This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, unto Jacob, and unto Bibi

(Pre-blog note: We celebrate a fantastic achievement for mankind: landing a one-ton nuclear powered science vehicle on Mars, all without human direction.  Unfortunately, most writers for the general media feel compelled, perhaps inevitably, to add that it cost $2.4 billion, implying that this is perhaps too expensive.  Why then do articles about the war in Afghanistan never mention that this war costs $2 billion a week?  The $2.4 billion Curiosity will operate for at least 104 weeks and actually produce something of value to humanity, which seems like a much better deal.  Perhaps if Curiosity carried weapons no one would notice the price tag.  Three cheers for my fellow geeks at NASA and JPL!)

 

The mainstream American media typically reports news involving Israel only when the Israelis do something spectacular, like invading Lebanon, or when American politics are involved, such as Mitt Romney’s brown-nosing comments about Jerusalem and the Palestinians.   Hardly surprising then that most American newspapers and television stations made no mention of the Levy Report, despite its important implications for Palestine and American policy in the area.  To be fair, some major newspapers, such as the NY Times, carried the story, but clearly most Americans, even those who keep abreast of the news, are unaware of the report, being inundated with the apparently more interesting details of the lives of mass murderers.

Regarding their occupation and colonization of the West Bank, Israel has (when it bothered at all) traditionally excused its clear violation of accepted international law by pointing out that inasmuch as there is no Palestinian state the strictures of such international instruments as the Fourth Geneva Convention and the UN Charter do not apply.  This rationale of course places Israel in what should be uncomfortable company: Hitler in part justified his monstrous treatment of the Soviet Union by noting that they had never signed the Geneva Convention.

This has apparently changed.  Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed a three member commission, headed by former High Court justice Edmund Levy, to investigate the legal status of the so-called “illegal” settlements, that is, those not authorized by the government.  The implication of course is that all the other settlements are legal, despite their obvious violation of basic international law.  But what the panel concluded goes way beyond the issue of the handful of “illegal” settlers, and it is breathtaking in its self-serving cynicism and implications.

Basically, they determined that that the “illegal” settlements – and thus all the settlements – are not illegal because they are not in fact in occupied territory.  This conclusion might seem a bit surprising since the Israeli army has been obviously occupying the West Bank for 45 years, and this is territory designated as part of the Palestinian state created by the same UN resolution that created Israel.  The commission, however, concluded that since Israel has been in the West Bank for such a long time that this is unique occurrence and thus not actually an occupation.  Bingo, all the settlements are perfectly legal in the light of international law.  As, I suppose, would be the German colonization of Poland if they had only hung on longer.

Israeli politicians either hailed this as a triumph of jurisprudence or remained silent, and I am unaware of an official response from the US government, which is in the midst of an election, when even the faintest criticism of Israel is viewed as political poison.  As a signatory of all the international conventions Israel is currently violating, it would be awkward for the US to officially accept the colonization of the West Bank, and our official position is that the settlements are unacceptable.  But no American president has dared take any action on the issue, and so far as I know, no administration has even publically referred to them as violations of international law.  Instead they are “obstacles to peace” or some such euphemism, despite the fact that as a High Contracting Party America is legally bound to “ensure respect” for the Fourth Geneva Convention, which the settlements blatantly violate.

The self-serving and perfectly silly arguments of the Levy Report are designed to satisfy the all-important settler block in the present extremist Likud coalition, but what are the wider implications if this position becomes the official policy of the Israeli state?  This would essentially amount to an annexation of the West Bank, and while the US has pretty much turned a blind eye to the annexation of the Golan Heights and east Jerusalem, this would be very different and disastrous for Israel and perhaps the US.

Annexing the West Bank, even if the word “annex” is avoided, would certainly create a crisis for Israel, which would be faced with only two options.  Israel could enfranchise the 2.3 million Palestinians who live there, but that would be the end of Israel as a Jewish state and is inconceivable.  The alternative is to create (or formalize what is already the case) an apartheid system, which would be the end of Israel as a democratic state.  The second solution would appeal to many religious fanatics, but it would mean the end of US support and the complete isolation of Israel unless it chooses to ally with blatantly undemocratic states like Russia and China.

Well, it would probably mean the end of American support.  American politicians of both parties have a very well established tradition of prostrating themselves before Israel for reasons that are actually becoming less compelling as relentlessly liberal American Jews reconsider their unqualified support of an increasingly illiberal and sometimes outright intolerant Israel.  Israel has become so imbedded in our political arena and its excesses so constantly ignored that it is not a certainty that American politicians, especially evangelically inclined conservatives, would actually abandon it.

We have been quite willing to call Israel a model democracy in the Middle East despite the clear evidence that Palestinian citizens are not just treated as second class but are actually legally disabled.  And in the eyes of many Americans every Arab is suspicious anyway, and the Palestinians have always been terrorists, right?  That Palestinians would be treated as American Blacks were before the civil rights legislation or as South African Blacks were under the apartheid government would clearly be no problem for many conservative Americans.  Yes, we finally severed relations with South Africa, but this is different.  Israel is vital to American security (at least that is what we have been told for a half century) and in any case this is the land the Bible says is special, the land where Jesus walked and where the end of days will take place.  Would Rick Santorum or Michele Bachmann be bothered by any of this?

Many conservatives in Israel are not bothered.  Dani Dayan, head of the Yesha party, has just argued in the NY Times that because Arabs have called for the destruction of Israel and because the West Bank was the heart of ancient Israel, it is not just reasonable but actually moral for Israel to acquire this territory.  Think of it as Judea and Samaria rather than Palestine and you will see the moral imperative to annex.  American evangelicals, who seem to have an incredible capacity for ignoring the truth, especially when religion is involved, would surely endorse this idea, particularly since it involves not just their religion but also national security, which for some has become a quasi-religious concept.

To be sure, because of its unqualified support for Israel and Arab dictators and monarchs, its massive military presence in the Middle East and its expanding program of assassination by drone, America already has little credibility in the Arab world.  But accepting an apartheid Israel would surely end our credibility as leader of the democratic world and spoil our relationship with Europe, whose politicians (even in Germany) are not pathetically subservient to the interests of Israel.

For an historian this is of course all fascinating stuff, but for an American, especially one already concerned about the road we are taking, this is scarey stuff.

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An Evangelical Christmas (for Bachmann, Perry, Santorum and their Desert Shepherd God)

SET: fairly stark living room; a fireplace, an end table with a nativity crèche and Bible; on the wall a light switch, a cross, a standard tacky American Protestant portrait of Jesus and some framed homily like “God Bless This Home.”  Initially dimly lit (enough to make out characters) by a night light.

CHARACTERS:

SANTA CLAUS in traditional garb with sack

REVEREND in pajamas and robe

 

 

(Enter SANTA through fireplace with some difficulty and obvious effort; looks around in some confusion)

SANTA   This is the right address, isn’t it?  Now, where’s my book?  (searching about himself)

(Enter REVEREND with shotgun from side; takes up position near table facing SANTA)

REVEREND   (fumbling for light switch) Hands up or I’ll shoot!  What are you doing in my house?  Stealing?

SANTA   (putting up his hands in mock alarm)  Stealing?!  Ho, ho, ho.  Quite the opposite, good man, quite the opposite.  But where’s your Christmas tree?

REVEREND   Tree?!  Pagan rites and blasphemy!  (finally finds the switch and turns on the light; surprised, he drops the gun and picks up the Bible)  You!  Spawn of Satan!

SANTA   (lowering his arms)  Well, spawn of Mr. and Mrs. Johann Claus actually.

REVEREND   Do not try to ensnare me with your lies, Evil One.  Get thee behind me!

(SANTA starts to move around REVEREND to get behind him, but stops when REVEREND holds the Bible out before him)

REVEREND   Stop!  You are helpless before the Holy Writ, and Jesus resists you as effortlessly as he did by the waters of Galilee.  The signs of evil are manifest to the eyes of the righteous.

SANTA   The signs?

REVEREND   Do not play the innocent with me.  Do you not wear the suit of scarlet, the color of the Devil, the hue of revolution, communism and godlessness, the evil red of spilled blood and violence?

SANTA   (looking at himself)  I always thought it was merry.

REVEREND   Do you not possess the bloated body of the glutton?  Are you not a helpless slave of the flesh?

SANTA   (patting his belly and chuckling)  Perhaps I do carry a few extra pounds, but it’s come to be part of the image – “shakes like a bowlful of jelly” and all that.  And the table set by Mrs. Claus.

REVEREND   Bride of evil!  Whore of Babylon!

SANTA   Now wait a minute.  Mrs. Claus has never even been to the Middle East, and…

REVEREND   Of course she never leaves your vile palace.  She is the concubine of the Devil, barren and loathing the company of good women.  She shuns the light…like you, whom no man has seen abroad in the bright sun of the day.

SANTA   Well, it’s true that I work at night, and in any case it’s usually too cold at the North Pole for me and the missus to want to go out.

REVEREND   (contemptuously)  North Pole, you say?  In truth it is Hell wherein you dwell, the frozen waste that is devoid of light and warmth, that is the lowest circle of perdition.  Even heathens, deprived of the Word, have recognized Hell for what it is, a darkling plain of ice and cold and hopelessness.  And there you rule, served by your demons.

SANTA   (taking a seat on his bag and pulling out a traditional long white clay pipe)  Demons, you say?

REVEREND   Your evil minions.  Your elves.  The stunted misshapen creatures you have fabricated to toil in your workshops of greed and temptation.  (he strikes a match to light his pipe)

REVEREND   (holding up his arms)  In the name of Jesus, I command you to stop!

SANTA   Oops, sorry.  (he puts out the match)  I forgot I was in the United States.

REVEREND   You’ll not frighten those of God with your fire and brimstone, Sandy Claws.

SANTA   That’s Claus, Santa Claus.  Or old St. Nick, if you will.

REVEREND   (even more animated)  Behold, before the righteous he cannot but reveal his true name – Old Nick!  You are indeed the Beast, the Evil One who seeks to set his claws in the innocent and to corrupt, especially the children.

SANTA   I bring gifts to the children…

REVEREND   You fly through the night with your enchanted animals, sneaking into the houses of Christian folk and tempting our children to sin with the toys created by your demons.

SANTA   Not at all.  I judge who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, and then I…

REVEREND   (pointing at SANTA, triumphant)  You admit it then, you are the fallen angel!  You usurp the power of God, the power to decide good and evil!  You dare to judge peoples’ lives, to approve and condemn our deeds, a power that is God’s alone…  (he is interrupted by a stomping sound from the roof)

SANTA   (looking up)  Hold your water, Blitzen.  (rises and looks at REVEREND, speaking patiently)  It appears that you have never recognized the true spirit of Christmas.

REVEREND   (almost raving)  Christmas!  What blasphemy!  Celebrating the birth of the Savior with Mammon, with trees and logs and mistletoe, with greed and gluttony.  What have these to do with the Christ?  Sweet Jesus, the heathen Japanese even practice your foul rites.

SANTA   (gently)  Let me give you a gift.  (he pulls a toy train out of his bag)

REVEREND   (with a bitter laugh, but his eyes are riveted on the train)  You seek to tempt me with a child’s plaything?!  A toy made by demons?

SANTA   Oh, it’s the perfect present for you.

REVEREND   (his voice and demeanor are becoming softer, hesitation and doubt become apparent)  But I am become a man clothed in righteousness and serve the Lord.  I…I need no such silly amusements.  I have long ago put aside childish ways.

SANTA   Maybe that’s the problem.  (extending the train to Reverend, who follows it with his eyes and begins to reach for it)  Go ahead.  Take it.  It’s for you.

(REVEREND hesitates, looking sheepish and beginning to grin; with wide eyes and a big smile he finally, quickly snatches the train and goes down on his knees to play with it on the floor, making appropriate noises)

SANTA (watches for moment, smiling) Merry Christmas, then.

(SANTA picks up his bag and turns toward the fireplace, sizes it up, muttering, then turns back to REVEREND, who is completely absorbed in his playing)

SANTA   Hey, sonny, where’s the front door?

(not even looking up, REVEREND points off stage and SANTA exits; fade to black)