One Flesh — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman
We circle, weapons drawn, two as one, ready to kill.

I raped the boy in April 1948, in a dark corner in the garden of a villa in Talbieh. A few minutes before he had leapt out from between some bushes, a butcher’s knife flashing. Boaz, a pace away from me, had his eye on the balcony above, fearing a sniper, so he never saw the kid who brought the knife down between his shoulder blades, with a shout of Allah akbar!, or perhaps it was something else. The stars were just coming out, but I saw my friend murdered. I saw the blood spurt from his back and chest as he crumpled.

illustration by Avi Katz
I did not shoot. Our men had surrounded the house and I might have hit a friend. So I said afterward, but I was such a good shot that no one was in danger. It was that such a death would have been too merciful for Boaz’s killer. Instead, I took off after the boy. He sprinted toward a back corner of the garden, where a tall cypress stood among a wild undergrowth that might have once been a flowerbed. I was the faster. I caught him by the collar before he reached the wall he meant to climb. He tried to struggle free, but I was the stronger. I let go of my rifle and grabbed his chin and turned his face toward me. I wanted to see who I was about to strangle.

To this day I wonder how, in the heat of battle, I could have been able to grasp that I was gazing at a face of godlike beauty. I had always assumed beforehand—and, indeed, all my experience since then has confirmed—that when your life is on the line, when you stand on the precipice between life and death, the mind focuses only on keeping you alive. Your eye takes in every detail of the terrain, every clue to where your enemy lies, but nothing of the harmony of the shape of the landscape. Color may be a sign of danger but never moves the heart. Yet, at this instant of vengeance I was nearly unnerved by the splendor that I saw.

Read moreOne Flesh — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Bibi’s Con: “Economic Peace”

My new article on Benjamin Netanyahu’s new platform of “economic peace” appears in Ha’aretz today. For those who read from right to left, the original Hebrew is here. The English translation is here. A taste:

When Benjamin Netanyahu speaks about “economic peace,” his new, brilliant diplomatic platform, which will postpone any diplomatic moves far into the unforeseeable future, I see his face shrink, his chin sharpen, a patch cover his eye. Moshe Dayan is speaking, just as he spoke in a cabinet meeting 40 years ago, in early December 1968.

The Eshkol government met then to discuss Dayan’s proposal for a policy on the occupied territories. Dayan’s plan had three pillars: large-scale settlement on the West Bank mountain ridge, permanent Israeli rule of the territories without Israeli citizenship for the Arab residents, and economic integration of the territories with Israel. Arabs would work in Israel, Hebron would get its electricity from the Israeli grid, and Israel would raise the standard of living of the residents of the territories. As a result, Dayan argued, they would become dependent on Israel, maybe even grateful to it.

Read moreBibi’s Con: “Economic Peace”

African Notes: Animal Activism, Instinctive Apathy

Gershom Gorenberg

Above us, two eagles fought: One swooped ahead, the other caught up and dove, the two of the them locked together, plunged, let go, and flew again. “They’re fighting about territory,” said Brad, our guide. “One has entered the other’s territory, and is being warned to leave.”

Elephants emerged from the trees into open grassland near the river bank, a line of dark beasts, moving silently in the late afternoon light. We sat, awed, in the small open truck on a dirt road through the Hluhluwe Game Reserve. Brad explained the cushioning of their feet, which allows them to move like apparitions through the bush. He pointed out at a small elephant and said it was a young male. “They reach sexual maturity when they’re 12-13, like humans,” he said. “Then his mother will force him out of the herd, which will be quite traumatic for him.” For the next 10 years, Brad said, the young bull will live on its own. Then it will start fighting the older bulls for breeding rights.

Elephants, Brad said, are very emotional creatures. “They don’t like death at all. When one dies, the others try to lift her up.” The elephant population in the reserve is rising, he said, and eventually will have to be “culled.” The experts say that whole families have to be “culled.” They’ve learned experience: When only adults were “culled,” the young ones were traumatized. They were much more aggressive, attacking humans more willingly. Some mature bulls had to be brought in from elsewhere, and after a very long time were able to impose order.

At dusk, three rhinoceroses – mother, father and little half-ton child – ambled onto the dirt road in front of us. They like the heat rising from the packed dirt of the road, Brad said. The mother’s long lower horn and shorter upper horn were both curved and sharp. The father’s upper horn was short and dull, apparently broken off in a fight with another male. The females’ horns stay complete, Brad said, because they don’t fight each other. No, said someone in our party of four, they just gossip viciously about each other for many years. Eventually, as Brad moved our truck inch by inch closer, the rhinos rambled back into the trees.

We didn’t see any lions or leopards. Brad had warned us not to expect any. The big predatory cats are elusive. If I heard him right, he also said that they are not bothered by seeing death. They see it all the time. They create it.

The big beasts remind you of the beauty of creation and of its cruelty. They fight over territory, and expel intruders. The males fight over females. The females choose the winners of battle, the powerful and overbearing, who will mate and wander back into the bush. There is a reason we call certain behavior “beastly.”

Read moreAfrican Notes: Animal Activism, Instinctive Apathy

Parallels for the Occupation? Colonialism, More or Less

Gershom Gorenberg

My friend John showed up in South Jerusalem. Long ago and far away, John and I slouched in the back of high school classes together in Los Angeles, mumbling snidely about what was being left out of American history (women, blacks, slaughter of Indians, lynch mobs, poor folk…). Eventually I went into mumbling snidely as a profession. John, by contrast, is gainfully employed in high-tech, working for an Israeli firm that kindly brought him for a visit to the home office.

In late afternoon we walked out to the promenade. Some Palestinian kids were playing soccer on a stretch of lawn despite the ferocious heat. In front of us was the Old City and the Dome of the Rock. On the east, I pointed out to John, was the high concrete wall dividing the Palestinian side of Jerusalem from the Palestinian towns of the West Bank.

“So,” John asked me, “is there anything parallel to Israel’s control of the West Bank? What do you think of Jimmy Carter calling it apartheid? Is it like Jim Crow?”

Read moreParallels for the Occupation? Colonialism, More or Less

Journey to Wadi al-Shajneh: The Illusion of Quiet

Gershom Gorenberg

Dov, the guy who owns the hole-in-the-wall computer lab, explained to Elliott and me that the operating system was only in English; he didn’t have Arabic Windows. As for service, he said, that would be no problem, "as long as he brings it here."

Unfortunately, Muhammad Abu Arkub, to whom we were delivering the computer, has about as much chance as getting a permit to enter Jerusalem for a computer repair as he does of getting back his wife’s gold. Dov wasn’t being snide. He’s the old-fashioned gruff kind of guy who curses about everything and then puts in twice the work fixing your computer that he planned and charges no more, and would be embarrassed if you mentioned it. But the village of Wadi al-Shajneh, in the South Hebron Hills, is beyond where he does service calls. He was surprised when Elliott explained why we were buying the computer. "And you with a kipah ," he said. Not that he objected to what we were doing.

Elliott read about Muhammad in a Ha’aretz article by Gideon Levy, a few days after we went to Hebron to give a washing machine to Ghassan Burqan. If you read my previous post (Journey to Hebron: Nightmares and Hope ), you’ll remember that Ghassan had bought his own washing machine and was carrying it to his home in the Israeli-controlled side of Hebron when he was stopped by Border Police, beat up and arrested. The machine disappeared. In memory of our late friend Gerald Cromer, Elliott decided we should bring Ghassan a replacement.

Muhammad’s home was searched by soldiers who arrived at midnight. They said they were looking for weapons. The search lasted two hours. Muhammad, his wife Lubna, their two small daughters, and Muhammad’s younger brother Rami were all kept under guard in Rami’s home – a single-room shack built onto the side of Muhammad’s house. When the search was over, and the family rushed back into the main house, they found their computer and television smashed. And, they say, the jewelry box where Lubna kept her gold was gone.

Read moreJourney to Wadi al-Shajneh: The Illusion of Quiet

Excuse me, Ariel isn’t in Israel

The Government Press Office was kind enough to send me a notice from the Municipality of Ariel:

Some 600 American Christian Zionists, led by well-known Evangelical leader, Pastor John Hagee, will arrive in Israel this week to express their support for Israel on the Jewish Homeland’s 60th year of Independence. One of the highlights of their visit will take place on Thursday evening, April 3rd in Ariel…

Read moreExcuse me, Ariel isn’t in Israel