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Gaza: the video, Lex’s comment, my response

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a powerful video with strong implications for Israel and keen insight into Gaza -- thus far the best I've seen ]
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The video:

I found this video extremely powerful. Lexington Green pointed us to it via a link in a comment on a recent post of mine, and I responded to Lex’s comment — but links, comments and counter-comments easily escape notice, and I wanted to bring the video itself — and our conversation thus far — into a post of its own, in the hope that it will receive closer attention, and that the discussion will progress from here…

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Lex’s comment, which he posted with a link to the video:

This video shows what Israel is up against, and why images of grief are not an argument for letting Hamas survive to continue to attack Israel.

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My response:

Thanks for your comment — I found the video remarkable indeed.

I see very easily how it can be read as proof that this particular woman and Hamas more generally are dedicated to the destruction of Israel. .. That’s there, in her words — and in the Hamas charter, which I’ve written about many times — but it’s far from all that I see there.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the video for me is the part where, speaking of her two daughters who died, she says “Allah gave them to me, and Allah took them away from me.” That’s of a piece with what she means when she says that life (according to her worldview) is not precious — and it’s also an exact counterpart to a central Jewish tenet: 

Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord

As I read such sayings, that’s a lofty teaching — and she reaches for it as she thinks of her two daughters, telling us that her grief was difficult for her, but that she found comfort in this perspective — which is also Job’s perspective: Baruch haShem.

The second point of interest to me was that the conversation turned to Tisha b’Av, and thus to the Temple, the Temple Mount and Jerusalem as a whole — which is claimed in toto by both parties, even though the physician floats the suggestion of a 50/50 split. She’s unwilling to become “a heretic” — even if it costs her the life of her son.

Martin Luther King is alleged to have said, “If a man has not found something worth dying for, he is not fit to live.” I don’t know if he actually said that, and I’m not sure that I’d agree with him even if he did, but I do believe there may be things worth dying for — and as I understand her, she’s claiming that life is not precious when weighed in the balance against such things.

The problem, for me, is that she thinks the physical space of Temple Mount / the Noble Sanctuary is worth dying for. Her claim that Jerusalem is sacred to her and her companions because the Mount / al-Aqsa is where the Prophet ascended to heaven from on the night of the Miraj is as sacred in the Muslim calendar as the destruction of the two Temples is in the Jewish calendar on Tisha b’Av. The claim on Netanyahu’s side, “Jerusalem is the heart of the nation. It will never be divided,” is no less inflexible, and likewise driven by scripture, tradition and faith.

That’s the level on which the battle of scriptures, traditions and faiths is fought..

Gershom Gorenberg has called the Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary “the most contested piece of real-estate on earth” — and Naomi Wolf just the other day ended her “open letter to Rabbi Boteach” with the suggestion:

What if “the holy land” is not a place on the globe but a way of behaving to one’s fellow man and woman? I choose that place.

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And now…

What say you all?

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Form is Insight: painter’s eye, cinematographer’s segue

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a follow-up to Form is Insight: parliamentarian scuffle, photographer’s eye -- Breugel's Fight between Carnival and Lent comes to a movie house near you ]
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Jem Cohen‘s film, Museum Hours, is set largely in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, with a particular focus on Pieter Breughel the Elder. Less than 10 minutes into the film, this shot, showing a detail of one of his paintings:

is followed seamlessly — as though nothing had happened — by this one, a “detail” one might say, of the Vienna street, perhaps indeed as the viewer steps into it right outside the museum:

Between the two shots — in the cut — we move from the sixteenth to the twentyfirst century, and from curated museum to careless street. The painter’s eye is echoed by the cinematographer’s segue: litter remains litter.

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The first image is a seemingly insignificant detail taken from the area of Breughel’s painting containing the “figure of Carnival”:

which you can easily spot, low down and slightly left of center, in the painting as a whole, here:

The painting itself, which goes by the title The Fight between Carnival and Lent, presents Breughel’s juxtaposition of festive and fasting seasons which follow one another seamlessly in the calendar of the church, while their respective impulses wrestle constantly for dominance in the hearts of humankind…

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Drew Martin at The Museum of Peripheral Art blog notices the successive “litter” shots from inside and outside the museum in Cohen’s film, too, and writes:

The most brilliant thing about this movie is the use of segue. In one scene, a series of shots focus on details of a Bruegel painting with the guide’s voice listing the objects “.. discarded playing cards, a bone, a broken egg ..”, and then the images switch to nondescript ground shots in Vienna, as he continues “.. a cigarette butt, a folded note, a lost glove, a beer can.”

When I write of the power of juxtapositions and of the eye that perceives pattern, then, I am not speaking of something that is entirely subjective and personal, but of a faculty native to the human, yet woefully under-practiced, under-explored. My intention is to suggest that this faculty is not merely of use to the artist or art-historian, but basic to a rich and full cognizance of the world around us. It is one techne of reading the world, one of many.

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How’s this for another juxtaposition from the same film?

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Koan 1 — Bibi, Walt, and the concept of buffer zones

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- with sympathy for the real, while holding compassion as the ideal ]
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First, I want to requote two parts of the Times of Israel report titled Netanyahu finally speaks his mind that I quoted a short while ago in my post Israel / Palestine: some delicate balancing acts:

Because, given the march of Islamic extremism across the Middle East, he [Netanyahu] said, Israel simply cannot afford to give up control over the territory immediately to its east, including the eastern border — that is, the border between Israel and Jordan, and the West Bank and Jordan.

and in more detail:

Netanyahu didn’t say he was ruling out all territorial compromise, but he did go to some lengths to highlight the danger of relinquishing what he called “adjacent territory.” He scoffed at those many experts who have argued that holding onto territory for security purposes is less critical in the modern technological era, and argued by contrast that the closer your enemies are, physically, to your borders, the more they’ll try to tunnel under those borders and fire rockets over them. It had been a mistake for Israel to withdraw from Gaza, he added — reminding us that he’d opposed the 2005 disengagement — because Hamas had since established a terrorist bunker in the Strip. And what Hamas had been doing in Gaza — tunneling into and rocketing at the enemy — would be replicated in the West Bank were Israel so foolish as to give the Islamists the opportunity.

I am not blind to the force of that proposition.

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Indeed, what PM Netanyahu is calling “adjacent territory” in the case of Israel and the West Bank is, in my limited understanding of geopolitics, no different from what generally goes under the name of “buffer states” — and what Stephen Walt, not a great Netanyahu admirer to say the least, describes as the “immediate neighborhood” in the case of Ukraine and Russia in his FP piece The Perils of an Itchy Twitter Finger:

No great power is indifferent to potential threats in its immediate neighborhood, and all the more so when it has valid historical reasons to be concerned about particular areas. Furthermore, great powers are usually willing to do pretty nasty things when vital interests are at stake.

Walt approves the existence of the State of Israel, but not Netanyahu’s formulation of the exigencies of that State’s continued existence as a home for the Jewish people — yet in the paragraph I just quoted, he appears supportive of the concept of a buffer zone in the case of a “great power”.

Should “little or no powers” get a say too, Walt? Or are they not major enough to count?

And while we’re about it: Is Israel best seen as a Goliath towering over the Palestinians, or as a David caught between a swathe of Islamic states and the deep blue Mediterranean sea?

What if it’s seen as both?

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Okay, let’s take a step back — reculer pour mieux sauter. Here’s the koan as I see it.

On the one hand, there’s a certain grim reality to the idea that your own people won’t want mortal enemies sitting right on your doorstep — think of those Russian missiles in Cuba, for instance — while on the other, the people whose middle ground would provide a buffer zone between two more powerful powers wind up getting little say in their own affairs if the notion of a buffer zone is accepted and implemented.

Well, about this buffer business — do you don’t you, will you won’t you, Walt?

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I have called this wrangle of rival thoughts and emotions — of ideals and realities, pragmatics and morals — a koan: one of those unanswerable riddles that the zen tradition uses to break the lock of binary logic in favor of holistic insight.

If one starts with a premise that falls on one side or the other of the Israeli-Palestinian koan, there will be plenty of supporting evidence for that side of the matter, and precious little coming from the other side that can’t be argued away or dismissed… as spin, as hasbara, as duplicity, taqiyya even.

The koan itself has numerous variants, grand-parents and cousins:

  • is peace inherently and only peaceful?
  • is peace human nature? really? by no means?
  • must peace be warlike to be achieved?
  • are morals best taken as certitudes, or better understood as ad hoc guidelines?
  • and which came first in any case, the Philistines or the Israelites?
  • I have been smashing my head against these questions for quite some while now. I set out to explore them via the Said Symphony game, but seem to have dropped that particular attempt — and now realize I have been continuing the same exploration in the more informal form of a great many blog posts here on Zenpundit — particularly those in which I use my DoubleQuotes format.

    So this post too, along with a passel of recent posts on Gaza, continues that search — not the search for which side to support, but for enough altitude to see clearly across both sides of the Wall.

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    So: is the Wall enough of a buffer zone?

    Is it an affront that should be torn down, like the Berlin wall — or should its remit be expanded, perphaps, to encompass the whole of “Greater Israel”?

    Geopolitics seems to be pretty firmly rooted in the idea of the “outside world” — the world around us. And yet each person in that “world around us” has an “inside world” of their own, and in that “inner world” may find themselves “conlicted” or “at peace”. So that’s another dividing line, another border, another wall.

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    When I limit myself to the world around me and consider peace, it seems to me that the peace doesn’t arise in the absence of a sense of justice, at the very least a sense of justice agreeable for the sake of peace to those on both or all sides.

    But “inner peace”? — where does that fit into the “war and peace” picture? That seems to be a question that geopolitics by definition sets aside, ignores, and effectively denies: geopolitics is by definition inter-human, not intra-human.

    When I open myself to the possibility that “inner peace” and “peace-making” — in the sense of conflict-resolution — are somehow inextricably interwoven, I see the koan, the dilemma with fresh eyes.

  • Which comes first: the compassion, or the negotiated concession?
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    Human reasons for sympathy: a DQ in the Wild

    Thursday, July 17th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- continuing a series reflecting on current events in Gaza ]
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    The tweet titled A Jewish woman and a Palestinian woman protesting together in 1973, 1992, and 2001 shows two women standing together three times in thirty years, each time with the same paired messages.

    I’ve only reproduced the first image of the three here, partly because I am not sure the whole series shows the same two women — but it seems to be yet another instance of a DoubleQuote in the Wild, this time with two people and their respective placards in juxtaposition:

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    I am beginning to see the two sides in a conflict as two sides of a human moebius strip

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    Locked horns: reading the abstract news

    Sunday, June 1st, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- pattern recognition in news media, also polarization, Swiss cows, and klezmer ]
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    Berkane & Bergamote, two Heren cows, lock horns for the title of 'queen' in Grimetz, Switzerland

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    It’s fairly extraordinary what happens when you scan a news item or op-ed piece in search of those remarks that are abstractions from the particular topic of the piece. I was struck by this today when I read:

    A tradition of vigorous, nuanced debate is increasingly being boiled down to a binary choice of worldviews.

    I mean, how many other topics in the same newspaper that day might that sentence have been slipped into without causing an eyebrow to lift?

    Of similar interest, perhaps, and from the same piece:

    ultimately, a big tent does have parameters

    That doesn’t strike me as quite as open an insight, but maybe that’s just because “big tent” has more speciic resonance. And then there was:

    Both views are completely valid, but they can be conflicting

    That one intrigues me because on the face of it, it’s a contradiction: maybe a little set theory, expressed in the form of slightly different wording, could resolve it.

    Here’s one more, still from the same piece, with a touch of zen to it — or is that psychotherapy?

    By looking at ourselves, we can be better people

    And this one, forgive me, is simply chilling:

    are you now or have you ever been … ?

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    So, “big tent” and all, are we talking about the US Congress here?

    Actually, those quotes all come from a Washington Post piece by Marc Fisher titled For Jewish groups, a stand-off between open debate and support of Israel — but that’s pretty much beside my point.

    The thing is, as SI Hyakawa pointed out, good writing tends to be writing that moves up and down the “ladder of abstraction” from intimate details (“my cow Bessie” — or “Berkane” or “Bergamote” in this instance) to broad-sweep analysis (“13% of livestock in the region”), because details (and anecdotes) evoke emotion while statistics and abstractions ensure that the wider picture is not omitted from the telling.

    WHich is why, among other things, in a world of think tanks and white papers which favor analytics and statictics almost to the exclusion of details and emotions, my own analytic tradecraft, as expressed in the HipBone Games and Sembl Thinking projects, favors quotes and anecdotes as highly as facts and stats.

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    One of the specific art acts discussed in that WaPo piece is The Shondes‘ klezmer rock punk song, I Watched the Temple Fall [lyrics, YouTube ]. Here’s what the band has to say about the song:

    We wrote “I Watched the Temple Fall” because we were thinking a lot about what Jews put our faith in, and where that faith really lives. We’d been talking about Abraham Joshua Heschel’s notion of Judaism as a religion of time, not space, and thinking about how that related to Zionism. Confining ideas into spaces (temples, states, what have you) can falsely polarize us and take us away from the big, important stuff. We wanted to write a song that clearly said, “Look, it might be devastating to face, but the state of Israel commits actions daily that violate the basic tenets of Judaism.

    Rock, punk, and klezmer I don’t know much about, but Heschel‘s book The Sabbath is one that has moved me profoundly, and reading this particular statement made me wonder what David Ronfeldt might find of interest for his Space-Time-Action (STA) theory in the song, or in Heschel’s thought.

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    Well, we began this post — about the attractions of abstraction — with an image of two Swiss cows named Berkane and Bergamote locking horns in a championship fight — here’s some klezmer from Itzhak Perlman — again, see, I’m climbing back down the ladder of abstraction to the level of the individual — to round things out:

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