Blood, Soil and Art
As an artist I would like to declare that I was delighted with the Israeli ambassador’s reaction last week in Sweden. I was thrilled with Sharon’s response and the Jewish outrage. Art is there to provoke. It isn’t there to please; nor is it there to support the common perception of what is right and what is wrong. Art is the most effective means of generating confrontation between different perspectives. In fact, if ever there was any doubt regarding the artistic value of the Feilers’ installation, Ambassador Mazel’s emotional reaction should have dispelled it: this is a piece of art of immense importance. It is a piece of art about the art of peace–terms that are lacking from Zionist discourse.
The installation ‘Snow White and Madness of Truth’ consists of a pool of blood-coloured water on which a boat carrying the photograph of the suicide bomber Hahadi Jaradat floats. As far as I know, there is no indication that the red pool refers in particular to either Palestinian or Jewish blood. Presumably a person with poetic and artistic tendencies might even go as far as to suggest that the work has something to tell us about the situation in Iraq or Afghanistan or any other conflict. Mazel, however, interpreted the installation as anti-Semitic propaganda. For Zionists, blood is always their own blood, the blood of ‘innocent Jewish victims’. Given the fact that in the second intifada Palestinian casualties have far outnumbered Israeli ones, we should ask ourselves why the ambassador concluded that the red pool symbolises some sort of mockery of Jewish blood. How did an official representative of an oppressive state come to adopt the bizarre self-image of an innocent victim?
It appears as if we confront here a form of severe blindness which reached a new peak with Mazel’s act of vandalism. To start with, a pool of blood is not an image that would flatter the Palestinians. Palestinian people are not proud of the suicidal doctrine. It isn’t a question of pride. At war against a super power, this is their only way to resist the never ending occupation. It is hard to believe that the Feilers, who openly support the Palestinian people, would use a symbolic pool of ‘Jewish blood’ to glorify the Palestinian resistance. Moreover, it is unlikely that Stockholm’s Historical Museum would exhibit a work of art which praised killing and bloodthirstiness.
Hence, we must assume that Mazel’s reaction resulted from a serious misunderstanding. When it comes to modern art, misunderstanding is not uncommon. But this misunderstanding was more revealing than people have been ready to admit. If we make the assumption that Mazel understood the pool to glorify ‘Palestinian terrorism’ we must then ask how can one regard a gruesome image as a glorifying symbol? We must remember that Mazel wasn’t alone: both his barbarian act and bizarre interpretation were supported by Sharon and the entire Israeli media.
An examination of the role of blood in Hebraic culture of recent times may throw some light on the ambassador’s actions. May I start with Ze’ev Jabotinsky (1880-1940), the right-wing Zionist leader and the ideological mentor of the Likud party. According to Jabotinsky the Jewish nation would be rebuilt with ‘blood and sweat’ (‘With Blood and Sweat we shall Erect our Race, Genius, Kind and Vicious’, Beitar Anthem–Ze’ev Jabotinsky). ‘In blood and fire Judah fell,’ wrote Jabotinsky, ‘in blood and fire Judah will rise.’ Notions about blood have been essential to the right-wing Zionist school from the very beginning. In Hebrew the words ‘blood’ (dam), ‘soil’ (adama) and ‘red’ (adom) all share the same lingual root. At least etymologically, soil and blood are intrinsically related. It isn’t surprising therefore that Zionism has sought to redeem the land with blood.
Since its early days, Israeli politics has been dominated by ex-military men. Apparently, the Israeli people want to be governed by their generals. Becoming a murderous soldier is a good political investment in Israel, endowing any potential political candidate with extra credentials. It isn’t surprising therefore that the current Israeli PM, General Ariel Sharon, is the most famous Israeli war criminal. His lethal curriculum vitae is pretty astonishing.
In 1953, Sharon, the founder and the then commander of the elite Israeli ‘Unit 101′, was ordered to penetrate the Jordanian village of Quibya and to destroy as many houses and inhabitants as possible. Sharon was pretty efficient. Quibya was reduced to pile of rubble, more than fifty houses were demolished and sixty-one civilians died.
In 1982, a short time after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, massacres of Palestinian refugees took place in Sabra and Shatila. The massacres were carried out by Christian militias who entered the camps with the approval of the Israeli high command. At the time Sharon was the Israeli minister of defence. While Israeli forces were not directly involved in the massacres, Israel was clearly responsible for any atrocities taking place within its invaded territory. An official inquiry into the events found Sharon to be unqualified for a ministerial post–a detail which, as we know, never prevented Sharon from being a minister, let alone prime minister.
It would appear that the man was also fairly successful in killing his own soldiers. Sharon’s contribution to the 1973 war raised many questions among military experts in Israel. Most famous is the battle in the ‘Chinese Farm’ in which full IDF battalions where annihilated under his direct command. His part in the Suez Operation (1956) raises similar questions.
Meanwhile, Sharon’s personal life story reveals another spectrum of mystery not many people in the west know about. Sharon’s family has been blighted by accidental tragedies with no connection to the region’s endless wars. The Prime Minister’s first wife, Margalit, was killed in a car accident in 1962, and his eleven-year-old son, Gur, died in a shooting accident in 1967. These are the dry facts. Few people know that Sharon’s second wife, Lily, was actually Margalit’s younger sister. At the time there were some vicious rumours that it was Sharon’s affair with his wife’s sister which led Margalit to suicide. Gur found his death while playing with his father’s loaded gun. I myself have neither the means nor the intention to search for the true story of Sharon’s family affairs. On the contrary, I would argue that the element of bloody gossip entangled with some libidinal rumours helped to glorify the image of the promising young officer.
In Zionist terms Sharon is an angel if not the Messiah himself. For many years it has been possible to hear the mob welcoming Sharon with shouts of ‘Arik [Ariel] the King of Israel’ (equating him with King David). No doubt Sharon is the right man for the Israeli people who democratically elected him to rule their kingdom. They know his history. They are familiar with his war crimes. They know that his hands are soaking with blood and they love him just the way he is. They love him for being a criminal. They elected him because they admire his bloodthirstiness. And because they glorify blood they have managed to misinterpret the Feilers’ installation in Stockholm. They have attributed glory to Feilers’ blood simply because they are used to associating blood with glory. We must be thankful to Ambassador Mazel for providing us with another fascinating gaze into the reality of radical identities which endanger world peace.
GILAD ATZMON was born in Israel and served in the Israeli military. He is the author of the new novel A Guide to the Perplexed . Atzmon is also one of the most accomplished jazz saxophonists in Europe. His new CD, Exile, was just named the year’s best jazz CD by the BBC. He now lives in London and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org