''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,

and trenches.


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

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



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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