Pam Sykes on Fri, 19 Apr 2002 11:12:22 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Breyten Breytenbach's Open Letter to Sharon


An Open Letter To General Ariel Sharon by Breyten Breytenbach

Paris, April 7, 2002


    You don't know me. There's no reason why you should and little cause
for you to listen to what somebody like myself may have to say. I don't
imagine you have time to pay attention to views that do not correspond to
your own.  In fact, I'm convinced that you do not listen to anybody who
doesn't say what you wish to hear. 

Should it interest you, I'm a writer born in South Africa now living and
working abroad. For some time back there I also grew up among a "chosen
people" who behaved as Herrenvolk--as all those who believe themselves
singularized by suffering or entrusted with a special mission from God. 

I apologize if my comparative allusion to Israel as Herrenvolk hurts
because of the echoes from a recent past when, in Europe, so many Jews were
the victims of a "final solution." But how else is one to attempt
describing the comportment of your armies when one is flooded by the horror
of what you're doing? 

These rough equivalences don't come lightly. As a writer I'm deeply
apprised of the need to keep the words uncluttered of any urge to rouse
easy emotions. This is what facile comparisons do--they nullify
understanding the complexity of the observed phenomena by a rush of outrage
heating the throat and staining the adversary with the vomit of borrowed or
vicarious condemnation. Apartheid was not Nazism, though to say so was a
striking slogan. And the policies now perpetrated by Israeli forces on the
Palestinian people should not be equated with Apartheid. Each one of these
processes and systems is evil enough to merit a thorough description of its
own historical singularity. 

And yet... There are similarities and differences: This blind competition,
on both sides, to be recognized as more-victim-than-thou; cloaking
atrocities in the "divine" right to self-defense; the shameless
manipulation of perceptions and the mendacious lying; the concomitant
brutalization of your own society; the disdain shown for the humanity of
the Palestinians--indeed, denying even the most elementary humane treatment
to a terrified and trapped civilian population... 

It is all only too familiar. The underlying assumptions informing your
actions are racist. As was the case with the South African regime, the
preferred methods by which you hope to subjugate the enemy consist of force
and bloodshed and humiliation. Cynically, you think you can get away with
this as long as you play up to the supposed vital interests of the United
States. I don't think you really care a Jaffa fig for America's interests.
You probably despise them for being blinded by their own material crassness
and their ignorance of the world. True, your used-car-salesman
doppelg&auml;nger, Netanyahu, deploys this craft of crude propaganda more
openly, as if he were a dirty finger tweaking the clitoris of a swooning
American public opinion. But you too, by opportunistically echoing the
semantically challenged American President (and putting words in his
mouth), who describes every "other" as a terrorist, have shown that you
take the rest of the world for fools. Surely, not a! ll of us agree that
the highest good in the world is America's greed for cheap oil, and that we
should hence be expected to adhere to the inviolability of corrupt regimes
in the region!

There is a more pernicious red herring that needs to be smelled out
forthwith. It is blatantly averred, again and again, that any criticism of
Israel's policies is an expression of anti-Semitism. With that assertion
the argument is supposed to be closed and sealed. Of course, I reject this
attempt at censorship by thus disqualifying the grounds for debate. No
amount of suffering--be it of the Tutsis, the Kurds, the Armenians, the
Vietnamese, the Bosnians or the Palestinians--can confer immunity from
criticism. (And, to put it sadly, no amount of persecution would seem to
vaccinate people against perpetrating the same practices they suffered
from.) No appeal to the incitement or supposed promises of some Holy Land
edicted by One God can condone the exactions carried out by an invading and
occupying army-- or, for that matter, the cold-blooded massacres of
innocents ordered by fanatic warlords in the name of resistance. No
reference to some ostensibly sacrosanct "Greater Israel"! can camouflage
the fact that your settlements are armed colonies built on land shamelessly
stolen from the Palestinians, festering there as shards in their flesh, or
snipers' nests, intended to thwart and annul any possibility of Palestinian
statehood. There can be no way to peace through the annihilation of the
other, just as there is no paradise for the "martyr." 

I find this "anti-Semitism" allegation utterly deplorable, especially
coming from Jewish intellectuals who so often constitute the reasonable,
rational and creative backbone of Western societies. Why should we be
subjected to this special pleading, or look the other way when it is Israel
committing crimes?  Is what's sauce for the goose then, in some
Yahweh-inspired way, not sauce for the gander? 

No, General Sharon, past injustices suffered cannot justify or excuse your
present fascist actions. A viable state cannot be built on the expulsion of
another people who have as much claim to that territory as you have. Might
is not right. In the long run, your immoral and shortsighted (and finally
stupid) policies will furthermore weaken Israel's legitimacy as a state. 

Recently, I had the opportunity of visiting the territories for the first
time. (And yes, I'm afraid they can reasonably be described as resembling
bantustans--for only too often are they reminiscent of the ghettos and
controlled camps of misery one knew in South Africa.) I only glimpsed
Israel briefly, upon entering and then later leaving after spending a night
in the opulent but dismally deserted David Intercontinental Hotel of Tel
Aviv. You may say my view is fatally one-sided. Perhaps. Though one is
always within sight of Israeli demarcation lines, checkpoints, tanks and
armed outposts in the West Bank. I wondered, are your two peoples really
all that different? You are of a similarly diverse mix of cultures and
origins, you are all of you diaspora people, you are equally intelligent
and quick-witted and excitable. You may well be brave in similar fashions.
On both sides there are creative minds of exceptional integrity at work.
On both sides, also, there are an extraordinary number of self-serving,
power-hungry individuals, fanatics with their spirits obfuscated by this
God-nonsense. Or using that as a pretext. 

As provocateur--cold-blooded and cruel--you stand out among your peers. In
your dogged but ill-considered attempts to subvert previous agreements and
to scupper the possibility of peace--except for the peace of the graveyard
and of exile, premised on the "total transfer" or "disappearance" of the
Palestinian entity--you are bringing turmoil to the region. This you
probably planned for. It remains to be seen whether the growling of your
principals in Washington will inflect your campaign of calculated terror
and wanton destruction--or whether it is but a smokescreen behind which to
better align the "free world's" war on "terrorism." And for the domination
of resources and a global control of markets and cheap oil and "democracy." 

The few days I spent there, with the delegation of the International
Parliament of Writers, left me with a mixed bag of strong but conflicting
impressions. How small Palestine is! How inextricably linked your peoples
are. The stones everywhere. The topography of names familiar from the
Bible. The beautiful light. The attempts to make the place look like
Switzerland by planting out-of-place conifers. The inhospitality of the
land, except for lush coastal plains. How abysmally sad the villages are,
reminding one of the lifeless and apathetic towns of East Germany. The
green lights in the mosques and all the unfinished habitations.  The
ugliness of the architecture everywhere--the ubiquitous light-gray
limestone building blocks. The inanity of your occupation--all those lit-up
detour roads built for the exclusive use of settlers and Israeli citizens.
The surly pettiness of your controls at checkpoints, having little to do
with security and everything with the primitive urge to hum! iliate,
frustrate, harass and drive to insane rage an occupied population. The
extreme youth of your soldiers, and sadly they are so obviously
well-cultivated boys and girls. The ruthless rapaciousness with which you
destroy the possible Palestinian economy and steal their goods. The ancient
revenge--bulldozing houses, destroying olive groves. The equally primitive
sight of armed positions under camouflage netting and Israeli flags in
commandeered houses. Your vaunted "democratic" media lying to your own
people, denying the war crimes carried out by your troops. The Berlin walls
around your settlements in Gaza (and behind them university extensions,
research institutes, American-linked hotels, golf courses), and then the
rubble of destroyed Palestinian quarters looking now like Ground Zero.  The
way little kids looked us straight in the eye, apparently uncowed, but then
we were told that they're probably all traumatized not only by the hovering
dogs of your gunships and your pr! ehistoric tanks and your men in uniform
shooting at everything that moves, but by all the hyperactive adults around
them. The old kerchiefed women in some refugee camp screaming that you,
Sharon, will never make them move, that they chased away your soldiers
"like dogs." Proffering abuse, also, at the spineless Arab states and the
cowardice of their own Palestinian Authority. The ebullience of the
intellectuals and artists under siege in Ramallah--arguing, laughing at
their own plight. How they all say, "We don't want to be heroes, we don't
want to be victims, we just want to lead normal lives." Their wry despair.
Mahmoud Darwish: "There is too much history and too many prophets in this
small land." The visit to Abu Ammar, Yasir Arafat, a holed fox, his waxed
yellow hands clinging to the empty clich&eacute;s of "a peace of the brave"
and "the conscience of the international community." A bourgeois lady
lamenting the desecration of the Palestinian landscape. And a human rights
!  lawyer claiming: "We are grateful to Sharon for two things--he united
all the Palestinian factions and he took away every option except to
resist." Later on, the same haunted man, chain-smoking and with the sweat
of death already on him, remarked bitterly that repression has penetrated
the skin of the people, and that now they have nothing else to defend
themselves with except their skins. Thus the human bombs. 

For these will be my contrasted conclusions: You have not broken the spirit
of the Palestinian people.  Quite the contrary--they are now more resolute
than ever to build a state; it doesn't matter how much you bully them. They
saw the renewed onslaught coming, they knew you were but playing footsy
with General Zinni--probably in agreement with Dick Cheney. They also know
that, since you have now made them stronger, you must strike harder and
deeper, because you are caught in a conundrum of your own making. Like Bush
in his crusade against the infidel and the disobedient, you have to
accelerate your distention of international public ethics and flaunt common
sense even more, and throw good moral money after bad political
assessments. They know that nothing they can do will appease you, short of
turning turtle. They fear you will have to compound this crime against
humanity which you are committing at present, that you may indeed break
their hopes for a secular, modern and democr! atic state responsible to its
population, and bring forth the devil among them.  They also know that this
will profoundly divide and weaken Israel. 

But you don't care, do you ? 

This is the pity and the horror. The pity and the horror.

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