Fiesta of St Fermin
A couple of weeks ago, while travelling in Northern Spain, I came upon the old capital of Navarre. Pamplona celebrated the feria of St Fermin, and thousands of aficionados crowded the narrow streets leading to the famed bullring. There were also a lot of foreigners earnestly following Hemingway's steps. In the morning, young boys run the arena with the young bulls, competing in speed and grace. It was an exciting show, awash with adrenaline, but it draws no blood. It was different in the evening hours, when grown men fought mature bulls, ferocious coal-black creatures with sharp horns, moving at the speed of a TGV train, weighing over half a ton each, every ounce loaded with the resolve of a bullterrier.
The tribunes above the arena are divided into two sections with different population. In the Sombra section, the upper class sombrely applauds the show. They are the important people, and a matador tries his best to show them his art. In the Sol, under the direct rays of a Pyrenean sun, the simple folk made merry by splashing buckets of Sangria, sharing home cooked food with strangers and singing the chant of St Fermin. They love bullfight too, but there is not much action on their side of the ring.
The matador works unbelievably close to the beast, just slightly shifting the weight to avoid the deadly horn. If not for the animal's lack of understanding, a man would have a slim chance of surviving a confrontation with the bull. But the bull is fascinated with the red cloth, the muleta, that the matador unveils in front of him. Instead of going for the matador, he flies at the cloth. In the end, tired of his labours lost, frustrated by vain assaults on the unvanquished red cloth, the bull stood still, lowered his neck and waited for the merciful steel.
The bullfight is an apt metaphor for the fruitless fight for civil rights in Palestine. The Jewish settlements in the midst of Palestinian population are like the red cloth. The settlements annoy us, as they ruin the Biblical beauty of the Highlands. They annoy us by their visible injustice, as they are open only to Jews, while a goy can not even enter their limits. They annoy us, because they are the reason for separate for-Jews-only roads. They annoy us, because of the provocative demeanour of the settlers, who do their worst to humiliate their non-Jewish neighbours. They annoy us because they supplant olives with ugly prefabs. So we charge at them, while the matador moves away, and the important people above applaud.
For once, let us direct the rage of the bull away from the distracting and annoying muleta. The constant focus on the settlements is a distraction. On any given day, even in Jewish newspapers, in Haaretz or the New York Times, you can publish a critique of the illegal settlements provided you stop there. But there is a man behind the red cloth. And there are those who sent him to fight the bull. The matador is the state of Israel. No settlement would exist even a day, without the Israeli war machine behind it. When the native inhabitants of Hebron are locked for months in their homes, the curfew is imposed by the Israeli army, not by the four hundred Jewish settlers. But there is a man in the Sombra who commands the matador. Israel would not be able to commit its atrocities without support from abroad.
Maxim Rodinson, a noted French Marxist and biographer of the Prophet, defined Israel as 'a settler state', a colony. But every settler state has its mother country, the source of external power. French Algeria was manned and supported by France. The US was a settler state, whose mother country was England. What is the external power supporting Israel? What is its mother country? It is not the US, it is the constellation of important Jewish communities and first and foremost, the American Jewish community.
They send money and they organize public support and they influence the policies of the state of Israel. They are visibly more hawkish even than Sharon's Likud. The late unlamented 'Rabbi' Kahane was probably nearest to the hearts of Israel's supporters in America. This phenomenon of overseas Jews posing 'as more Israeli than Israelis', well described by Uri Avneri, has a variety of reasons. But I will limit myself to addressing just one of the causes. They get no flak from their operations. They sit in shadow and send the matador to fight.
The men who send the Israeli troops to enforce the siege of Hebron and other Palestinian communities, live at ease in New York or Los Angeles, watch TV and put pressure on their congressmen to support the slaughter. These folks, inciting to war crimes against the Palestinians, have no worries at all. Perhaps it is time to direct some heat their way.
Wars can never end, so long as their chief perpetrators sit in peace. Michael L. Calderon reminded us this week: 'The French, Americans, and Afrikaner South Africans did not abandon their exploits in Algeria, Indochina, Namibia and Angola because of a collective change of heart". Indeed these victories were won on two fronts. One was the front of actual warfare, and peoples of Algeria, Vietnam, Angola and Cuba bore the brunt of it. The second front was the international pressure and domestic protests.
The second front of the war for Palestine should be opened now, and we should know whom to apply pressure to and against whom to protest. In my opinion, the buck stops at the door of self-appointed heads of the organized Jewish communities, Bronfman, Foxman, Sulzberger et al. They are nasty and powerful men, and I understand the desire of the friends of Palestine to look for a less formidable adversary, like Hebron settlers. Alas, it is as unprofitable as looking for a lost coin under the lamp post, just because it is where th,e light shines. One must look for the coin where one dropped it, even if it is inconvenient.
Confronting the individual leaders of the American Jewish community has become an urgent necessity. Why it was not done until now? There is still the irresistible tendency to exonerate them from the blame for the tragedy of the Palestinians, while explaining all by 'American imperialist policies'. Even a great friend of Palestine, Noam Chomsky, whom I admire this side of idol worship, subscribes to this view. In a recent public appearance in MIT, he said that the pro-Israeli policies of the US are not caused by the influence of the Jewish lobby, but by the interest of American elites. Amicus Plato, magis amica veritas. I have to disagree.
His opinion was repeated by many good people, all of them sincere supporters of the Palestinians. Usually they quote the Fateful Triangle, a classic work by Noam Chomsky, or express it in a similar way, as did good Dr Gabor Mate. He wrote to me: "While they, Bronfmans and their colleagues certainly do their share to mislead and confuse the public - Jewish and non-Jewish - even they are small beer (metaphor intended) compared with the real interests U.S. policy serves. It's a question of the strategic interest of the U.S. corporate-state in having an obedient pit bull in the Middle East, with a nuclear capability, sufficiently nervous and aggressive to jump at Arab throats on demand, should the need arise - but also sufficiently dependent so that the leash can be pulled short whenever necessary.As one U.S. State Department official said some years ago, "in Israel we have an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Middle East."
If you look carefully at these arguments, they collapse like a house of cards. American planes do not land on this 'aircraft carrier' even in case of war - they have bases elsewhere, in Saudi Arabia, Turkey etc. Cyprus was called once 'the unsinkable aircraft carrier', but it was dropped with great ease. The obedience of this pit bull is not much to speak about, as supply of weapons to China proved, and as for Israel being a dependable ally, there are strong doubts. Actually, there are Israeli leaders speaking of a different alliance, namely with Russia and its immensely rich and powerful Russian Jewish community, as America pulls the leash too much, in their opinion.
Some people explain the US policies by 'oil interests'. As it happens, there is no oil in Palestine, not much in the neighbouring lands. I can not envisage Israeli intervention in Saudi Arabia or Iran for the same of American oil supplies - it would explode the entire Middle East.
The idea of Israel as a 'local proxy', or a 'local cop on the beat' also holds no water. I do not know of a single American corporate interest that would not be better off by allying with Turkey instead of Israel, for instance. As a Palestinian analyst wrote, 'Turkey would have been a better investment, for example, as a "normal" regional power that can help US policy, without costing half as much. Being Muslim may help as well in having a legitimate claim to "ruling over" the weak Arab countries'. One can add that Turkey was the traditional ruler of the area up to ,1917, and it has biggest and strongest army, totally pro-American and pro-Western. In other words, the concept of Israel as a servile dupe of American imperialism is a non-starter.
Edward Herman, who co-authored 'Manufacturing Consent' with Chomsky, agrees with this assessment. "The Jewish lobby here is extremely important,.. I did have a piece on them directly, and it drew some criticism from several people on the left who argued that the lobby was much less important than US strategic interests in the Middle East. I've always felt that the lobby was at least of equal importance; fortunately for the lobby, the two have been at least reconcilable'.
The means of confronting the self-proclaimed Jewish leadership could be direct, creative and certainly non-violent. A good example was set by Berkeley students, the bearers of the tradition of 1968. They built two gates to the campus, one for Jews, another one for non-Jews, in order to give Americans a taste of Israeli 'roads for Jews only'. I can envisage heaps of earth on the driveway of Mr Bronfman or Mr Foxman. As good Jews, they certainly observe the rule of Hillel the Elder and do not do unto others whatever they hate themselves. As they support blocking Palestinian driveways, they would probably enjoy the same treatment. By the same rule, as they support illegal settlements, they no doubt would be pleased if some good people would squat on their private estates.
I think such sit-ins would be fun, and they will attract many good Americans of Jewish ancestry. After all, their fathers protested White supremacy in the South, now the sons can protest Jewish supremacy in Palestine, without having to travel out of town. Instead of boring demonstration in front of a boring Federal office building, instead of dangerous show off with Israeli soldiers on the hills of al-Khadr, the Not In My Name people, Rabbis for Human Rights etc can lead the struggle against the real adversary, back in the good old United States of America. They should do it together with other American activists, including Palestinian exiles.
This experiment will answer the question of the Jewish lobby's influence in the US and on the events in Palestine. I believe that it will have a great effect, if there would be real pressure on Mr Bronfman and his super-rich friends in the Sombra to end their anti-Palestinian belligerence. Maybe they will signal the matador to send the bull back to his cows, instead of carver's desk.
This confrontation would also help ordinary Americans of Jewish origin to fight their self-proclaimed leadership. Why should they take on these 'leaders' ? Well, for one reason, because Bronfman and his cronies pocketed billions of dollars squeezed from Swiss banks, instead of giving the money to the holocaust survivors. But that will be the subject of my next article.
Israel Shamir is an Israeli journalist, living in Jaffa.