Sunday, January 4, 2009
Damocles Strikes Again: Shock & Awe in Gaza
The promising advent of 2009 has been sorely marred, for me, by the latest cycle of destruction in Gaza. On NPR over the weekend, a Palestinian man being interviewed was asked if he and his family were doing okay so far? "No one in my family has been hurt," he answered, "but that is only physically. Everyone in the country is traumatized."
Obviously Hamas takes the blame for breaking the six-month ceasefire as soon as it ended on December 19th, by lobbing more rockets yet again over the border into Israel. What were they thinking? Presumably, it seems the Hamas leadership was hoping they could provoke Israel into lifting their blockade of vital supplies into Gaza. Instead, Israel is determined to persuade Hamas to stop their attacks. Neither will succeed, however, because both parties are intractable, and now both sides feel even more justified in their positions than before. The same story has played out many times already, using the same tactics and the same arguments, always with the same devastating results: Israel becomes an even bigger target in the Arab world, its citizens are less safe, and the Palestinians suffer unconscionably. "The U.S. and Israel have shared a fantasy," David Bromwich writes in the Huffington Post. "The fantasy says that the Arabs understand only force. It says we can end terrorism by killing all the terrorists." So far, everything points to the perception that we are indeed deluded if we really believe we can kill all the terrorists. Instead we have become supremely good at creating more of them.
At dinner last night in our local Indian restaurant, I asked the five friends I was with to tell me what they thought about this untenable situation. One person thought we would never sort it out unless we had full knowledge of the history of the region. "Not so," responded another. "These people need to come into the present. They are all living out the history of their past, and that is exactly what needs to stop."
My own thought is that it is time to bag the quadratic equations of denunciation, blame, counter-charge, endless recriminations, and self-serving righteousness, which don't work--and try something NEW, something that hasn't been tried before. The question is, what?
Virgil, by now drunk on all his Christmas chocolates and auditing, as he tends to do, all my conversations, came up later with one of his impossibly off-the-wall suggestions. "We need to take out the tanks--and replace them with the arrival of Lady Godiva. The sight of her naked body in the streets will surely stop these folks dead in their tracks. Lady Godiva can offer the same lesson of inestimable value she once presented to the peasants of Coventry (and while she's at it, she could also throw a wet blanket over all the baddies, despoilers, and disturbers of the peace)."
According to the popular story, Lady Godiva took pity on the people of Coventry, who were suffering grievously under her husband's oppressive taxation. She had appealed over and over to her husband to remit the tolls, but he obstinately refused to do so. At last, weary of her entreaties, he said he would grant her request if she would strip naked and ride through the streets of the town. Lady Godiva took him at his word and, after issuing a proclamation that all persons should keep within doors and shut their windows, she rode through the town, clothed only in her long hair, and offering herself as a vision of such glorious beauty that she immediately provoked the betterment and appreciation of all those enlightened enough to appreciate such perfection.
Good old Virgil! and his grand-time surrealism--his is a mind always fertile with enigmatic juxtapositions. Replacing Attila the Hun with Lady Godiva has to succeed in shocking and aweing even the crudest of skeptics. I wish I had thought of it myself!