''Playing chess with the Angel of Destruction''
By Gabriel Ash
YellowTimes.org Columnist (United States)
(YellowTimes.org) - 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 one's annihilation. In Ingmar Bergman's 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
Himmler's 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 Hungary's 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
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.
Israel's 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 wasn't bound by Israel's 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, Israel's 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 Israel's "concerns," is a U.S.
attempt to shift gears back to the Oslo model -- by delegating the work of
repression to a Palestinian Judenrat. The Road Map says nothing of
injustice 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,
If it weren't 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 Sharon's 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 Israel's interest. To understand Sharon, one must check a
Ziospeak dictionary. There, one discovers that "occupation" means only rule
over the wrong people, not over the wrong territories. In Ziospeak,
territories are always inherently empty. Sharon's 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 Sharon's own words: Israel's problem
is how to avoid responsibility for "1.8 million Palestinians fed by
international organizations." Sharon's Israel isn't looking for
co-existence; it is looking for a large enough dumpster.
The whole episode was a rerun of Begin's 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 Sharon's words an acknowledgment that "Israel's occupation
of Palestinian territories cannot go on."
Sharon's 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 camp's 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
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
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
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 didn't
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
Will Abu Mazen use the few advantages he has to play a better game of chess
than Kastner did? Or will he duplicate Kastner's fate and share his infamy?
[Gabriel Ash was born in Romania and grew up in Israel. He is an unabashed
"opssimist." He writes his columns because the pen is sometimes mightier
than the sword - and sometimes not. He lives in the United States.]
Gabriel Ash encourages your comments: gash@YellowTimes.org
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