The Dream Castle of Oz
"In many ways, I regard Sharon and Arafat as birds of a feather."
In the wake of Ariel Sharon's passing, amidst the many glowing and disparaging words that have ever been uttered about this true Israeli battlefield hero and unwavering politician, it is surprising that the following quote I came upon by Jewish poet/novelist Amos Oz' scalds my sensibilities so:
"In many ways, I regard Sharon and Arafat as birds of a feather."
Oz, the author of eighteen novels and 450 articles and essays, is perhaps the greatest extant literary treasure from Israel. His narratives possess the rhetorical force to persuade through nuance and gut-level emotion -- all the while sounding the deep and allegorical subtexts underlying the struggle for survival, self-doubt and transcendence in the Israeli soul. Oz, in his unique position as literary figure and political prophet, has in his considered analysis called down a pox upon both houses of "fanatics" and their seeming intransigence in settling what is (to him) little more than a conflict over "real estate." He has made it abundantly clear that despite the vitriol and bloodshed that permeate the interaction between Arab and Jew, there lurks an inevitability of compromise that will eventually be sustained by both sides as concessions are made and a beggar's peace is hammered out. For within this lushest of liberal scenarios lurks a resolution which no party will applaud, but to which both will ultimately acquiesce.
That Oz can affect such careful optimism is more indicative of Israel's political diversity and the presence of a significant Left wing. In compounding the unyielding tension of generations of war along with the psychological compression of life between the hammer and the anvil, Israel's Left has grown embittered with the economic inequalities and emotional exhaustion that are part and parcel the zeitgeist of Fortress Israel. Animating the Left's call for accommodation and compromise is the article of faith that both the average Palestinian and Israeli desire the same outcomes, and the assumption that if the fanatical energies that are in positions of power would only "stand down" and negotiate the significant but doable real-estate swaps, both peoples could pound their artillery into plowshares.
But no matter how intriguing this solution might be, such a reductionist framing of what is the most hotly disputed political dilemma on earth is either the product of fantastical wishful thinking, or it betrays a will to existential suicide. Fundamentally, the demons that propel this conflict have morphed into a character qualitatively different from that of half a century ago. Gone is the Nasserite quasi-secularized Pan-Arabist foe and that much simplified avenue to peace. In its place are now the overt Islamic interests and tensions which have always historically driven the subterranean substance of the struggle, with Iran and Al-Queda providing the shadowy invigoration and sustenance for Hizb'allah, Al-Nusra, Hamas and a dozen others expounding the gospel of "Convert or Die." Only the most gullible of Western Liberals can look at the upheaval of the "Arab Spring" and not discern an eventual string of Islamacist or Islamacist-friendly states lining the entire Middle Eastern and African arcs. Reducing the Islamicist's apocalyptic Clash of Civilizations to a hot squabble over title and deed betrays a materialist-oriented mindset either incapable or unwilling to plumb the primordial presuppositions of Muslim and Jewish religious destiny undergirding this war over ancient blood and soil.
Oz' hypersimplification of the conflict to a material land squabble perhaps reveals an unspoken fear directed towards forces he believes to be quasi-rational, and thus he has framed the dilemma against a backdrop where instrumental reason can negotiate without the trip-wire symbols of Zionist aspiration or Islam's Doctrine of Perpetual Sovereignty over conquered territory. But in order for Oz, Benny Morris, or the Sons of the Israeli Left to sell this thesis, a moral equivalence for both sides must be established. Therefore, liberalism's flawed ontology of moral and regime relativism must therefore be employed to reveal that both parties' transgressions are significantly equal in scope and criminality. By their efforts in convincing both the world and Israel itself of her guilt of: apartheid, human rights violations, imperial designs leading to a Greater Israel, and a substantive hypocrisy betraying Israel's fundamental ideals, the Left believes that an ebbing confidence in the validity of the theological and moral structures that comprise the Jewish state will eventually cause Israel to succumb to world and domestic pressures in bartering "land for peace." For Amos Oz, the conflict is to be viewed in this morally opaque manner:
"Two children of the same cruel parent look at one another and see in each other the image of the cruel parent or the image of their past oppressor. This is very much the case between Jew and Arab: It's a conflict between two victims."
This "immoral symmetry," that supposedly exists between the aims and ultimate realities of Palestinian Arabs and Israelis, suffers from the fact that it is a demonstrable lie. While Israel has stumbled in modern times with what are crimes of moral turpitude necessitated by her existence and defense, Oz and his colleagues' understanding of a veritable moral equivalence is stunningly myopic, and one can only arrive at this conclusion by holding a practical ethics that is incapable of evaluating competing claims of justice and barbarism. Only the Arab corner utilizes a "no holds barred" modus; using every available means in acquiring their lurid ends. Since her legitimate establishment in 1947 by U.N. mandate, Israel has been involved in a half dozen major defensive wars and countless hot skirmishes where she has absorbed attack after attack by forces whose only objective is to push the hated Jew into the Mediterranean. It has never been the Jew who would not extend a hand in peace across either the Suez or the Jordan; and it has become a cultural cliché that if the Arab put down his rifle, he would never have to lift it again. If the Israeli did so, he would cease to exist -- and this knowledge is stipulated by even the Sons of Ishmael.
It is easy for a writer as glib and as rhetorically gifted as Oz to assert a thing to be true, but quite another to prove it. A nimble mind can pronounce Sharon and Arafat "birds of a feather" that were trapped in tragic retrograde positions by the forces of history. This same facile mind can quite seamlessly downplay the reality that Palestinian children from infancy are nursed with martyrdom, the virulent Protocols, and the "Blood libel" along with their mother's milk. That this moral equivalence cultivates both a rupture of confidence in a remarkably moral Israel and a resulting invigoration of fanaticism and arrogance in an Arab culture that stews in authoritarianism and violent resolve -- while holding compromise as anathema, says little for the liberal's capacity for a discriminating conception of justice. To even casually ruminate that there is little to qualitatively separate the pluralist Israeli culture from a civilization that has given birth to Fatah, Hizb'allah, Hamas, and the multiplicity of top-down monolithic structures that have at every turn betrayed the interests of populations in the West Bank, Gaza, the Levant, and the entire Arab World -- is disingenuous at its mildest. To honestly have held that Sharon's efforts at providing an ultra-vigorous defensive posture (characterized by prudent buffer zones against a relentless enemy) were cut from the same cloth as the loathsome and mendacious Arafat is akin to an academic species of nihilism. Such credulity heralds the intellectual's surrender of his formidable powers of discrimination in service to the cause of blind appeasement at any cost.
It is said in the Babylonian Talmud that Prophecy is given to children and fools. Amos Oz's diminishing powers of moral astuteness has led him to prophesy under color of liberalism's ideological god of equivalence in the dream castle narrative that he wishes to be so. In an interview in March of 2000, Oz claimed
The minute we leave South Lebanon we will have to erase the word Hezbollah from our vocabulary, because the whole idea of the State of Israel versus Hezbollah was sheer folly from the outset. It most certainly will no longer be relevant when Israel returns to her internationally recognized northern border.
Not to be outdone by his own arrogance, Oz then waxes triumphant in castigating factions of Judaism who (in his opinion) revel in their dogmatic intolerance.
The Jewish settlers of Gaza and in the West Bank have a dream for the future of Israel.... The settlers' dream is to create a 'Greater Israel' with Jewish settlements wall-to-wall.... In such a state, democracy will have to bow to the rabbis. The Knesset, the government, the Supreme Court, will be allowed to continue to exist, provided that the rabbis approve of their decisions.... If we, secular Israelis, erase our own existence, the settlers will shower us with brotherly love. But if we insist that we have a different vision for Israel, we immediately become traitors, Arab-lovers or even Nazis.
Note to Amos Oz: No bowing to rabbis is currently fashionable in Gaza.
The political prophesies of Amos Oz, though abounding in an optimism that seeks to cultivate and discern a common motivation and character in men, have achieved little that would recommend him as an Old Testament prophet. Having been so wrong on South Lebanon and so myopic on Gaza, he nevertheless desires a return to something approximating the pre-67 borders with little guarantees or assurances that this act of grace and magnanimity will raise up a spiritual epiphany in the Palestinian consciousness. What makes him... what makes any even casual observer of Arab-Israeli politics believe, while nestled warmly in their beds at night, that the scorpion's nature will have been transmogrified? In light of the Islamification of Northern Africa, Egypt, and the vassal proxy states of Lebanon and Syria being lined up in the Iranian sphere of influence -- where no outcomes other than genocide are up for discussion, Oz' confident assertions increasingly bear the quality of the most outlandish fiction. It is one matter for utopian liberals to rest snugly in Europe or America and call down lofty Ivory Tower pronouncements, and quite another to embrace the cobra while he rains weapons of increasingly greater malevolence upon your cities. If the truth be told, the mass of men throughout the world might shed a tear, stamp their feet, and rush off a Letter to the Editor if, God Forbid, every Jew in the region were reduced to smoking ash. But very soon they would get back to their business of lovemaking, sports, and enjoying haute cuisine, realizing only too late that their civilization was next on the Halal menu.
In his novel, ATale of Love and Darkness, Mr. Oz included a personal dedication to Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti, the convicted mastermind of the "Oslo Murders," (and more than likely dozens of others) for which he is serving multiple life sentences in Israel. Oz hoped for Barghouti's eventual release and a meeting one day when they could dialogue and put this all behind them as estranged sons of a single land. The Itamar Murders, which Tanzim also orchestrated, has unfortunately not revealed an increased reticence in the terrorist appetite for brutal violence. And so, it is perplexing by what standard of justice Amos Oz measures an innocent countryman's life versus the value of a cold ideological murderer's existence? Plato holds that "everything that deceives can be said to enchant." Who can doubt that the Israel's poetic soul has been duly enchanted?
Fortunately, it is here that we come full circle in our inquiry into the moral equivalence of the celebrated heart and conscience of Israel's liberal soul. Mr. Oz no longer has to worry about the dilemma of religion and state in Gaza creating a constitutional crisis: it has been settled for him in favor of religion. Unfortunately, or fortunately -- depending on your politics, that religion is fundamentalist Islam. And indeed, radical Islam, not surprisingly, wants to chop the head off every Jew -- even the cultured and urbane coastal dwellers who argue minute philosophical points loudly in fine restaurants and have a tonic aversion to their West Bank countrymen's (alleged) "fanatical and embarrassingly narrow" religious convictions. How deceitful is the human heart for those who merely want to enjoy some measure of forgetful bliss while balancing precariously on the rim of Oz' tumultuous metaphorical volcano; where people "...still fall in love, ... still get jealous, ...still want a promotion, (and) ...still gossip."
Ronald Reagan once said, "Europeans who remember history understand better than most that there is no security, no safety, in the appeasement of evil." How much more should the sons and daughters of Jacob take this maxim to heart, having barely escaped the ovens of Europe to finally recover the beautiful land that is the priceless irrevocable patrimony of their longsuffering fathers? For men and women who have the courage to face the truth of tyranny over the soft soap of the artist's rhetorical devices, Churchill offers us an ominous epigram on longsuffering democracies who eventually lose patience with villains:
The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.
Requiescat in Pace, thou Lion...
Glenn Fairman writes from Highland, Ca. He can be reached at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org and www.stubbornthings.com.