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Against the Wall - and another thing . . . .

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Thinking over Professor Sari Nusseibeh's ridiculous analogy about the Israeli-built wall that obstructs Palestinian access to Israel (see my previous blog post), quoted with approval in David Hare's "Wall: A Monologue," published in The New York Review of Books, I realized that I had one additional comment on Nusseibeh's analysis.  As Nusseibeh writes:

[The wall is like] like sticking someone in a cage and then when he starts screaming, as any normal person would, using his violent temper as justification for putting him in the cage in the first place. The wall is the perfect crime because it creates the violence it was ostensibly built to prevent.
(p. 8.)  The last sentence contains some deeply sloppy and irresponsible reasoning and argument.  The wall doesn't "create" violence.  The wall creates unfair, unjust and inhumane conditions to which people respond. 

How people respond to unfairness, injustice, and inhumanity is a choice.  In their exercise of that choice, people demonstrate their character and, indeed, their humanity. 

Even acknowledging the justifiable, probably hard-wired human need for revenge, choosing violence as a response is not inevitable.  The "Red Orchestra" chose non-violent resistance to the Nazis; Indians chose non-violent resistance to British colonialism; Black Americans chose non-violent resistance to racial segregation.  Having spent the last five years living in China, India and Africa, I've watched most of the people around me choose non-violent resistance to the myriad and genuine injustices, unfairnesses and inhumane actions to which they've been subjected.

The wall is an instrument of oppression - truly a wailing wall - but it doesn't absolve those Palestinians who chose violence in response of responsibility for their choice.  By eliminating Palestinian choice and responsibility in his analogy (the provocation of the wall = the violence of the response), Nusseibeh denies Palestinian humanity as certainly as does some Israeli policy.  

Against the Wall

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Why call a written account of a trip to Occupied Palestinian Territories a "monologue," instead of a "feature article" or "travelogue"?  One reason is that, as David Hare apparently has done, the piece is meant to be performed by a single person in front of an audience.  Another reason might be that David Hare, an experienced playwright, feels more comfortable writing in a familiar format, and one that absolves him entirely from journalistic standards.

Yet a third reason is that a monologue is a device for allowing the audience a privileged glimpse of the character's interior.  From its tone, I suspect that David Hare, in his "Wall: A Monologue," published in The New York Review of Books, intended his monologue as more of a Hyde Park op-ed piece - a voluble, live-action, attention-grabbing public intellectual's speech - than as a window into his depths, but I found the piece most significant for what it revealed about him: that he's a shallow-thinking asshole.

I don't say this for political reasons.  I agree with his political conclusions.  Like him, I am against the Wall.

But I don't support Hare coming to the same conclusions for the wrong reasons.  And Hare, from the evidence of his monologue, can't reason.

Two examples suffice.  First, Hare quotes with approval the analogy posed by Professor Sari Nusseibeh:

[The wall is] like sticking someone in a cage and then when he starts screaming, as any normal person would, using his violent temper as justification for putting him in the cage in the first place. The wall is the perfect crime because it creates the violence it was ostensibly built to prevent.
(p. 8.)  This analogy is dramatic and emotionally-manipulative, but it's wrong.  The wall is like sticking a criminal in prison, along with his family, his neighbors, and everyone in a miles-wide diameter.  Yes, it's unfair.  Yes, it's disproportionate. Yes, the innocent suffer.  But, yes, there is a criminal in the mix.  The criminal doesn't justify the wall, but any reasoned conclusion about the wall has to absorb the baseline fact that Israelis are trying to protect themselves from suicide bombers.

Hare does not absorb this fundament.  As he says later, after having been scandalized by a Saddam Hussein poster in a coffee shop in Nablus,

At least now I know why the wall's gone up. The Israelis want to separate themselves from people who display posters of Saddam Hussein. Who can blame them? Or - hold on, the old conundrum - do they display posters of Saddam Hussein because somebody just put up a wall?

(p.12.)  Hold on, Hare: Saddam Hussein posters are not the issue.  The wall has gone up because Israelis are dying in suicide bombings, which have - as Hare acknowledges - decreased 80% since the wall went up.

I don't think this statistic justifies the wall; even 100% reduction in suicide bombings wouldn't justify the wall from my perspective.  The wall imposes unwarranted punishments on too many innocent people for its effectiveness against criminals to be justified.  But I accept that deaths - not the unbearable sight of Saddam Hussein's visage - is the price of the wall's removal. 

In Hare's view, the wall is a frivolous exercise in power "because they [the Israelis] can."  (p. 10.)  Well, if that's the way you see the balance of costs, then it takes no courage, conviction or intellectual exercise to conclude that the wall needs "gates."  (p.12.)

The Israelis who are against the wall, on the other hand, have a more nuanced understanding of the balance of costs.  Consciously deciding that the wall is the wrong approach to security in Israel requires an openness to risk, a breadth of compassion, and a generous measure of moral integrity (better to live in danger than impose harm on innocents) - qualities that, in Hare's analysis, the Israelis don't have.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has imposed such profound, unnecessary and devastating costs on so many people for so long for many reasons, but one reason has been an absence of clear thinking.  Despite Hare's obvious empathy for the Palestinians (which I share), he's doing them no favors with his contribution to the muddled (lack of) reasoning that has characterized the Israeli-Palestinian confrontations.

So should I call this blog post a "monologue"?

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Wall: A Monologue category.

Pygmalion is the previous category.

Women Beware Women is the next category.

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