Sunday, July 27, 2008

Closed minds

My last post, Sinister Innocence, elicited a number of positive reactions which showed it touched a cord. I was also sent an excellent "open letter" addressed to Doron Isaacs written by Jonathan Zausmer which I would like to place on this blog and am awaiting permission from the author.

My letter to Business Day in response to Jonny Steinberg was not published. I approached Shaun de Waal of the M & G, a journalist/writer whom I respect, for permission to write an article for publication roughly along the lines of the post, Sinister Innocence, which I sent him for reference. (I pointed out that as it stood it was merely a guide to the form the article would take, that it was not suitable as it stood for newspaper publication). I reproduce below the reply I received:

"Hi Mike

I think I said that, as far as the comment pages were concerned, we'd want
to steer clear of Israel/Palestine unless there was something new to be
said. Drew's piece was a piece of colourful, analytical reporting from "on
the ground" in the West Bank -- and it wasn't in the opinion pages, so
qualified as a news feature.

What we don't want is more of the generalised, almost abstract debate about
the issues, the kinds of opinions that we've all seen before, which tend to
take up old attitudes and then turn into a ping-pong match of pro and anti.

Such pieces need to be anchored in specific events. They need to analyse
actual goings-on, new developments etc, in a hard-headed way, rather than
simply reproducing the usual rhetoric without a hook to the news. That's the
key thing.

I agree that the debate is useless, because it goes round and round --
witness the Kasrils et al correspondence in the letters pages. The news and
other pages will obviously reflect any fresh developments, and the opinion
section should, I feel, contain proper analysis of those developments. My
own feeling is that our comment pages in general should be more analytical
in relation to specific events rather than simply broad opinions on ongoing

Shaun "

So far I have not responded to de Waal. But this weekend, Mondli Makhanya, the chief editor of the Sunday Times, published a long Opinion piece entitled "The never-ending face-off". (It can be accessed here. If this doesn't work try cutting and pasting and if that also fails, write me - as a last resort please.

I reproduce my response to the Makhanya article below. I did not attempt to soften my sense of outrage, which some of you may feel is undiplomatic. But I am sick of the closed minds of Israel's detractors and don't believe a mutually civil dialogue can be established with the wilfully blind. I write to the press, not with any illusion of getting through, but simply not to allow vile slanders to pass without comment. It is a painful job.

To the Sunday Times:

The primary intention of our visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories was to understand the reality…. We intend to be sensitive to the anxieties and perspectives that exist, and to use our visit to promote thoughtful discussion within and between our communities.”

These are two quotes from the Concluding Statement of the 23 member Human Rights Delegation which recently visited the West Bank and Israel. Within a couple of weeks of their return I’m aware of 4 public articles written by members of the delegation, the latest being Mondli Makhanya in the Sunday Times, 27 July.

In each Israel is targeted as primarily responsible for Palestinian suffering, which is dealt with in detail. Makhanya speaks (twice) of “diabolical”. He compares Israeli actions directly and indirectly to apartheid – only worse – and speaks of collective punishment and bulldozers. Palestinian hatred and intransigence is understandable in terms of Israeli “kragdadigheid”, clearly a bankrupt policy according to Makhanya. No alternative, except implicitly Jewish national (and possibly physical) obliteration, is proposed.

There is no mention of Israeli women and children blown to bits in buses, in malls and in family get-togethers. There is no mention of the liberated murderer, Sami Kuntar, who amongst other deeds killed a 4 year-old child by bashing her head against a rock, being welcomed home as a hero and role model. There is no mention of Israeli reservists being dismembered by the mob and having their body parts displayed for public approval. There is no mention of the systematic indoctrination of Arab and Palestinian children with the worst antisemitic propaganda since the Nazi heyday.

There is also no mention that the Palestinians chose the path of confrontation and violence. Makhanya is right when he points to the comparative prosperity and normality of Nablus (and the rest of the West Bank and Gaza) prior to the Second Intifada. Separate statehood was around the corner – Israel had already offered most of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

But the Palestinians (here also include other Arab-Muslim groups) did not especially want statehood; they wanted the destruction of Israel. Many members of the delegation will never “understand the reality” since they have closed their minds, and their pages, to most of that reality. History, I hope, will judge them harshly – as I do now.

Mike Berger

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