The Current Moment: an Analysis and Analogy (Watch Out!)

The analysis of the current moment, looking forward, comes from Jeffrey Goldberg.

But about those Israeli doubts: For the typical Israeli (and again, I’m not talking about settlers, but about people who have, in the past, agreed in principle that the Palestinians should have an independent state) two events in particular have soured them on the chance for compromise. In 2000, the Israeli army pulled out of Lebanon. It was hoped that this pull-out would lead to peace on the northern border, but instead it led to rocket attacks by the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah. In 2005, Israel unilaterally pulled its soldiers and settlers out of Gaza. Again, rockets followed. The saving grace of these rockets attacks — both the Lebanon attacks and the Gaza attacks — was that the rockets did not reach the center of the country — Tel Aviv, as well as Israel’s only international airport, Ben-Gurion.

Now, of course, the peace process, such as it is, hinges in part on an Israeli willingness to withdraw from the West Bank, including the hills of the West Bank that overlook Tel Aviv, the airport, and the entire thickly-populated central region of the country. This withdrawal will not be happening anytime soon, because there is a high degree of certainty among Israelis that a withdrawal from the West Bank hills would be followed not by peaceful reconciliation, but, again, by rockets.  No Israeli wants to be a freier, a sucker, and right now the Israelis feel like suckers. Twice in ten years they’ve withdrawn from territory, and twice they’ve been hit by rockets. They are not doing this again, not until the politics of the Palestinians — and the politics of Iran — change dramatically.

So this is Prime Minister Netanyahu’s dilemma. He has said he agrees to the creation of a Palestinian state, but he knows his populace will not soon countenance the birth of a Palestinian state of the type and size the Palestinians demand. He also knows that Israel’s protector and benefactor, the United States, believes that the creation of this Palestinian state will help ameliorate other problems in the Middle East, especially the problem of Iran, while he believes the opposite, that only the neutralization of Iran (preferably by the Americans) and its proxies will lead to conditions in which it is possible for Israel to once again take risks for peace. So he has five main tasks over the next year: Stopping Israel from committing grievous, unforced errors of the sort we saw with the Turkish flotilla, despite the rising number of provocations emanating from the Hamas-friendly movement that seeks to delegitimize the idea of a Jewish state; continuing to pressure the world to confront Iran and its existential threat to Israel, so that he doesn’t have to do it by himself; creating a better life for Palestinians on the West Bank, all the while knowing that he will not be able to give them what they say they want; figuring a way out of the Gaza blockade morass that does not wind up rewarding Hamas; and all the while maintaining good relations with an American administration that wants Israel to do things right now that it can’t do.

This next period, in other words, is going to be among the most challenging in Israeli history.

And then I offer an analogy. As a reminder, here is what I have had to say of analogies. Still, and so, I offer it, with all provisos due as to its limited nature. I think it expresses a few essential truths.

In the days right around a landmark birthday, which I shall not, in fear and trembling, name, but which came after forty and, still, before sixty, I made my usual attendance at an exhibit opening at The Julia Dean Photo Workshops in Venice, California. Many of the usual suspects, friends and fellow photographers, were also there. Present, too, that night, amid the crowd, the wine, and the far tastier treats than those typically displayed at the typical gallery look-and-be-looked-at, was a man none of us had ever seen before. As the fun and chatter progressed through the evening, I was told a couple of times by male friends that the stranger was being just a little obnoxious with the women to whom he spoke, though they were all handling the offenses on their own.

As the evening came to a close, almost all who remained were those good friends who usually gathered in the back, at an event’s end, in Julia’s office, as well as, this time, the stranger. I was saying good night to a last guest in the gallery space when friend Derc informed me that still obnoxious stranger was refusing to get the message back in the office. I went back and kindly informed the stranger that we were closing for the night. He ignored me. I sternly told him that if he didn’t leave I would have to call the police, at which point he asked me how quickly I could get to the phone, grabbed my neck, and pushed me forcefully against the wall.

Derc – photographer, sonneteer, ex-bartender, Conradian journeyer of African rivers, wayward scion of mainline fortune, current Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala, friend indeed with a friend in need – leaped onto stranger, and with the force of our struggle, we all came toppling to the ground. There was much talk in the aftermath whether stranger was on a drug or off his meds, and which in either case, but he was that night, as we have all heard of, super strong, and Billy was needed to join the fray, as the three men who were no weaklings struggled with all their might to keep a single man down. For we had managed, there being three of us, to get him beneath us, but with very great effort, and it took all of the effort of three men to control him. He grunted and squirmed, snorted, attempting at every moment to throw us off. One of the gentle ladies behind us inquired whether she should call the police, to which I responded in the New York affirmative.

At every moment that any of the three friends would let up in his exertion, out of growing fatigue from the effort, the stranger would nearly throw him off and upend us all. Any one of us alone would have been defeated. Whenever we managed to reassert firmer physical control – we were all four now in a tangle, arms and legs splayed in a grappling mix across the floor –  we would tell the stranger that if he stopped struggling we would ease up on him. Always his response was rise up from the floor in fury, when we would have to wrestle again to bring him down. We could, of course, as some much rougher men than we are might have, more simply have beat him into submission, with broken lips and arms, battered eye sockets and blood spraying – and we would have had we needed to – but we did not. Once, in frustration and anger, one of us applied pressure to the stranger’s larynx, hoping to force him to subside in that way, but the other two of us warned him off that excess.

And so we remained until the police cars arrived.

In the aftermath, I announced to Julia that now, in light of the significant birthday pending or just passed (I forget which – a gift of the birthday), I was officially too old for street fights, and the period of my being impressed to serve as unofficial bouncer at Workshop events had come to an end. Now, many black-belted Shah, a prince among men, and most favored in my eyes among humans, protects us all with aplomb and authority.

It is true, however, despite my account of events, that when the police arrived- and if there had been no police? – the four men and their limbs were so bodily twisted together and intertwined that the officers had to stand above us asking whose arm was this, and whose leg that, unable, in the frozen image of conflict, to tell us apart.



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