Present, Past and Art

I just finished reading O’Connor’s book “The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece”. My wife came across the book while browsing in our local bookstore and fed it to me as ” a must reading.” Who am I to resist my wife’s request? The truth is we share a special attraction for Klimt’s paintings. We were familiar with ubiquitous poster reproductions of “The Kiss”, but an exhibit entitled “Vienne” at the Pompidou Museum in Paris revealed Klimt’s stature as a major art figure. Years later a visit to Vienna gave us the opportunity to discover the full scope of his talent and his impact on the social and cultural life of the city. It is easy to understand I was eager to follow my wife’s recommendation.

Ever since Zionism became a national movement with a territorial claim, the Arab world has used terror to obstruct the Jewish people’s endeavor to rebuild their homeland in parts of the desolate barren land that lays between the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. In this historic perspective Zionism triggered the current conflict with Gaza as just another episode of what seems an everlasting struggle.

If you have reached to here in reading the post, you may ask what associates the two here above paragraphs. The link is Vienna. O’Connor brings to life the cultural elite of Vienna in which Jews were almost on a par with Gentiles. Ferdinand Bloch, a rich Jewish industrialist and his wife Adele Bauer, daughter of a banker, commissioned Klimt to paint a portrait of Adele that became “The Lady in Gold”. Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl is the figure who fathered the political credentials of the Zionist movement and formulated the framework on which the State of Israel exists today. He bears thereby a responsibility for the relentless hostility our country endures. Herzl was a prominent figure in the social and cultural life of Vienna in which the Austrian version of “Art Nouveau” burgeoned. He was a frequent guest in the circle of wealthy Jewish families that patronized Klimt. These Jewish families had become an integral part of the Viennese elite. They rejected Herzl’s national aspirations to end persecution. They sought instead to solve the “Jewish problem” by assimilation and inter-marriage into the Gentile high society. The glitter of wealth masked the fragility of the grounds on which assimilation was built. The Jews ignored early signals of rampaging antisemitism and were taken by surprise when the German Anschluss unleashed murder, beating, rape and looting, putting an end to a glamorous way of life. An ironic turn of fate illustrates the tragic extend of the Jewish elite’s collapse. Heydrich, the mastermind of the “Final Solution” of the Jewish problem elaborated at the Wannsee conference, chose the palace Ferdinand Bloch owned in Prague as his residence.

Like the Phenix that is reborn from its ashes, the surviving descendants of the Lady in Gold put up a successful legal fight to retrieve the looted painting from Austrian custody. It is now on display in a New York museum, under the aegis of American Jewish magnate Ron Lauder. In my view it is still in exile. Beyond its aesthetic qualities and the troubling glance glittering in Adele’s eyes, the painting bears the plight of the Jewish people in the Diaspora. Herzl’s Zionism has given birth to the Jewish homeland in Israel, a country opened to Jews wherever they are. The rightful ultimate harbor for the Lady in Gold is in Jerusalem side by side with the Wailing Wall, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Holocaust Shrine.

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Beyond Edge of Security and the Gaza conflict

History will remember the current Gaza conflict improperly baptized “Edge of Security” as a pendulum shifting between fruitless negotiation and indecisive combat, with Hamas driving the oscillations. The ministerial cabinet of Prime Ministre Nethanyahu and its many advisers somehow fail to understand that they are the dupes of the deceitful game that Hamas plays. Hamas in its Covenant opens by pledging “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” Unless the Hamas leadership is stupid, which is hard to believe, it must have realized that its rockets will not obliterate Israel. So why does Hamas recurrently break the ceasefires and resort to its ineffective rockets? It is because this tactic activates the most powerful weapon in its arsenal: bannering the image of a blood dripping baby to ignate reprobation by public opinion, condamnation by democratic governments, boycotts, antisemitism, to which Israel is very sensitive. Hamas knows that launching its rockets from sites amidst densely populated areas will draw Israeli retalation that, despite restraining measures, finally results in high casualties. Article eight of the Hamas Covenant dictates this conduct: “Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.” The ordeal of the Gazans is part of the Hamas ideology,

Some may argue this ideology was born in despair. The majority of Gazans are offsprings of refugees that fled in 1948 during Israel’s war of independence and were since maintained in appalling living conditions in UNWRA camps. However, this is not the ground where the Ismalic fundamentalism germinated. In his 2003 book “Who killed Daniel Pearl” French philosopher Bernard Henri Lévy investigates Jihad fundamentalism to discover its most devoted followers among the priveleged Western educated. In “Thieves in the night”, a 1945 novel based on inquiries for The Times, Arthur Koestler, the Hungarian-British journalist, writes that Islamic militancy is the appanage of the well-off Arabs.

As a matter of fact, Hamas sees the eradication of Israel as a step toward a broader objective that has no bearing on the misery of the refugees: the establishment of the Islamic State in all lands ever conquered by the companions of the Prophet. For reference I include excerpts of the Covenant article nine “As for the objectives: They are the fighting against the false, defeating it and vanquishing it so that justice could prevail, homelands be retrieved and from its mosques would the voice of the mu’azen emerge declaring the establishment of the state of Islam, so that people and things would return each to their right places and Allah is our helper.” and article eleven: “the law governing the land of Palestine is the Islamic Sharia (law) and the same goes for any land the Moslems have conquered by force, because during the times of (Islamic) conquests, the Moslems consecrated these lands to Moslem generations till the Day of Judgement.” Even the blind can see Hamas draws its doctrine directly from Hitlerism. First exterminate the Jews then conquer the World. Reading the sections of the Covenant quoting “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” renders the parallel with Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” even more striking.

To overcome Hitlerism the Allied had to rout the German military might at the cost of Europe’s devastation and tens of millions of deaths. Is this the path that Israel should follow to end the Hamas threat? It is an option, but I believe less brutal options should be considered. In the first place, despite its fanatism, Hamas does not possess the military capabilities that foddered German expansionism. Secondly, although it can count on sympathy of 300 millions Arabs and over a billion Moslems, Hamas threatens Arabs and Moslems that have opted for a secular way of life. Divided interests of the Arab and Moslem World limit translating sympathy into effective support. De-fusing Hamas requires that bold new ideas emerge from the Israeli leadership that would resolve the territorial discontinuities between Samaria, Judea and the Gaza Strip to create a viable and dignified Palestinian Arab State prospering in peaceful harmony alongside the Jewish State.

Need to change the mood

The truce that temporarily stops the rockets from Gaza and Israeli ripostes has eased the tension which we have endured in the last few weeks. War, unrest, terror and violence are still raging in the Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, They have bearings on our longings for a peacful tomorrow. Still, my ears are no more riveted to news broadcasts. I watched a ballet rendering of Mozart’s Great Mass by the Gewandhaus Orchestra and Opera dancers of Leipzig that lifted my spirits. The choreography created figures and movements suggesting the liturgical elements of the Mass. I marveled about the beauty and intelligence the human mind could create. I also listened to songs by Jacques Brel. One of them entitled “Il nous faut regarder – We must look” carries a hope that the gifts of peace lay behind dark skies.

“Beyond the concert
Of sobs and tears
And cries of anger
From scared men,
Beyond the din
Of streets and worksites,
Of alarm sirens,
Of troopers swearing
Louder than children
Who tell stories of wars
And louder than the adults
Who made us wage them,

We must listen to
The bird in the depths of the woods,
The murmur of summer,
The blood rising inside you,
Mothers’ lullabies,
Children’s prayers,
And the sound of the earth
Falling sweetly asleep.”

You can listen to the song at
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=qMv0EwQswSE
and read the lyrics with an English translation at
http://lyricstranslate.com/en/il-nous-faut-regarder-we-must-look.html

The song was recorded in 1954 when memories of World War II were still vivid, the Korean war was just over, the French were fighting in Indochina. The defeat in Dien Bien Phu was about to end their colonial rule. Unfortunately, the sweet days promised in the song have remained promises. Wars and terror still shatter the lives of people and nations: Algeria, Vietnam, North Ireland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Chili, Argentina, Kashmir, Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq-Iran, . . ., with millions of deaths.
Despite this dismal list of conflicts, let us side with Francis Fukuyama’s view that fanatism and despotism are reducible traits of mankind. In his book “The end of history” he assesses that competitive drive will endeavor toward constructive excellence fulfilling the material and spiritual needs of mankind. This may be the future that Jacques Brel forshadows in his song.

Yellow Birds: a stunning tale of American soldiers in Iraq

Renewed involvement of US military might in Iraq must have been one of the tougher decision President Obama ever made. Insistently limiting the intervention to airstrikes but pledging not to send ground troops gives a measure of the balance of pros and cons he must have considered before relinquishing his promise to the American people to pull out of Iraq. I believe he does not want ground service men to endure the ordeal of private Bartle, the central character of Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, trying in vain to prevent his platoon sergeant bullet riddle a car driven by an elderly man, with an old women in the backseat.
I stumbled over Yellow Birds by accident, After the first few lines I was hooked. The words cast the shadow of a threat that became more envasive as I turned the pages. Kevin Powers engulfs the reader in a powerfully written literary adventure that journeys between Bartle’s native Virginia, Iraq and the transit in Germany on his way home. The strenuous military training has taught him to manipulate weapons, to run for cover, to respond to orders, but has left him unprepared for the warfare he encounters. This is the focal point of the drama. The literary palette changes as the story moves between Virginia, Iraq and Germany. The change of tonality underscores Bartle’s mental disorientation. A few rapid brushstrokes suffice to bring alive the Virginian hometown. The reader hears the leaves quivering in the wind; he feels the caress of the water flowing in the creek; he smells the changing seasons and he walks with Bartle in the town store to buy cigarettes and beer. The German episode has the tone of a surrealistic dream as guilt haunted Bartle visits a church and a brothel. The scenery in Iraq is a grotesque abstraction of threatening targets. Towns, fields, orchards, people alive or dead bathe in sand and dust, hiding booby-traps, mortar fire and snipers. Killing and dying are casual events. Still, the gruesome culmination of the story opens the way to Bartle’s redemption. Yellow Birds has done to me what For Whom the Bell Tolls did to me half a century ago.

Compassionate

In a much celebrated poem, Victor Hugo recounts a war anecdote his father, a general in Napoleon’s, armies told. Accompanied by one of his aides, General Hugo surveys the battlefiled when he hears emerging from the dead bodies laying on the ground a feeble voice asking for a drink. He spots a badly wounded soldier from the defeated Spanish Army. Fetching his canteen from his horse’s saddle, he asks his aide to offer the wounded a drink. As the aide leans with the drink the Spaniard grabs his pistol and fires a shot at General Hugo barely missing him. Upon which General Hugo orders his aide: ” Give hin to drink anyway.” You can read the poem in the original French with an English translation at http://audiopoetry.wordpress.com/2009/02/20/apres-la-bataille/
This little story is a metaphore of Israel’s conduct of the Gaza conflict. As the battle rages it allows the supply of medecine. food, fuel, water, electricity to the supposedly besieged Gazans, without being able to control whether the goods are delivered to the population or to the combatants. A makeshift hospital was even set up to treat the wounded. Why does the UN Human Rights Council choose to ignore that Israel fulfills its compassionate humanitarian obligations toward the Gaza population?

Premonition come through

The first part of what I wrote in my premonition post has already become the current reality. Mortar shells were fired from Gaza onto Israeli territory before the cease-fire had expired. Hamas denied having fired. Escalation is now well underway. Mr. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon I hold you “accountable” for the future course of the conflict. Your one-sided diatribe on the casualties inflicted to UNWRA facilities fueled the Hamas rejection of any negotiated agreement.

From Gaza the deaths scoreboard

The August 6, 2014 edition of The New York Times – http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/06/world/middleeast/civilian-or-not-new-fight-in-tallying-the-dead-from-the-gaza-conflict.html?emc=edit_th_20140806&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=36687332A – analysizes the categorization of the Gaza death toll reports. The article includes Israeli estimates of the proportion of combatants among the victims. A quick look at the figures shows 16% children and 11% women among the casualties. These percentages are far below their percentages in the population. The statistics support Israel claim that strikes were selectively target against combatants.