November 23, 2023

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“Vengeance is mine,” is the Lord’s saying, but also the title of a best-selling Mickey Spillane trashy novel of the ’50s. The slaughter that’s taking place in the Middle East as I write this is all about vengeance, but then most wars are about revenge. In May 1946, in Tokyo, the American victors decided to put on trial the Japanese losers, with 28 defendants sitting before judges chosen from nations on the winning side. I was 9 years old at the time, but I remember very clearly my great-uncle, the Chief Justice of the Greek Supreme Court at the time, saying that the wrong people were in the dock. Two atomic bombs dropped on old men, women, and children in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not to mention the close to 100,000 dead in the firebombing of Tokyo prior to that, had outraged a great man who did not believe in killing innocents. When my father pointed out that the Japanese had started it, my uncle’s retort made sense: The Japanese were forced to fight by Roosevelt’s embargo, and chose to attack a military base and military personnel.

It was hard to argue with him then, and 75 years later even harder. The Tokyo trial lasted almost three times as long as the Nuremberg one did. (There was no trial for the firebombing of Dresden by the Allies; instead it was called a great victory. Dresden consisted of libraries and churches, old men, women, and children.) Ex-Premier Tojo wiped the floor with chief prosecutor Joseph Keenan, and curried favor with one of the judges, Radhabinod Pal, an Indian jurist. Tojo went proudly to his death, as did most of the defendants, including the totally innocent Prince Konoye, the emperor’s cousin.

“First the Palestinians avenged themselves against the Israelis, and the latter responded in kind and then some.”

Since World War II, many people in the West as well as in the East believe that all the fancy talk about law and justice is American bullshit. Putin correctly balks at the so-called rules-based order. Where does it come from? he asks. Who has ever seen these rules? The Chinese and Russians are on thin ice given the invasion of Ukraine, which China tacitly supports, yet good old Uncle Sam has used force more than 100 times since 1990, frequently without U.N. authority. The good uncle is crying wolf over Ukraine but failed to wail over Afghanistan, Iraq, not to mention overthrowing governments in South America since time immemorial.

But I’m supposed to be writing about revenge, not Uncle Sam, who seems to me a very vengeful person. To many observers, the war in Gaza was and is unthinkable in its scale and ferocity, first by Hamas, then by Israel. One thousand two hundred Israeli victims—a number I think will greatly diminish over time—as compared with close to 12,000 Palestinians, including more than 4,000 children. I’d call that a pretty good revenge, one that is in fact a war crime if there ever were one.

The Israeli-Palestinian problem measures in decades—seven decades, to be exact—and is one of destruction and nonstop revenge by both sides. Israel started it by wiping out entire Palestinian villages while establishing the state. Palestinians have endured a subjugation ever since, one that has defined their daily lives.

Once upon a time America called it manifest destiny, and that’s what Israel has done these past 75 years. They also built a high-tech economy as well as a democracy, the only democracy in that part of the world. And have given their Palestinian citizens more rights than most Arab countries give their own subjects. And yet! Like most people, Palestinians want to be free to choose who leads them, and until now they’ve been led by corrupt and self-serving leaders who have lined their pockets while in cahoots with Israeli occupiers. Hamas provoked the bear by murdering innocents indiscriminately and with unheard-of cruelty. Israel is responding by killing ten Palestinians for every Israeli victim, including women and children. In fact, Israeli forces have killed half of 1 percent of Gaza’s population. Is this vengeance or what, as they used to say in the Casbah.

Two-thirds of the Gaza population is made up of refugees; in other words, people who lost nearby lands and homes to Israeli force of arms and had to move to Gaza. The cleansing of Arabs in the West Bank continues as I write, with Israeli extremists now in government supporting religious settlers who evict Palestinians daily.

Smoldering Gaza is now a graveyard of women, children, and mostly innocents, as Hamas fighters know how to defend themselves and blend in with the populace. Gaza has also fractured certain alliances back here in the Bagel, between the Democratic Party and American Jews. The latter have always voted for the former but are now faced with polls that demand a cease-fire. Three-quarters of Democrats polled want a cease-fire, but American Jews call that anti-Semitism. I call it crying wolf once too often. American Jews have often been accused of dual loyalty, but now is not the time to test their loyalty to the U.S. government. Advocates for the freedom and safety of Palestinians are not anti-Semites but rational human beings who believe Biden and the Democratic Party are sanctioning atrocities.

I started this diatribe by writing about revenge. First the Palestinians avenged themselves against the Israelis, and the latter responded in kind and then some. Israel’s great protector and benefactor, Uncle Sam, then failed to keep Israel’s response within limits, and lost the youth vote the world over. So what is the good uncle supposed to do now? Declare that only people over 40 can vote? Not a bad idea, come to think of it.


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