces.  Kyra Moon, another student, sent me Seth Freedman, “Israel’s Anti-Immigration Immigrants” from the Guardian two days ago.  Over a million Russian jews have emigrated to Israel in the last 20 years, 15 % of the population.  The fascist Avigdor Liebermann, now foreign secretary in the Netanyahu government, leads them.  He has called for – and the Knesset has debated -  making every Arab Israeli swear a loyalty oath to the state of Israel.  In a recent poll, a majority do not believe that Arab Israelis can be assimilated into Israel; three out of four citizens of Russian extraction support the transfer (long a euphemism for ethnic cleansing) of Arabs out of Israel  (48% of Israelis, and 64% of the Russian émigrés oppose closing the illegal settlements).  Odd that the immigrants of the last 20 years feel biblically entitled to expel and expel again Palestinians who have long inhabited what remains of Palestine. Odd that they learned through persecution in Russia  to persecute.  Odder that they fantasize such policies will create a stable home for Israel.  

        These words are of course the exact words and measures which anti-semites in Germany once sought to impose, in the name of true Germanness, on Jews.  In his 1924 essay on "Paul de Lagarde," Leo Strauss, a reactionary German Jew, named  the alternatives  Lagarde proposed : the German national revolution against secularism – including barring of Jews from participating in the stock exchange, laws against Jews in the press and other measures to force “Jewish culture” to vanish - or the expulsion of the Jews. In a typical assimilating and immigrant split, reflecting a common “status” demarcation to divide (and hence for a German elite rule) the population, Strauss identified himself as a German, looked down on “Ostjuden,” the Eastern immigrants (there are parallels among dark skinned and light skinned blacks, or Chicanos and immigrants – see Sotomayor, Brown v. Board of Education, Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s doll studies and Leo Strauss here).   He reported Lagarde’s plan to expel the “Ostjuden”  to Palastine or Madagascar.   Assimilate without a trace, Lagarde said, or leave. Following Martin Heidegger’s outburst for renewed war  at a conference at Davos in 1929 against Ernst Cassirer,  defender of peace between France and Germany and of toleration, and Strauss’s doctoral advisor (Doktorvater), Strauss sided with Heidegger, and sought to be part of the German national revolution.  When he couldn’t, he identified wholeheartedly with the creation of a state for Jews in Palestine, one that would relentlessly drive out  Palestinians. 

          Israel was the place where Europe and America would allow Jews, following the genocide, to settle.  But this remedy for the greatest of crimes also begot a crime against the people already living there.   Still Israel could have  worked patiently to heal its relationship with Arabs, to achieve a durable peace within its 1967 borders, to make a home for itself in the Middle East. It could have provided security for ordinary Jews whom its racist expansion and increasingly anti-democratic ideas harm.   Instead, in occupied territories, the  Israeli government opens again and again the wounds.  And the crimes of the occupied territories now threaten to corrupt the laws of Israel.  Beware of how the government treats the least of these, the Palestinians, for that same government is stripping ordinary Jews of security.  I sometimes say that today Palestinians are the Jews of the occupied territories; placing the fascist Liebermann in the context of the fascist de Lagarde perhaps will make one meaning of that phrase clear. 

       Admiring Al-Farabi, Strauss’s vision of philosophy could have led to toleration of Arabs and settling into the Middle East. But sadly, in practical politics, that was never the side he was on.   Instead, his politics are echoed today in  Liebermann’s Reaction, in the discussions in the Knesset and in the crimes which the Israeli government commits hourly in the occupied territories, and which awaken horror even in  people sympathetic to Israel. Many Israelis – for example, those who refuse to serve in the occupied territories – share this revulsion.  But they are not yet a large movement.  The Bush-Cheney administration supported these policies, and put all the Middle East at war (had Cheney succeeded in bombing Iran, there would probably be no way back from many years of spiraling conflagration).   Obama has made a fresh start.  But great American vision and firmness – and pressure from below on all sides - will be needed to shift Israel from this desparately criminal and self-destructive course.

      Here is Christina Harris's letter:

EVICTIONS, DEMOLITIONS and PROTESTS...It just ain't right.

SUNDAY JULY 26, 2009: So many unfortunate happenings have taken place since i last wrote.  Last Sunday (July 26th) a bulldozer entered the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood along with a well-supported backing of a few dozen armed police officers and armed border patrol who have also been described to me as "crowd control" (mind you Sheikh Jarrah is located in East Jerusalem).  They came to demolish and support the move in of settlers into a Palestinian home in an exclusively Palestinian building/neighborhood where the former owner, an elderly woman, had passed away two month before, I'm told.  I video taped the whole thing.  It was sickening to watch.  As i said, there is a plan to evict this whole neighborhood piece by piece because these refugees are "illegally" there and "illegally" building homes- again, no country apart from Israel recognizes the right of the occupier to move settlements into the occupied land (Geneva Conventions and Hague Law).  Around 8 protestors (mostly internationals, including some i work with) were arrested for refusing to leave the entryway for the bulldozer.  At least one of the settlers- "ordinary" Jewish citizens- carried a gun with him.  You will never find a Palestinian with a gun permit to do the same.  

TODAY, SUNDAY, AUGUST 2, 2009: At least that home was empty (despite it being part of a larger policy).  This morning at 5:45am I received a text message.  The police had arrived at Maher's family home, Nasser's family home and Um Kamel's tent (the name Um Kamel is given to an older woman, Mrs. Al-Kurds, who was one of the first residents of Sheikh Jarrah to be evicted from her home, her husband dying of a heart attack shortly after).  I was not staying with the families last night and from what i know thus far all the internationals present were arrested--usually this only happens when internationals stand their ground refusing to leave the home or else holding onto Palestinian family members so that they are not forced to leave, but i think in this case all were arrested regardless of their role (will find out more).

Nonetheless, this scene, from behind an Israeli police barricade of the neighborhood, was so many things- both sad and hopeless, disgusting and cruel, and unreal all at the same time.  I knew the eviction order had been given (and renewed mind you as it had expired July 28th), but the reality of the eviction happening during my stay here seemed slim.  The Israeli government does not mess around--there were police officers in blue uniform and bulletproof vests, "border patrol" in green army fatigues with their huge guns, strap slung around their necks like guitars, and a newer presence, men in all black and bulletproof vests with more sophisticated lethal gear (SWAT equivalent?).  They were everywhere in the vicinity blocking all roads leading to the homes.  This was to evict families with babies and teenagers, no weapons on them, from their homes.  Two to three large moving trucks were also within the barricade loading up all the families items that the Israeli authorities were to get rid of.  I got there around 6:30am and stayed until 9:30am.  At some point settlers had been let inside the barricade to enter the freshly evicted homes.  As i said, these families have lived there since 1956.  People might love their country and heritage (thus choosing not to criticize it) and fear terrorism (leading to extreme measures of security), but this will never make such a disproportionate action such as this right- it is collective punishment of innocent families and part of a larger plan to Jewify all Jerusalem- it becomes more obvious with every day spent here.

What i keep thinking while here is that if you humiliate people enough times leaving them with no options and no hope, what can you expect but a backlash?  But anger? Irrational passion? And eventually even terrorism from some?  These policies are not the path to peace. Neither side is made anymore willing to negotiate or respect one another when such actions are administered.

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