Playing Chess with the Angel of Destruction
By Gabriel Ash
When the Nazis came to Budapest in 1944, Rudolf Kastner, vice president of the local Zionist chapter, faced a decision no community leader should ever face: how to respond to an overwhelming force that seeks nothing less than ones annihilation. In Ingmar Bergmans film The Seventh Seal, the hero, facing his own mortality, invites the Angel of Death to a hopeless game of chess.
Kastner, too, chose to be a player. He got into a lengthy negotiation with Himmlers subordinates over several proposed deals, including finally a deal to trade a million Jewish lives for ten thousand trucks. As a confidence building measure, the Nazis allowed him to save 600 Jews, including his friends and family. After that, the negotiators treaded water. Of the truck deal, nothing came out of it. But as long as the two sides were talking, Kastner also had to show some goodwill. He had to facilitate the organization and transport of Hungarys Jews to the death camps. The result: in return for securing the escape of altogether sixteen hundred, and the ever receding hope of saving some more, Kastner ended up helping the Nazis carry out the murder of half a million Jews.
Was Kastner duped by the Nazis? Was he a corrupt monster who helped the extermination of Jews for personal gain? Was he a sucker for power, a man so enamored of his personal influence that he lost sight of what he was negotiating about? Was he tempted by the fantasy of absolute power when he was asked to decide who would live and who would die? Was he, as his right-wing accusers in Israel later claimed, an example of the slavish mentality of European Jews, accustomed to obedience and quiet, deferential lobbying of the powers that be? Or was he, as Eichmann later testified, a fanatic Zionist, who cared more about getting a few Jews into Palestine than about keeping the millions out of the death trains? Or was he perhaps merely an ordinary, imperfect human being, who chose badly between two horrible alternatives, in circumstances that called for superhuman heroism he did not possess? These are perhaps unanswerable questions. The Devil is not generally known for the clarity of his road signs.
Israel claims to have learned many things from the Holocaust. One that is often unmentioned is the art of securing the collaboration of its victims in their own destruction. Moderate Israeli negotiators have applied this lesson ruthlessly since Oslo, when it first became apparent that the ethnic cleansing of Greater Israel could not proceed without active Palestinian cooperation.
This was the Oslo Accord in a nutshell. Arafat and his entourage were to be recognized by Israel as brave leaders, the way the Nazi apparatchik Adolf Eichmann recognized the virtue of Kastner as an idealistic Jew. In return for this flattery (plus control of a few lucrative monopolies), Arafat would help Israel corral Palestinians into ghettos and use his security forces to protect the advancing Israeli land grab against his people.
Israels goals were difficult to see only to those who squinted very hard. Prime Minister Rabin explained the benefit of Oslo by pointing out that Arafat wasnt bound by Israels high court of justice. It was easier for Israel if Palestinians repressed themselves.
It is neither true nor false that Oslo failed. Oslo provided Israel with the necessary time and political cover to entrench the occupation by doubling the size of settlements, paving a net of security roads, and reinforcing the infrastructure for apartheid that would make a viable Palestinian state moot. It should have been obvious that sooner or later Palestinians would rebel again, as IDF intelligence kept telling the government. Eventually, Israels ruling generals chose to determine the timing of the second Intifada according to their own electoral and strategic calculations. The level of Israeli duplicity and Palestinian disillusionment set the stage. The Israeli junta sparked the second Intifada with a provocation at the Al-Aqsa mosque, followed by the shooting and killing of dozens of unarmed demonstrators. The resulting militarization of the Palestinian resistance allowed Israel to escalate the occupation to an all-out assault on Palestinian civilian life.
The generals knew that they had the firepower to win any battle but, blinded by their own racist prejudices, they did not know how difficult it would prove to be. Despite two years of constant raids, assassinations, sieges, economic strangulation, water deprivation and a host of other devilish methods, the IDF is yet unable to pacify Palestine. The war effort has brought Israeli economy to the edge of the cliff and cost it unparalleled international isolation.
The much-hyped Road Map, augmented with Israels concerns, is a U.S. attempt to shift gears back to the Oslo modelby delegating the work of repression to a Palestinian Judenrat. The Road Map says nothing of injustice neither past nor present. It promises Palestinians an undefined state, without borders, and with some attributes of sovereignty. Israel is expected to take some largely meaningless, confidence building measures, such as releasing a few of the thousands of detainees (held illegally without trial in Israeli jails in contempt of the Geneva Convention). In return, Palestinians are asked to surrender, stop resisting the occupation, and negotiate in good faith, all while Israel continues to destroy Palestinian livelihood and grab Palestinian land for settlements, roads, and trenches.
If it werent real, one would have to laugh at the cruel absurdity of the Road Map. Instead of calling for the occupation to end, Bush and Sharon want Palestinians to take responsibility for making the occupation work, including the role of insuring the personal safety of the oppressors.
The American media is prematurely ejaculating its joy over Sharons use of the word occupation. This is much ado about nothing, except, of course, as another example of the willingness of the U.S. media to mislead the public in Israels interest. To understand Sharon, one must check a Zionspeak dictionary. There, one discovers that occupation means only rule over the wrong people, not over the wrong territories. In Zionspeak, territories are always inherently empty. Sharons supposed earth-shattering change of heart was nothing more than the restatement of his desire to solve the Palestinian problem by getting rid of Palestinians, while keeping as much as their land as possible. In Sharons own words: Israels problem is how to avoid responsibility for 1.8 million Palestinians fed by international organizations. Sharons Israel isnt looking for co-existence; it is looking for a large enough dumpster.
The whole episode was a rerun of Begins old functional autonomy Camp David idea, which was itself nothing but a rehash of the century old Zionist goal of inheriting the land by disinheriting its people. Only canine faithfulness can explain how the editors of the Chicago Tribune could read into Sharons words an acknowledgment that Israels occupation of Palestinian territories cannot go on.
Sharons real goals are visible in the contours of the two open-air prisons, complete with barbed wire and watchtowers, which the IDF is building for Palestinians (see map). When complete, the 600-mile Apartheid Wall will add two more enclaves to the already existing Gaza gulag. It will also ruin the life of the quarter million Palestinians who live in its trajectory, or are caught in the large belt between the wall and the green line. Palestinians inside the gulags will be left to run their affairs themselves, as inmates in all concentration camps are often encouraged to do by the camps authorities.
These terms are clearly not a recipe for resolution of the conflict. There is no peace without justice. Annihilation, not peace, is the goal of the Israeli Junta.
The most likely outcome of following the Road Map is a U.S. sanctioned apartheid regime, with Palestinian statehood reduced to three fully enclosed Bantustans in which Palestinians live behind barbed wire, politically, economically and physically segregated, barely kept alive on world charity and guilt, until their next rebellion or their extinction.
One cannot say how soon this peace process will collapse. Will the Roadmap be buried within a few weeks, with Israel retaliating against the perseverance of Palestinian resistance? Or will Palestinians surrender out of exhaustion, and wait perhaps another decade, for a new generation of gulag kids to rise and challenge their Israeli masters?
The man whom fate (and Israel) chose to lead the Palestinian people into their new international status as concentration camps inmates is Abu Mazen. Like Kastner, Abu Mazen is forced to negotiate with a party that is ruthless, overwhelmingly strong, and seeks to annihilate him and his people. Like Kastner, Abu Mazen is eager, perhaps to a fault, to be a player.
But Abu Mazen enjoys a number of advantages Kastner did not. First, the weight of history forces Israel to seek slower, and more humane, methods for getting rid of Palestinians. Although the ruling Junta in Israel is in the grip of the same Nazi obsession with national Lebensraum, it is also obsessed, thankfully, with disavowing its intellectual affinity with Nazism. Hence, no death camps.
Second, the demographic balance is different. Palestinians are not a tiny minority but almost a majority. Third, the Palestinian public has fewer illusions about Israel than European Jews had about the Nazis. Fourth, Palestinians already have a well-established and popular resistance movement.
On the minus side, Abu Mazen faces an empire, the U.S., that is farther away from collapsing than the Nazi empire was in 1944. And the Nazis didnt assign responsibility for the Final Solution to someone as smart as Sharon. One would never subtitle a book about Sharon, report on the banality of evil.
Will Abu Mazen use the few advantages he has to play a better game of chess than Kastner did? Or will he duplicate Kastners fate and share his infamy?
Gabriel Ash was born in Romania and grew up in Israel. He lives in the United States.
YellowTimes.org, June 4, 2003