July 18, 2004

The NY Times and my blood pressure

I read the paper at the table this morning and it pissed me off for the whole morning. One of these days, I'm going to check my pressure before breakfast, not have any coffee (as a control), and check it again after reading the Times.

Roger Cohen is a _____ (supply your own appropriate word here, my choices don't make the cut since, while they are all heartfelt, they probably make me look less and less like an adult). His article/editorial (hard to know which since it wasn't on the op/ed piece but it certainly wasn't reporting), was an unmitigated horror of moral relativism which places a lower value on the lives of Jewish children killed by suicide bombers than it does on the consequences to the Palestinians because of the wall. I will explain.

The article starts with some facts which one senses Mr. Cohen disapproves of. "If Israelis are going to the beach and to clubs again, and if bombings have become rare, it is thanks in large part, they insist, to these ditches and guard towers and coils of barbed wire and miles of wire fencing that separate two peoples, demarcating the gulf between them." Meaning, the wall has allowed Israelis to lead normal lives with less fear of someone strapping on a belt of explosives with a package of nails dipped in rat poison in their pockets, and blowing up a bus or a nightclub. Cohen seems to me to minimize the importance of everyday normalcy by choosing the most frivolous possible examples to illustrate the larger point that the wall is taking away the fear. The ever present, grinding you down, fear. By putting it in this way, Cohen trivializes it and makes it seem ridiculous.

But let's continue, shall we? Cohen notes that while there is no one single explanation for the sharp decline in the number of suicide bombings, everyone agrees that the wall plays an important role. Cohen then contrasts the high tech nature of the wall monitoring center with the Palestinian condition on the other side of the wall and writes:

"What often seems to be missing from these Israeli musings is any grasp of the life of the Palestinians on the other side of the barrier. On those war-room screens the most common sight is a Palestinian in a donkey cart trundling along a dirt track. The contrast between the high-tech Israeli cameras that deliver these images and the abject existence of the Palestinians photographed provides an apt summation of the divergence of the societies: a first-world Israel forging ahead as best it can, a third-world Palestinian society going backward."

Neat juxtaposition, no? By choosing to put these concepts next to each other in his arti-torial, Cohen leaves you with the impression that the reason for the plight of the blameless Palestinian is the wall. What else could be to blame for their society going back to the Third World standard? He goes on to outline the effects of the wall on the Palestinians compared to life for the Israelis -- dirt tracks v. highways, donkeys v. cars. The impact is clear for Mr. Cohen. The wall is a disaster for the Palestinians.

Here, I ask myself, so? I don't believe that the wall is to blame for Palestinian economic disintegration. Their economy imploded when they turned to violence from negotiation. The Intafada killed it, not Israel. The most basic human right that any society needs to provide to its citizens is freedom from death from outsiders. Israel is doing so now with a non-lethal barrier. Israel has no real choice -- build a barrier and separate or watch its buses blow up all over the country. This is not an option. Palestinians have to stop trying to kill Israelis and have to stop teaching their children to hate. Or else, they should not be permitted access to the First World on the other side of the wall.

I started by saying Cohen's arti-torial was an exercise in moral relativism and I'm not sure I made my point. My fault, of course. Let me be clear, by comparing the inconvenience of the Palestinian farmer and his donkey who have to wait for the Israeli soldier to let him through to his orchards with the freedom of the Israeli to lead a life free from the fear of an explosive device, he has elevated the one concept of the Palestinian right to convenience to the level of the moral right of the Israeli to live at all. It elevates the one while diminishing the other. Even if it is the freedom to go to the beach, that is still the freedom to live without fear. If that inconveniences someone else, well, so be it. To put these two concepts on the same level, is the basest kind of relativism.

Mr. Cohen, you should be ashamed of yourself for adding your pen to this cause at this time.

I really hate the Times.

Posted by Random Penseur at July 18, 2004 02:57 PM

Great critique. I often say that we're strong because we're rich and we're rich because we're free. Reading the NYT you'd think that the Palistinian poverty was caused by Isreal's prosperity.

I remember reading some time ago ago about a guy who was asked to give a speech titled "What Causes Poverty?". He said he'd give the speech only if he could change the title to "What Causes Prosperity?".
Poverty is the natural consequence of inaction while prosperity is the result of robust activity. Cohen's clever juxtapositions are the kind of creative sophistry that'd make Michael Moore jealous.

Posted by: Tuning Spork at July 18, 2004 09:57 PM

According to my Ulpan (Hebrew language learning) teacher, Ramallah was once a bustling center of commerce, prior to the infantadia, helped in part by the Jews who lived in nearby settlements going into Ramallah for banking and shopping needs.

Their "squalor" (and come and look at some of the 'refugee" camps. They sport beautiful, large homes) is based to a great degree on how they choose to use their funds. Stop spending money on bombs and terrorist camps, start spending it on other areas, and they won't have to drive donkey carts down unpaved roads.

But it will always come down to blaming Jews; it is the only way for many Arab countries to exist. Without us to kick around their populations would see how much they are being deprived of in their lives. They just might start demanding freedom.

Posted by: Rachel Ann at July 19, 2004 02:45 AM

TS: Nice turn of phrase with respect to Mr. Moore.

Needless to say, I agree with both of you (TS and Rachel).

Posted by: RP at July 19, 2004 09:41 AM
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