Sunday, March 01, 2009

Translation of my "Dance of Death: 'Waltz with Bashir' and Sympathy for the Killer

Phar kindly translated from Arabic my critique of Waltz with Bashir: Dance of Death: 'Waltz with Bashir' and Sympathy for the Killer"

"The film "Waltzing with Bashir" is being shown in some cities here in America. I didn't want to see it on the big screen so I didn't have to hear the "oohs and ahhs" of the sympathetic liberal crowd of—for example—Berkeley. More importantly, I didn't want to pay one penny to an Israeli company. I have to say, after I went to see Steven Spielburg's "Munich" with a leftist friend, I no longer saw her, except rarely. When the film ended, I wanted to go very far away from her, toward Anatolia. She tried to persuade me that Mr. Spielburg was a just man, that the film wasn't biased against Arabs like others of its ilk from Hollywood. Do you want me to be happy just because we are depicted as half-human as opposed to animals? Have you read the memoirs of Abu Daoud [leader of the Black September group] before debating me? Is Spielburg aware that the Munich action came not from the [Palestinian] leadership but from the base, whose blood was boiling because of the on-going Israeli attacks on the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon at the time? I spoke quickly, and my voice was raised and tense, and she thought she would calm my nerves. Who told her I wanted to be calmed? At the time of the Munich action, the Lebanese Army was under the shadow of…the Lebanese Army, and some of them got in touch with the Israeli enemy at that time, as Arab investigators have mentioned. Which is to say that some of the army was in the shadow of the enemy. I became angry with my friend, and the film came between us. I didn't want to repeat it this time with anyone. I wanted to keep the anger and vituperation to myself. A friend thankfully came to me with a copy of the film from China (you can seek new films from China—long live piracy!). Some of us still boycott the usurping entity and the film is sponsored by Israeli embassies around the world, as the Guardian newspaper mentions, and it receives support from foundations of the enemy country while Tarek Mitri [Lebanon's Minister of Culture] mocks the boycott.
But, I told my self, watching the film in an American theater would still be less painful than watching it in Beirut with a bunch of 14th of March intellectuals. I imagined them struggling to detect the human side of everything that issues forth from the enemy: these people—these liberals of Wahabiism, you know the type—try to convince Arab public opinion that everything that comes from the Israeli enemy—bombs, missiles, poems, songs, statements, insults, racism, hate—implies to some extent liberalism, humanism and a refined culture. They attempt in various and sundry ways to breathe into the enemy even the hint, the chimera of moderation and justice. These people who make comparisons, welcoming the fascism of the enemy, and say to you that there are alternatives even more extremist than what you see, or that their extremism stems from our extremism, as pronounced by Hazem Saghié (the "intellectual" guide of Saad and Nader Hariri), and repeated by Gisele Khoury (who interrupted Abu Ala` in an angry encounter and informed him that it's not true that America always defends Israel. She "informed" him that Clinton put pressure on Netanyahu and even participated in his ousting). These people hang on the words of Amos Oz in order to convince Arab public opinion of the need for reconciliation with Israel. And when Oz goes silent, or when he speaks approvingly of killing and massacres, they remind you of that incomparable demonstration after the massacres of Sabra & Shatila, omitting the fact that the demonstration occurred for reasons relating solely to the Israeli elections, with no relationship to our victims of the massacres. These people await the stage entry of just one ashamed Israeli opposition figure so they can shout: "Look at Israeli democracy! Wow!"
But, fortunately, I didn't watch the film with these people, nor did I attend the film in Beirut in the presence of a Haaretz correspondent, as the paper recounted. The film, from its intellectual inception, reminds one of that painting of Renoir's titled "The Mosque", which I refer to as "The Bloc" (not to be confused with "The Middle Bloc" that the Maronite patriarch blesses, having been warned about the interference of religion in politics). In Renoir's painting appear vague, indistinct figures, suggesting the muslim gathering for prayer. They are embodied by the ghost of Orientalism, where personal Arab or Muslim individuality is denied. They—the epistemological separation between us and them is a main part of the idea of Orientalism, as Edward Said made clear in the book "Orientalism"—are always human masses, crowded together with no boundaries between them. They call it "The Arab Street." And this collective depiction serves to facilitate strikes against Arab and Muslim masses, as well as their torture, bombing, murder and colonization. There is no individuality for us in Renoir's painting, nor in the film "Waltzing with Bashir." The Arabs (whether victims or casualties or "terrorists") pass through the film, presented as a mass without individuality or personality. They pass across the screen without speaking or appearing individually. They cross into view only fleetingly in order that the viewer won't sense them and so as not to make a relationship between them and the viewer. Compare this to the viewer of the Israeli soldiers who don't appear except as individuals.
The film strives, as always happens in the liberal Zionist media, to introduce, up close, every soldier who appears in the film. You see the soldier as a child, helping his mother in the kitchen, you see him with his sweetheart, you see him sea-sick and vomiting, and there is nothing but for the viewer to lament and sympathize with the suffering Israeli murderer. There is a particular school in the Zionist Left that expresses its displeasure—nay, more—that some of the practices of Israeli wars and various aspects of the occupation are detrimental to "the Israeli spirit" or "the psychology of soldier." In other words, for some of these people—like the thousands who demonstrated after the massacres of Sabra & Shatila—opposition to the slaughter came not out of sympathy with the victims or consciousness of the disaster that befell them, but out of support for the national (and, for some, even religious) fighting élan of the colonialist army. The humanization of the murderer and sympathy for him are both the flip side of the dehumanization of the Palestinian Other, for he is not a complete person in their view. Read Zionist literature from the beginning to find in their representation—if they were there at all—backward peasants or lowly bedouins or nondescript refugees without citizenship, later transformed into "saboteurs" (and this is the same name that the Phalangist "Voice of Lebanon" radio used in the course of the war) in the 1960s, until Zionist propaganda finally settled upon the description "terrorist". The film doesn't deviate from the formula, even with regard to that splendid boy when he fires an RPG launcher in the face of the occupier.
But, the (im)moral standard of the film is evident from the beginning when the narrator suffers from nightmares because he killed some dogs in South Lebanon. And in another scene, an Israeli soldier bemoans the plight of the horses in Beirut's hippodrome, for the animals are more valuable than the Arab according to a racial hierarchy that doesn't differ in its essentials from Nazi hierarchy. There is a liberal American organization—which has been utterly indifferent to the lives of the people of Palestine—that ran a campaign to care for the animals in Gaza. The Arab and the Muslim in the liberal standard of the white man is of a lower rank than the animal. The Western viewer will sympathize with the Israeli soldier because he seemed the most affected by the killing of animals at the hands of the Arabs in the devastation of 1982.
And then there is the most important thing. Why the Zionist focus on the massacre of Sabra & Shatila and not all the other massacres the Israeli aggressor committed in 1982, when it killed close to 20,000 Palestinians and Lebanese, most of whom were civilians? The reason is clear, and it has no connection to the atrocities the Lebanese forces committed among the massacres that fill any history of the Lebanese civil war. Israel wants, in its propaganda focus on Sabra & Shatila to the exclusion of others, to evade—not to assume—responsibility. And this is what Folman means in the propaganda hype for the film when he says, "Israeli soldiers had nothing to do with that massacre," so Israel chose a massacre that was committed at the hands of its allies to remain at a distance from responsibility. Israel (and the film) wants to say that it did not carry out these heinous acts, even though Israel in the 1982 invasion killed many times the number of victims of that despicable massacre. The facile clichés of racial hatred are parroted over and over: that the Arabs kill in defense of "honor" and as a "show of force", as if vengeance were not a quality of Zionism. Bashir Gemayel and his wife who fixed Lebanese meals for Ariel Sharon did not understand that, despite their claim to be "Phoenician", Zionists look at them as Arabs, willy-nilly, no matter how much they pretended and no matter how much Amine Gemayel tried to appear sophisticated. The film passes over the breadth of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, intentionally omitting a number of stubborn facts. The film doesn't want to mention, for instance, that Israel did not dare invade Beirut until after the elite fighters of the powerful Palestinian resistance were evacuated, and after the enemy [Israel] put thousands of women and children in concentration camps. But the film revealed what was hidden: that the soldiers of occupation were afraid of us. The boys in the camp of Ein el-Hilweh in Rashidiyah scared them. It can be said that we fell for the propaganda trick of 1948 to 2006. No one denies (except Wahhabi or Zionist propaganda—and they are allies these days) that the 2006 war put an end for eternity to the largest strategic component in the arsenal of the enemy: the power to intimidate and to sow the illusion of fearlessness on their own side. And if this component wasn't eliminated, then why did the aggression on Gaza develop along the course they did, without a settlement in the enemy's advantage? As the ideological defender of the Israeli soldier says: service in the army became a function of making a living. And for us, the opposite happened: the fighting is no longer done by people who practice it professionally to earn money, but rather by courageous volunteers and adherents to conviction (which appears as religious doctrine these days).
And when you see the film, you should remember that painful time. Watch it in fury. I found myself scrutinizing the drawings of the enemy soldiers' faces and asking myself: did I see one of these when I took refuge in the town of el-Qalila near Tyre in summer 1982? Did one of them stop me at their checkpoint? Did one of these participate in our morning assembly in the plaza of el-Qalila in order to isolate the "terrorists" among us, based on the suggestions of masked informants? And I found myself following the film in anger and rage as it attempted to re-write that era. Why didn't the national movement deal early on with the emergence of the Phalange, which flourished since the 1950s (according to Hebrew sources) under the protection of the state of Israel? Why didn't the Palestinian left and the non-Arafat wing of the Fatah movement deal with Yasser Arafat who did the impossible, to thwart the possibilities for the Lebanese and Palestinian revolution? It was possible to establish an effective resistance in South Lebanon in 1978 after the first invasion. At the time, the Iraqi [Marxist] Hashim Mohsin Ali set out to launch (and name) the Popular Resistance Front for the Liberation of Lebanon from the Occupation and Fascism, and he got in touch with Mohsin Ibrahim and George Hawi, but Arafat (who sponsored both) refused. He preferred to use Lebanon to negotiate the formation of the resistance factions. Thus, Arafat's military appointments, such as Haj Ismail and Abu Zaim, were not without design. He planted corrupt people to thwart the resistance.
It is painful to watch the film for those who can distinguish landmarks and streets and gardens. What are they doing on our land? The film wants you to sympathize with soldiers of the occupation and to forget that the occupiers of Palestine walk and wander in panicked fear on the occupied land of others. It is the occupation repeated and doubled. The film wants us to accept their occupation and feel only the pain of the witness to the murder of Palestinians at the hands of gangs from the Lebanese forces who arose and flourished and grew by a decision from Israel. But this Israeli insistence on separating the army of occupation from the forces of one Israeli man in Lebanon represents an evasion of direct responsibility for the invasion. Watch the film and remember that era and let the politicians of Lebanon run before your eyes. Remember those who collaborated with the occupation in those days. Bashir Gemayal was being threatened by Israeli forces but he was not destined to harvest the fruits of the hostility he fostered. And Samir Ja`ja` (Ga`ga` in Egyptian accent), leader of these gangs who slaughtered in Sabra & Shatila, is today looked to in the subject of Lebanon's defense strategy. As for Solange [Gemayel], who told Sharon and his wife that she wanted them to be her first guest in the presidential palace in Baabda, she brought a hateful quartet alliance to the Lebanese parliament. And one of the leaders of the gangs in the Sabra & Shatila massacres (who, like Ja`ja`, received training and guidance from Israel), Elie Hobeika, transformed by Rafik Hariri and the Syrian regime and their allies into national leaders. And then there is Johnny Abdo, close companion since the early years of Rafiq Hariri, as recounted by Heikal and Abdullah AbuHabib. The smiling Johnny Abdo, who hosted Ariel Sharon in his home, when he was asked if army intelligence was during his time sending car bombs to West Beirut, replied that he would neither confirm nor deny. Hariri wanted to appoint him President, but before he ended up President, he was receiving (as Hassan Sabra recently reported) monthly payments of $350,000 (the builder of the modern state began construction by bribing the President of the Republic of Lebanon). The period of the Israeli invasion didn't erase the memory of anyone who lived through it. Remember its details and preludes. How Lebanon's little Hitler, Bashir Gemayel, made use of Israel to threaten his enemies among the Lebanese. When Bashir Gemayel learned of the order for Israel's aggression—before anyone heard of "Shlomo Argov"—he summoned the [Lebanese state TV] anchor Arafat Hejazi to speak about the threat of "the decision". After the end of filming, Gemayel persisted in loading Hejazi—as he told me later—with vulgar, obscene insults for [Prime Minister] Safik Wazzan, although he was an obedient tool in the hands of Elias Sarkis and Amin Gemayel after him. It is true that a number of militias committed the massacre, but the crimes of the Lebanese Forces were larger than the others 1) because they started the ethnic and sectarian cleansing, 2) they started the practice of killing based on [sectarian] identity, 3) they maintained relations with Israel since the 1950s, 4) they prepared for war and set it ablaze and insisted on its continuation and 5) they attempted to import the model of fascism—a Nazi regime in the land of cedar and oak. But all the ambitious projects were shattered on the rocks of their own factionalism. And the arms of the boys in the Ein el-Hilweh camp started a journey that has not ended. They allowed the extinction of the model of reckless military corruption that Arafat oversaw, and initiated actions of resistance against Israel since its formation.
The film doesn't want to speak of history. It doesn't want to speak of suffering. Even when Zionist liberals touch upon suffering, they mean the suffering of the murderers. The nightmares of occupation soldiers are more important than the suffering of the victims of Sabra & Shatila. The soldiers speak of only their suffering, and don't allow Arab victims to speak about their own suffering. The nightmares of occupation soldiers were more horrible than the killing of children in brutal Israeli bombardment before and after Sabra & Shatila.
The film will win a number of awards. And the director will dialogue with a number of Arab liberals and will probably sign a document with Yasser Abed Rabbo in order to forget the past and enter into peace for Israel. And the prattling elites of the Saudi media will honor the film and consider it the pinnacle of human refinement. The film has been written about in Lebanon as though the events it portrays were takng place somewhere besides Lebanon. No one was in a hurry to say that the militia that committed the massacre in Sabra & Shatila is participating in the government with resistance factions in Lebanon. And unfortunately, there are those who want to convince us that the enemy is merciful and benevolent, and the demand for a return to truce agreement is a (il)logical concession, that Israel is but a gentle lamb in our land. And there is the rushing to judgement about the film and hastening to the opinion that director Folman is a "resistance fighter" who condemns Israel's wars. He did no such thing—on the contrary, he depicted Israeli officers interfering to stop the massacres, as though the invasion of Lebanon that year included but one massacre. Bashir Habib writes in a Hariri publication that the film is a "bold and courageous act". Satia Nur ad-Din was among the few Arab authors who expressed skepticism of the film's propaganda about itself and about the alleged courage of the director.
But Lebanon has closed the book from that era and Israel's enemies in Lebanon proceed to impose a design to establish an entity alligned with the jewish state. Those of us who see the film return in memory to a slogan buried by time after the massacre of Ein el-Rammanah: the slogan "isolation of the Phalange" that was appropriate from its first application, and Kamal Jumblatt was killed because he was convinced—after all—of the benefit of the decisive military option with the Phalanges. But Yasser Arafat and the Syrian regime did not want the military option, and the lack of recourse to the military option that spring postponed the end of the Lebanese civil war and let pass a historical opportunity to establish a secular democratic system (a real one, not the Hariri version more befitting Saudi Arabia) in the heart of the Arab world. If the latter had been achieved, it would have been possible for Lebanon to counter the Israeli aggressions that continued daily since 1948, and Lebanon's borders would have offered much greater resistance.
The Lebanese minister of culture—and he dreams of becoming Hariri's higher censor of the Lebanese media—scoffs at the idea of the boycott of Israel, and said in a statement to foreign press that one can maybe watch the film on the internet. Despite Mitri's knowledge of the existence of the internet—and this is a good thing—the notion of the boycott is a principled notion—perhaps the notion of principleness defies the comprehension abilitities of the Lebanese minister of culture—and an economic one as well. Surely, allowing the film to be presented will accrue financial profits to an Israeli company that will promote—with the minister's knowledge or his ignorance—Zionist standards. In the mud of the electoral battle in Israel, Ehud Barak rebuked his opponent Lieberman for not having killed—as he himself had—Arabs with his own hands. Is Tarek Mitri in need of a lesson in the history of Zionism to understand the reason for Arab public opinion's deep belief in the need for the boycott, at the very least? Or is it that a condition of Lebanon's entry into the World Trade Organization (which preoccupied Rafik Hariri) is the complete renunciation of the boycott?"