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Morning Report 1/9/06 Waiting to Inhale


Dick Cheney was rushed to the hospital this morning after complaining of shortness of breath. That puts the two leaders of America and Israel in the hospital at the same time — doctors are bringing Ariel Sharon out of his medically induced coma.

After leaving us gasping, both Cheney and Sharon are themselves fighting for breath. Shouldn’t Pat Robertson be telling us about now what God is doing to both of them?

Forget that schmuck evangelist. Try, if you can, to separate the personal from political. That’s what Salah Tamari, Palestinian governor of Bethlehem province in the West Bank, does — with great difficulty, as Tim Butcher of the Telegraph (U.K.) writes this morning in a riveting profile that humanizes the Israeli-Palestinian death dance:

There can be few Palestinians with firmer grounds to despise Ariel Sharon than Salah Tamari.

He suffered 30 years of exile, jail and torture because of policies supported by Mr Sharon. The recent eulogies offered on the ailing Israeli prime minister as a statesman-like peacemaker stick in his craw.

Butcher quotes Tamari as saying:

“On a human level, I feel sympathy for Sharon, who is lingering now somewhere between life and death. But on the wider, political level it is difficult for Palestinians to view him with anything but hatred.”

Here’s a passage from Butcher’s fine piece that puts it in perspective — from the perspective of a Palestinian to whom many Americans can relate:

In the opinion of Mr Tamari, 62, few Israelis have caused more damage to the Palestinian people. “He is the very embodiment of Zionism in its colonial, expansionist form,” he said in the office he occupies as governor of the Bethlehem province in the West Bank.

“He committed atrocities during the 1967 war; he defied his government when he ordered the invasion of Lebanon; he is the grandfather of the settler movement in the occupied territories; and so on and so on.

“But it goes much deeper than that. Sharon is typical of the Israeli thinking that does not regard Palestinians as equals or worthy of negotiation. More than anyone, he has done his utmost to degrade Palestinians in the eyes of the world.”

Mr Tamari’s observations are not the ramblings of a blinkered radical. He studied English literature at Cairo University, cites T.S. Eliot as his favourite writer and is studying the oral tradition of native American Indians.

“What has happened to the first nation Americans is very similar to what has happened to the Palestinians,” he said. “We have both been occupied by outsiders who sought to uproot our culture, our language and our land-holdings, to deny our very right to exist.”

Of course, the Wampumgate scandal — in which chief crook and Bush regime fundraiser Jack Abramoff stole from the Indians while calling them “monkeys” — is just the latest example of how Native Americans are held in contempt on Capitol Hill.

The fact is that when prominent pols are ailing, the rest of us can’t lose perspective. Our outrage at their actions cannot flag. Or, maybe not outrage. One of the most fascinating pieces I’ve read about Sharon is “The Apprenticeship of Ariel Sharon,” a riff by Canadian law professor Ed Morgan that links the Israeli prime minister to Duddy Kravitz, the protagonist of Mordecai Richler‘s well-known novel and also connects the dots about the question of international law’s boundaries. You can read this piece in the German Law Journal, a good source of information about international law that is itself proof that World War II and Hitler happened a long time ago.

Writing in midyear 2001 (before 9/11) about the possibility at the time of Sharon’s being held accountable by a Belgian magistrate for various atrocities, Morgan, the chair of the Canadian Jewish Congress, noted:

Two otherwise disparate events took place within weeks of each other in July 2001: the commencement of a war crimes investigation of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon by a Belgian magistrate and the death by cancer of Canadian novelist Mordecai Richler. On deeper reflection, however, the author of the satirical masterpiece, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, may have more to tell us about the international scene than political or legal specialists in the field would care to think.

Certainly, a professional observer of Ariel Sharon, assessing his roles from hero of the Yom Kippur War to anti-hero of the conflict in Lebanon, might easily echo Richler’s comment on his own famous protagonist as a character whom he “both admires and despises.”

After a career of leveling accusations of hypocrisy at his military superiors and political adversaries, Prime Minister Sharon may finally be learning the true meaning of the term. The context of the lesson, however, may take the battle-wizened General by surprise. The man commonly known as Israel’s most aggressive combatant will now have to come to grips not with the Sinai’s mountain passes or the Knesset’s treacherous corridors, but with a European courtroom and the long, if contradictory arm of the law.

Morgan navigates the twists and turns of Sharon’s career, showing how that path intersects not only with Duddy Kravitz’s tragicomic coming of age in Montreal and not only with Nuremberg but also with the questions of land, nationality, and homelessness, points that Palestinians and Jews can both relate to:

There is something irresistible, if gratuitous about paring a staunch Zionist figure with a novel whose central quest revolves around a grandfather’s admonishment that “a man without land is nobody.”

Perhaps more to the point is that Duddy Kravitz shares a fundamental ambivalence of character with the Israeli Prime Minister, and, in an ironic parallel, the values of Richler’s Montreal youth share a similar ambivalence with those of international law. While both Duddy and Ariel make for a gripping story of bad boy makes good, the ethic of Richler’s gritty St. Urbain Street and the norms of global legalism both develop into a tale of good origins gone bad.

You can’t say that about the other ailing leader, Dick Cheney, a bad boy who makes bad. It’s hard to feel sympathy for a guy who’s dismantling the Constitution, a vise president who advocates torture as a tool to be used at the discretion of an imperial presidency.

Bush regime legal scholar John Yoo said it best last month when he, in effect, declared that if a U.S. president wanted to stomp on a child’s testicles, he was within rights to do so. You can’t make this stuff up. Listen to this excerpt from a December 2005 debate between Yoo and Notre Dame professor Doug Cassel:

Cassel: If the president deems that he’s got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person’s child, there is no law that can stop him?

Yoo: No treaty.

Cassel: Also no law by Congress — that is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo —

Yoo: I think it depends on why the President thinks he needs to do that.

Who’s gasping now?

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