Friday, July 18, 2008

Small flames: a response

Jonny Steinberg wrote a one-sided and misleading article in Business Day 17 July headed "Small flames of empathy in a wind of subjugation" ( David Saks responded with an effective letter on 18 July and I have just submitted a letter of my own, reproduced below. It only scratches the surface of the issues raised in Steinberg's article but it is the best one can do under the circumstances.

"Jonny Steinberg’s verbal brilliance obscures the intellectual and ethical poverty of his piece in Business Day, 17 July (Small flames of empathy in a wind of subjugation). Does he imagine that only his small band of self-styled progressives and activists are capable of feeling empathy or that the ordinary Israeli kid, compelled to police the West Bank, enjoys the dirty work of survival?

Steinberg assures us that he was “moderately well informed” before leaving on his deliberately selective tour of the West Bank/Israel but where is that is revealed in his writing. Where, for instance, does he ask why it was necessary for the Israelis to go to the extraordinary expense and trouble of creating a “vein-like network of roads” for the exclusive use of the settlers, whereas Israeli Arabs are free to travel where they like within Israel?

If he had enquired, he would have discovered that it was because the young Palestinian boys with “bullet belts slung over their shoulders” had murdered over a 1000 Israelis in the early years of the Intifada, and that Jewish settlers in the West Bank would suffer a similar fate without the roads, checkpoints and barriers.

Ah, says Steinberg (and his clones) at this point: “if the Israelis simply vacated the West Bank this “subjugation” would not be necessary. The hate, systematically incalcated into the minds of Palestinian and many Arab and Muslim children of the region, would dissipate and peace would descend on the Middle East”.

Would that were true. The Israelis tried to leave in 1999/2000 when the West Bank had been prospering economically, growing by leaps and bounds demographically and with its health and mortality figures showing the benefits of cooperation and relative peace. The answer was the Intifada and its consequences.

They cannot leave because Hamas, Hizbollah, Iran, and others less overtly, have made it clear that any “retreat” on the part of Israel is but a step on the road to total “liberation”. Or does Steinberg’s information conveniently end before he reaches this point in the narrative?

Steinberg’s perspective is revealed in his last paragraph where Israelis are implicitly enjoined to nurture the “little bridges being built”, not simply out of a common humanity, but because when American dominance happily ends they may need the supposed goodwill of their enemies.

Jews have suffered the tenderness of strangers for more than 2000 years of statelessness, which is precisely the reason why Israel was created. Steinberg may wish to reflect further on this while he enjoys the hospitality of the City University of New York."

Mike Berger

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