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.

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Protesting the Settlers in Shul

Haim Watzman I went to a rally against Jewish settler violence at shul yesterday. Kehilat Yedidya is one of only a handful of Orthodox synagogues whose members can make a statement like that. And perhaps the only one in which opposition to the gathering came from the left rather than the right. My friend Daniel … Read more

The Extremists of Your Own City Come First

Gershom Gorenberg

This week’s key misunderstood news story from the Looking Glass Land of the West Bank is that the Defense Ministry is about to approve settlement at a spot called Maskiot, near the Jordan River. On first glance, that’s bad because it means that the government is abandoning its freeze on new settlements. At second glance, the freeze on new settlements is a joke – but Maskiot is really bad news. It shows again that the government consistently, reflexively, obsessively gives in to the most extreme elements of the settlement movement.

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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?”

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Barack Obama’s Pilgrimage

Gershom Gorenberg

Sometime before November, traffic in Jerusalem will be tied up by Barack Obama’s visit. My new article in The American Prospect explains what Obama should do while he’s here to prepare for the presidency, and why he won’t do any of that:

…In Jerusalem, Obama has another task — shoring up support among voters who question his pro-Israel credentials. This is hardly the Jewish vote as a whole. Rather, it is the subset that falsely conflates “pro-Israel” with supporting the hawkish side of the Israeli political spectrum. Trying to satisfy those voters while demonstrating a fresh, diplomacy-based foreign policy increases the chances of a slip-up…

Besides those constraints are the practical ones. Protocol forces a visiting political figure to spend his time with top officials, providing a terribly restrictive view of a country.

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War Ethics In A War Zone (2)

Haim Watzman

In response to your last post, Gershom, we don’t disagree about most of the big issues. Of course soldiers, like national leaders and citizens, must make moral judgments, and must make them frequently. My point my previous post was that people in all these categories inevitably make these decisions with imperfect—often woefully imperfect—information. I admire Walzer’s effort to establish practical guidelines for how to conduct war and conflict justly and I largely agree with him.

But I think he is at times overly sanguine about people’s ability to make educated judgments in real time in situations of conflict. Indeed, he acknowledges the difficulty. At the beginning of Chapter 19 of Just and Unjust Wars (p. 304 in my paperback of the 4th edition), he writes:

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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.

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Olmert, Barghouti, and Zeno’s Paradox

The following statement was not shouted by a long-time Peace Now activist into a megaphone outside the prime minister’s house:

You have to understand that a very large population of Palestinians lives here…

Take a 50-year-old man who lives here. A man who has spent most of his life – 40 years, since he was a 10-year-old child – under the watch of the Israeli soldier. The same soldier who carries a rifle, for all the most justified reasons in the world. But this is that man’s narrative. Take those who were stripped at the checkpoints only because there might be terrorists among them. Take those who stand for hours at the checkpoints for fear that a booby-trapped car could pass through…

No, those words were Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s, speaking to brigade commanders in the West Bank,

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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…

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