Thursday, April 13, 2006

Peace Or War?

"lost-tiger" asked me, in a discussion in Cyberkwoon that started over a year ago:
"David, as someone who lives in the midst of so much of what has shaped terrorism, do you believe that peace or reconciliation of sorts will ever be possible, and if so in what form will it take and how? By this I mean between the Israeli's and the Palestinians/wider Muslim community. I know this is an almost impossibly large question to ask, but as someone sitting on the far sit of the planet I feel so distant from understanding soo much of the blood/tears that has flown under the bridge since the inseption of Israel, that I'm really curious to hear of the dreams/hopes/ambitions of the area from soneone living there."

Here is my reply:

Ask me some easy questions, why don't you? Like, Is There A God, or Why did Budha come from the West, or Who Shot Kenedy?

I might surprise my father with some unaccustomed (and very careful) optimism here, so pay attention - this may never happen again!

It seems the Arab world is becoming very extreme-Muslim, which means no compromise and no peace (wait for the optimism, it's coming...). In every Arab and Muslim country that tried free democratic elections, the extreme Muslim parties won by a landslide, and in each one democracy was the first casualty: it was either put aside by the elected Muslim party or suspended by the Army, which took over in order not to allow the Muslims to take power. The power-structure in all Arab countries is such that the governments rely on the Army, Police and Security Services to stay in power - and even within those organizations, the Muslims are growing stronger. In private conversations my father predicted that within 10 years Israel will be the only non-Muslim state in the middle east; all the others will be taken over by the extreme Muslims. The conclusion of this prediction is war, as the extreme Muslims refuse to compromise - and without compromise, conflict is inevitable (wait for the optimism, it's coming...).

It is obvious to me that the Arab world will lose such a war, even if it will have ABC weapons, even if Israel will not survive, simply because the Arab world does not have the scientific and industrial base the West has, and it will not be able to sustain a long war without it; denied Arab oil, the West will turn to other sources - both other oil-producing countries and other sources of energy, as it should have done years ago: fusion, solar, natural gas, nuclear and so on. The West is in a much better position than the Arab world is to deal with another oil crisis. The West will recover and fight back. The result of this war, to the Arabs, will be devastating - something along the lines of post-WW2 Germany and Japan. In one of the sequels to Ender's Game, Orson Scot Card predicted the Muslims will stop fighting only after the Ka'aba and Mecca were turned into a see of molten glass by nuclear bombs; if Allah allowed the destruction of the holiest place to Islam, he reasoned, then those who fought in Allah's name must have got it wrong, and He was against war after all... Card is a science-fiction writer, not a political analyst, but I'm inclined to thing it will take a disaster of such magnitude to make the extreme Muslims re-consider their views, or the moderate Muslims take action and kick them out of leadership.

As long as there is no real, internal opposition to the extremists, they will stay in power and lead towards war; the only hope for peace lies in the hope for free arguments within the Arab and Muslim world; it is the only chance of change from within. Any change forced from outside will be considered a shameful kowtowing to the Enemy.

This process - the moderates taking over the Muslim world - is the ONLY chance for peace, and it is nowhere in sight anywhere in the Arab or Muslim world; while some Muslim leaders in the UK, USA and Europe speak in favor of peace and compromise, they are considered traitors in the Arab and Muslim world. They are almost never heard in the Arab media, when they do they are fiercely opposed by every side – not only by the extreme Muslims, but also by the intellectuals, academia, book writers and journalists. The Muslim world has yet to realize that democracy does not mean Rule of the Majority but Equal Rights to the Minority, most especially the right to freedom of speech.

The only place in the Arab world where a peaceful democratic transition of power, along with a democratic governmental process SEEMS to be going on, not forced upon the population by foreign powers, is in Gaza, where Hammas has won the elections and Fatah had – unbelievably – conceded defeat. And that is the source of my very, very careful optimism.

Hammas had vowed to destroy Israel. But, as a legal hair to agreements signed by the former Palestinian Authority's government, they are bound by international law to stop attacks against Israel, to disarm the militant non-governmental armed groups, and to deal with the state across the border – Israel.

That is a huge dilemma for Hammas. If they stop the attacks and deal with Israel they are traitors in their own eyes, if they don't they will bring untold suffering upon their people. They now have no-one else to blame for success or failure – Israel has pulled out, and so had most other countries. They are on their own, to swim or drown in the seat of power. For the first time, they must not only criticize, but DO – and they MUST deal with real-world politics, which they have never done. What the Arab world would face in 10 years, according to my above prediction, the Palestinians are facing right now. Whichever course they take will affect the rest of the Middle East, for better or worse.

If the Palestinians will turn towards compromise and non-violence (not necessarily peace, a prolonged ceasefire would do), it will strengthen the moderates in the entire Arab and Muslim world; if they turn towards more violence, it would strengthen the extremists.

I very much hope they will turn to non-violence, but I am also realistic. Most chances are that they won't, and there will be war between Islam and the West. Israel may or may not survive this war, but the West will win, and then there will be peace, for a time.

For war to be averted, the Arab and Muslim world must argue within itself over tactics and strategies and goals, and chose another path; so far it has not happened, but a Hammas turn towards non-violence might spark it.

As I said, I am not optimistic – but if I was, that would be the base for my optimism.

David Kafri,

Monday, February 27, 2006

Dreams don’t last for ever. Didn’t you know?

In November of 2005 we had the 60 year’s reunion of the American Gareen “Zion”of the Hashomer Hatzair movement. I was born in Poland and came to the USA for family reasons in 1947. Soon after I have joined this movement & we have formed the seventh American Aliya group by that name. After coming to Israel since end of 1950 till 1956 we have joined kibutz Gal-On. Some of us did not come to Israel or came & went back. Other’s yet have settled in the Israeli cities. A third of us live (& some are buried) in Gal On. Our friends in the USA keep in contact with us because they think their lives there, too, were influenced by common experiences in the youth movement. Every five years, since 1990, we hold a reunion. A debate in the internet has developed & my contribution deals with the state of crisis of the kibutz movement.

Dreams don’t last for ever. Didn’t you know?
by Mordechai Kafry

Some letters with nitpicking criticisms of the kibutz & Israel’s failures were raised as if they were what matters to us to day. But Shalom Endelman’s question “What happened to our dream?” is poignant & justly touches our sense of failure in our old age.

Speaking of dreams: in the 1920’s, a young poet came to Palestine. He had a special understanding of dreams. His name was Y. (that’s all I know) Papiernikov. He was a self centered modest young man, who got himself a job sweeping sidewalks in Tel Aviv and continued at it almost all of his life. He did not raise a family & devoted all of his free time to writing songs in Yiddish & creating tunes for them. In Poland & near by lands his songs were sung & made him famous. At home in Israel he was resented for writing in the language of the Gola. But he could not be punished because he had no aspirations that could be denied... He lived long & in the late 80’s American literati came to look for him & found him in a flop house living in dire penury - without complaints. The literati raised hell in the mayor’s office & in the Press – Yiddish had become more respectable in time – so the mayor sent social workers who got the poet a little room & some help so he could die better off.

What has he got to do with our dreams? Well in 1946 I heard in Poland a beautiful song called “zol zein…” I have loved the tune, but did not figure out the rest of the words & only in the 90’s I read a mention of the song & the name of its author. I started looking around & discovered that Yaakov Schwartz –an elderly member of our kibbutz – is proud of remembering Yiddish songs that are forgotten by all. I asked him & 10 minutes later & had the remarkable text before me.

Some 20 years ago I wrote an essay of summing up our kibutz experiences in the Galon paper. I started it with the old proverb that the gift of prophecy was taken away from Israel & given to infants, the mad, & the imbeciles. I insisted that some poets had real prophetic powers. I mentioned Henrich Heine who wrote in 1841 in a book in prose called “Lutezia“ that some day Germany will become a herd of bleating sheep led by a shepherd with an iron staff. He hoped the future generations will be born with thick skins to withstand the beating & torture by the shepherd’s executioners. He also wrote that people who advocate burning books will wind up burning people. So, we found out these were real prophecies only when they become a part of the past.

Then closer to home: the poet Abba Kovner wrote “galtah haschina mhatzero shel hakibutz” (divine inspiration has departed from the court yard of the kibutz). I have read it as a warning, because poets can say intuitively things no one can prove - & a social scientist would have to. I have written in response that Kovner has made some other prophecies that were wrong. In 1956 when the Russians were arming Egypt & Syria he predicted “Sof habayit hashlishi!” (“The end of the third temple!”). But I knew Kovner had a point, now. The kibbutzim were then still a great economic success, but have lost their impact on society at large & more & more of their children are leaving upon reaching adulthood. So I wrote that so long as you succeed economically you are quite safe. But I saw a serious warning in our loss of ability to make our endeavor attractive & influential in Israeli society.

Here comes in the song of Papiernikov: ”So what if I build myself castles up in air/ so what if my God does not exist anywhere / in a dream I see clearer, in dreams I feel better /in sleep I see the sky is even bluer then blue/ So what if I will never reach my goal / so what if my ship will not reach the shore/ my aim is not to reach a final destination / my aim is to keep walking on a sunny road.”

Now we learn! But he saw it so long ago. I would have loved the words if I knew them when I heard the tune. But I thought then that I was sure of my goals & my road would be sunny. And it was, but the goals were reached before our lives ended...

Someone said it even earlier, and he was not even a poet, his name was Edward Bernstein. After Marx died he was the man Engels entrusted with editing the pile of unfinished manuscripts into the second & third volumes of Das Kapital. Then Bernstein outgrew his masters & decided that Marx made a brilliant critique of his contemporary capitalism but no man can foretell the future. The premises of Marx’s socialism were philosophical & not politically actual: Hegel’s “negation of the negation” & “development of a society into it’s opposite”’ - remember mosh bogrim in 1949? He discovered, in the beginning of the 20th century, that a large part of the workers in the most advanced capitalist countries were becoming well off - enough to make an anti capitalist revolution impossible. He then wrote that “the goal is nothing – the movement is everything!” The movement he proposed was to be devoted to reforms beneficial to the workers & the poor while capitalism exists - in contemporary terms - welfare society. Later the capitalists were frightened by the communist successes in the undeveloped countries & have learned enough Marxism to beat socialism in its own game. They compromised with welfare society even where there was no significant socialist movement such as North America. Now when communism is no threat anymore the capitalists are reverting to so called “Thatcherism”. The poor don’t fight back & the better off sympathize with the poor – at the most.

In the old debates I was in favor of giving a long term credit to the October revolution. In 1955 I met Chaim Gunner. It was just after the USSR has started arming Egypt & Syria. Chaim said. “The Dulles brothers refuse to send up-to-date weapons to the middle-east, while the communists have no such scruples. So who are the warmongers now?” I had to agree with him. The credit I once gave to the revolution was gone. I could not sympathize with the soviet leaders or their policies anymore. I still had hopes for socialism to reassert itself, but none for its policies at home & abroad.

The communists had turned Marxism into a religion of power over economics & had many initial successes in early industrialization, planned development, science & education, but could not compete with capitalism further on. They created a system based on police- power politics & replaced talented people with politically compliant stooges. Their surplus capital was diverted to building an enormous army & a reverse imperialism. While the capitalists have profited from their imperialism, the communists have subsidized their overseas allies with free weapons & immense capital investments like the Aswan dam. The Soviet “nomenclature” was raised to standards of living of the capitalist rich & corruption was ever more close to power. The system became very conservative by all standards.

At the same time Capitalism has developed a system of managerial talent head hunting & application of social science to business & it is prospering. It has invented turning advertisement into a system of monopoly within the so called free trade & revived monopoly high profits. It has managed to make its periodical economic crises short timed & less severe. Manipulators of “other people’s money” & inventions became the great billionaires of our time. Socialism did not become scientific, as it has claimed, but capitalism did & it did win. Realizing that does not make us pro capitalist. We know its faults & that they get ever worse with time. But all we can fight for realistically are reforms from within. The total alternative became an only dream.

The kibbutz movement will soon be a hundred years old. For an unreligious Utopian experiment that is very long time – more then 3 generations have lived in them. The communist & social democratic experiments in nationalization of the economy are long dead because they could not compete with the revitalized contemporary capitalism. The kibbutzim lasted longer because they were founded & maintained in a constant struggle against capitalism for their people. For every remaining kibutznick there are a number of ex kibutznicks outside. But the kibbutzim – some large, many small – have survived, if only, as community- villages. A third of them, mostly the most affluent ones, have remained true to their original communal values. Yet there is a sense of decline & even betrayal of values, of a golden age in the past, & of inability to cope with the change or with the inability to change. The main reason for change is the departure of the children from the kibbutz. To bring them back you try to introduce capitalism into the kibutz. And some of the initiators of the changes hope to get a larger share of the kibutz inheritance when the veterans will die off & they will share out the remnants.

The kibbutzim were created to solve the problems of Zionist colonization by attracting student youth to the ideal of utopian socialist settlements. Utopian socialism, by definition, meant using philanthropic capital to fund idealistic true believers to establish pre-planned model societies. The Zionist movement has made this possible. Some added onto it Marxism, other groups added religion to the formula, some the values of A.D.Gordon. But all have maintained the same communal principles in practice.

In the second half of the 20th century Israeli society started to change & the kibbutzim refused to change with it, or changed only in details such as letting the children sleep with their parents. The kibbutzim became “rich” with splendid public spending & building. Food in the dining room was gourmet & free. But the personal spending money of the members was at a minimal level. The kibutznicks were the last in the country to get every household item you could name: Frigidaire, telephone, air-conditioning, & have not yet reached the car.

The children of the kibbutzim were mostly able & ambitious. They all went through the army where a majority among them became officers or commandoes. They saw no valid reason why they should become manual workers with a low income, like their parents for all their lives. It became obvious that Borochov’s upside-down pyramid is outdated. In the 90’s a wave of middle aged families & their children left the kibbutzim. They have figured out that with two average or better salaries they could double their income as compared to personal kibutz standards. And the kibbutzim have not only lost them but also had to pay them vast compensations. The mass exodus of its children has dealt the kibutz a severe blow. It has left many of them without leadership & managerial talent. Even worse was the emptying of the kibutz kindergartens & schools & loss of normal demographic age balance. The median age of many kibbutzim is over 50 years of age & it is not reduced by new births but only by the death of the elderly.

The poet Abraham Shlonsky once made a prophecy in a speech addressed to a kibutz convention in Tel Aviv: “Every generation rebels against its parents. I don’t envy the children of the kibutz movement - they will have to rebel against very good people!”

In the beginning I thought it right to struggle against the changes in our kibutz. Wait till we are dead! But it was a futile attempt. In the best case we will last for 10 more years of ceaseless struggle until we die out. What else is the perspective? Socialism has no future in this world. Revolutionaries who become conservatives are the modern version of Greek tragedy.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Terrorism 2005
By Mordechai Kafry
The key issue in understanding fundamentalist Islamic terrorism is the difference in time perspectives. We think in terms of the next 5 or 10 years. We know that too many unknown influences will make further estimates unpractical. The fundamentalists think in perspectives of hundreds of years. By then they are sure of victory for Islam over the world. Their thinking is not by the scientific method they are taught to despise, but by religious doctrines and repetitions of former waves of Islamic conquest. If you will try to think in their terms you will have less ground for pro-western optimism.

There were two waves of Islamic attack on the infidels. In the first wave 6 to 9th century they have taken all of the Middle East, North Africa and Spain. In the 13 to the 17th century the Turkish tribes have taken Central Asia and Northern India, and their Ottoman Sultanate has taken Byzantium, almost all the Balkans and Hungary. They were stopped while attacking Austria when the Polish cavalry arrived suddenly and broke their siege on Vienna. Now the fundamentalists think it is the time for a third wave. If you think they are stupid or unrealistic – think again.
1) They know the West is highly vulnerable to terror and responds to it by fighting wars that bypass lack of success in defeating terror. Now is just the beginning.
2) They think they have no other choice but war on the West, because western culture is the Devil that will destroy Islam if it is not stopped. So it is: “kill or die!”

Both theses are debatable. But they have enough substance from the point of view of the fundamentalists to make them act.

The people who have written the theory of fighting to death against the West were all Muslims who came to the west, went through a culture shock and responded with outmost hostility. The first were the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt 75 years ago. Need I add Ayatollah Khomeini? Many more Muslims came to the West and had the best of times. But it is the bad guys who make history, did you not know?

To know the difference in our and their values and ways of thinking ask yourself what is the purpose of human life. In the West it is the pursuit of happiness in many various ways. To the fundamentalist’s human life is only the corridor and trial before the real eternal life you earn in Heaven or in Hell. So when a revered preacher makes you an offer to go to Heaven right away, with great honor and prize in money to your family, and the fringe benefit of 72 holly virgins – well is it not a bargain? Not everybody is sure, of course, but those who are, blow themselves up with us in a moment of happiness. An Israeli research scientist devoted her PHD to the arrested would be suicides caught before they pressed the button and they all turned out to be deeply religious boys. The women were a different case. They were mostly cases of “shame to the family” and faced the choice of being killed to clear the family’s honor or blowing themselves up with the Jews – in great honor to themselves and their families.

The people who equipped and directed the suicides and were arrested turned out to be usually not religious and even highly cynical people who would not dream of blowing themselves up. Some one has to lead, be the irreplaceable link – so they argued, in jail.

The propaganda directed at the world does not say: “we are coming to get you!” That would be stupid – Ahbel is the word in Arabic. So they raise all real and plausible grievances as if they would stop the war on the West if it would be more conciliatory. To the Muslims they say much more – justification for killing innocents.

Terror is culturally related to traditions of blood vengeance. Look at Europe, not all countries had terror movements in the seventies. England, France or Holland did not. But all those that had them had blood revenge in their folk history. Italy, Germany (Foehme), Ireland, the Basks, the Chechens etc. European terrorism was directed against symbolic institutions or against leaders. Blood revenge in Arab tradition is not directed against those who have wronged you, but against innocent members of their family or tribe – to demonstrate their collective responsibility. You must figure this out before you will be killed, afterwards what will be the use?

There is no doubt Western culture is very attractive and is corrosive to Fundamentalist Islamic values. There is room for accommodation. Thus the Sikhs, Orthodox Jews, the Amish, very religious Catholics and Protestants all criticize the prevailing values, some even shoot abortion doctors, but they don’t feel the future of their religion to be threatened.

Islam has traditions of conquest and domination over other religions. A situation in which Muslims are in a minority as in the Western countries seems intolerable to them. This has to change. The moderate Muslims can maintain and practice their own culture, but must also learn to respect the culture of the majority and accommodate to it or leave the country. No one can coexist for ever with a mortal enemy.

Having said it I must repeat: No one has ever won the war against a religion - except in cases in which all of its adherents have been killed or expelled, and this has happened in many cases in history. So don’t criticize Islam as such and learn how to deal only with it’s fundamentalists in very rigid terms. They don’t compromise - neither can your state.

Now it must be said that so far the West is loosing the battle, and the fundamentalists know it better then we do. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the whole world. Europe is getting old and its native population is not reproducing itself. It must import young workers and most of the candidates come from overpopulated Muslim states. This is not the case in the USA because it has a selective policy of immigration aiming at those with a potential for entering its middle class.

The bad luck for the fundamentalists was they started the fight with Israel long before they have picked on the rest of the world. Israel had to solve the problems of dealing with the whole issue and was successful enough to make them look for places where they could be more effective. In Israel most of the suicides either can’t penetrate or are arrested on their way. The west is learning from those who have the most experience. Not everything we have done is justified, especially the settlement policy. But even we are learning that sticking your head into the lion’s mouth is not an intelligent and long lasting policy.

Mordechai Kafry
kibbutz Gal On
(first published 18 Jul 2005 08:10 on Cyberkwoon:
All rights reserved to Mordechai Kafry)

Monday, February 06, 2006

Defining the issues of terrorism
By Mordechai Kafry

The world struggle against terrorism is suffering from insufficient clear thinking and a lack of relevant definitions:

1. The terrorists who now endanger humanity are people who practice and advocate killing innocent people under the guise of promoting their religion, but actually in order to aggrandize their own sense of importance and power by use of intimidation and fear. “I kill therefore I exist!” is their real motto. The decisive factor is not their asserted aims; it is their methods that make them unbearable. Such people are not “militants” but terrorists, outside of all humanity and all legitimacy.

2. War against whole states because they are sympathetic to terror or even export terror or weapons for it, causes more damage then useful effect and creates new realms for exercise of terror.

3. The most effective way to fight terrorists is to make them taste their own medicine – terrorize the terrorists! This can be done by:
A. the use of intelligence to find and identify the terrorists;
B. using police to arrest and isolate those who can be apprehended; deporting them only shifts their field of action.
C. setting up and using commando units to kill leaders and promoters of terror who can not be arrested.
People who advocate indiscriminate killing of innocent people have no legitimate claim to human mercy and legal processes.

4. Customary Law is not effective in dealing with terrorists because of their clandestine ways that leave almost no legal evidence. National and International Law should designate not only the practice, but also the advocacy, justification, and support of killing of innocent people as the means of religious, political, national and cultural struggle to be sufficient for establishing guilt.

5. While the means of the terrorists are criminal their motives are idealistic and that makes them particularly dangerous. The proper way to treat apprehended terrorists is not to lock them up in ordinary jails, because there they remain leaders to their community and have even directed additional terrorist acts outside. Special ‘reservations”, whether national or international, should be set up. They should be well guarded from outside but within the terrorists should be left alone to stew in their own juice. They should be totally isolated there from their community and the world until well after the period of terror shall disappear.

6. The proper issue in the Middle East is not merely establishing democracy, but the separation of religion from politics. We are dealing with countries devoid of democratic forces and traditions and with plenty of authoritarian ones. Popular understanding of freedom is the right to steal all movable public property. Democratic elections become a golden opportunity for the Islamic clergy to dominate the vote and establish the worst and most oppressive regime, especially to women – a theocracy. Politics require ability to change and adjust, compromise and tolerate, learning from more advanced countries and competing in the world. Religion is based on unchangeable principles and its rule over politics creates an ongoing social and political tragedy of political and economic incompetence in an unchangeable political regime – see Iran. Theocracy stops social progress and ever increases oppression and limitation of human rights. You can not fight and win a war on a religion – it is not only wrong but also always counter productive. But separating religion from politics and limiting it to the spiritual realm of worship is not only possible but absolutely necessary in order to move to improve matters. In southern Iraq Shiite clergy is already in power by democratic elections. It is biding its time for the Americans to leave before they will show where they are heading. And they are the majority of Iraq’s population.

(First published August 11th, 2005, here. All rights reserved to Mordechai Kafry)