Gaza Under Siege

How does such a small stretch of land like Gaza – 25 miles long, six miles wide – have such a giant set of problems? It’s unfortunately situated between Israel and the Mediterranean and therefore in the center of the everlasting Israeli-Arab conflict. It’s currently experiencing the worst bloodbath yet as Israeli bombs have so far killed over 13,000 people, including 6,000 children. It’s not just local since neighboring states and groups are poised for possible intervention, and even distant powers – the U.S. Russia, China – are keeping a wary, nervous eye on unfolding events.

The Palestinians were the first to strike. At dawn on October 7 2,000 militants from Hamas, which nominally governs Gaza, broke through Israeli border defenses and proceeded to attack three military installations, burning tanks and other vehicles, killing and capturing soldiers whom they dragged away as hostages along with many civilians whose presence in Gaza is unknown.

Israelis were astounded. How did ragged militants from Gaza pull this off? In fact, it had been planned for a long time in Gaza’s frustration at an Israeli blockade that has caused severe shortage of basic necessities, resulting in what is called, an “open-air prison.” Israel replied in kind, massively bombing northern Gaza, ordering Palestinians to move south and threatening to destroy Hamas to the last man.

Leading the Israeli assault is Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, who has built a career on reviling Arabs and leads a Likud Party that supports their removal from Israel altogether. He also backs the angry, armed settlers who continue to help themselves to Palestinian land on the West Bank. The war came to his political rescue since he faces severe charges of corruption like taking bribes from a Hollywood producer involved in sending U.S. nuclear secrets to Israel.

The bombing he ordered has been intense. There seems to be little left standing in northern Gaza as the war now moves south. Israelis have in particular targeted hospitals which they claim provide cover for Hamas command posts. With tanks and troops, they invaded Gaza’s largest hospital, al-Shifa, and found an opening in the ground that may lead to a network of tunnels beneath, though it has yet to be proved. There’s a question as to whether Israel would risk entering the well-fortified tunnels where battle hardened Hamas has an advantage.

A child runs in front of damaged buildings after airstrikes by Israel hit buildings in Gaza City.
ALI JADALLAH/ANADOLU AGENCY/GETTY IMAGES

The toll on children’s lives is staggering. In such a concentrated population every wayward bomb makes its mark, and there is no end to the strikes. A New York Times reporter on the scene describes desperate parents in search of missing children, children crying for parents they no longer see. Four-year-old Ahmad Shabat lies in a hospital bed with both legs amputated. Unaware, he keeps wanting to walk and asks for his mother and father who were killed along with several other family members by the same Israeli bomb. Doctors, overwhelmed with patients and lack of medicine, try to comfort him. A Red Cross worker at a Gaza shelter says children stay awake all night pleading “Please protect me. Please hide me. I don’t want to die.”

Netanyahu says Israelis don’t mean to kill civilians. That’s a casualty of war. But some stalwarts among his followers say killing children is permissible since they won’t be able to grow up to be terrorists.

Photos of this violence over the internet have led to pro-Palestinian demonstrations around the world and to a global spike in antisemitism. Neighboring Arab states and groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon are under pressure to intervene. Even great powers like the U.S., Russia and China have some involvement and could be drawn into this local maelstrom of destruction if it continues.

Wounded Palestinians wait for treatment at al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City following the al-Ahli Arab Hospital explosion.(ABED KHALED/AP)

What to do? There’s a simple overarching answer. Give the Palestinians what they have been promised over and over but then denied – a state of their own. This would not only end the turmoil between Israel and Palestine but also much reduce the terrorist attacks that are justified by unwavering U.S. support of Israeli policies. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes that first of all Netanyahu must be removed given that he is the worst leader in Israeli history, maybe in all Jewish history. Then Israel must establish a center-left, center-right national unity government that can cope with the war and hopefully spell finish to a conflict that has plagued the country and the region for over seventy years.  

An Israeli Major for Palestine

One night on patrol Major Nir Avishai Cohen saw two figures approaching the other side of the fence surrounding Gaza. The order was clear: shoot anyone attempting to climb the fence on the assumption he was a terrorist. A sniper fired. Two fell. One was killed, the other wounded. In terror, the surviving seventeen year old boy explained that he and a friend were going to look for work in Israel since none was available in destitute Gaza. That turned out to be the case.

This and similar incidents started Cohen thinking about the job he was assigned to do; namely, patrol in the occupied Palestinian territories. Why were they occupied and what sense did that make? He concluded that he was there largely to protect the Israeli settlers who thought they were Biblically entitled to the land where Palestinians live. Aside from injustice, this left Israel less secure where no border in fact exists and terrorists, if they choose, can easily cross. He writes in his book, Love Israel, Support Palestine, the settlers of Messianic bent are the main barrier to a peace treaty with the Palestinians.

Selfie of Nir Avishai Cohen posted on Facebook, October 9, 2023

Understandably, Cohen has been vilified with ample curses and death threats. In the military he’s tolerated as a skilled machine gunner who expresses his views as well as he shoots. He’s particularly concerned to reach a wider public, especially the young who have experienced only a hard right government for most of their lives. He says that as a man of the left, he wants to wake up Israeli’s rather somnolent left.

It would have been hard to predict this stance when as a small-town farm boy, he delighted in picking mangos. But there was also the lure of military life, and he prepared himself with long grueling runs. The enemy? Nowhere to be seen. He never visited the Arabs a mere twenty minutes away. “Giant invisible walls were built and nurtured between the Jews and the Arab settlements.”

Today, he writes, the Israeli government is stalling on a solution. But the status quo is not sustainable as the present disastrous war clearly shows. “There are two populations – Jewish and Arab -who Ivie in the same territory but have two different legal systems. The Jewish population is subject to Israeli law while the Arab population is subject to martial law.” This isn’t democracy, he writes, but apartheid.

Damage following an Israeli airstrike on the El-Remal aera in Gaza City on October 9, 2023. Photo by Naaman Omar\ apaimages

Cohen has tried his hand at politics with minimal success. His dream is the creation of a Jewish-Arab political party. A tentative move in that direction is a group he joined called “Breaking Silence,” which consists of former military men anxious to tell what they have learned about Palestinians in their service. The group has run up against what Cohen calls “a well-oiled incitement machine with a lot of money and media know-how that acted and continued to act against anyone who dares to go against Israel’s presence in the territories.” But they figure their service counts in their favor. Since they have risked their lives in defense of their country, they can hardly be accused of not loving it. So please listen to us.

Here Comes the Roman Empire

Among the amusing videos offered by Tik-Tok is one that is definitely out of character: the Roman Empire. What’s it doing in this lighthearted crowd? Puzzled women are asking men how often they think about the long-gone empire because apparently they do. The answers are startling – maybe once a month, said some. Once a week, replied others, .and more than a few admitted they thought about it every day. That’s a lot of Rome.

The Last Senate of Julius Caesar by Raffaele Giannetti

They didn’t explain their reasons, but we can surmise. Rome stood for strength, cohesion and a near unbeatable army. Today in the U.S. that’s lacking. Since the turn of the century, we have engaged in a number of wars without winning any of them. Rome sets a better example. Let’s think about it.

More American macho, scoff women who note their gender had a much subordinate role in the vaunted empire. But there were significant exceptions, especially in times of crisis. Honoria, sister of Emperor Valentinian, was infuriated at being sent into exile for an indiscrete love affair.  In retaliation she sent a message offering herself to Attila,  indomitable leader of the invading Huns. With the promise of a top-level bride to be, he demanded half the empire and almost got it until he was defeated in the famous battle of Chalons

Still, empire was mainly a man’s business, and manliness was expected and prized. A Roman was tested by adversity which was never lacking in an empire under continual threat by outside forces accurately described as barbarians. Character and courage were the traits needed to make their mark and promote the interests of Rome. When these lapsed in later years, the empire was destined to fall, according to many historians. Herein lie character lessons for an inquiring man today.

Yet there was more. The great 18th century British historian Edward Gibbon wrote in the opening pages of his multi-volume “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: “If a man were called to fix the period of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would without hesitation name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian (AD 96) to the accession of Commodus (AD 180). The vast extent of the Roman Empire was governed under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors whose character and authority commanded involuntary respect.”

The Romans fought hard to gain their empire and governed well to maintain it. Harsh when necessary to keep control, they left localities alone to govern themselves with their own values and gods. It was an instruction in self-government that assured an era of peace that the region had not known before or has known since.

Barbarian sack of Rome

This was exemplified by Julius Caesar who in his famed memoirs showed that aside from personal glory, he fought not to destroy neighboring Gaul but to bring it into the Roman Empire. No visionary or ideologue while a great general, he respected and didn’t hate the enemy he fought and was always negotiating while fighting. Come let’s all be Romans together, he said, and Gaul agreed.

This empire had a long run as empires go but eventually succumbed to barbarian pressures with emperors and armies that could no longer cope. But if we’re going to think about Rome, why not think big? What if it had managed to stave off the invaders and continued to exist through subsequent centuries? There would be no dark ages since arts and letters continued to flourish under Roman rule. No need for a Renaissance to revive them. Brilliant, creative European nations would develop under a watchful Rome able to prevent them from trying to destroy one another, culminating in two apocalyptic world wars whose savagery would have appalled even the barbarians who sacked Rome, while admiring it. Rome is gone, but understandably and thankfully, not its memory. See Tik-Tok

Good-bye Cartels

Two years ago, I was driving through the Mohave desert in southern California when I came upon an assortment of white canopied structures as far as the eye could see. What were they doing in this arid zone? They were illegally growing marijuana under the watchful eye and stern control of Mexican drug cartels – a patch of violent-prone Mexico transferred to the U.S. Don’t get too close, residents warned, or they will come out with guns and threaten you. As in Mexico, shootouts occur among rivals and dead bodies are a familiar sight. These alien occupants steal water from people in a parched land, destroy wildlife with overuse of pesticides and undercut legal American growers by avoiding taxes and burdensome regulations. A cartel paradise courtesy of the U.S.

Illegal marijuana farms in the Mojave Desert

But fortunately, not to last. On a recent trip back to the desert, these marijuana farms had altogether disappeared, not one to be seen wherever I looked. It seemed like magic but was the result of hard tedious work. People were fed up with the costly, dangerous cartel intrusion and officials of sprawling San Bernardino County acted accordingly. Sheriff Shannon Discus organized a task force with heavy machinery to smash green houses, machetes to cut plants and guns for protection that steadily eliminated one farm after another. By now some thousands have been destroyed containing over a million plants. The desert is back to normal.

And what a desert! Its austere serene beauty is fit for more than marijuana. How about tourism instead? A manager of a popular inn located in the pleasant town of Twenty-nine Palms says she can live in a bubble now undisturbed by outside commotion. Just add a fancy restaurant to traditional digs and here come the guests. A staffer at the same inn says life may be easier now for a close friend who made the mistake of leasing some land at $2,000 a month to friendly Mexicans who turned out to be cartel toughs, a familiar transaction in these parts where land is cheap. At the first sign of inquiring police they fled with all the equipment they could take ahead of demolition.

San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office raids on illegal cannabis farms

On my first trip I visited a dot of a desert town called Landers where a post office marks the center. There two apparently anxious women were discussing in hushed voices the latest doings of the local cartels. As elsewhere homeowners were possibly outnumbered and definitely outgunned by the intruding Mexicans who treated them, well, like Mexicans. So what if they were Americans. The land actually belonged to Mexico before it was appropriated by the U.S. in the 1840’s war with Mexico. Some cartel leaders want it back. The marijuana invasion is a start.

Today the once near deserted post office is bustling with activity. The farms are gone, says a relaxed resident who notes that the remains of one can be found down a dirt road at the foot of a nearby mountain. There I observed the hulk of a greenhouse that had seen better days of a prospering cartel. Elsewhere remains of farms consisted of heaps of ruble. Demolition had been thorough, making the emphatic point that the illicit growers should not think of returning.

While a cloud has lifted for the people of the Mohave desert, the drug cartels have suffered a genuine setback. This at a time when they are making aggressive advances on the border with drugs and migrants. They are virtually unstoppable. San Bernardino shows they can be stopped and furnishes an example. The outraged people of the county made their concerns clear to county officials. If nothing was done, they could take the law into their own hands. Indeed that’s a western tradition. Law enforcement got the message and went to work. There is much more work to be done as cartel farms continue to spread in California, Oregon and elsewhere.

Appalled by cartel violence, some hawkish Republicans talk of bombing drug labs in Mexico and other kinds of military action. It makes more sense to clean up the U.S. first, from eliminating all the marijuana farms to disrupting cross country drug and human traffic to closing the now open border. Hit the cartels where it hurts in the pocketbook. Their existence depends on U.S sales. Cut them, and the cartels may be weakened to the point that besieged Mexicans can finally rebel the way San Bernardino did.

Freud Today – Does He Still Matter?

Freud is food for indigestion. Indigestion! What a mistake. That’s not what I meant to say, which was “food for thought.” Are you sure about that? asks Freud. In fact, you have committed a Freudian slip, whereby you unintentionally reveal your true thoughts through a slip of the tongue. And you are not alone. Everyone does this sooner or later. It can’t be helped. In his Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Freud catalogues the instances. It makes amusing if discomfiting reading – the stumbles of the mind.

Sigmund Freud c. 1935

Not even the Washington elite are immune from such stumbles. At a lavish dinner party, Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser to U.S. President George W. Bush, started to talk about a recent encounter with her boss. “As I was telling my husb…as I was telling the President.” The slip, suggestive of an affection beyond the political, was the talk of the cocktail circuit for many days.

Yet speaking of Freud in terms of indigestion is not wide of the mark. That’s how many people feel when they first read him. His unsparing search of the unconscious turns up many items you would just as soon not know about. That’s his method. By removing the repressions that conceal your thoughts and desires, he lets you live more comfortably with yourself, no longer burdened with memories of past abuse, particularly from childhood. Freudian psychoanalysis is liberating, not only for the individual but also for society. After the trauma of the First World War, people were ready for the emotional release that Freud offered. His theories caught on in America more than anywhere else.

In fact, he didn’t much care for America – too egalitarian. He had a lofty view of his own role as leading humanity to the promised land of psychoanalysis much as Moses led the Jewish people from Egypt to Canaan. In fact, defying tradition, he identified Moses not as Jewish but as a gentile Egyptian, which was one iconoclastic act too many for his once adoring public. Enough of his theories of psychosexual development. They didn’t pan out and were scientifically invalid. He was overly concerned with self, said critics, especially the sexual self. And psychoanalysis didn’t seem to be of more help to the mentally disturbed than other kinds of treatment. Freudianism was a fad. Its time was up.

Moses by Michelangelo

Yet Freud persevered. He was aways open to change and refinement of theory. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, he acknowledged that pleasure or happiness is not necessarily the main goal in life as he had once thought. He struggled to describe what he termed the death instinct in human beings, made all too vivid by the carnage of the First World War. He abhorred the resulting communism and was imperiled by Nazism.

There is something inherently aggressive in human life, he decided, regardless of circumstance or system. Love is not a solution since love for one group implies enmity toward another. Reality is a permanent “struggle between the instinct of life and the instinct of destruction as it works itself out in the human species.” Freud says he is no prophet and cannot offer the consolation that everyone demands from the “wildest revolutionaries no less passionately than the most virtuous believers.” It’s not the stuff of lullaby. The warring instincts are within us all and we must choose. It’s not easy, but then neither is life. Civilization and its Discontents is Freud’s last disturbing word. With that he is finished …oops, a slip… he is forever.

The Woman Who Said No

By now it’s conceded that the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a mistake or much worse. It was based on the fear that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction he was prepared to use and ties to al-Qaida, the terrorist group responsible for the 9-11 attack. He didn’t. The war was meant to lead to a democratic Iraq and a more peaceful Middle East. It didn’t. Instead, a devastating, prolonged conflict took 4,600 American lives and as many as half a million Iraqi ones. It set the stage for other equally dubious invasions that roiled the Middle East and North Africa, creating more than a million refugees. Today the fighting still continues for reasons that remain unclear.

In his new book, “War Made Invisible,” political analyst Norman Soloman recalls the enthusiasm with which Americans, the media in particular, greeted the war. Cheerleading doesn’t quite convey the coverage. It was a kind of exaltation, the lone superpower bringing justice to the world. Setting an example, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman called the war “one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad.” Iraq must be bombed, he said, “over and over and over again.  Blow up a different power station in Iraq every week so no one will know when the lights will go off or who’s in charge.” For this inspired commentary Friedman was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

Amid the clamor for battle, writes Solomon, there was one sober voice. Ashleigh Banfield was an up-and-coming TV star who reported from war zones in a casual, winning manner. TV producers and critics were delighted by a captivating blond so comfortable in front of a camera. Said MSNBC President Eric Sorenson: “She’s the age of the audience we want and she’s a great communicator in the authoritative energetic way this generation wants.”

Ashleigh Banfield

But in contrast to the producers back home, Banfield actually experienced the war and decided it should be made more visible. A few weeks into what seemed to be an overwhelming victory, she gave a speech noting some of the grim realities of war.  “What didn’t you see? You didn’t see where those bullets landed. You didn’t see what happened when the mortar landed. There are horrors that were completely left out of this war. It was a glorious, wonderful picture that had a lot of people watching and a lot of advertisers excited about cable news. But it wasn’t journalism.”

Attuned to invisibility, TV management was aghast. What was this outrageous blond up to? NBC stalwarts said she didn’t speak for the network and must choose her words more carefully. Not that she was given the chance. Later she described how she was treated for many months after her unacceptable speech. She had no work or office or equipment. A kind of solitary prisoner, Soviet style, she begged to be let out of her contract. But NBC President Neal Shapiro wouldn’t hear of it for fear she would take her brand to another network and make a success of it. “Maybe that’s why he chose to keep me in a warehouse,” she concludes. When she finally left, she went on to other TV journalism while NBC continued to report its invisible war.

Today the mainstream media has found another war to act in unison on – Ukraine. But it doesn’t enjoy the monopoly it once had. Dissent is easily available on the internet, and significant public figures like Donald Trump and Robert F. Kenedy Jr., have expressed their opposition to the war. Maybe Ashleigh Banfield set an example.

Drug Cartel Ties to Washington

Hunter Biden’s wandering laptop seems to have an inexhaustible supply of information, much of it damaging to the user and his father President Joe. The latest revelations published by The London Daily Mail indicate prolonged business dealings with prominent super rich Mexican businessmen, notably billionaires Carlos Slim and Miguel Aleman Velasco, who made many visits to the Vice President’s office in 2014.  Hunter was continually excited by the prospect of investing with these heavies in Mexico and Latin America, not that it always worked out, leading to his heartfelt complaint: why are you so silent after all I’ve done?

On one occasion Joe flew with Hunter on Air Force 2 (at taxpayers’ expense) to meet Aleman’s son to consummate a deal considered “flippin’ gigantic.” Relations were congenial, if not in fact cozy, with rest and fun on Caribbean beaches and ample time to discuss such things as the flow of Mexican drugs to the U.S.

Former VP Joe and son Hunter Biden with Carlos Slim in 2015

President Joe and Hunter would probably indignantly deny this. The meetings were all about business. But business is not conducted in a vacuum in Mexico. Everything revolves around the drug trade of which wealthy businessmen form a part, like it or not. Along with all other Mexicans they belong to the cartels from whom they take their instructions and make a lot of money. They will not do so if they go astray, and their lives will be forfeited as well. The cartels react briskly to signs of disaffection. Consider the Mexican homicide rate and the bodies hanging along the highways.

So, the Bidens may as well shake hands with the cartels. They have put their stamp of approval – their brand – on the true enemies of the U.S., which will be used to their advantage. The cartel chiefs are reassured. Nothing to worry about from the U.S. So, it’s business as usual with the satisfaction of paying off top officials. Not that this is apparent to the American media which continues to describe the cartels as separate from the government with no-up-to-date analysis of the actual workings of the government – who’s in charge? who does what to whom? We know more about Syria or Somalia, where we are actively intervening, than about next-door Mexico, which we leave alone.

Why this reluctance to face the reality of the cartels? Qui bono? Mexican drug sales in the U.S. may amount to as much as 100 billion dollars a year. No one knows for sure. While most is laundered back to Mexico – easily done – enough remains in the U.S. to fill obliging pockets. It can be said that the Bidens’ dealings are done openly compared to far greater behind-the-scenes operations.

These carry grave risks, the cartels are poisoning more Americans than ever with their drugs, especially lethal fentanyl. They are also spreading what can only be called armed camps by the tens of thousands around the U.S. These are illegal marijuana farms complete with an armed guard or two to keep neighbors at a distance. Put them all together and if properly coordinated, they constitute a veritable army. Colonel Douglas MacGregor told Tucker Carlson that we will eventually be fighting them here in the U.S. May the best man win.

But have no fear. The drug cartels have made it known they favor peace. Notes Mexican President Lopez Obrador, as he anticipates the upcoming talks on the Ukraine war in Saudi Arabia: “We don’t want the Russia-Ukraine war to continue. It’s very irrational. The only thing that benefits from it is the war industry.” Mexico will stick to its kind of war.