Friday, July 21, 2006

An Open Letter to Amos Oz

Every so often someone posts a reply in the comments section that I feel should be read by every reader that comes here.

This comment came in reply to a post in which the Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, whilst talking about the fact that a British jury had found the IDF guilty of deliberately shooting 22 year old British peace activist Tom Hurdnall, quoted the work of Amos Oz.

He contended that the slaughter of six million Jews by the Nazis in the Holocaust - they included many members of my own family - must not be used as justification for the oppression of the Palestinians by the Israelis.
The person who wrote to the comments section, Cecilia Lucas, pointed out that Amos Oz has since changed his position and included a letter that she has sent to him questioning his logic.

Her letter follows:
An Open Letter to Amos Oz

July 20, 2006

To Amos Oz:

On Monday, July 17, I attended a rally outside of the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco, organized by Jews for a Free Palestine, Break the Silence and Jewish Voice for Peace, which has Jewish American and Israeli members. While it may be true that some participants in “the Israeli peace movement” have become less vocal in their criticisms of Israel over the past 8 days, it is certainly not the case, as the title of your July 19 LA Times article declares, that “Hezbollah Attacks Unite Israelis.” Yes, “this time,” too, there are voices of outrage by Israeli peace activists desperately trying to be heard. But I am not writing this to quibble with you over that point. We should not only be looking to voices of Israelis to bolster up our protest of Israel’s indescribably horrific, criminal acts.

I am writing because I left that rally sobbing and nauseous and frustrated. Frustrated at the similarities between the ways the protesters on both sides of the street were using our voices. If I could erase the images of bombed bodies and cities from my eyes, the sounds of sirens and explosions from my ears, I might have found the parallel chants comical. “Hey, hey, ho, ho, the occupation’s go to go!” “Ho, ho, hey, hey, Israel is here to stay!” But living as far away as I am from the attacks, I have a responsibility to keep those images and sounds in the forefront of my consciousness and conscience, lest it become far, far too easy to go about my daily “business as usual,” pausing occasionally to watch the “spectacle” on the nightly news while I “munch popcorn.” These are actions you described, Amos Oz, in a beautiful essay you wrote in 1987. The essay is called “Hebrew Melodies” and is part of a collection titled The Slopes of Lebanon. I found your book the day after the rally as I was searching desperately for voices that, in tune with the human consequences of military actions, strive to protest not just in content but also in form. Not just by screaming but by also helping us to look closer, to look deeper, to connect, to be moved.

I spent a few hours typing your essay into a Word document and sending it to everyone I know. Imagine my surprise and sadness to wake up the next morning and discover that while I was sending your words through cyberspace to my miniscule audience, you were publishing new, deeply disappointing, words to be read by millions. While many of us do not agree with all of what you have had to say over the years, your voice is trusted across the political spectrum as someone who does not write from knee-jerk ideological perspectives. There is a lot of power and potential in that -- and so I am begging you to re-visit the words you wrote almost 20 years ago and to use your voice again in that vein. I am shocked by the coldness of the LA Times article.

In “Hebrew Melodies” you discuss the amnesia that came in the wake of the 1982 war on Lebanon. You now say that the current attacks are taking place under completely different circumstances than those of 1982. In responding to the article you wrote yesterday I would like to remind you of some of your own words that, to me, are actually frighteningly relevant for today.

“The guilt for Lebanon lies not with Begin alone, and certainly not just with Eitan and Sharon, who carried out his orders (or carried out his orders and then some). We will have to grit our teeth and admit that this war was a war of the people. The people wanted it and the people (most of them) supported it, took pleasure in it, and hated the handful who were opposed. At least that is how it was until the war got “bogged down”…There are times when I forget a little, when I try to persuade myself that the “people” learned a lesson, that they have learned—the hard way—the limits of power, that there’s a catch in a philosophy based on violence. There are times when I think that “it” can’t happen again.”

It is happening. This time, you have joined “the people” and are using your powerful voice to convince us that this is a different “it.” That this is a justified war, a war of self-defense. Of course, as you described in 1987, there were voices in 1982 trying to convince us of the same. What will it take, Amos Oz, for this war in 2006 to be considered “bogged down”? Are 300-and-counting dead civilians not enough? Do we need another BBC report on Phalangist slaughter? Do we need more anti-war activists to be murdered? Do we need the dead body count to rise into the tens of thousands until you and all those who stand “united” behind Israel (regardless of their nationality) can see the obscene destruction of Lebanon and its inhabitants as an extraordinarily exaggerated escalation of violence?

“It is time to go back to the beginning—the beginning of the war.”

In 1982, Shlomo Argov, the Israeli ambassador to Great Britain, was shot. Israel took advantage of this event to launch a full-scale attack on the PLO, to take place on Lebanese soil. Hezbollah was born. In 2006, four Israeli civilians were wounded and two Israeli soldiers were captured. Israel took advantage of this event to launch a full-scale attack on Hezbollah. In 1982, Begin spoke of the advantages of “a war of choice,” a stance you found despicable. In 2006, Olmert is speaking of “a war of self-defense”. So are you. Your essay, “Hebrew Melodies,” provides great insight as to the perceived difference you are claiming between these wars. In 1987 you wrote:

“Missing [from the 1982 war as opposed to the wars of 1956, 1967 and 1973] is the fear that the war may descend upon our own red-tiled roofs here at the kibbutz. Unlike earlier wars, no one bothers to clean out the bomb shelters or to reinforce the windowpanes with strips of masking tape, to wash the heavy blackout curtains or to make up a duty roster for the infirmary… The results of this war are clear from the outset, and, in any event, not one sliver from it will reach us here. The whole war will be taking place in another country, and may Allah have mercy on them… This time Israel will have a war deluxe…this time it’s not the whole nation that is at war; it is just the army, the government, and the newspapers.”

In 2006, this is not the case. Although Hezbollah is not nearly as powerful as Israel (or, if it is, it is not abusing its power to nearly as great an extent), it is managing to bring some of the effects of war onto Israeli soil. This makes it much easier for Israel to gain support for its claims that it is acting in self-defense, a legitimacy that it needs all the more after the international shame of the Lebanon War of 1982.

Beginnings are a tricky matter. Where you choose to start your tale can drastically change the story, even without changing any of the other established facts. Much happened between 1982 and 2006 that neither you nor the Israeli government are talking about as you try to hold on to waning world support while the violence continues to escalate and hundreds of thousands of people are made homeless refugees. (I have to ask again, is this not yet “bogged down” enough for you?) South Lebanon was illegally occupied from 1982 to 2000, enabling Israel to exploit Lebanese resources, most notably water. (In 1987, you wrote about your friend A. who in 1982 suggested that “maybe we should keep everything up to the Litani, so we’ll have enough water for our country.”) To this day there are hundreds of thousands of land mines planted by Israel in Lebanese soil, the locations of which they refuse to disclose so that they might be deactivated. In 2004, there was a prisoner exchange. There could have been one in 2006. Do you really think, Amos Oz, that in the absence of the trigger event being pointed to for justification of Israel’s terrifying acts another one would not have been found?

Sometimes I find myself thinking/saying, “while I understand people who are, I am not sympathetic to Hezbollah’s methods.” But then I think perhaps that is because I am not living in Lebanon. Perhaps that is because it is unimaginable to me what it is like to live in a war zone, in a constant state of terror, homeless, family and friends dying every day, the world around me literally crumbling to the ground. Perhaps then I, too, would feel a surge of hope at a group not willing to back down when Israel lets its muscle be felt. It’s easy from afar to sum the moral of the story up in a paternalistic, moralistic sigh: “Now, now, Hezbollah. I know Israel is being monstrous, but you should know better than to provoke a lightly sleeping monster.” And perhaps it is because Israel has not been able to keep this war entirely off of its roofs that you, too, are finding yourself in a state of terror. Perhaps this is why you have forgotten what you learned in 1982. I have lived a privileged life: I have never felt tremors greater than those of the San Andreas fault. But I agree with you on one thing you wrote in the LA Times: “there can be no moral equation between Hezbollah and Israel.” Both sides have and continue to destroy and to terrorize. And while it is always a tragic set of circumstances when one is led to compare atrocities, those committed by Israel and Hezbollah are, in fact, not equal. Not at all. Israel has much more military might (not least because of money, missiles and political backing provided by the United States) and has caused much more human (including civilian), property and environmental destruction.

In 1987, you wrote: “The entire population of Sidon—men, women, and children—was ordered to leave their houses and to assemble at the seashore. Air force planes were sent, wave after wave, to bomb the firing sites in the Rashidiyeh and Ein-al-Hilwah refugee camps and Sidon itself. The trouble was that those gun emplacements happened to be in the midst of densely populated side streets, and thousands suffered death and destruction. (“Well, who told those bastards to hide behind old women and children?”).” Now it is you who are claiming--without any of the outraged sarcasm that dripped on the page printed in 1987--that “Hezbollah missile launchers are too often using Lebanese civilians as human sandbags.”

In 1987, you spoke of a young man whose name you had forgotten but whose words had stayed with you. Do you still remember yourself remembering his words, Amos Oz? They are powerful:

He said that there was going to be a blitzkrieg in Lebanon and, as a result of the quick and easy victory, Lebanon would become West Bank Number 2. First they’d occupy half of Lebanon to prevent Katyusha attacks. Then they’d say there was no one to give it back to because there was no one to talk to. Later, they would say that perhaps there was someone to talk to, but that without a stable and durable peace we will return nothing. Whereupon they would say: What’s the noise all about? What occupiers are you talking about? What occupation? Why, all we did was liberate the biblical portion of the tribe of Asher. And then a squad of rabbis would be sent to renovate the ruins of an ancient synagogue in Nabatiyah or a Jewish cemetery in Sidon. After that, a settler’s group from Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful) will set up house there in order to pray at the grave of Queen Jezebel. And then lands will be expropriated for military maneuvers and installations. These lands will be held by paramilitary settlement groups with such names as Cedar Trees and Leaders, to prevent incursions by local fellaheen into restricted military areas. These settlements would support themselves by growing cherries for export, and when they were handed over to civilian authorities they would live on tourism and skiing in the snowy Lebanese mountains. The centrist United Kibbutz movement would refuse, at first, to set up kibbutzim north of the generally accepted boundary, the “Katyusha range,” along the Litani River. The Ha Shomer Hatzair Kibbutz Movement would agree to settle only within a “cosmetic distance” of several hundred meters from the old border. In the early years, only Gush Emunim followers would settle north of the Litani. The rabbinate would decree that the Bible forbids us to turn our ancestral inheritance over to the Gentiles, and that decision will receive wide support because this ancestral inheritance also happens to be very important for defense and very strategic as well as rich in water and arable land, which will gradually be expropriated. Apart from that, they will say that no one except ourselves has a historic right to Lebanon, which was, after all, the artificial creation of French imperialism and, when you get down to it, there is no such thing as a Lebanese people anyway: Lebanon already exists in Syria. Besides, the Arabs already have enough territory, and if they don’t like it, they can lump it and go back to their own countries. The upshot of all this will be that, twenty years later, the right will refuse to relinquish a single inch, while the left, taking a balanced, realistic stand, will propose a territorial compromise: annex only the territory up to the Litani and return the rest in exchange for a true, stable, and lasting peace with appropriate security arrangements. That’s what will happen.

It is now 20 years later, a good time to revisit that young man’s prophesy. I have some final questions for you, Amos Oz, as I try to remain as close as I can to these atrocities while sitting safely in the belly of a mighty empire. In places and times when the wail of the air-raid sirens is not drowning out all other sound, do you still hear the “old-time Hebrew melodies”? Do they still ring out as ambiguous “tribal codes,” causing you to wonder “what emotions…those cloying tunes [are] meant to arouse or to silence”? Do you still offer the answer “that we are beautiful, gentle people, righteous, pure, and sensitive, completely out of touch with our actions; that we will be forgiven because our pure and poetic hearts know nothing about the filth that is on our hands; that the evening scent of roses will come to perfume the stench of dead bodies that will pile up by the hundreds and thousands in the days to come”? Can you, today, in between (or far away from) the sounds of war hear the strains of “We love you, precious Homeland/ in joy, in song, and toil/ Down from the slopes of Lebanon to the shores of the Dead Sea/ We will rake your fields with plows…”?

I have been inspired by your own poetry, Amos Oz, and so I will end this letter with those words you wrote that inspire me, that I only just came to know a few days ago, almost 20 years after you first shared them with the world:

“among the victims of the Lebanon War was “the Land of Israel, small and brave, determined and righteous.” It died in Lebanon perhaps precisely because, in Lebanon, its back was not to the wall…After Lebanon, we can no longer ignore the monster, even when it is dormant, or half asleep, or when it peers out from behind the lunatic fringe. After Lebanon, we must not pretend that the monster dwells only in the offices of Meir Kahane; or only on General Sharon’s ranch, or only in Raful’s carpentry shop, or only in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. It dwells, drowsing, virtually everywhere, even in the folk-singing guts of our common myths. Even in our soul-melodies. We did not leave it behind in Lebanon, with the Hezbollah. It is here, among us, a part of us, like a shadow, in Hebron, in Gaza, in the slums and in the suburbs; in the kibbutzim and in my Lake Kinneret—“O Lake Kinneret mine, were you real or only a dream?...” That which you have done—whether it be only once in your life, in one moment of stupidity or in an outburst of anger—that which you were capable of doing—even if you have forgotten, or have chosen to forget, how and why you did it—that which you have done and regretted bitterly, you may never do again. But you are capable of doing it. You may do it. It is curled up inside you.”

Struggling against amnesia,
Cecilia Lucas
I wrote to Cecilia to seek her permission to reprint her letter here. She kindly agreed and asked that I also include information on how we can help with Lebanese refugees.
Organizations working with refugees in Lebanon:

1) In Saida, the Municipality is coordinating all efforts with the various
civil society organizations and all resources we are asking to go through
the municipality.

Intercontinental Bank of Lebanon, SAL
Saida Branch
Account no: 0100021820073492016
Account holder: Dr. Abdul Rahman Nazih Al-Bizri (Head of the Municipality)
Swift Code: -INLELBBE

2) Collective for Research and Training on Development - Action ( (Are working in Beirut but also coordinating with several
groups in the Saida and other areas).

1. Bank Address: Audi Bank SAL, Sodeco Branch, Sodeco, Beirut - Lebanon
2. Bank telephone number: + 961 1 612792
3. Bank fax number: + 961 1 612793
4. Post address: P.O.BOX: 11-2560, RIAD EL SOLH, 1107-2808, BEIRUT
5. Account Name: CRTD-A
6. Account number: 832593-461-002-044-01 (US$)
8. Name and address of corresponding US bank (in case needed):
Audi Bank -USA
USA Building
19 East 54th Street,
New York, N.Y 10022
Phone: +1 212 833 1000
Swift Code: AUS AUS 33

3) Helem, a progressive NGO which normally does sexual minority human rights
work and women's rights work (see,
has shifted its center to a refugee intake point, providing blankets, food,
etc for the refugees from the dahyieh and south Lebanon. Information is
below on how to donate both online through paypal or wire transfer. You can
contribute online using PAYAPL at or you can
send payments to the accounts below
Credit Libanais S.A.L Beyrouth
Agence Sassine
Client Name: Al Azzi Georges
Account number:
SGBL Hamra Branch
Client Name: CHIT Bassem
Account: 007.004.367.092.875.014

(4) Women's Humanitarian Organization

Bank of Beirut
Tarik Jdideh
Swift code# BABEL BBE
Account number :11 401 091280 01
Cecilia has also said that I should include her email address so that anyone who wishes to contact her may do so.

I do so here-

The Internet - man's greatest advance since the printing press. The difference is now we are ALL publisher's.


The Heretical Jew said...

The violence being perpatrated in Lebanon by the Israelis is nothing new.

Ever since the destruction of the second Temple we Jews have been exiled from our land. we had developed a identity as an eternal victum.This was solidified in the Holocaust. Do not get me wrong we were victums, but our long suffering made us forget what we can be.... how cruel we can be.

That all was reminded to us when we invaded Lebanon in the 90's.

When we left Egypt, and made conquest of the Holy Land we conquered city bu city...killing everyone..Men, Women, Children, and Livestock.

So what is so new?

Kel said...

It's simply shocking what's been shown on TV. The devastation of Beirut, the city Harari rebuilt is, in itself, an act of wanton destruction.

People should be prosecuted for this. Of course, they won't. But they should be.