Monday, August 21, 2006

Saving Corporal Shalit, Part Two

"Disproportionate Response"

The question as to whether Israel's response to the abduction of two soldiers by Hezbollah and the deaths of eight others had been "disproportionate" arose when it was confirmed that the ratio of deaths had reached ten Lebanese for each Israeli ("With Israeli Use of Force, Debate Over Proportion," NYT, front page, July 19), but it might well have been raised over "Operation Summer Rain" in Gaza weeks earlier.

"Operation Summer Rain," which still proceeds and which has resulted in the deaths of at least 165 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier killed by friendly fire, was commenced in response to two things, the abduction of Corporal Shalit, and the rain of several hundred Qassam rockets on Israeli territory, mainly in and around the town of Sderot, since January. The firing of these rockets by Hamas from northern Gaza has constituted an unendurable and even maddening provocation in the eyes of Israelis and their allies. Thus David Remnick, the New Yorker editor, writes (July 31), "Palestinian fighters, with the encouragement of the new Hamas government, lobbed more than seven hundred rockets into Sderot and other towns in southwestern Israel. Olmert had to respond." The American Israeli Michael B. Oren, the historian of the Six-Day War, wrote in the LA Times ("Israel: One Nation Under Attack," July 26) that "The attacks from Lebanon coincided with aggression from Gaza, where Hamas terrorists fired about 1000 Kassam rockets at Israeli towns and farms." These assaults from both Lebanon and Gaza imperil Israel's very existence, Oren wrote. "Israel's purpose is not retribution but survival." An outraged Yossi Klein Halevi--the sulfurous Halevi is always outraged--wrote, "No Israeli town within the 1967 borders has experienced the kind of relentless attacks Sderot has suffered." (TNR, July 30)

Usually the Qassam rockets have a range of about three miles, but on July 4, one landed on an empty high school in Ashkelon, six miles from the border. Olmert called this "an escalation of unprecedented gravity in the campaign of terror waged by Hamas..."

One thing that is hardly ever mentioned about the Qassam rockets, however, is the number of Israelis who have been killed by them since January, when the firing began. Whether the number of Qassams fired is 700 or 1000, the fact is that no Israeli has been killed by one. I believe four have been injured. This is remarkable, indeed astonishing, is it not? At least 700 rockets launched and not a single fatality. The futility is almost perfect.

What accounts for it? The rockets are home-made. This Spring a BBC reporter with a cameraman interviewed three or four Hamas "fighters" making the rockets, guys in black ski masks with green Hamas scarves. The rockets looked lethal enough: machined steel pipe, rocket fins, shiny black warheads. But they don't work. Moreover, the Israelis often seem to know the locations of the "factories" in which they're made, so these guys are far more likely to be bombed to bits than to kill an Israeli. Yet the rocket launchings enjoy wide support among Gazans. Why? Because, as a New York Times story reported, what with their power knocked out, sonic booms shattering their sleep every night, huge Israeli tanks roaring through daily, bulldozers destroying their orchards, and Gaza City being bombed nightly, Gazans figure that with the rockets being fired, a few thousand Israelis are losing their sleep every night too.

Here is an example of the weak and powerless finding refuge from their helplessness in purely symbolic retribution. Al Jazeera reported last month that "the resistance" had been just at the point of calling off the Qassams. Hamas was for it, also the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, but a third group--I forget which--said "No," that would be a humiliating capitulation to the Zionist entity, and so the others, not wanting to be branded traitors, reluctantly agreed to the continuation of the "campaign." Here, then, is one of the dire threats to Israel's very existence.

Oh yes, the debate in the American media over Israel's possibly disproportionate response to Hezbollah "aggression." There was hardly any debate, really; you might almost call the response of Israel's supporters "preemptive," so quick out of the box were they. Jonathan Chait, Martin Peretz's most promising young man at the New Republic (Chait's not even thirty), struck a pose of lofty and contemptuous amusement in his LA Times column. The charge of disproportionate force, he said, "is just silly." True, "Israel has taken the lives of several hundred Lebanese civilians (many entirely innocent, others who sheltered Hezbollah rockets)," and true too that "Every innocent death is a tragedy," but look at the big picture and the issue of Israeli intent: "Where Israel has bombed civilian areas, it has been in an attempt to strike Hezbollah's rockets." Anyway, "The brutal fact is that civilian deaths are Hezbollah's strongest weapon." Boy, has young Mr. Chait ever earned his Peretz stripes! Promote that lad to captain.

The Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen ("...No, It's Survival," Tuesday July 21) said calls for "proportion" "rankle." "Israel is, as I have often said,..gentrifying a pretty bad neighborhood." (So Cohen likes to think of Israelis as middle class urban pioneers buying up abandoned Victorians in a ghetto, gamely sprucing them up, dry-walling interiors and restoring their original color schemes, while trying to live with the drug-dealing openly going on down at the corner and the pimpmobiles cruising insolently by.) As Cohen notes, these protests against allegedly disproportionate Israeli force mainly came from "a whole lot of European newspapers" (they certainly didn't appear in American ones) and, he said, "they fall on my ears not as genteel expressions of fairness, some ditzy Marquess of Queensberry idea of war, but as ugly sentiments pregnant with antipathy toward the only democratic state in the Middle East." In other words--must one spell it out?--Anti-Semitism!

I read no columnist in an American newspaper who called the month-long bombing of south Beirut what it surely was, a war crime. I read today that the number of "homes" lost to the Lebanese in this war is 15,000. Would it be a fair guess that perhaps 10,000 of these were in Beirut? Contrary to the opinion of young Mr. Chait, there were no Hezbollah rockets fired from there. This atrocity was masked by the American networks' and NPR's quite routine description of south Beirut as a "Shiah stronghold."

My Concise Oxford provides two meanings for stronghold: a fortified place, or a "center of support for a cause, etc." Thus, for example, "the South Bronx has long been a Democratic Party stronghold." South Beirut is a Shiah stronghold only in that sense, but the repeated use of the word "stronghold" implied that the area was a legitimate military target.

One journalist/columnist who has been simply magnificent through the whole month of the war is Gideon Levy, the leftwing columnist of Ha'aretz who Sunday after Sunday has denounced Israel's prosecution of the war, and who called for a cessation even while Condolleeza Rice was using diplomacy to sabotage diplomacy. "Israel is sinking into a strident, nationalist atmosphere and darkness is beginning to cover everything," he wrote on July 30. "The insensitivity and blindness that has characterized Israel in recent years is intensifying."

"The devastation we are sowing in Lebanon doesn't touch anyone here and most of it is not even shown to Israelis. Those who want to learn what Tyre looks like now have to turn to foreign channels." "Lebanon, which has never fought being detroyed by our planes and cannons and nobody is taking into account the amount of hatred we are sowing." "Maariv, which has turned into the Fox News of Israel, fills its pages with chauvinist slogans reminiscent of particularly inferior propaganda machines..." And on he went.

Even in peacetime, Israel has had, as Joel Beinin of Stanford has written, "a hypermilitarized political culture," but it has been at floodtide for the last month, and it ran over Levy. Ha'aretz attaches "blogs" to its columns--responses from readers--and those attached to Levy's have been savage. The first one I read said, "How do you spell 'Gideon Levy'? Y*E*L*L*O*W." Subsequent ones were pretty much in that spirit.

Human Shields

It has often been said in American media that Hezbollah, such is its indifference to the loss of innocent life, has employed human shields to protect its fighters. Thus, David Remnick of the New Yorker, while deploring the recklessness of Israel's bombing of Lebanon, felt it necessary to balance this with the observation that, "The Party of God, for its part, uses civilians as both shields and targets, and boasts of its own escape." Dan Gillerman, the Israeli ambassador to the UN, said, in the NY Times' paraphrase, "Hezbollah had used Lebanese civilians as human shields and had deliberately exposed them to danger in the hopes of stirring expressions of outrage against Israel." (Times, Mon July 31) Then as we have seen, Jonathan Chait, while regretting the loss of "innocent" civilian life, said an indeterminate number of civilians were "sheltering" rockets (I suppose we must call these people voluntary human shields).

So routine were such allegations that NPR anchors felt obliged with some frequency to ask correspondent Ivan Watson, who was in the thick of it in southern Lebanon, if he had witnessed such activity. And Watson wearily replied again and again that he had not. Few Hezbollah were to be seen in the destroyed villages and towns he reported from. The rockets, he said, always seemed to be fired from the next ridge, or from the valley beyond. On one occasion near the end of the conflict he did say he'd spoken to a man in a Christian village who said the Hezbollah had commandeered his house the night before and fired rockets from the second floor. But that was it.

Human Rights Watch's "Summary" of its findings regarding violations of human rights noted (, 8/9/06) "The Israeli government claims that it targets only Hezbollah and that fighters from the group are using civilians as human shields, thereby placing them at risk. Human Rights Watch found no cases in which Hezbollah deliberately used civilians as shields to protect them from retaliatory IDF attacks." Further, "In none of the cases of civilian deaths documented in this report is there evidence to suggest that Hezbollah forces or weapons were in or near the area that the IDF targeted during or just prior to the attack."

None of which deterred Dubya from saying on August 15 that "Hezbollah terrorists used Lebanese civilians as human shields, sacrificing the innocent in an effort to protect themselves from Israeli response."

The full absurdity of such allegations can only be understood if you try to imagine how a Hezbollah fighter with a couple of Katyushas would endeavor to protect himself from an airstrike with a human shield. "Holy shit, here comes an F-16! I'll just have to grab this woman and hold her in front of me! The kid, too--I'll be safe behind two."

So, no use of human shields in Middle Eastern conflict? Wrong. Ask yourself in what circumstances a soldier might find a human shield a handy thing to have. Say when he's a member of an infantry squad. Patrolling a rubble-strewn bombed out hostile town. A town in which a guy with a Kalashnikov might be drawing a bead on him right now from behind one of any number of dark windows. If that soldier grabs a local man or woman to walk in front of him....

B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories reports "20 July 2006: Israeli Soldiers Use Civilians as Human Shields in Beit Hanun, Northern Gaza." The soldiers seized six people, two of them minors, on 17 July, and had them stand at the entrances of rooms in a house where the soldiers had stationed themselves, and made their captives stay there for six hours, during which time there were intense exchanges of gunfire between the soldiers and armed Palestinians outside.

This sort of thing has been routine in the West Bank and Gaza since the beginning of the second Intifada in 2000.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Saving Corporal Shalit and Other Episodes of Sheer Madness

Two Sundays ago, taking refuge from the lethal craziness in Lebanon on the front page and in the Week in Review section of the Times, I turned to the Book Review for relief and came upon an essay by Nick Tosches on yet another try at translating the Iliad. With all its darkness and bloodshed, Tosches wrote, its insistence upon remarking "dismal death" and "vile destiny," Homer's epic is "more knowing in its awareness of humanity's distinguishing trait--its inhumanity--than literature of later ages."

Boy, you can say that again, I thought. Not in a long time has irrational fury in all its forms and guises been so spectacularly on display as it has in the last six weeks or so in the Middle East, and all these fireworks of human viciousness, this epic of collosal folly, presented on so compressed and visible a stage, too! It's only about 160 miles from Gaza to Beirut, about the distance from San Diego to Thousand Oaks on the Ventura freeway, about a three-hour drive including a coffee stop at Denny's. The Israeli Air Force flew 9,000 missions into Lebanon between July 12 and the cease-fire, and dropped who knows how many tons of ordnance. Hezbollah fired 8,000 Katyushas into the Galilee in the same period, burning up 16,000 acres of forest and grazing lands. Whoopee, Destruction Derby time! All mad, quite, quite mad.

Begin with Corporal Gilad Shalit, captured by Hamas gunmen who tunneled from Gaza into Israel and snatched the unfortunate youth on June 25. Israel is well known for prizing the life of every young man and woman who serves in the IDF, an admirable national trait. How to get the corporal out? His father pleaded for a prisoner exchange, showing he simply didn't have the right sabra stuff. Instead of betraying weakness, Ehud Olmert launched "Operation Summer Rain," a military rampage through Gaza which so far has killed at least 165 Gazans, most civilians, and shows no sign of abating even today.

I was oddly reminded by this of a book I read in high school, James Michener's "Tales of the South Pacific." The "tale" I remembered was, I believe, the last, of a downed carrier pilot in a one-man inflatable, sitting out there somewhere in the vast Pacific. The Navy commenced a search operation to recover the pilot. A carrier battle group was diverted. An enormous grid of ten thousand square miles, or some such number, was created, and planes flew back and forth day after day, coursing the entire grid, until one day an Avenger or a PBY spotted this human speck floating on the blue ocean, and he was rescued. Michener counted up how many man-hours had been devoted to the search, how much aviation fuel. The point of the story, which deeply impressed me (well, it must have: I was 17 then and I'm 70 now, and it still sticks with me) was this: never before in history had there been a military force so committed to saving a single human life, or a nation so wealthy as to afford to indulge such a value.

Compare the rescue of that pilot to the attempted "rescue" of Corporal Shalit. Yossi Klein Halevi of the Jerusalem Post and the New Republic writes movingly of the plight of Shalit, "An Israeli soldier held hostage is a taunt against the Zionist promise of self-defense, an unbearable reminder of Jewish helplessness." (TNR Online, 6/26/06). To which one must say Oh please. Jews are not helpless in Gaza, Palestinians are. The lesson of Israel's response to Shalit's capture is not that he is precious to Israel, but that the lives of Palestinians are as nothing to Israel. They are dirt. Human detritus.

(A Reuters dispatch of yesterday reports that Qatar has stepped in to arrange a prisoner exchange, and that a senior Palestinian official said that "Israel has made new offers to Hamas via the Qataris in return for Shalit." Stay tuned.)

Hezbollah's Glorious Victory.

On Monday, August 14, the day the truce went into effect, tens of thousands of Lebanese refugees from Israel's pitiless bombing streamed south across the Litani River, to discover what was left of their towns, villages, and homes, if anything, and were greeted by Hezbollah fighters who, as Ivan Watson of NPR reported, handed out pink leaflets congratulating them on their glorious, strategic, historic victory over the Israelis. Everyone, including most Israelis, it seems, agrees that this was a debacle for the IDF, that the "myth of Israeli invincibility" has been shattered, and on the Arab side that Hezbollah has at long last restored "the nation's" honor. The Hezbollah fighters now join the Minutemen at Lexington and the Spartans at Thermopylae standing off the Persian hordes in the glorious annals of battle. "We won, we won!"

But this is madness. Much of Lebanon has been destroyed. The cost of re-building is reckoned to be $5 billion, I hear, and where is it to come from? Iran, it seems. Hezbollah is handing out $1,500 American, fistsfull of bills, to householders, courtesy of their Iranian benefactors, to cover start up costs. That's not going to go very far. Blocks and blocks of highrise apartment buildings in Beirut are rubble. Highways and bridges everywhere smashed. Two weeks into the war I heard Neal Conan of NPR's Talk of the Nation solemnly announce, "Israel and Lebanon are burning." (This was to maintain the American media pretense that "the suffering" was about equal on both sides.) "Wrong," I thought, "Lebanon has been destroyed, and Israel got its hair mussed." Hezbollah's victory is wholly symbolic; the destruction of Lebanon is real.

The "root cause" of this gulf between symbol and reality is Hezbollah's main weapon, the Katyusha rocket, which is itself all symbol (symbol of defiance, of boldness, of endurance---why, on Sunday, the last day before the cease-fire, Hezbollah fired off more Katyushas than during any previous day--how's that for endurance!). The trouble is that the Katyusha, this symbol of Hezbollah, is of no military value whatsoever. It's useless as a defensive weapon, obviously. It served the Red Army well on the Eastern Front, racks and racks of them mounted on flatbed trucks, fired in massive salvos at Wehrmacht infantry three or four miles in front, short on accuracy, maybe, but with a fifty-pound explosive charge in each they packed a hell of a punch when they landed on a column, or infantry spread out in defensive formation. But Hezbollah is not the Red Army, and this isn't 1944.

No, the Katyusha is good for one thing only: driving Israelis nuts. Hezbollah has been using them for that for years. Kiryat Shemona, that Israeli town about three miles from Lebanon, was finally evacuated last week--again. For twenty years Kiryat Shemona has been to Katyushas what Buffalo is to blizzards. Israel and the United States bellow that Hezbollah "deliberately targets civilians," but you can't deliberately target a Katyusha at anything. Where it falls depends on propellant, trajectory, and windage. Obviously, the Hezbollah sought to kill as many Israelis as they could, and whether the dead or wounded were military or civilian was of no consequence. The point is that they were able to kill so few. Eight thousand rockets fired, and what was it, 40 civilians killed? The Israelis killed almost as many Lebanese civilians with one 3,000 lb. bomb dropped on a house in Qana.

Tom Friedman usually has more than one screw loose, but he is capable of writing a trenchant paragraph on rare occasions, and I think he got it right on August 11 when he said the Lebanese, including Shiites, must ask themselves, "What was this war all about? What did we get from this and at what price? Israel has some roofs to repair and some dead to bury. But its economy and state are fully intact, and it will recover quickly. We Lebanese have been set back by a decade. Our economy and our democracy lie in ruins, like our homes. For what? For a one-week boost in 'Arab honor'?"

What will Hezbollah do now? Almost certainly get more rockets, as fast as they become available from Iran, and since Hezbollah already has a few capable of reaching Haifa, and soon if not now some able to strike Tel Aviv, if we are to believe Nasrallah's boasts, they'll acquire those too. They'll be really awesome symbols. But these will be suicide weapons. Even one hitting Tel Aviv is bound to bring destruction on Lebanon again. So there sits southern Lebanon, in the hands of the Party of God, whose head-of-state, prophet and leader answers only to his God (rather like George W. Bush of the other party of God, the Republican Party) and to hell, as Nasrallah as a Shia visionary must literally say, with the notion of a "multi-confessional" Lebanese nation. More, much more, fanaticism and unreason to come.

Apologies, but to be continued....

Friday, August 11, 2006

Bush is Right, Critics Wrong, Polls show: They Hate Freedom


News Analysis

Bush is Right, Critics Wrong, Polls show:
They Hate Freedom

by Edward Paynter

August 11, '06

For years President George W. Bush has tirelessly and passionately insisted that the only reason Muslim terrorists hate America is that we are a free people. Again and again he has asserted that the terrorists are nothing more than evildoers who have been driven to madness by their love of darkness and tyranny and their hatred for all the things our nation stands for: freedom, justice, and a love of liberty.

Thus, responding to the British roundup of terror suspects plotting to blow up three or more U.S.-bound airliners yesterday, the President said, "This is a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom."

But for just as long, critics have insisted that the President is half right at best, and have berated him for trying to distract the world's attention from the "real" causes of Muslim terror, the policies of this nation toward the Muslim world, especially over the last six years, that are rightly or wrongly perceived by Muslims as being hostile to their civilization. Such critics cite especially the Bush administration's unfailing support for Israel's expansion into the West Bank and its building of a "separation barrier" running deep into Palestinian-settled territory. Israel's bombing of Gaza, and now of Lebanon, they say, certainly haven't helped.

Now, an amazingly comprehensive poll of Muslim terrorist prisoners conducted by the CIA and the intelligence agencies of several U.S. allies seems to confirm that the President has it at least half right. These captives do hate the United States for other reasons, the poll finds, but again and again, across the Muslim world from Morroco to Malaysia, results show that what they consistently hate about us above all is our freedom.

Captives were interrogated and given questionnaires everywhere: Morrocans in Spanish prisons, Algerians in French, Muslims of several nations in prisons in German and Italy, Muslim Brotherhood members imprisoned in Egypt, al Qaeda members in Saudi jails, Malayasian and Indonesian al Qaeda terrorists in the jails of those nations, the thousands of Iraqi prisoners in American jails in Iraq, and finally, an especially rich source, the 10,000 Palestinians languishing in confinement in Israeli facilities.

It is true that specific policies of the Bush administration are condemned by these terrorists. For example, 100% of Palestinians interned in Israel said the chief reason they hated the United States was that "America finances, arms, and encourages Israel to take land from the Palestinian people." But what will surprise the President's critics is the second grievance of the Palestinians, shared by 65%: they hate the Bill of Rights.

Similarly, while 80% of al Qaeda inmates held in Saudi Arabia said the chief reason they hate America is that "the infidels defiled the sands of the Land of the Prophet with their filthy presence," 70% said the next worst thing about America was the freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures guaranteed in the Fourth Amendment. Sixty per cent also detested habeas corpus.

And so it went across the Muslim world. Iraqi prisoners overwhelmingly said they hated the United States for invading their country, but a surprising percentage, 45, said they specifically loathed the Fifth Amendment guarantee of trial by jury in all criminal cases.

Indeed, it was the First Amendment to the Constitution, with its several guarantees of freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly and the right of petition which was most deeply reviled from Morroco to the Philippines. Among Iraqi prisoners there was an intriguing split between Shia and Sunni over which was the more hateful of the religion clauses, the establishment or free exercise ("Congress shall make no law affecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"), Shia, perhaps reflecting their now dominant status, now hating the first most, while Sunnis especially detest the second.*

President Bush may have been "thinking with his gut" when he concluded that they hate us for our freedom and for no other conceivable reason, but it seems he got it essentially right. But how, quite unknown to Bush, did these Muslims become so well acquainted with the Constitution of the nation they hate? It seems that in madrases from Riyadh to Rawalpindi it is not only the Koran that is taught. Pupils in these academies are also drilled endlessly in the U.S. Constitution, in Arabic, of course, as a sort of "evil writ" which their masters call "The Protocols of the Elders of the Great Satan." Madrasa graduates, then, have a knowledge of the Constitution that our law graduates well might envy, although from a diametrically opposed perspective. What we revere, they hold to be filth.

It will come as no surprise to learn that the person most detested by madrassa masters, one who is almost a stand-in for the Tempter himself, is Thomas Jefferson. Not because he was a slave owner, but because he was the world's most renowned gospeler of Natural Rights. "Jefferson is beneath camel dung," they will say. "Camel dung at least makes for a cheery campfire."

*One Abu Ghraib prisoner who holds a doctorate in Islamic studies from Baghdad University said he actually agreed with the free exercise clause, but that it had been wrongly interpreted. The Constitution guarantees "freedom of religion," he said, "but not freedom from religion." He said he was in perfect agreement with Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Irate Codger mulls the fate of Ariel Sharon

My mind reeling from all the madness let loose by some Gazans snatching Corporal Shalit in late June, I was caught off guard by a bulletin the other day concerning the state of Ariel Sharon. It was like a flashback from another time. "Gee, that's right," I thought, "the old boy's still alive, isn't he?" It seemed from the news brief that there had been worrisome signs of organ impairment; the liver, I think it was. Think of it, it's been eight months since he suffered a massive stroke that sent him into an almost certainly irreversible coma. Doctors at the receiving hospital confided at the time that if the victim had been anyone but Sharon, they'd have let him go. The chances of his ever recovering, they said, were remote indeed.

You'd think that long ago, his widow--sorry, wife--would have said, "Please, let my husband depart in peace." Or that his sons would say, "Unplug Dad, OK? He'd have wanted it that way." One thing is certain: Sharon did not leave a living will.

Isn't this rather looking like emperor worship? His thousands of fanatical supporters among West Bank settlers when he was housing minister did acclaim him "Arik, King of the Jews," didn't they? I begin to think that if the doctors can keep him alive long enough, Israel might carve out of the living rock at Yad Vashem a gloom-shrouded Sharon Memorial lit by candlelight but with one strong ceiling beacon shining upon Sharon lying in a glass enclosed bed in a permanent vegetative state---a sort of combination of Lenin's Tomb and a Terri Schiavo vigil-- white-garbed doctors twiddling knobs of life-support systems and gravely studying dials while endless streams of Jews and visiting gentile dignitaries silently pass by, paying their respects between 10 AM and 5 PM daily, forever and ever.

Resolution 1559.

Before Israel began bombing Beirut three weeks ago, who had ever heard of UN Security Council Resolution 1559? As we have been endlessly reminded ever since, it was passed in 2004 and requires the disarming of Hezbollah. As I understand it, France had sponsored a resolution calling for the departure from Lebanon of Syrian military forces, and the United States--that would be then ambassador John Negroponte--urged the addition of language requiring the disarming of all non-state Lebanese militias, meaning, of course, Hezbollah, and the resolution was duly adopted.

Now you never hear the end of 1559. Just today, Bush mentioned it three times as being absolutely mandatory. It's a solemn responsibility of the international community to enforce it. It cannot be shirked. Not just Bush, but Martin Peretz and his Israeli claque at the New Republic, the Israelis, and every neocon in sight, have been shouting "1559!" That is to say, all those pro-Israeli voices who in the past expressed bottomless contempt for the UN, Kofi Annan, the Secretariat, and every damned Security Council resolution to restrain Israeli territorial aggrandizement ever passed. (And, of course, those forty resolutions since 1970 that failed because of a US veto, all of them "one-sided.") I wonder, has Bush ever mentioned 242 or 338 (that is, land for peace and a negotiated withdrawal by Israel from the Golan)? Well, he did allude to 242 a couple of years ago, calling it "unrealistic." These resolutions have been there since 1967 and 1973. Why are those damned Syrians being so mulish?

My Linda Gradstein problem and ours.

It will be wondered why the Irate Codger has been obsessed for so long by NPR's lady correspondent in Jerusalem. A week ago I said she was bone lazy, seldom produced any news pieces at all, and completely blew off the Palestinians. As if to disprove the first charge, Gradstein last week produced no fewer than three pieces, which must be a record for her. Here they are:

Lat Monday, she did four or five minutes on "Day by Day" about the striking differences between the Israeli public's response to Sharon's Operation Peace in Galilee in 1982 and its feelings about the current Lebanon war. In 1982, there were huge divisions. Tens of thousands protested the invasion and condemned the massacre of Palestinians in the Shia and Shatillah refugee camps in south Beirut by Israel's proxy Falange militia. Now, however, there is almost universal support for Israel's war (except, presumably, among Israeli Arabs). Why? Three prominent Israeli political scientists and military historians explained that it was because this time Israel's very survival is at stake, and the public grasps this fact. There was a fourth voice at the end, that of Gershon Gorenberg of the American Prospect and Mother Jones, who said that Israelis hadn't begun to think through the implications of this invasion.

On Tueday, on Morning Edition, she produced a story on the economic effects of the war. She talked to an American couple who ran a bed and breakfast resort in the northern Galilean town of Nazareth (not the one in which Jesus is said to have been born, but the other, which is still a Christian shrine destination with an ancient Orthodox church---I read about this in a recent issue of Archeology). The couple said summer was usually their most profitable season, but this year, thanks to the rockets, business was almost down to zero. But so far for all of Israel, Gradstein said reassuringly, the economic impact had been quite manageable.

For her third story, on Thursday, on All Things Considered, she took a tape recorder to a shopping mall and asked passers-by if they supported the war. All did.

Pretty hard-hitting stuff, eh?

Friday on All Things Considered, there was a report on the "forgotten war" in Gaza, not by Gradstein, of course, but by Anne Garrels. It was horrible. Since the abduction of Corporal Shalit and the beginning of "Operation Summer Rain," the Israeli rampage through Gaza, about 190 Gazans had been killed (and one Israeli: a soldier killed by friendly fire). All the crossing points out of Gaza have been closed since June, there is no power or light, no refrigeration, produce rots, and the Israeli navy prevents Gazan fishermen from going out to where there are fish. One man told of receiving a call on his cell phone in the middle of the night--the Israeli caller used his nickname--telling him to clear his family out of his house because it would be destroyed in ten minutes. It was. Others said they had received similar calls, fled their homes, and then...nothing happened. But they were afraid to venture back in and were sleeping out of doors. Gritty, resolute, heroic Anne. Not the same as taking your tape recorder to a shopping mall, is it?

So why didn't NPR fire the useless Gradstein years ago? I think I know why. Remember Kenneth Tomlinson, the Bush zealot who was compelled to resign as chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting last November for his crazed overreaching in seeking to bring PBS firmly into the Bush camp? He cracked down on Bill Moyers, promoted a "Wall Street Journal Editors' Report," charged "Frontline" with being a fount of anti-Bush propaganda, and even said that the News Hour with Jim Lehrer was left wing. (While compelled to resign from the CPB, Tomlinson continues to chair the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which runs the Voice of America.) Well, one of his charges was that NPR was biased against Israel and pro-Palestinian.

As a firewall against such assaults, who better than Linda Gradstein? She's NPR's hole card. "We're pro-Palestinian? Don't you know our correspondent in Jerusalem for the last seventeen years has been Linda Gradstein? When she occasionally lectures on US campuses, it's under the sponsorship of Hillel! She is clearly described in the literature as a Zionist! Check out her history and see if you can find anything biased toward the Palestinians." (Actually, years ago, Richard Pipes--or was it Daniel Pipes, I get them confused--did so charge Gradstein, but that would apply to anyone left of Yitzak Shamir.)

Nor is it just the Bush administration and the right. If Gradstein were fired, imagine the shit storm that AIPAC, the ADL, and Democrats like James Wexler, Jerrold Nadler, Nancy Pelosi, and Howard Berman might churn up.

All this being so, perhaps it's for the best that this woman continue to enjoy her sinecure.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

How Our Media Analyze News of the Middle East

The Codger awoke at 7:30 this morning feeling not at all irate. Weeks ago he'd felt too beaten up, kicked around, and pummeled to work up real indignation over it. Do you get angry when you're hit by a truck? He turned on NPR. Ivan Watson was reporting from Tyre.
I'm stepping over the corpse of a small girl right now. There are rows of caskets before me, some of them for tiny infants. This is the third mass burial this town has had since the beginning of the war. There are about ninety bodies this time. For all of Lebanon, the death toll is now well above 600.
Ten thousand Israeli soldiers poured into southern Lebanon overnight.

A Katyusha rocket killed an Israeli, raising the civilian death toll in the Galilee to 19. Or is it 20?

The BBC reports that the oil spill into the sea as the result of an Israeli air strike on a power station south of Beirut may be much larger than was first thought, perhaps as much as 35,000 tons. For purposes of comparison, the Exxon Valdez spill totaled 40,000 tons. The damage done is incalculable. Tuna spawning grounds will be gravely affected. Efforts to contain the spill are feeble.

I think, "And all this because some Hezbollah guys made a raid into Israel, killed three guys, and snatched two? All this?" So the Codger turns to another matter he's been tracking in his compulsive news junkie-ex news director way, the analyzes of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict (shall we now call it, for brevity, the Lebanon War?) provided American viewers by their television and radio news outlets. Nothing exhaustive, obviously, just what I've been watching on the evening news shows and listening to on NPR.

CBS Evening News, Friday, July 14. Bob Schieffer:
For perspective on what all this means, we turn to veteran diplomat Martin Indyk, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. Dr. Indyk is a former US ambassador to Israel. Welcome, Dr. Indyk.
Dr. Indyk explains that at this stage of the conflict there is very little the United States is able to do. It is imperative that U.N. Security Council resolution 1559 be enforced, requiring the disarming of Hezbollah, and Hezbollah has shown no willingness to cooperate. Quite the reverse, in fact. That's about the size of it. Events will just have to play themselves out. "Thank you, Dr. Indyk."

Saturday Weekend Edition, NPR, Saturday morning, July 15. Scott Simon:
And now, to analyze these events, we call upon veteran diplomat Martin Indyk, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy of the Brookings Institution and former US ambassador to Israel. Dr. Indyk, what do you make of these developments?
Dr. Indyk explains that at this stage there is not much the United States can do. All depends eventually on the enforcement of UN Security Council resolution 1559, which requires the disarming of Hezbollah. Events have shown that that is absolutely critical to Israel's security.

The News Hour With Jim Lehrer, PBS, Monday, July 17. Jim Lehrer:
And now, to analyze events over the weekend, we call upon veteran diplomat Martin Indyk. Dr. Indyk was US ambassador to Israel under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He is now director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. Dr. Indyk, what do you make of all this, as of now?
Dr. Indyk explains that there is little that the United States can do while Hezbollah and its Syrian and Iranian masters continue to resist pressure from the world to stop the mayhem produced by their Katyushas. Of course, the disarming of Hezbollah, as called for by UN Security Council resolution 1559, is crucial to any lasting peace.

BBC Nightly News (TV, not radio), Tuesday, July 18. News reader:
And now, for perspective on these events, we call upon a former American ambassador to Israel, Dr. Martin Indyk, now director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Welcome, Dr, Indyk.
Well, you know the rest. But wait. Unlike Schieffer, Simon, and Lehrer, the BBC announcer provides another perspective. Alongside Indyk, we have Robert Haass, (that's how his name is spelled), Rhodes Scholar, D. Phil., Oxford, eight published books, and former director of the State Department Policy Planning Staff under Colin Powell. Was he called on for "balance"? He's in full agreement with Indyk.

[Martin Indyk was born in Britain, raised and educated in Australia (Ph.D. in Political Science U. of Adelaide) and twenty years ago was the founder and first director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a spin-off from the Israel-America Public Affairs Committee. Although there are few gentiles among its members, the Institute has always been an Israeli talk shop (its present Senior Military Analyst, for example, is a former commander of the IDF), although it is never identified as such when one of its "senior fellows" appears on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, as one invariably does when discussion turns to Israeli matters. I do wonder, however, about "Near East"--that's the Mahgreb, isn't it--Morocco, Algeria, Libya? The Saban Center was created in 2003 with a grant from Haim Saban, an Egyptian-born Jew raised in Israel who is a Hollywood mogul and billionaire (he created the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) who is now in a spot of trouble with the IRS (he's identified as one of the "superrich Americans evading taxes using offshore accounts that law enforcement cannot control"---"Tax Cheats Called Out of Control," David Cay Johnston, NY Times, Tueday, Aug. 1). I suspect Saban created the Center and named Indyk as director to give the good doctor an institutional base of unquestionable eminence.]

NPR, "All Things Considered," Tuesday, July 25. Host Robert Segal:
And now for perspective on this, we turn to Dennis Ross, former diplomat for the first Bush and Clinton administrations and now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Ross says there's going to have to be a "strategic convergence" if we--the world's nations, that is--are to get out of this, and I can't begin to make out what he means by strategic convergence. A convergence of Israel and Syria?

Well, we all know the indefatigable Dennis, the "go to" guy for authoritative comment on the Middle East for Neal Conan of NPR's "Talk of the Nation," and for years now a senior foreign affairs analyst for Fox TV News. But not only is he the Director and Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at WINEP, he's also the first chairman of the newly created Institute for Jewish People Policy Planning, founded and funded by the Jewish Agency, a part of the Israeli government since 1948, and which since the Six Day War has been tasked with "carrying out settlement activities in the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip." (Wikipedia). You can't get much more authoritative than that, can you?

The News Hour With Jim Lehrer, Tuesday, July 25. For analysis of the latest developments surrounding the Lebanon War, Ray Suarez calls upon two guys: veteran reporter Ari Nir of the Forward, a century ago the fabled Jewish Daily Forward of Abraham Cahan, but now read by...retirement community oldsters in Miami? The other guy is Robert Alterman, formerly of the State Department Policy Planning staff under Bush. They got along just great.

The News Hour With Jim Lehrer, Wed., July 26. Full circle: Martin Indyk again! But this time there is--for once!--an opposing view, Robert Malley, with the National Security Council under Clinton, who has been dueling for years, it seems, with Dennis Ross over whether Yasir Arafat really "walked away from an unprecedentedly generous settlement offer" by Ehud Barak in 2000 in the pages of the New York Review of Books and on this show said the Bush-Olmert policy is an absolute disaster. Gosh it was refreshing to see some sanity flood into this heretofore hermetically sealed chamber of denial! Still, the all-time prize for deadly hypocrisy goes to Indyk. When asked what must now be done, he said, "First, we must deal with the humanitarian crisis." While of course resisting a cease-fire until enduring grounds for peace are achieved.

NPR's "Day to Day" with Alec Chadwick, Tuesday, August 2. Chadwick: "And now, for what this all means, we turn to....[didn't get his name] of the Israel Policy Forum, an independent and non-partisan organization seeking peace in the Middle East." Jesus, I thought, what is that? Of course I Googled it---thank God for Google. A press release: "Israel Policy Forum Commends House and Senate for 'Steadfast' Support for Israel." Blah, blah, blah. The president of the Israel Policy Forum, formed in 1993 to fight the Oslo accords, is Seymour D. Reich, twice chairman of the Conference of Major Jewish Organizations, and of Bnai Brith International, etc. etc. How can Chadwick, how can NPR, present this slop propaganda as analysis?

That brings us up to this afternoon. I must close by saying that despite Conan, despite his dumb wife Liane Hansen on Sunday Weekend Edition, despite Chadwick, I still need and deeply respect NPR. While Scott Simon was cringe-makingly deferential to Martin Indyk, he's also had on Rami Khouri of the Beirut Daily Star, that wary, hard-bitten "I've seen it all" observer of the insanities of the Middle East on all sides, and that NPR reporters in this conflict and everywhere around the world are doing journalism of the highest quality day in and day out (which is why I donate at least 300 bucks a year to NPR) and that since the sainted Joan Kroc bequeathed all those millions to public broadcasting, NPR has been the equal of the BBC (and I listen to BBC radio news at least a half hour and often an hour every evening (courtesy NPR, of course).

There is one exception to this rule of excellence: my bete noir, NPR's lady in Jerusalem for seventeen years, Linda Gradstein. This woman is bone lazy. She rarely produces anything. I mean go out, interview a bunch of people, edit the stuff, write continuity, tell a story. She has an MA in Middle East Studies from George Washington University and presumably reads Arabic, but I imagine her telling the people in Washington, "Look, I DON'T DO PALESTINIANS, okay? I just DON'T." So whenever a story necessarily involves having a Palestinian voice or two in it, they send in someone: the superb Deborah Amos, or Julie McCarthy, or Eric Westerveld, or Mike Schuster, or even Robert Segal. All Gradstein does is read press releases from the Israeli public affairs office. They should fire her and get an Associated Press ticker. It would save a lot of money. Besides, I can't stand her damned droning voice!