It's Saturday, the 14th. We are 17 days from Halloween. And as I sit here at my desk, with blessedly, the door open to the lovely fall weather, the people two houses down are throwing a Halloween party on their back porch. What I hear are the most adorable sounds on the planet. Kids playing. Laughter, yells, surprised little girls and boys playing chase, and after a few hours, kids throwing a football, playing a little soccer, and swordfighting with styrofoam pool noodles as the sun sets in the backyard. And one young girl was getting the best of the fencing match.
It is a crowd of clowns, pirates, princesses, and one kid costumed as a cell phone. I think it was an old flat-screen TV box. The moms in charge were dressed as an angel and Snow White. And the giggling and shouting have been constant all afternoon. Before I became a father 26 years ago, this little, unknown event wouldn't have rated any attention at all. Now, I find it the most reassuring sound in the world. Kids as kids. Every kid should have years of afternoons like this one. Life will get serious enough, soon enough.
And then I make the mistake of turning on the news. Well, of course, I have to. I do the news on radio and write these mindless bits of drivel. But the last week has made it hard to have faith in the future of these kids next door.
Our Congress, for example, is populated with people not much smarter than the kids playing games this afternoon. And they are ready for Halloween as well. Republican Congresswoman Nancy Mace wore a scarlet letter t-shirt as a symbol of voting to remove Kevin McCarthy.
Though, since, as I have admitted, I am a shallow man, I can forgive her after seeing this. Then Harriet Hageman, the party hack who replaced Liz Cheney in Wyoming came with a lariat as Dale Evans, apparently...
And yes, again as a shallow man, she makes Liz Cheney look like Liz Taylor. But this costume party reminds me of what Aesop wrote...
"A mountain was in labor, uttering immense groans, and on earth there was very great expectation. But it gave birth to a mouse. This has been written for you, who, though you threaten great things, accomplish nothing."
In this case, the mouse is Jim Jordan. Really, that is the best we can do in the year of our Lord, 2023? Just pick a speaker, for crying out loud. I recommend George Santos as his astronaut training and Wall Street experience should serve him well.
Since Reagan, many have been running on the premise that government just doesn't work. And they have finally proven it. It is a self-fulfilling feedback loop. Forget money to Iran, for them reality is fungible.
And the Presidential leader they actually appear to have chosen was fulminating on his semi-social media platform with insults for Israel's leaders, praise for Hezbollah, and a warning to Republicans in the House not to cooperate at all with the other team because "that's not leadership." It's logic like this that seemingly has made this guy the runaway leader for the nomination? Of course though, to be fair, absolutely no international crisis in the last few years would have happened if the world knew this guy was sipping Diet Coke behind the Resolute Desk.
And until this nonsense is over, the parliamentary body of the reputedly greatest power on earth is frozen. So Israel, Gaza, Ukraine, all can simply wait for the most unserious group of people on earth to finish their tantrums to expect any help from the United States.
And among those waiting, are children. I know, that is the last refuge of the desperate, talking about the children. But in this case, and in Ukraine, we have seen an entire generation of kids either killed, wounded or changed for life. And we do seem to cavalierly write them off due to the sins of the fathers.
We all stared open-mouthed last week as the details of the Hamas massacre were revealed. We watched the pretty girl on the motorcycle being carried, screaming for help, into captivity in Gaza. We saw the bloody nursery, the infant carrier with a bloodstain where the head would be. And we realized yet again that the capacity of human beings for simple, mindless evil.
And then in a plot we've all grown familiar with, the inevitable and completely justifiable attempt to find and punish those responsible for these inconceivable atrocities. And after 6000 bombs, endless artillery rounds and an impending occupation, the term "collateral damage," seems insufficient. It is all too easy to see these kids in Gaza as simply very young terrorists in training, but they aren't. Yet. Although, given enough prodding, they might well be down the road.
I have a friend in Utah. She was a reporter that I mentored years ago, and went on to great success, ending up in Washington, D.C. eventually. She left the business, as so many do, and that is a separate story for another time, and is now doing public relations in Utah. I won't name her or her employer, but we are still friends on Facebook and I see her pain. She is a Palestinian-American from Detroit, and, although it shouldn't matter, a Christian. And I have watched her posts in the last week.
So, her dilemma is, if you are of Palestinian heritage, and a decent person as most are, how do you respond to this? I am of Irish heritage and was flummoxed by the wanton killing during what are so euphemistically termed, "The Troubles." People were blowing each other up over differing views of Christianity, for God's sake. Except it wasn't for God's sake. And as always, the kids were the real victims.
My friend has tried patiently to explain that there are real and legitimate grievances among Palestinians. I discussed this in previous posts, but it's worth mentioning.
In 1948, when the UN voted to essentially, give Jews a homeland, they divided the old British Palestinian Mandate into a home for both Jews and Arabs. To be fair, the Arab side, and their Arab neighbors, didn't accept it and the first Arab-Israeli war began. So, yes, blame the Palestinian side for not accepting half a loaf.
Since then there have been 3 major Arab-Israeli wars and a number of smaller conflicts like Lebanon, Gaza, etc. But also, Israel has, perhaps justifiably, marginalized Palestinians and increasingly encroached on the land they hoped would one day be theirs, the West Bank of the Jordan River.
This is what my friend has tried to convey, without diminishing at all what Israel endured a week ago. But as she said, if you weep for Israeli children, shouldn't you weep for Palestinian children? They didn't bring this on themselves.
I know, it's tough given the photos we have seen. It hardens the heart. Surely the weeping mothers in Gaza we see on the nightly news, knew about Hamas and their plans, right? Maybe their husbands were involved? It may be. It also may be that they were simply powerless in the face of it, given the gender dynamics of the Middle East. And their children were out in a dusty, rubble-strewn street playing soccer. How were they involved? But they will be involved in the aftermath.
And whatever sympathy I have for the plight of the innocent in Gaza, and it is considerable, I can't excuse some of the demonstrations occurring around the world that simply ignore what was done a week ago.
Frankly, it's an impossible equation. And it's one that this latest attack has probably changed forever. There will have to be a new order in the Middle East, at least as far as Israel is concerned. And the pointless, and misleading politics we are seeing here aren't helping. Americans used to band together when there were world crises. 9-11 is a good example. I was proud of our response to the attack, at least until we overshot the landing and decided, you know, Iraq, because, hey, we were already in the neighborhood.
But this battle has been brewing since a year before I was born and shows no sign of easing. Even after this, can hearts be changed? Consider the late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Originally from what is now Belarus, he lived in Poland during WWII and was in the Polish army for a time.
When the Russians took over, and Begin's Zionist writings were known, the Soviets locked him up and sent him to a labor camp.
He later joined the Free Polish Army to fight the Nazis. When he was sent to Palestine during the war, he, like a lot of Polish Jews decided to stay and fight for independence. He joined the Irgun, the most militant group in the Jewish resistance. These guys were too radical for the regular Israeli military, the Haganah. Begin ordered an attack on the British military and administrative headquarters at the King David Hotel following a request from the Haganah, although the Haganah's permission was later rescinded. The King David Hotel bombing resulted in the destruction of the building's southern wing, and 91 people, mostly British, Arabs, and Jews, were killed.
After the war and independence, he helped form a political party that later became Likud, the conservative party and later still, became Prime Minister. And yet, this least likely peacemaker, this old conservative warrior, did this in 1978...
He, along with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, another old soldier who had fought the Israelis during countless wars, signed the Camp David Accords. And that peace has lasted well beyond these two men.
Like Nixon to China, sometimes the least likely people are chosen to make the big step. Sometimes it is dangerous. Sadat was assassinated. Another Peacemaker, Yitzhak Rabin was as well. Benjamin Netanyahu has been a political survivor in the rough and tumble of Israeli politics. He cut deals with politicians that a few years earlier he wouldn't have spat on if they were on fire.
But in 2015, he claimed that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, gave Adolf Hitler the idea for the Holocaust in the preceding months of the Second World War, convincing the Nazi leader to exterminate Jews rather than just expel them from Europe. This idea is dismissed by mainstream historians, who note that al-Husseini's meeting with Hitler took place approximately five months after the mass murder of Jews began.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a more honest politician, said she did not accept Netanyahu's claims, and reiterated an acceptance of her country's crimes during the Nazi era. Netanyahu later explained that his "aim was not to absolve Hitler from the responsibility he bears, but to show that the father of the Palestinian nation at the time, without a state and before the 'occupation', without the territories and with the settlements, even then aspired with systemic incitement for the destruction of the Jews."
Some of the strongest criticism came from Israeli academics: Yehuda Bauer said Netanyahu's claim was "completely idiotic", while Moshe Zimmermann stated that "any attempt to deflect the burden from Hitler to others is a form of Holocaust denial."
And you can add to this his indictment on bribery and fraud. I realize this is like asking Senator Menendez to negotiate, but imperfect vessels have been used before. When this is all over, or at least this crisis passes, is there any desire on Bibi's part to do something lasting and historic? Does he have the integrity and courage to do something permanent? Or is he just another hack using a tragedy to maintain his office? He has world opinion pretty much on his side after this horror. Can some good come from this horror to change the trajectory of the Middle East? And is there someone on the other side with an equal commitment to make good on the old saying, "Never again."
There are a lot of Israeli and Palestinian kids who would like an answer, so they can play like my neighbors on this lovely Fall afternoon.