Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ehud is an ace hoodlum; Waltz with Bashir

Holy shit do Israel's mainstream "liberals" bore me, the ones Israelis can wear on their sleeve to rouse only a grimace in response instead of a call for their head on a spike. David Grossman, novelist who milked many tearducts in my parent's house, but from time to time crawls out of his literary shell to make grandiosely ambivalent statements about war, misleading in their supposedly progressive populism but instead laced with the prescriptive ticks of an old hat Jabotinsky-ite. During the 2006 firebombing of Lebanon, he and Amos Oz, other milker of tearducts and stirrer of souls, released a moratorium on the war in intellectual news alternative Haaretz (read by my war is the answer loving uncle and his bomb factory running brother because the yediot and ma'ariv are too sensational). Though, if you read closely it was less a moratorium than a quip about how to run a war, a horrific tally having already bled the headlines they suggested a point has been sufficiently made and therefore they should try and make peace now. Instead of asking questions about the nature of bomb first policymaking they just quarreled with generals about logistics and the number of IED's. Thank you novelists, go back to stirring souls instead of blowing up their cages.

Well, now he's back to make a poetically strained whiskey face over the overextension of what he felt was another sensible blowout, calling it being "too imprisoned in the familiar ceremony of war," but not condemning that familiarity by contradicting it with a statement that at first it was necessary, to show them what a sleeping giant does when woken up, now the peace making can begin. At that point I'd rather Ehud Barak yelling on fox news with the rationale and composure of a third grader who stabbed his classmate for launching spitballs at him.

What's more disheartening is people are still on the gaza withdrawal "phenom" in which the palestinians somehow proved that, with a small parcel of land given to them without Israeli control (cough cough, all along the watchtower), they weren't able to control themselves as well as we were able to control them. That apparently is lack of democratic skill. Despite the fact the Dov Weisglass, working under Ariel Sharon, called the pullout, in a ha'aretz article "The Big Freeze", a method of putting the peace process in formaldehyde.

"The disengagement plan is the preservative of the sequence principle. It is the bottle of formaldehyde within which you place the president's formula so that it will be preserved for a very lengthy period. The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians."

I.e. Israel was still building a security wall that expropriated land, changed the facts on the ground for peace negotiations, and disrupted the hell out of civilian life, all the while building more settlements in the west bank. So, in other words, the pullout was symbolic, and symbolically stupid.

Then came the free elections, in which the palestinians were given the option of democratically choosing a party of their choice, and being suffocated financially for making the wrong free and democratic choice. They made the wrong free and democratic choice and were suffocated financially because the party of the people who weren't recognized as Palestinians until 1993 and subsequently dismissed when 1993 fell apart, decided not to recognize the state that won't recognize them, their constituents paid dearly.

Before the latest alpha male Don Makaveli explosion in Gaza saturday morning two things happened. A total of 13 people died in Sderot since 2001 from rocket attacks and Waltz with Bashir opened in New York. I saw the film friday night and already then it served up a penetrating analysis of how the Israeli government gets away with barbarian acts of cruelty. Cognitive dissonance. Then saturday morning happened.

The film, a documentary about its creator and his involvement in the first invasion of lebanon, is animated. Ari Folman served in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. He was there for Sabra and Shatila. And he can't remember any of it except for a lucid flashback to a night on a blitzed-out beach on Lebanese shores, nude. He interviews friends and former comrades about their experiences, whether they remember him there with them. More likely than not, they do. The decision to animate the film allows Folman to tap into that dreamlike state of crystalline reverie that renders even the most horrific experiences merely an abstract thought, jumbled up in a cognitive framework that has the present and the imagination going on at the same time. There are scenes of harrowing wartime fuck-ups and the rhythm of soon-to-be shellshocked soldiers following orders that are horrifying except for the ethereal beauty in which they're rendered. And it's that beauty that is intentionally disturbing. The reason these images are beautiful is because they are memory, because they are distanced aesthetes in which everything is just a thought, one that you can't think through clearly or put in the right order to it comes out like an installation, a piece of art.

It becomes clear that the reason behind that is because no one asked questions, they took orders. And this is emblematic of the country at large, reliant on conscription to keep its military state afloat, inevitably having to take up arms whenever a politician decides to not solve an issue diplomatically, a certain amount of denial is required. As excellently illustrated in the Gideon Levy article, "I Punched an Arab in the Face," Liran Feurer, a checkpoint soldier who was following orders, no soldier ever comes home to his parents a criminal, a thief, they always come home a hero, or someone whose done their job. To an extent this is because "in a certain sense, there are already two generations of criminals. The father went through it and now the son is going through it and no one talks about it around the dinner table."

He talks about devolving into a cruel beast, taunting, maiming and essentially dehumanizing Palestinians at the checkpoint as it was passed down by the chain of command as acceptable. By the time he got home and went to art school he was a cold shell, completely removed from the inner turmoil he effectively shut down to do "what had to be done." This holds true for war, and army veterans, of which most Israeli civilians are. Yet, as massacres are revealed, as Ariel Sharon is deposed from his position for involvement in a slaughter of two refugee camps, as intifadas break out and homes are demolished, all these events are percieved as necessary acts of survival and are never connected to the events that came before them. Mostly because the stark and brutal realities of the acts required to carry those events out have been forgotten by the perpetrators, or discarded in a defeatist but justified manner by the hands that did the dirty work.

What happens in the film is the events that he was a part of slowly dawn on him when his friends jog their memories. He begins to see the lack of questions asked in the first place. How everyone just shut down to a series of gossipy whispers, or confused onlookers, waiting for the next word, for the next command from higher up. Meanwhile, a group of Phalangist soldiers bloodlusting on the death of their leader, Bashir Gemayel, got the okay to take their revenge out on two refugee camps while soldiers in tanks with binoculars looked on. Both wondering what was happening and waiting to see what would happen next. Indiscriminate slaughter is what happened next. And this wasn't unprecedented. There was already an uneasy truce between the army and the militias before the event, when the Christian Phalangists would take conspicuous Palestinians, or whoever they deemed fit, to torture chambers and hacked away at their limbs. Walking around with them as if it was nothing, while Ariel Sharon deemed them worthy partners in private meetings.

At some point Ari Folman is reminded of his parents in a concentration camp, of the good nazi who just did his job while indirectly and directly having a hand in the fate of millions of nazi targets. It's here in the film where it becomes clear that when drudging up memories of WWII, being the children of holocaust survivors doesn't offer an excuse but a lack of excuses. It might offer a psychological condition, but a particular one you'd want to avoid allowing control of your life.
Perhaps it'll be twenty years before a documentary like this is made on the war on lebanon of 2006, or the destruction of Gaza today, and by then it'll be too late to ask the right questions, by then it'll be too late to make sense out of something you put out of your mind. By then the families of the dead will already be giving Israel "reasons" to do what they do best, never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Until then, here's another Gideon Levy article about the bomber pilots, and their tenacity to someone else's word, and their cold rationale for something that will never make sense.
The IAF, bullies of the clear blue skies