Sunday, October 24, 2010

Rachel Corrie’s Parents on the Attack

Craig and Cindy Corrie should try their luck at Saturday Night Live. They make a good stand-up comedy team. Yesterday, right after hearing the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from the horse’s mouth, from the Caterpillar driver who was the closest to their daughter when she was discovered dead ‘in a pool of dirt’, they stood before the press and tried to fool us all with their put on: Their daughter, we were asked to believe, died defending the humanity of all of us. Granted, she was the idealist type and had set out to show solidarity with other humans regardless of borders, language or color. The story would have been a touch more believable had Rachel chosen to show solidarity with a less violent group, with a people who still maintain some respect for the image of God in which they, and we all, were created. Why in the world would an idealistic person choose to show solidarity with a nation of deranged terrorists who elect to erect their homes in the path of our victorious IDF, forcing us to clear thousands of them out of our way. I wonder if you, dear neutral reader, can understand, much less accept, the Corries’ claims of their daughter’s humanitarian motives when she had chosen to express them by associating with terrorists. To show humanitarian solidarity, one has to start with humans not with reprobate miscreants like their daughter managed to do.

Take for example the issue of human life itself: Where else, except perhaps in such dismal dead-end dumps as Iraq and Afghanistan, is life so cheap that mothers send their own children to die with the a priori plans to replace them in another nine months? No wonder we Israelis are trying to raise our boys’ ‘exchange rate’ in the battle field beyond the one-to-a-hundred level that we achieved when our hand was forced to hit Gaza the winter before last. Besides, theirs were run-of-the-mill Palestinians of all ages and classes while our boys were high-quality trained soldiers at the prime of their lives. The simplest of cost-benefit analysis will show that we should aim at a higher exchange rate still.

And consider what the Corries have now done out of their own free well as cool-headed, well-informed adult Americans: They decided to sue our government and the IDF for damages. True, their demand for compensations is not that exorbitant: one dollar. But why, in the devil’s name should they choose a pair of Palestinian lawyers to represent them? Does Israel lack smart Jewish lawyers? Now they are getting what they asked for: their lawyers fail to comprehend what the witnesses from the scene of their daughter’s death ‘incident’ are telling them. Worse yet, their lawyers are behaving in the same incomprehensible, rejectionist and greedy manner in which Palestinians have behaved throughout recent history: Again and again our leaders have made them attractive peace offers to resolve the conflict they had initiated with us, all to no avail. From the UN 1947 division plan, to the Camp David agreement, to Sharm-El-Sheikh, to you name it, and they continue to refuse one offer after another. And here, this very day, the Corries’ lawyers, following the same well-established rejectionist pattern, are continuing not to accept whatever explanations our ex-soldiers offer them under oath: One D-9 Caterpillar soldier driver had already told the court that he saw Rachel’s body on the other side of a pile of dirt. The lawyers didn’t seem to be happy with that. Today the driver of the D-9 that killed her tried to please them and said he saw her on this side of the pile of dirt. They still were not pleased. He had said in a previous investigation that, sitting inside the driver’s cabin, he had a three-meter blind spot in front of his machine. The lawyers didn’t seem to be satisfied with that. Now the man tried to humor them by increasing that blind spot to thirty meters. But to no avail. They still sounded like they didn’t believe him. You think a hundred meters would have satisfied them? Not on your life; not Palestinians. You give them a finger and they will take a hand.

The driver had suffered the badgering of the two Palestinians all morning before I caught the tail end of his testimony. The court was so full of government observers, of Corrie sympathizers, and of newspaper reporters that I had no chance of getting a seat till a couple of them had left. The poor man was shielded behind a screen from the vindictive stares of all those goyim and self-hating Jews in the audience. He too was quizzed about that last bit in the video recording of the events of that fateful day, March 16, 2003. Like the commander of his unit and the driver of the second Caterpillar, he also had forgotten most of what transpired that day but knows for a fact that the recorded incriminating broken Arabic single question and answer on the intercom was not of him and his commander or of him and the second driver. This poor driver, like other soldiers at the scene or involved in its investigation later on, had either not seen, not heard, or forgotten most details connected to the event. Besides, Rachel’s birthday happens to fall on the same date as the driver’s. Why should he allow details of a tragic event to intrude on his conscience and rob him of the pleasure of celebrating his own birthday? Imagine Palestinians and other goyim demanding that we remember the time and details of how each of them dies. Golda Meir said it best: We, Israelis, will never forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. The Corries don’t seem to comprehend the deeper meaning of such wisdom. Or take the pronouncements of the wise Rabbi from Safad made this very week: Goyim were created to serve us. Go explain that to someone who has deluded himself into thinking he is your equal!

Listening to the man behind the screen I conjured an image of him: judging by the quality of his voice and hesitant speech pattern, I judged him to be small of build; he has a smallish head with congenital absence of the pinnae, the external ears; he wears thick glasses; and he is dark skinned. I reached these conclusions not only on the basis of the quality of his speech, but more on the basis of its content. First the absence of the ears: You, the laity, do not appreciate the significance of the outer ear and the importance of the extent of its flare in gathering the sound vibrations in the ambient air and funneling them into the ear canal and onward to the middle ear. The ear is a complex and sophisticated piece of detective instrumentation. It is the ultimate listening device. One is tempted to think it must have been invented by Israeli scientists for the use of the Mossad. But it all is dependent on the pinna and if that is missing the hearing is minimal, as is the case here. As to the thick glasses, they are needed for the rapidly receding visual acuity. If in seven years the man’s blind spot expanded from three to thirty meters, he is as blind as a bat in the bright sun; ergo the thick glasses. And as to the small head, your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps I am giving a literal meaning to the figurative Hebrew slang term of ‘rosh katan’ – meaning small head – used to describe one who doesn’t bother himself with the deeper meanings of things or one who follows orders without questions asked. That is exactly how the driver responded to the lawyer’s questions about the standard instructions in the military manual on operating a D-9 Caterpillar. It is stated in the manual that the driver should not operate the machine when civilians are present within ten meters from it. Our man said that he had received orders from his commander to ignore that warning and to continue working and he did. In Hebrew we call that kind of unquestioning obedience of one’s superiors ‘rosh katan.’ I guess you could also call my own simplistic interpretation of the figure of speech to mean an actual small-size head a second level of small-headedness. As to the man’s skin color, he seemed to be a bit cowed by the Arab lawyers. No true blood Ashkenazi would be. Sephardim usually have dark skin. The riddle is solved.

The spiteful streak that Cindy Corrie displayed in addressing the press when her turn came up went beyond all limits of fairness. First of all, she repeated in so many words the same claim that her husband had made of their daughter having felt empathy with the Palestinians as human beings. That, of course, puts Rachel in her own parents’ mind at the same level of scum as her subjects of empathy, the Palestinians. I am not sure how can parents say such an insulting thing about their own dead child. If that proves any thing, it proves that the Corries are a self-hating breed. Except that our media in Israel, in line with our top historians, our top opinion leaders and our top Rabbis alike, have appropriated this term for our exclusive use. It is akin to the usage of holocaust or shoah: When the Armenians wanted to stake a claim to the term to describe what the Turks had committed against them in the early decades of the twentieth century, we objected and put an end to their cheap attempt. And here too: whoever heard of a self-hating Palestinian or of a self-hating Moslem. It is redundant. You just use the identifying genre of Palestinian and the ‘hate’ element is automatically implied. The term self-hating’ dangles precipitously when cut off from its natural ending of ‘Jew.’ What gives it its zing is the contradiction of the adjective with the subject. We invented self-hating, as a concept to describe our own renegade anti-Zionists. To use it out of context to characterize the behavior of anybody else is to rob it of significance and us of our exclusive right to a discovery. Too bad such concepts are not covered under international intellectual property laws and conventions.

Then there is Cindy’s claim that putting the driver behind a screen and his never expressing a word of remorse or apology robbed her of the chance to empathize with him as a human being. I beg to differ, at the risk of being accused of narrow partiality towards my co-citizen: Who should be apologizing to whom, I wonder? The man said more than once during the court session that he was surrounded by terrorists. In Israel, and especially in the IDF, we are realists. We call a spade a bloody spade and don’t beat around the bush with such terms as ISM and the like. You don’t empathize with a terrorist unless you are one yourself. All the terror sympathizers who come from the end of the world to terrorize a diligent member of the most moral army in the world carrying out the orders of his commanders to clear another swath of our holy land, the land of our ancestors promised to us by our God, of the haphazard anthills the Palestinians call their homes, should stop their rabble-rousing or accept the consequences.

The late Prime Minister Sharon (I use the term ‘late’ here in the rosh-katan sense of him being delayed or ‘late’ in the process of crossing over from this life to the next) had officially promised the late President George W. Bush (ditto, but just an expression of a wish; it applies to Tony Blair as well) to conduct a “thorough, credible, and transparent” investigation of the Rachel Corrie ‘incident.’ We did exactly that. Twice! And no one in the world believes us. But that has been our story with the international community since day one: No one believes Israel. That is not all that terrible. Not as long as the world needs us in the basic spheres that make it go round: Arms, money and influence with America.

A bright young journalist asked the Corries’ lawyer, Hussain Abu-Hussain, about the significance of the toy blue whale that he used to represent Rachel’s body as he tried to have the Caterpillar’s driver recreate her ‘death incident’ scene from memory. Hussain blew it: He said that he just stopped by at a kindergarten and picked up the first toy he found. Think of the symbolic possibilities though: The free spirit of the blue whale darting, like Rachel, across the oceans. And the threat of extinction of the species.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mystery Witness Proves Rachel Corrie Committed Suicide in a’ Pool of Dirt’

Hussain Abu-Hussain, the Corries’ lawyer, thought his was a depressing profession. I sought to cheer him up by pointing out the dismal case of the oncology specialty in medicine. It didn’t seem to work; he had spent the whole day trying in vain to trick witnesses of the murder of the late ISM volunteer into telling the truth. But the relevant portions of those witnesses’ memory were hermitically sealed behind an impermeable wall of forgetfulness. Limited in my scope of knowledge and understanding to the field of medicine, I am intrigued by the mystery of what effective mind-altering drugs the Israeli Defense Forces have at their disposal to wipe out selective segments of their soldiers’ recall and to effect such precise lacuna of brain damage.

Hussain and his fellow international human rights legal expert, Jamil Dakwar, spent the morning interrogating the young and aggressive head of the Military Police unit that had investigated and dismissed as incidental and irrelevant the fact of Rachel’s death in close proximity to two IDF D9R Caterpillars operating in the Gaza Strep. Despite his striking alertness and wide-eyed combative demeanor on the witness stand, he still lapsed into a state of amnesia when a question crept to within touching distance of the prohibited black hole of truth. On more than one occasion he would throw up his hands in a dismissive private gesture of exasperation to the judge as if in intimate private conversation with him. He seemed to do that every time he felt that he had succeeded in debunking a clever ploy by Abu-Hussain or in adequately deflecting another of the latter’s attempts at reminding him of details he had consciously forgotten. He confirmed, albeit indirectly, the statement previously made in court by one of his colleagues to the effect that “in war there are no civilians.” But he did so in such a circumspect and disconnected manner that the judge seemed to miss the point, for He (and the capital here is intentional, for that is how He seems to consider His position in the domain of His court of judgment) did not display any sign of distress or aggravation in line with what I have come to expect neurologically. Abu-Hussain grilled this witness on the specific point of what rules and regulations there existed on the subject of operating a D9 in the presence of civilians in the area. The witness, whose name, Shalom, said it all, wavered between the written prohibition of operating the Caterpillar as a battle implement in close vicinity of civilians and the definition of what constituted a war arena and who were civilians and who were not and under what circumstances, etc. etc. ad infinitum. All that Abu-Hussain could prove was that it is very difficult to trick a man who is intent on forgetting to remember.

Two thoughts crossed my mind as I pondered the implicit oxymoron when one speaks of willful forgetfulness, thoughts that separated me momentarily from the court’s surroundings and carried me to my own private dream world causing my wife to poke me in the side every time my snoring disturbed her: inexplicably I found myself as a child in pre-1948 Palestine in the midst of my father’s apricot orchard. It was Ramadan and I was fasting. I had learned that morning in our religion class that if a fasting person forgets and mistakenly eats or drinks something, it does not annul his or her fast and he or she gets full credit for the day despite eating or imbibing his or her fill. I had figured that if I spent enough time in the orchard I would be likely to forget and consume few delectable apricots from my father’s trees. But hard as I tried, I couldn’t forget the fact that I was trying to forget; the harder I tried to forget my fasting state the more I was aware of it. I spent the whole afternoon focusing on selecting the fruits that I wanted to eat accidentally. My wife poked me in the ribs and admonished me to stop snoring. I came to and glared at the state’s defense lawyer who had a habit of moving her delicate hands in animated circles in front of her face as she raised an objection. Her motherly fine features and the hypnotic motion of her tiny hands put me back to sleep. I was back in my physiology class at medical school: My favorite lecturer was asking us to try to tickle ourselves. It was impossible, he explained, because the tickling experience depended on the surprise element in it. Since our mind is incapable of surprising its own self, one cannot tickle one self. But apparently I succeeded in breaking this rule of basic physiology. My wife poked me in the ribs again: “You shouldn’t giggle in court either!” Now, fully alert in the wee hours of the morning, I still fail to make full sense of these dreams though they seem not to be totally irrelevant to the subject of tricks our minds play on us. Can a clever lawyer make a witness forget his premeditated forgetfulness?

As I came to, the same witness was still on the stand. (I wonder if I shouldn’t capitalize Him as well. He did display certain godly pretensions in his upright combative posture and physical display of readiness to appropriate the space fronting him.) How comical it must have seemed to him: A civilian barrister putting words in his mouth in a futile attempt to force him, a military colonel, to remember facts long expunged from his memory, active and inactive, long and short, and filed away under ‘forgotten.’ And the barrister looks distinctly Arab and must have, it is safe for loyal Zionist citizens of Israel to presume, dislodged from his own memory any residue of the implicit oath of loyalty to them he must have taken. We all know Abu-Hussain received his law degree from the Hebrew University and should never be allowed to forget the civilizing influence of associating with ‘real citizens of the Jewish state.’ He should have been made to swear such an oath before getting his license to practice. I recall swearing loyalty to Israel and its laws when I became a state employee. Nothing was new in that. But then I swore loyalty to Israel as my country and not the country of someone else. I assumed at the time that my Jewish colleagues may hold different interpretation of what Israel was. And I never knowingly broke Israeli laws, objectionable as many of them were. But, at the time, I could convince myself that I could work to change such laws and to adapt the nature of the state to accommodate me. The question for my Zionist fellow citizens remains whether when I swore allegiance to Israel I meant it and whether it was specific enough as to whose state Israel was. No wonder so many legislators are now working hard to clarify the point: making citizenship contingent on declaring loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state. That will be followed in due course by mechanisms for the verification of real intent. Now that I have retired I am out of the loop, no longer professionally active in the public arena. That is why I can only speculate on how others will react to the new laws of verifiable intent: Imagine a legal mind like Abu-Hussain’s grappling with the Kafkaesque quandary of swearing loyalty to an entity that excludes him out of its definition. To fall back on my field of expertise, how can a doctor who presumably had dedicated his life to preventing pain and saving lives swear allegiance to promoting illness? By swearing such an oath he would cease to be a physician though the law requires him to do so in order to be one. Let me give another simile for my differently-inclined fellow citizens: How can a member of the Yakuza swear an oath of allegiance to the Japanese police. There is a deeper psychological point here to which I will return later. It is enough to drive one to distraction.

The afternoon session was dedicated to a witness that the defense lawyers had asked that he be allowed to testify incognito for reasons of personal safety. He was the commander of the army unit operating the D9s in the vicinity of Rachel’s death incident. The court was adapted specifically for this occasion: a screen was set up between the audience and the witness stand. The plaintiff team moved their seats closer to the judge’s stand to be able to see the witness. Abu- Hussain requested that the judge allow members of the Corrie family to move to that side of the court as well so they can see the witness but the request was denied. I could understand that: If all the Corries and their entourage of translators and reporters were to be exempted, my wife and I would be the only ones left. My wife is not a threat. She is not the violent type. And I would probably be asleep half of the time anyhow. Or else they could have blindfolded the two of us and did away with the screen altogether. No such luck: the judge asked to have an armed guard at the door of the courtroom and warned us all not to take pictures at pain of arrest on the spot. This castigation induced in me a sudden urge to empty my bladder. I resisted till I could resist no more. As I tried to exit, the guard tried to prevent me and I insisted. He went in and asked permission from someone, perhaps the judge, for me. Fortunately, the request was granted. To hear people in the Arab world criticize Israel’s judicial system as unjust towards its Arab citizens, you would think such gesture was impossible. Here was my proof to the contrary. Believe me, given the circumstances and with the pressure mounting inside me, being allowed to relieve myself was the greatest act of justice I had ever experienced in this country.

The mystery witness was the commander of the unit operating the D9s on the day and in the arena of Rachel’s death. Judging by the witness’s voice I figured he was a male in his forties of medium build and a smallish balding head that allowed for the evaporation of much of the previously stored bits of information in it in Israel’s hot sun. All he could remember from that day’s incidents was seeing the late peace activist sitting in a “pool of dirt.” Nothing more and nothing less. He also had little to enlighten the court about the rules of engagement with civilians for operators of D9s. There were civilians, a dozen or so of them, in the battlefield, the battle that raged between D9s and Palestinian homes with the civilian foreign combatants in bright red and orange clothing running as decoys for the anti-Israeli structures which must have caused one D9 to mistake one of them for a menacing Palestinian home. That, at least is my best interpretation of the events of the day. But the commander had a different story to tell: All he saw is the dead body of the late Corrie woman in a “pool of dirt.” Taking his testimony as ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” one is left with the question of what was he talking about when he spoke on the wireless from inside his D9 to the driver of the other D9 under attack by, and closer to, the civilian foreign combatants in the battlefield. He is heard to ask in Arabic “Did you kill him?” The answer comes loud and clear: “Allah Yirhamu -- May Allah have mercy on his soul.” Did he think the dead person in the “pool of dirt” was a man? He, of course, couldn’t remember any of that. What is more amazing is that this brief vocal exchange, recorded on video, was left out from the written transcription of the video’s soundtrack. None of the investigators, whether in the internal operational run of the army or in that of the military police, ever took notice of that last conversation. It was the Plaintiff’s lawyers who picked out the small gem. What remains is to figure out who exactly said what and what did he mean?

‘Allah Yerhamu’ is part of the well entrenched military jargon in Israel. Since whoever says it usually lacks full understanding of the meaning of each of its constituent words, the phrase is a less painful way of indicating the act of killing. Additionally, the phrase is a distinct high point in the collective memory of our community, the Palestinian citizens of Israel. On October 29, 1956 it cost us 49 innocent lives: children and elderly, woman and men. Britain, France and Israel had declared war on Egypt earlier that day to retrieve the Suez Canal, which Jamal Abdul Nasser had nationalized, to its lawful colonial owners. Military instructions were issued from on-high to impose total curfew on Arab villages in the center of Israel including the village of Kufr Qassim. The unit commander asked the specific question of how to deal with farmers who might be out in their fields and would not have learned of the curfew. The answer came in clear and simple military jargon: “Allah Yerhamu!” With that farmers returning home from the field were stopped at the entrance to their village, lined up and mowed down; 49 of them including 23 children.

“Allah Yerhamu” is not the only connecting thread between Kufur Qassim and Rachel Corrie. The war came and went and Kufr Qassim didn’t even register on the Israeli military or government radar screen. Till communist agitators started doing what they knew how to do best: agitate. An investigation was launched and brigadier commander Issachar Shadmi was found guilty of a minor administrative offence and fined one Israeli cent. Emile Habibi, the master of tongue-in-cheek Palestinian writing, made ‘Shadmi’s cent’ a household term in our community.

This is where my blood starts to boil in anger against the inflated claims of the Corries: If the price of 49 Palestinian lives was set at one cent, how dare they ask for a whole dollar for the life of their daughter? Consider for a moment, please, the relative ratio of one Corrie life to one Palestinian life: One Israeli cent was one hundredth of a lira; the lira was scrapped and replaced with the shekel which was equal to ten liras; then that was scrapped and replaced in turn by the New Israel Shekel (NIS), a thousand shekels to one NIS. At the current rate of NIS 3.6 to the dollar

1 Corrie = $1 = 3.6 NIS = 3.6 x 1000 x 10 x 100 / 49 = 73468.8 Palestiniens.

And the world dared to question Israel when its fatality ratio during the recent Gaza ‘preventive military action’ stood at one to hundred.

Just to give the Israeli judicial system its due and just credit, I should add that some half dozen low-ranking soldiers were found guilty and received sentences of several years in jail each. In verifying the details of the Kufur Qassim account I called on my communist age-mate cousin, Toufiq, who served time with the same imprisoned Israeli soldiers. At the time he had been sentenced to a dozen years in jail for playing a leading role in a youth demonstration in Nazareth in which he was accused of shouting pro-Nasser slogans. To this day he claims that I was the one who shouted “Long live Jamal Abdul Nasser!” not him. But I was not caught. Besides I was not a communist. Very early in the game I decided to wipe that incident off of my hard disc and to this day I have no memory of the event whatsoever. Another thing that riles Toufiq to this day is that shortly after their imprisonment the soldiers were pardoned by Israel’s president while he served his full term. “If you do the right calculation, taking into account the nature of the crime and the number of days served in jail,” my cousin insists, “the value of an Israeli soldier is worth over a million Palestinian communists like me. I didn’t even shout the slogan about Nasser, for God’s sake!”

Be that as it may, in the current court proceedings, our mystery witness refused to be drawn into the memory lane that the plaintiff team labored so much to animate for him with the set of toy caterpillars that they had purchased for the purpose. And he refused to be drawn into creating a matching human form with the putty that the lawyers had brought for him. For the rest of the afternoon Abu-Hussain used the soft fistful of putty as a tool of physiotherapy for his arthritic left hand. I had already noticed that the man had a habit of pressing his extended fingers against his neck to crack the aching joints. (I told you already that once I was a good diagnostician.) Still, all that the witness could recall was that he saw a dead person in a ‘pool of dirt.’ I wondered if Abu-Hussain was going to pull out a sack of soft dirt from his bag. As to the proximity of those D9s from the pool of dirt and similar specifics of the death incident, the lawyers’ efforts were unrewarded. Personally, I reached the conclusion that Rachel, Allah Yerhamu, had committed suicide by drowning in a ‘pool of dirt.’ After all, those were members of the most ethical army in the world and would not lie under oath.

This interpretation is not as farfetched as all that: Imagine a young idealist woman who dreamt of a just world including a just Israel. She arrives in Gaza to act on her commitment to let justice reign in the world. She discovers that Israel is unjust beyond redemption. She realizes that back in her own country campaigning against Israel’s injustices committed against the Palestinians will gain her the label of anti-Semitic. To wipe your slate clean of such a foul label you have to work for Israel’s benefit as per its own definition of itself. That, of course, includes throwing the Palestinian usurpers out of ‘our’ sacred holy land. To try to change the accepted American consensus regarding the just claims of Israel is another mission impossible. So, to fight against the threat of the smear of anti-Semitism, the prime label of bigotry, Rachel must have realized that she would need to become a bigot. Now that is another Kafkaesque quandary enough to send one into despair. For an idealistic young woman trapped in such an insane vicious circle, suicide must have seemed to be about the only remaining logical choice. And what means are there in Gaza for committing suicide. Dirt is abundant. One looks for an appropriate ‘pool of dirt’ and, while everyone around is not looking, one jumps in and holds his or her breath under the soft cover of dirt. Or should it end with a soldier instructing Rachel to ‘take a deep breath’ as some other people were once instructed in the process of their execution?