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Heroic Poetry and the Invasion of Lebanon

The Grapes of Wrath

by ISRAEL SHAMIR

A small band of determined warriors takes on and fights off the mightiest army of the region: this is the stuff history is made of. Thermopylae, move over, Bint Jbeil is coming in! Bishop Philip of Antioch compared the levelling of this small Lebanese town with the destruction of Stalingrad, but these cities are also comparable by courage of their defenders. Seldom is a generation able to witness such a shining example of valor: for three long weeks a handful of Hezbollah warriors ­ two thousand by the most optimistic count ­ fought to standstill ten, twenty, thirty times more numerous Israeli troops. Forty years ago, Israelis defeated three armies in one week, but now the invader’s charm has worn off, or it has passed over to the vanquished. In today’s somewhat feminine victim-centered narrative, suffering attracts more attention than masculine gallantry. Thus the Qana massacre overshadowed a greater going-on, and that was the steadfast resistance of the Lebanese fighters. But Andromache’s sorrow should not obscure Hector’s courage: Hezbollah’s deeds deserve to be immortalised by poets.

Why the war? Leave small details to a future Plutarch; this is another round of battle for Palestine. Supported and supplied by their captive empire, the US, the Jews had all the weapons, all the ammunition, all the diplomatic support, when hubris-drunk they drove into disarmed and starved Gaza to kill off its last resisters and impose the yoke of Zion. Their invasion was prepared by a year-long siege and incessant shelling; they were cock-sure they could devour Gaza at will. And indeed, everyone kept mum: the Egyptians traded the glory of the Ramadan War for greenbacks; the sons of Hejaz and Nejd were too busy serving oil at the pump; the princes of the Gulf cared only for their falcons. The Jews felt secure as they stooped to finish off Gaza: who would disturb the lion of Judah roaring at his prey? And a tiny force from the Mount Lebanon said: we will. They attacked the all-powerful Jews; the hobbit pierced the sinew of Nazgul as he stooped to kill. The Israeli army roused from its prey turned north and lashed with all its might at the Hezbollah fighters. But they stood fast.

This was most unexpected. The Israelis were used to killing — or dispersing — weaponless, untrained Palestinians. Instead, the fighters of Sayyed Nasrallah dug their heels into the bare hills of Bint Jbeil and gave battle. If they were destroyed quickly, Israeli generals would lead their victorious troops to Damascus and Teheran before turning back and despoiling Palestine of its priceless jewel, Haram al Sharif. It still could happen, but the chances were diminished by the steadfastness of Hezbollah.

Hezbollah’s decision lacks one detail: any cease fire must extend to Palestine, as well. It is inconceivable that Lebanon will lay down its arms, while Gaza is besieged and Nablus is ravished.

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert said: "We have changed the Middle East". I do not know whether all the Middle East has changed, but in Israel we witness a great change. Until now, only a few just men and women of Israel called their government to desist in their aggression against Gaza and Lebanon. But the Katyusha rain changed the minds of many. At first carried away by the arrogance of their generals, Israelis have now discovered the heavy price of war. Early complaints about the army’s failure to deliver have given place to critique of the policy itself. They have begun to understand that time is not on their side.

The now-subservient regimes of neighboring countries can fall any minute or remove the yoke of Zion. Their rulers were led to believe in Jewish superiority, and that is why they chose to condemn ‘imprudent Hezbollah’. But now that their people see that even a small force of determined fighters can beat the enemy, they find no justification for the cowardly behavior of their rulers. It can lead to revolution, for King Farouk was removed by young officers of Falujah fame disappointed by his weakness in 1948.

Neil MacFarquhar reported in the New York Times for July 28, "At the onset of the Lebanese crisis, Arab governments, starting with Saudi Arabia, slammed Hezbollah for recklessly provoking a war, providing what the United States and Israel took as a wink and a nod to continue the fight. Now, with hundreds of Lebanese dead and Hezbollah holding out against the vaunted Israeli military for more than two weeks, the tide of public opinion across the Arab world is surging behind the organization, transforming the Shiite group’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, into a folk hero and forcing a change in official statements. The Saudi royal family and King Abdullah II of Jordan, who were initially more worried about the rising power of Shiite Iran, Hezbollah’s main sponsor, are scrambling to distance themselves from Washington."

The report sees the popular opinion, "the Arab street" as the vehicle for change; but the change can come from above, too. The cruel bombardment of Beirut and of all Lebanon was supposed to frighten the Arab nations into obedience; instead, it convinced the rich and powerful Arabs that as long as the Jews run the writ in the Middle East, their own riches and power can be taken from them anytime by will of a Jewish general. Beirut was peaceful, Beirut agreed to expel Syrians, Beirut was the capital of the most pro-Western state, and yet it did not save the city from Jewish ­ not even vengeance for there was nothing to avenge ­ but arbitrary heavy-handedness. The Arabs in power ask, whether the Jewish state can be a peaceful neighbor at all, or whether (as the Iranian President Ahmadinejad says) it is bellicose by its nature and must be dealt with as the Crusader Kingdom once was.

Indeed, the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem existed longer than the Jewish state, and probably would have lasted for centuries, but for its innate aggressiveness and its preparedness to serve as bridgehead for European invasions. The turning point in the Crusaders’ fortunes took place some 850 years ago during the Second Crusade, which bore an uncanny resemblance to the Second Lebanese War. By that time, the Arab nations were inured to the invincibility of the Crusaders; sheer arrogance of power led the Crusaders to march on Damascus, their peaceful, complacent and hedonist neighbor, the least belligerent among small independent and much-divided Arab states, a "Lebanon of the 12th century". At first, the Crusaders ran into guerrilla resistance of the then-Hezbollah, and lost a lot of soldiers. When they besieged the city, the ruler of Damascus was forced to ask for help of his neighbor Nureddin, "the Ahmadinejad of his day"; an army of Nureddin drew close and the Franks had to retreat in haste.

The Arab neighbors learned two things:

(1) submission and complacency can’t guarantee their peace for the Crusader state is a Damocles’ Sword forever hanging above their heads; and

(2) Crusaders can be defeated. Out of the Second Crusade, came Saladin, a nephew of Nureddin, who united Syria and Egypt and eventually defeated the Crusaders at Qurn Hittin.

Now the same two lessons have been delivered to the Arabs, courtesy of the IDF. Is a new Saladin on the way?

II

But the Jews may yet face another danger caused by their assertiveness. They relate to themselves the fiery prophesy of Rev. 19: 15 "Out of his mouth goes a sharp sword, with it he should smite the goyim, and he shall shepherd them with a rod of iron; and he is crushing with his feet the grapes of God’s wrath". They take it so seriously that their massacre of Qana (120 butchered refugees) was named "the Grapes of Wrath". These features are not the most endearing; and not only Arabs object to being shepherded by an iron rod.

The US pays heavily for this Jewish fun. A poor American may hate to think about the fact that while he has no medical insurance, his government has to pay tribute to rich Israel. The average American filling his average car may dislike paying for support of the Jewish state since before the Neo-Cons got into power in the Administration, gas was much, much cheaper. A wealthy and worldly American may feel vexed that he is not welcome wherever he goes ­ from Paris to Istanbul.

An easy-going American may dislike the fact that he can’t cuss a Jewish cop without reading about it in the New York Times. A believing American may be upset that he can’t mention Christ unless he is ready to be summoned to a court hearing. An honest American ­ or European ­ may be annoyed by their hypocrisy. It is not enough that push for war, they also blame others for it. It is not enough that they kill children in droves, they also preach about immense value of human life.

A religious Bible-thumping American may remember the prophecy of Ezekiel, 22 who said to the leaders of Israel in the name of the Lord: "You have become guilty in your blood that you have shed; everyone among you, putting out his full force to shed blood" ­ that is the blood of innocent Palestinians and Lebanese; Ezekiel also prophesied the Zionist Gathering of Jews, and that it will lead to a major disaster to Zionists: "the house of Israel has become dross to me; therefore I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem, and blow upon you in the fire of my wrath, and you shall be melted in its midst, and you shall know that I, the Lord, have poured out my fury upon you. The Israelis have used oppression, and committed robbery, and have wronged the poor and needy; indeed, they have oppressed the gentiles wrongfully, and therefore I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath; their own way have I rewarded upon their heads, said the Lord God."

An American politician, maybe even an American president may get tired by the Jewish Lobby’s endless need to demand sympathy or to protest an outrage. Moreover, an American or a European who today calls himself "a Jew" may wonder whether he has much in common with the people whose poets call upon their soldiers to:

Storm on Lebanon and Gaza, and plow it and sow it with salt, raze it down, let no human being remain alive/
Turn them into a desert, rubble, a valley of mess, unpopulated/ Save your nation and drop bombs /
On villages and cities, their collapsing houses do shell /
Kill them, shed their blood, turn their lives into living hell .*

A Jewish friend of mine wrote: "I have asked a number of my friends in the US whether they think the Zionist mantra retains its power, and they agree it does not. The lobby does not, I think, have a bright future – that is why its agents have faced prosecution. Even if their lock on Congress persists for some time, their hold on American opinion must now diminish. I believe Lenny Brenner when he argues that young Jews are deserting Judaism and Zionism in droves."

Israelis, i.e. dwellers of Palestine who consider themselves Jewish, may also contemplate whether they want to fight and support the ideological Yoke of Zion which brings them only hatred outside and poverty within. Instead of living in economic prosperity and in harmony with our neighbors, the yoke of Zion turns us into impoverished cannon fodder.

*Ilan Sheinfeld’s poem, which he circulated to his email contact list with requests it be passed on, was quoted in Ha’aretz, August 4, by Michael Handelsaltz, who wrote thus:

"Sheinfeld – who says he was one of the first to write poems against the first war in Lebanon – paraphrases a poem by Haim Nahman Bialik, who cheered on the pioneers who were building the foundations of the Jewish state-to-be. His version of the poem is addressed to the soldiers fighting in Lebanon, and is one of the most bloodthirsty, barbaric texts I have ever read. A quote or two (in my translation, which does not convey the brutally raw hatred of the original) should suffice: ‘Demolish not only the roof, but the foundations as well, you have come far indeed, your toil has not been in vain / Storm on Lebanon and Gaza, and plow it and sow it with salt, raze it down, let no human being remain / Turn them into a desert, rubble, a valley of mess, unpopulated / As we did want peace, we did yearn for peace, and our own houses we had desecrated … Save your nation and drop bombs / On villages and cities, their collapsing houses do shell / Kill them, shed their blood, turn their lives into living hell / Till they will never try again to destroy us, until we will hear mountains explode / Bulldozed by your heels, and their wails and shrieks, and their graves corrode.’
"This poem goes on in the same vein, and I quote from it only in the hope that those lines will haunt the poet whenever he writes something else."

ISRAEL SHAMIR can be reached at adam@israelshamir.net _