Only the demons are dancing…

12 Jan

Sadly, that is my belief about the current situation in Israel.

Twenty years ago I was working in a place where the Israeli and Australian flags flew, where the anthems of both countries were sung in school assemblies, and among my colleagues were quite a few Israeli citizens. They would come down here to Surry Hills when they were homesick to eat in Abdul’s Lebanese restaurant, where they may have heard Arabic spoken as they partook of the shared pleasure in felafels and hummus. Among those colleagues, especially the Israeli ones, was a wide range of views. On the one hand there was the Jewish Studies teacher who caused a bit of a stir when she told her class: “If I was a Palestinian I would join the PLO tomorrow.” (This was in 1988-89.) She had been a tank commander in the Israeli army, was invited to join Mossad, and knocked them back on the grounds she didn’t approve of them. Her father, after all, was an Israeli communist. On the other hand there was one young man called Conan the Barbarian by the (Jewish) kids, whose claim to fame was the number of Arabs he had strangled. Or so the kids told me. Another colleague told me he preferred not to be called a “Jew” as he was an atheist and thought “Jew” expressed a certain religious assumption he didn’t relate to; he was however happy to be called an Israeli.

All that complexity no doubt still exists, despite policies that were well under way in 1988-9, which my colleagues would often argue about. I met great people in my time at that place; one, from South Africa, had a brother who defended ANC members in the courts and whose father had at one time hidden Nelson Mandela when he was on the run.

All of them had been touched, one way or another, by the Holocaust.

But it is hard to deny the implications of these maps, which I first saw on 3 Quarks Daily a few days ago. I posted the entry in my Google Reader, along with quite a few other posts from a range of people, including the Kashmiri Nomad, a bright but comparatively hard line Muslim. Comparatively, but not into violence, as far as I can tell after several years reading his views and even sometimes exchanging comments. But to the maps.


It is the failure of too many hardheads on all sides to seek dialogue and moderation even before these increasingly outrageous land allocations, legal and otherwise, were going on that has led to increasing influence by those espousing more and more extreme positions, until we find ourselves in our present pass.

There is no doubt in my mind that the results of the current outrages will go on far into the future, even if Israel, as it can, reduces Gaza to total rubble and kills every one of the current Hamas leadership, which they probably can’t. The memories sown by all this will bear fruit, bitter fruit, whatever the outcome. How can it be otherwise?

Only the demons are dancing. These include the demons of antisemitism, I must add. I shudder when I read yet another diatribe on the World Zionist Conspiracy.

Any dead baby is one dead baby too many. It doesn’t matter what the baby is.

I called to mind a book I read three years or more back. I mentioned it in 2005 in passing on Slice of Australian gothic takes out Miles Franklin.

Meantime I am reading Neil Belton’s The Good Listener: A Life against Cruelty [1998] which was one of the books I proposed to dump, but maybe not now. (It had been a bargain bookshop impulse buy about a year ago.) The book is a treasure. It is profound, responsible, well written, intelligent, absolutely relevant… We need such books in these days. For example, see Heather Mallick, “The Heart of Darkness Beats Clear and Steady in Guantanamo Bay” (2002):

…Torture apologists should try to read Brian Keenan’s An Evil Cradling, about being held hostage in Beirut for five years under conditions similar to those at Guantanamo. Or they might attempt The Good Listener, Neil Belton’s biography of Helen Bamber, the 76-year-old Brit who helped to establish London’s Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.

Bamber, who is Jewish, spent years helping the victims of Nazis, of the French army in Algeria, of unscrupulous postwar British and American medical researchers. In 1993, when she went to Israel (to help those tortured by Israel and by Arafat), she explained to a jeering court that being hooded was torture. She knew because she had briefly tested it by wearing a hood for an hour and experiencing the claustrophobia, the gagging, the panic.

Later, the prosecutor tried to apologize, saying he was only doing his job. “Bamber said with great restraint — she was feeling very drained — that that was something she had heard in other places.”…

Helen Bamber, and many like her, represents the soul Israel needs to reclaim. Her relations with the country were often fraught, because she was consistent in what she would have seen as her core Jewish values. In her 20s she had a close encounter with the death camps of Nazi Germany. In mature life she stood up for the Palestinians, where she saw their  treatment as unjust, and she has been a powerful voice against torture, even though (unfortunately) there are other prominent Jews who in recent years have been apologists for torture, and close to Messrs Cheney and Rumsfeld, among others.

See the Helen Bamber Foundation and The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. What her contribution to the World Zionist Plot might be I leave to the fertile imaginations of conspiracy theorists.*

Visit the note in my side bar this month to see where I am on these issues – against all extremists and all who would demonise The Other. When that note has gone, visit Israel on this blog. At the moment, to borrow from Yeats, the worst are full of passionate intensity, but it is not true that “the best lack all conviction.”  What is true is that the best have little say right now.


For geopolitical reasons I do not fully understand, but which did for years involve Cold War politics and of course energy or oil politics, the West, especially the USA, has too often been a false friend to the people of Israel/Palestine of all faiths and backgrounds; by that, I mean, too uncritical a friend. It is all the people of the region who have suffered, and currently it is the people of Gaza who are undoubtedly suffering the most.

* I wonder too where NY writer Pia Savage fits into the World Zionist Conspiracy. See A comment in The Times about Israel by a recently retired US Marine. Pia prefaces that post:

I have been trying, and failing, to find some justification for Israel’s conduct. I have never liked Israel the country–I did live there to give it a chance. As a Jew, I have understood the reasons for Israel’s existance and felt nothing but sympathy during the suicide bomber years, and prior to that–when I was young, pride in its victory after the Six Day War

What’s happening now makes me sick. I thought this comment brilliant and am copying it verbatim.

In another later post she writes: "I can’t believe I feel compelled to say I’m not anti-Semitic. I am Jewish, and continuing in the proud position of my parents and three of my grandparents in at times not believing at all in God, and other times open to the belief that there has to be something bigger than us in this world." I can imagine many of my former colleagues would be having similar thoughts, not only those from the Jewish school but some from much more recently at The Mine.


I composed this post yesterday and scheduled it to appear today. Its genesis, along with other recent posts of mine on the subject, is friendship and admiration for many of the Jewish people I have met along the way in the past 50+ years. I would hope that much is obvious.  I think too we need to see the situation in the wider, even sadder, context of so much else that is going on in the world. Just to say Darfur indicates some of that.

I should also mention that I am not inclined to see Hamas as heroic freedom fighters seeking to liberate their small patch of land. I am well aware what their ultimate project is. The questions remain however: for example, how and why did Hamas gain such a degree of influence that they were voted into office a few years ago? That points to some of the policy failures I have alluded to above.

I will shut up shop on the topic now, I think. In an earlier post I referred you to Bruce on the matter: Israel… Like Bruce I can also say “I feel a lot like Bridgit over at GrodsCorp.” In Comment 10 there Bridgit says, and I echo her:

SM, the way I see it there are five immutable truths about the situation:

1. The area is homeland to both Jews and Palestinians
2. Israel has a right to exist as a free and independent state
3. Palestine has a right to exist as a free and independent state
4. These two states should have a right to choose their own governments
5. These two states should share the scarce resources of the region – water and arable land – equally

Everything that comes thereafter is contrived, convoluted bullshit that either furthers self-interest or continues old hatreds….

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Posted by on January 12, 2009 in faith and philosophy, Holocaust, human rights, humanity, interfaith, Israel, memory, Middle East


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