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[Nettime-bold] Breyten Breytenbach's Open Letter to Sharon
Pam Sykes on Wed, 17 Apr 2002 10:15:02 +0200 (CEST)


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[Nettime-bold] Breyten Breytenbach's Open Letter to Sharon



**************

An Open Letter To General Ariel Sharon by Breyten Breytenbach

Paris, April 7, 2002

Sir,

    You don't know me. There's no reason why you should and little
cause for
you to listen to what somebody like myself may have to say. I don't
imagine
you have time to pay attention to views that do not correspond to your
own.
In fact, I'm convinced that you do not listen to anybody who doesn't
say
what you wish to hear. Should it interest you, I'm a writer born in
South
Africa now living and working abroad. For some time back there I also
grew
up among a "chosen people" who behaved as Herrenvolk--as all those who
believe themselves singularized by suffering or entrusted with a
special
mission from God. I apologize if my comparative allusion to Israel as
Herrenvolk hurts because of the echoes from a recent past when, in
Europe,
so many Jews were the victims of a "final solution." But how else is
one to
attempt describing the comportment of your armies when one is flooded
by the
horror of what you're doing? These rough equivalences don't come
lightly. As
a writer I'm deeply apprised of the need to keep the words uncluttered
of
any urge to rouse easy emotions. This is what facile comparisons
do--they
nullify understanding the complexity of the observed phenomena by a
rush of
outrage heating the throat and staining the adversary with the vomit
of
borrowed or vicarious condemnation. Apartheid was not Nazism, though
to say
so was a striking slogan. And the policies now perpetrated by Israeli
forces
on the Palestinian people should not be equated with Apartheid. Each
one of
these processes and systems is evil enough to merit a thorough
description
of its own historical singularity. And yet... There are similarities
and
differences: This blind competition, on both sides, to be recognized
as
more-victim-than-thou; cloaking atrocities in the "divine" right to
self-defense; the shameless manipulation of perceptions and the
mendacious
lying; the concomitant brutalization of your own society; the disdain
shown
for the humanity of the Palestinians--indeed, denying even the most
elementary humane treatment to a terrified and trapped civilian
population... It is all only too familiar. The underlying assumptions
informing your actions are racist. As was the case with the South
African
regime, the preferred methods by which you hope to subjugate the enemy
consist of force and bloodshed and humiliation. Cynically, you think
you can
get away with this as long as you play up to the supposed vital
interests of
the United States. I don't think you really care a Jaffa fig for
America's
interests. You probably despise them for being blinded by their own
material
crassness and their ignorance of the world. True, your
used-car-salesman
doppelgänger, Netanyahu, deploys this craft of crude propaganda
more
openly, as if he were a dirty finger tweaking the clitoris of a
swooning
American public opinion. But you too, by opportunistically echoing the
semantically challenged American President (and putting words in his
mouth),
who describes every "other" as a terrorist, have shown that you take
the
rest of the world for fools. Surely, not a! ll of us agree that the
highest
good in the world is America's greed for cheap oil, and that we should
hence
be expected to adhere to the inviolability of corrupt regimes in the
region!
There is a more pernicious red herring that needs to be smelled out
forthwith. It is blatantly averred, again and again, that any
criticism of
Israel's policies is an expression of anti-Semitism. With that
assertion the
argument is supposed to be closed and sealed. Of course, I reject this
attempt at censorship by thus disqualifying the grounds for debate. No
amount of suffering--be it of the Tutsis, the Kurds, the Armenians,
the
Vietnamese, the Bosnians or the Palestinians--can confer immunity from
criticism. (And, to put it sadly, no amount of persecution would seem
to
vaccinate people against perpetrating the same practices they suffered
from.) No appeal to the incitement or supposed promises of some Holy
Land
edicted by One God can condone the exactions carried out by an
invading and
occupying army-- or, for that matter, the cold-blooded massacres of
innocents ordered by fanatic warlords in the name of resistance. No
reference to some ostensibly sacrosanct "Greater Israel"! can
camouflage the
fact that your settlements are armed colonies built on land
shamelessly
stolen from the Palestinians, festering there as shards in their
flesh, or
snipers' nests, intended to thwart and annul any possibility of
Palestinian
statehood. There can be no way to peace through the annihilation of
the
other, just as there is no paradise for the "martyr." I find this
"anti-Semitism" allegation utterly deplorable, especially coming from
Jewish
intellectuals who so often constitute the reasonable, rational and
creative
backbone of Western societies. Why should we be subjected to this
special
pleading, or look the other way when it is Israel committing crimes?
Is
what's sauce for the goose then, in some Yahweh-inspired way, not
sauce for
the gander? No, General Sharon, past injustices suffered cannot
justify or
excuse your present fascist actions. A viable state cannot be built on
the
expulsion of another people who have as much claim to that territory
as you
have. Might is not right. In the long run, your immoral and
shortsighted
(and finally stupid) policies will furthermore weaken Israel's
legitimacy as
a state. Recently, I had the opportunity of visiting the territories
for the
first time. (And yes, I'm afraid they can reasonably be described as
resembling bantustans--for only too often are they reminiscent of the
ghettos and controlled camps of misery one knew in South Africa.) I
only
glimpsed Israel briefly, upon entering and then later leaving after
spending
a night in the opulent but dismally deserted David Intercontinental
Hotel of
Tel Aviv. You may say my view is fatally one-sided. Perhaps. Though
one is
always within sight of Israeli demarcation lines, checkpoints, tanks
and
armed outposts in the West Bank. I wondered, are your two peoples
really all
that different? You are of a similarly diverse mix of cultures and
origins,
you are all of you diaspora people, you are equally intelligent and
quick-witted and excitable. You may well be brave in similar fashions.
On
both sides there are creative minds of exceptional integrity at work.
On
both sides, also, there are an extraordinary number of self-serving,
power-hungry individuals, fanatics with their spirits obfuscated by
this
God-nonsense. Or using that as a pretext. As provocateur--cold-blooded
and
cruel--you stand out among your peers. In your dogged but
ill-considered
attempts to subvert previous agreements and to scupper the possibility
of
peace--except for the peace of the graveyard and of exile, premised on
the
"total transfer" or "disappearance" of the Palestinian entity--you are
bringing turmoil to the region. This you probably planned for. It
remains to
be seen whether the growling of your principals in Washington will
inflect
your campaign of calculated terror and wanton destruction--or whether
it is
but a smokescreen behind which to better align the "free world's" war
on
"terrorism." And for the domination of resources and a global control
of
markets and cheap oil and "democracy." The few days I spent there,
with the
delegation of the International Parliament of Writers, left me with a
mixed
bag of strong but conflicting impressions. How small Palestine is! How
inextricably linked your peoples are. The stones everywhere. The
topography
of names familiar from the Bible. The beautiful light. The attempts to
make
the place look like Switzerland by planting out-of-place conifers. The
inhospitality of the land, except for lush coastal plains. How
abysmally sad
the villages are, reminding one of the lifeless and apathetic towns of
East
Germany. The green lights in the mosques and all the unfinished
habitations.
The ugliness of the architecture everywhere--the ubiquitous light-gray
limestone building blocks. The inanity of your occupation--all those
lit-up
detour roads built for the exclusive use of settlers and Israeli
citizens.
The surly pettiness of your controls at checkpoints, having little to
do
with security and everything with the primitive urge to hum! iliate,
frustrate, harass and drive to insane rage an occupied population. The
extreme youth of your soldiers, and sadly they are so obviously
well-cultivated boys and girls. The ruthless rapaciousness with which
you
destroy the possible Palestinian economy and steal their goods. The
ancient
revenge--bulldozing houses, destroying olive groves. The equally
primitive
sight of armed positions under camouflage netting and Israeli flags in
commandeered houses. Your vaunted "democratic" media lying to your own
people, denying the war crimes carried out by your troops. The Berlin
walls
around your settlements in Gaza (and behind them university
extensions,
research institutes, American-linked hotels, golf courses), and then
the
rubble of destroyed Palestinian quarters looking now like Ground Zero.
The
way little kids looked us straight in the eye, apparently uncowed, but
then
we were told that they're probably all traumatized not only by the
hovering
dogs of your gunships and your pr! ehistoric tanks and your men in
uniform
shooting at everything that moves, but by all the hyperactive adults
around
them. The old kerchiefed women in some refugee camp screaming that
you,
Sharon, will never make them move, that they chased away your soldiers
"like
dogs." Proffering abuse, also, at the spineless Arab states and the
cowardice of their own Palestinian Authority. The ebullience of the
intellectuals and artists under siege in Ramallah--arguing, laughing
at
their own plight. How they all say, "We don't want to be heroes, we
don't
want to be victims, we just want to lead normal lives." Their wry
despair.
Mahmoud Darwish: "There is too much history and too many prophets in
this
small land." The visit to Abu Ammar, Yasir Arafat, a holed fox, his
waxed
yellow hands clinging to the empty clichés of "a peace of the
brave"
and "the conscience of the international community." A bourgeois lady
lamenting the desecration of the Palestinian landscape. And a human
rights !
lawyer claiming: "We are grateful to Sharon for two things--he united
all
the Palestinian factions and he took away every option except to
resist."
Later on, the same haunted man, chain-smoking and with the sweat of
death
already on him, remarked bitterly that repression has penetrated the
skin of
the people, and that now they have nothing else to defend themselves
with
except their skins. Thus the human bombs. For these will be my
contrasted
conclusions: You have not broken the spirit of the Palestinian people.
Quite
the contrary--they are now more resolute than ever to build a state;
it
doesn't matter how much you bully them. They saw the renewed onslaught
coming, they knew you were but playing footsy with General
Zinni--probably
in agreement with Dick Cheney. They also know that, since you have now
made
them stronger, you must strike harder and deeper, because you are
caught in
a conundrum of your own making. Like Bush in his crusade against the
infidel
and the disobedient, you have to accelerate your distention of
international
public ethics and flaunt common sense even more, and throw good moral
money
after bad political assessments. They know that nothing they can do
will
appease you, short of turning turtle. They fear you will have to
compound
this crime against humanity which you are committing at present, that
you
may indeed break their hopes for a secular, modern and democr! atic
state
responsible to its population, and bring forth the devil among them.
They
also know that this will profoundly divide and weaken Israel. But you
don't
care, do you ? This is the pity and the horror. The pity and the
horror.

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