Tuesday, March 6, 2012

David Grossman: Why? Who died?

Last Friday, Haaretz published an article in Hebrew, not in English translation, by the novelist David Grossman at the top of its front page. That op-ed speaks of an injured man, from a car accident, thrown out of a hospital and murdered by authorities (including a check point commander). They turned him out on a deserted road where he would die and went home.

This story names the true issue – the continuing assault on the Palestinians – behind Netanyahu’s visit to Washington and attempt to drum up war with Iran. Yes, many Israelis are frightened by Iran and Tel Aviv is in range of a strike. But no, the leaders in Iran would probably like to survive and the strike against Iran, should Iran attempt to bomb Israel – from both the United States and Israel which has some 200 nuclear weapons – would be catastrophic (it would also, over time, kill off, through radiation, many of the living things on our planet).

And ordinary Israelis, however hyped some are on fear and racism, do not need to be plunged into such a war. It will not make them one bit safer. They need to recover themselves, as David Grossman’s words suggest, and to learn to live with the Palestinians. There is only way to peace and security for the citizens of Israel and it lies, as IF Stone and Hannah Arendt, once said, through the camps of the Palestinians and achieving a decent settlement.

Against the war campaign in an election year, Obama has drawn a line for war differently from Israel – one which seeks to preserve the diplomacy of a boycott to curtail nuclear weapons - the justice of nuclear powers of doing this, while not disarming themselves, is obscure - but with a pledge that Israel is a “sacred” tie (unlike say England or Canada). The leader of AIPAC concurred with Netanyahu who has sought, in American politics, to get a chorus for greater Israel (the imperial authoritarians – “Republican” candidates – no longer speak of the two state solution and Gingrich doubts the existence of Palestine, sanctifying the police officers whom David Grossman describes below). This is a dangerous course for the supporters of Israel since it angers many of those who observe this unusual quality. The cause would have to be genuinely existential – it could be, and in a fearful or trauma-driven world it seems to be, but it isn’t. Instead, the government of Israel and its American supporters may themselves bring down such destruction with unending war and new aggressions.

In contrast, Obama at least is trying to avoid war with Iran and mentions, ineffectually, the Palestinians. If he avoids war, he deserves praise as an American leader (were Hilary Clinton or John McCain President, the bombers, very likely, would have been unleashed…). But deciding to act to end the occupation is up to Israel in which Grossman and Haaretz and many others are voices.

Grossman tries to put himself in the minds of Omar Abu Jariban, dazed and in need of help and kindness, who is abandoned to die, and of the officers who did it. His words reveal the truth that the occupation is being concealed by war with Iran. The diversion of war also conceals the plan for Greater Israel which moves the Israeli government and American politicians, often Democratic as well as Republican. This is what I call the anti-democratic feedback of global politics in Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?

In election years (it is in the United States and it will be soon in Israel), there is some special incentive for leaders to make war to defeat domestic opposition. Ironically, Obama is not, in this case, doing this. But the Republicans might use war and Obama's supposed "weakness" - since Obama has been unusually lethal, this may fail, however - to deepen the depression, cut back public goods like education, health care, jobs, green energy and mortgages for poor and "middle class" people, and throw more money at the top 1/10th of 1%. The Republican (and some Democrats') frenzy pulls Obama to the right (this is what I call the right-wing two step of American party competition in the absence of mass revolt from below). The Likud-Republican axis is a particularly destructive one for ordinary Israelis and Americans.

Americans do not want another war. This rerun of Iraq in Iran – with possibly far more drastic consequences including for Americans – will be “popular” even with paid commentators less long than the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue made the aggression in Iraq flickeringly seem a matter of enthusiasm (a majority always opposed the war and there was never zeal on the part of its proponents).

David Grossman names the real issue. He speaks for the prophet Amos – “let justice flow down like waters and righteousness like an everlasting stream” - and not for the king’s man Amaziah. He names the truth about the occupation and the other side of the wall.

Many Isrealis and their supporters in the United States have lost themselves in zeal for "Greater Israel." It is their humanity which is lost.

Grossman’s words seek to restore it.

(h/t Jack Womack)

David Grossman: Why? Who died?

 by Sol Salbe on Wednesday, February 29, 2012·

Last Friday Haaretz did something unusual: it placed an opinion piece 
on top of its front page. But it wasn't just an ordinary opinion
piece, it was written by one of the country foremost novelists, David 
Grossman. The article, like Emile Zola's J'accuse, to which it has
 been compared, was a moral critique. Many who read it were very moved. 
But the moral missive never appeared in English (at least to my
 knowledge). The English Haaretz has always been somewhat reticent in 
presenting Israel to the world. And of course translating Grossman is
 not easy, he is a master of the language and the art of writing.I have 
no idea whether I have done justice to this work. But it needed to be
 translated. The message is too important. 
[*Hebrew original: here. 

Translated by Sol Salbe of the Middle East News Service, Melbourne Australia here]

Why? Who died?

 All said and done it is merely a minor story about an illegal alien
 who stole a car, was injured in an accident, then released from
 hospital to have cops dump him, still injured to die the by the
 roadside. What are the building blocks that lead to such an atrocity?

David Grossman

Omar Abu Jariban, a resident of the Gaza Strip, staying illegally in 
Israel, stole a car and was seriously injured while driving it. He was
 released from the Sheba Medical Centre while his treatment was still 
on going and handed over to the custody of the Rehovot Police station.
The police were unable to identify him. He himself was bewildered and 
confused. The Rehovot Police officers decided to get rid of him. 
According to Chaim Levinson’s account, they loaded him onto a police
 van at night accompanied by three policemen. He was still attached to
 a catheter, was wearing an adult nappy and a hospital gown. Two days
 later he was found dead by the roadside. 

It’s a minor story. We have already read some like it and others where
 even worse [happened]. And when it is all said and done who is the subject of
 this story: an illegal infiltrator, from Rafah and a vehicle thief to 
boot. And at any rate it happened as long ago as 2008, there is a
 statue of limitations to consider. And we have other, fresher, more 
immediate matters which are more relevant for us to consider. (And 
beside all that, they started it, we offered them everything and they 
refused and don’t forget the terrorism.).

Ever since I read the story, I find it difficult to breathe the air
 here: I keep on thinking about that trip in the police van, as if
some part of me had remained there, bonded on permanently and 
impossible to be prised out. How precisely did the incident pan out?
 What are the real, banal, tangible elements that coalesced 
together make up such an atrocity? 

From the newspaper I gather that there were three cops there alongside
 Omar. Again and again I run the video clip mentally in my head: Was 
he sitting like them on the seat or was he lying on the floor of the
van? Was he handcuffed or not? Did anybody talk to him? Did they offer 
him a drink? Did they share a laugh? Did they laugh at him? Did they
 poke fun at his adult nappy? Did they laugh at his confusion or at
 his catheter? Did they discuss what he was capable of while still 
attached to the catheter or once he would be separated from it? Did
 they say that he deserved what was coming? Did they kick him lightly 
like mates do, or maybe because the situation demanded a swift kick?
 Or did they just kick him for the heck of it, just because they could,
 and why not?
Besides, how can someone be discharged just like that from medical 
treatment at the Sheba Medical Centre? Who let him out in his 
condition? What possible explanation could they put down on the
 discharge papers which they signed off?

And what happened when the van reached the Maccabim checkpoint [not
 far from Jerusalem -tr]? I read in the newspaper that an argument 
ensued with the Israeli checkpoint commander, and that he refused to
 accept the patient. Did Omar hear the argument about him from within
 the van, or did they drag him out of the van and plonk him in front
 of the commander, replete with catheter, nappy and hospital gown for a
 rapid overall assessment by the latter? And the commander said no. And 
yalla! We are on our way again. So they returned to van, and they kept
 on going. And now the guys in the van are perhaps not quite as nice 
before, because it is getting late and they want to get back and
 wonder what have they done to have deserved copping this sand nigger 
and what are they going to do with him now. If the Maccabim 
checkpoint rejected him, there was no way in which the Atarot
 checkpoint will take him. It is now pitch black outside and by the by, 
while traveling on Route 45, between the Ofer military base to the 
Atarot checkpoint, a thought or a suggestion pops up. Perhaps someone
 said something and nobody argued against, or perhaps someone did argue
 back but the one who came up with the original suggestion carried more 
weight. Or perhaps there was no argument, someone said something and 
someone else felt that this is precisely what needs to be done, and
one of them says to the driver, pull over for a moment, not here, 
it’s too well lit, stop there. You, yes you, move it, get your arse 
into gear you piece of shit – thanks to you our van stinks; you
 ruined our evening, get going! What do you mean to where? Go there. 

And what happens next? Does Omar remain steady on his feet, or are his
 legs unable to carry him? Do they leave him on the side of the road,
or do physically take him there, and how? Do the haul him? Do they
 drag him deeper into the field? 

You stay here! Do not follow us! Do not move!

 And then they return to the car, walking a little bit more briskly, 
glancing behind their shoulder to ensure that he is not pursuing them.
 As if he already has something infectious about him. No, not his 
injury. Something else is already beginning to exude out of him, like 
bad tidings, or his court sentence. Come on, let’s get going, it’s all 

And he, Omar Abu Jariban, what did he do then? Did he merely stand on
 his own feet or did he suddenly grasp what was happening, and started
 running and shouting that they should take him with them? And perhaps
 he did not realize anything, because as we said, he was confused and 
bewildered, and just stood there on the road or in the field, and saw
 a road, and a police van driving away. So what did he do? What did he 
really do? Started walking aimlessly, with some sort of a vague
 notion that somehow being a little further away would turn out
 somewhat better? Or maybe he just sat down and stared blankly in front 
of him and tried to figure it, but it was clearly beyond his
 comprehension for he was in no position to understand anything? Or
 perhaps he lay down and curled up on the ground and waiting? Why? And
 whom did he think about? Did he have someone, somewhere, to think
 about? Did the thought occur to any of those police officers, at any
time during that whole night that there was someone, a man, a woman or
a whole family for whom Omar was important? Someone who cared about
 him? Did it occur to them that it was possible, with a little bit more
 of an effort to locate this person and hand Omar to them? 

Two days later they found his body. But I have no idea how much time
 had elapsed from the moment they dumped him by the roadside until he
 died. Who knows when it dawned on him that this was it; that his body
 did not have enough strength left to save himself. And even if he could have summoned the energy, he was trapped a situation from which there 
was no exit, that his short life was about to end here. His brother
 Mohammed, said by telephone from Gaza, "They simply threw him to the
 dogs". And in the newspaper it says, "Horrible as it may sound, the 
brother accurately described what happened.” And I read it and the
 image turns into something real, and I try to wipe that image from my

 And in the police van, what happened there after they dumped Omar? 
Did they talk among themselves? About what? Did they fire each other
up with hatred and disgust at him, to retrospectively justify what
 they did? To justify what in their heart of hearts they knew stood
 in contrast to something. Maybe that thing was the law (but the law, 
they probably imagined, they could handle). But maybe it was contrary 
to something deeper, some deeply ingrained memory in them which they
 found themselves in, many years ago. Maybe it was moral tale or a 
children's story in which the good was good and the bad was bad.
 Perhaps one of them recalled something they learnt at school --- they
did pass through our education system, didn’t they? Let’s say it was S
Yizhar’s HaShavuy (the captive).

 Or maybe the three of them pulled out their mobile phones and spoke to
 the wife, the girlfriend, the son. At such times you may want to talk 
to someone from the outside. Someone who wasn’t here who did not touch 
this thing. 

Or maybe they kept quiet.

 No, silence was perhaps a little bit too dangerous at that point.
 Still, something was beginning to creep up the van’s interior; a sort of a viscous dark sensation, like a terrifying sin, for which there is
 no forgiveness. Maybe one of them yet did suggest softly, let’s go
 back. We’ll tell him that we were pulling his leg. We can’t go on like
 this, dumping a human being.

 The paper says: “As a result of the police Internal Affairs
 investigation, negligent homicide charges were filed in March 2009 
against only two of the officers who were involved in dumping and
abandoning Abu Jariban. Evidence has yet to be submitted in a trial 
of the pair but in the meantime, one of the two accused has been
 promoted. ”

I know that they do not represent the police. Nor do they represent 
our society or the state. It's only a handful or bad apples, or 
unwelcomed weeds. But then I think about a people which has dumped a 
whole other nation on the side of the road and has backed the process
 to the hilt over 45 years, all the while having not a bad life at all,
 thank you. I think about a people which has been engaging in a 
brilliant genius-like denial of its own responsibility for the
situation. I think of a people, which has managed to ignore the
 warping and distorting of its own society and the madness that the 
process has had on its own national values. Why should such a people 
get all excited over a single such Omar?

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