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July 27, 2001
Fiesta of St Fermin

by Israel Shamir


A couple of weeks ago, while strolling along the Caminos of Santiago, I came upon the old capital of Navarre. Pamplona celebrated the feria of St Fermin, and thousands of aficionados gathered in the bullring arena. The arena is divided into two sections with different population. In the Sombra section, the upper class calmly applauded the show. In the Sol, under the direct rays of a Pyrenean sun, the simple folk made merry by splashing buckets of Sangria, sharing home cooked food with strangers and singing the folk songs of St Fermin. Everyone was happy, oblivious to their assigned seating. No one was driven by TV-induced upward mobility to change the social order. They were, after all, still one people, in a state of harmony, sharing a single bullring.

In the morning, young boys run the arena with the young bulls, competing in speed and grace. In the evening hours, grown men fought mature bulls, ferocious coal-black creatures with sharp horns, moving at the speed of a TGV train, carrying on their torso the weight of ten men, every ounce loaded with the resolve of a bullterrier. The matadors worked unbelievably close to the beast, just slightly shifting the weight to avoid the deadly horn. If not for the animal's stupidity, a man would have a slim chance of surviving a confrontation with the bull. But the bull is fascinated with the red cloth, the muleta, that the matador unveils in front of him. Instead of going for the matador, he flies at the cloth, while the man remains just an observer. In the end, tired of his labours lost, frustrated by vain assaults on the unvanquished red cloth, the bull stood still, lowered his neck and waited for the merciful steel.

The red cloth is an apt metaphor for the fruitless fight for civil rights in Palestine. The Jewish settlements in the midst of Palestinian population are like the muleta. The settlements annoy us, as they destroy the fragile rural heart of the Highlands. They annoy us by their visible injustice, as they are open only to Jews, places where a goy is reduced to cutting the wood and fetching the water for his Jewish masters. They annoy us, because to reach them, one must travel on separate for-Jews-only roads. They annoy us, because of the provocative demeanor of the settlers, who do their worst to humiliate their non-Jewish neighbours. They annoy us because they confiscate beautiful hills only to desecrate them with ugly prefabs. So we charge at them, while the matador takes a siesta.

Who then is the matador? Let us find him and, for once, direct the rage of the bull away from the distracting and annoying muleta. The constant focus on the settlements will never alarm our matador. On any given day, even in Jewish newspapers, in Haaretz or the New York Times, you can publish a critique of the illegal settlements provided you stop there. If you are particularly adventurous, you can take the extra step of recognizing that the settlers were sent, provided for and supported by every Israeli governments, be it Labor of Likud. But being this blunt wont earn you many friends, certainly not in the Israeli press. Forget about the Likudniks, you would also be rejected by the Israeli Left.

Israelis, across the political spectrum, become outraged when they are attacked on what they see as their territory, meaning the part of Palestine swallowed in 1948. While Israeli planes bomb Lebanon or Gaza, a bomb or a missile in Galilee or Natania is considered by Israelis and accepted by the designated world referees as falling outside the rules of the game. Now, a man pierced by a bayonet would never be silly enough to identify the bayonet as the enemy. But given the boundries of 'legitimate' discourse in Israel, it is considered dangerous to mention the soldier who operated the rifle with the attached bayonet. And it is out of the question to point a finger at the officer that commanded the soldier, and the general who dispatched the officer. What about the king who gave the general authority to use the bayonet? Don't go there. Not in Israel.

The soldier with the bayonet is the state of Israel. That is elementary. No settlement would exist today, not for even a day, without the Israeli war machine behind it. When the native inhabitants of Hebron are locked for months in their homes, the curfew is imposed by the Israeli army, while the four hundred Jewish settlers enjoy complete freedom of movement. Given that Hebron has a population of 120,000, this means that three hundred Palestinians are grounded to assure that a single Jewish settler can roam about their city attacking their children and their property. All under the protective shield of heavily armed Israeli occupation troops.

But there is an officer behind the soldier, as Israel would not be able to commit uncountable atrocities without support from abroad. Maxim Rodinson, a noted French Marxist and biographer of the Prophet, defined Israel as a settler state, a colony. But every settler state has its mother country, the source of external power. French Algeria was manned and supported by France. The US was a settler state, whose mother country was England. What is the external power supporting Israel? What is its mother country? It is not the US, it is the constellation of important Jewish communities and first and foremost, the American Jewish community. They send money and they organize public support and they influence the policies of the state of Israel. They are visibly more hawkish even than Sharons Likud. The late unlamented Rabbi Kahane was probably nearest to the hearts of Israel's supporters in America. This phenomenon of overseas Jews posing 'as more Israeli than the Likud' has a variety of reasons. But I will limit myself to addressing just one of the causes. They get no flak from their operations. They get away with it. The men who grant authority to the Israeli troops enforcing the cruel siege of Hebron and other Palestinian communities, lives at ease in New York or Los Angeles, watches TV and puts pressure on his congressman to support the slaughter. These folks, issuing what amounts to special orders for war crimes against the Palestinians, have no worries at all. Perhaps it is time to direct some heat their way.

Wars can never end, so long as their chief perpetrators sit in peace. Michael L. Calderon reminded us this week: The French, Americans, and Afrikaner South Africans did not abandon their respective counterrevolutions in Algeria, Indochina, and Namibia and Angola because of a collective «change of heartā€¯. Indeed these victories were won on two fronts. One was the front of actual warfare, and peoples of Algeria, Vietnam, Angola and Cuba bore the brunt of it. The second front was the international pressure and domestic protests. The second front of the war for Palestine should be opened now, and we should know whom to apply pressure to and against whom to protest. In my opinion, the buck stops at the door of self-appointed heads of the organized Jewish communities, Bronfman, Foxman, Sulzberger et al. They are nasty and powerful men, and I understand the desire of the friends of Palestine to look for a less formidable adversary. Alas, it is as unprofitable as looking for a lost coin under the lamp post, just because it is where the light shines. One must look for the coin where one dropped it, even if it is inconvenient.

Confronting the individual leaders of the American Jewish community has become an urgent necessity. There is still the irresistable tendency to blame the tragedy of the Palestinians on American imperialism, certainly a convenient bogeyman. Even, a great friend of Palestine, Noam Chomsky, whom I admire this side of idol worship, subscribes to this view. In a recent public appearance in MIT[i], he said that the pro-Israeli policies of the US are not caused by the influence of the Jewish lobby, but by the interest of American elites. He wrote to me even more explicitly: If the US changed its policy of support for Israel, the Jewish lobby would collapse at once, in my opinion. It's happened before. Domestic lobbies function well when they line up with authentic power; otherwise not.

This opinion was repeated by many good people, all of them sincere supporters of the Palestinians. Usually they quote the Fateful Triangle, a classic work by Noam Chomsky, or express it in a similar way, as did good Dr Gabor Mate. He wrote to me: While they, Bronfmans and their colleagues certainly do their share to mislead and confuse the public--Jewish and non-Jewish--even they are small beer (metaphor intended) compared with the real interests U.S. policy serves. It's a question of the strategic interest of the U.S. corporate-state in having an obedient pit bull in the Middle East, with a nuclear capability, sufficiently nervous and aggressive to jump at Arab throats on demand, should the need arise - but also sufficiently dependent so that the leash can be pulled short whenever necessary. And, of course, ready to do the dirty work of the U.S. around the world - as it has done with admirable skill and cynicism in Latin America, Africa, and who knows where else. As one U.S. State Department official said some years ago, in Israel we have an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Middle East.ā€¯

If you look carefully at these arguments, they collapse like a house of cards. American planes do not land on this aircraft carrier even in case of war they have bases elsewhere, in Saudi Arabia, Turkey etc. The Obedience of this pit bull is not much to speak about, and as for Israel being a dependable ally, there are strong doubts. Actually, there are Israeli leaders speaking of a different alliance, namely with Russia and its immensely rich Russian Jewish community, as America pulls the leash too much, in their opinion. There are many bodies ready to do the dirty work of the US, and Israel was mainly involved with 'small stuff', like exporting torture equipment and counter-insurgency training.

The idea of Israel as a local proxy, or a local cop on the beat also holds no water. I do not know of a single American corporate interest that would not be better off by allying with Turkey instead of Israel, for instance. As Omar Barghouti wrote, Turkey would have been a better investment, for example, as a "normal" regional power that can help US policy, without costing half as much. Being Muslim may help as well in having a legitimate claim to "ruling over" the weak Arab countries. One can add that Turkey is a traditional ruler of the area, and it has biggest and strongest army, totally pro-American and pro-Western. In other words, the concept of Israel as a servile dupe of American imperialism is a non-starter.

Edward Herman, who co-authored 'Manufacturing Consent' with Chomsky, agrees with me, the Jewish lobby here is extremely important. I did have a piece on them directly... Interestingly, it drew some criticism from several people on the left who argued that the lobby was much less important than US strategic interests in the Middle East. I've always felt that the lobby was at least of equal importance; fortunately for the lobby the two have been at least reconcilable. The means of attacking the self-proclaimed Jewish leadership could be direct, creative and certainly non-violent. A good example was set by Berkeley students, the bearers of the tradition of 1968. They built two gates, one for Jews, another one for non-Jews, in order to give Americans a taste of Israeli roads for Jews only. I can envisage heaps of earth on the driveway of Mr Bronfman or Mr Foxman. As good Jews they certainly observe the rule of Hillel the Elder and do not do unto others whatever they hate themselves. As they support blocking Palestinian driveways, they would certainly enjoy the same treatment. By the same rule, as they support illegal settlements, they no doubt would be pleased if some good people would squat on their private estates.

I think such sit-ins would be fun, and they will attract many good Americans of Jewish descent. After all, their fathers protested White supremacy in the South, now the sons can protest Jewish supremacy in Palestine, without having to travel out of town. Instead of boring demonstration in front of a boring Federal office building, instead of dangerous show off with Israeli soldiers on the hills of al Khadr, the Not In My Name people, Rabbis for Human Rights etc can lead the struggle against the real adversary, back in the good old United States of America. They should do it together with other American activists, including Palestinian exiles. This experiment will answer the question of the Jewish lobby's influence in the US and on the events in Palestine. I believe that it will have a great effect, and there will be real pressure on Mr Bronfman and his super-rich friends to end their anti-Palestinian belligerence. It will also help ordinary Americans of Jewish origin to fight their self-proclaimed leadership. Why should they take on these 'leaders' ? Well, for one reason, because Bronfman and his cronies pocketed billions of dollars squeezed from Swiss banks, instead of giving the money to survivors. But that will be the subject of my next article.