In their attempts to stimulate and encourage their students to hone their reading skills and develop an appreciation for all the nuances of the written word, high school and college English teachers are always looking for that magical manuscript whose tantalizing plot, setting, and characterization will entice and excite their young pupils to plunge into that magical world where processed, bound plant/wood fiber is lovingly held in the palms of one’s hands, where eyes travel in left to right continuous horizontal and vertical and page-to-page tracks, and where imagination, inseminated with myriad phantasmagorias, concocts the unimaginable and wanders into unchartered worlds to transpose the reader into a world where the mind is distended in an explosion of vivid images akin to a roving kaleidoscopic excursion.
And much like alchemists, English teachers are always searching for that perfect elixir, that manuscript whose letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, and pages clench the reader in a spellbinding and captivating vise.
Some of the fictional works whose spellbinding magic has lingered from my yesteryears’ teaching days include The Old Man and the Sea, To Kill A Mockingbird, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Clockwork Orange, The Color Purple, Rabbit Run, The Stranger, Spring Snow, and Native Son. Some teachers opted for Valley of the Dolls, Goodbye Columbus, and Love Story, three popular books of the 60’s and 70’s. These were pure fluff, and Jonathan Livingston Seagull and The Graduate, more fluff than stuff, had their devotees. I must confess that one semester I succumbed to including Jonathan Seagull on my students’ reading list. Some favorites included Catch-22, A Man for All Seasons, The Man Who Killed the Deer and Slaughterhouse-Five, and three favorite non-fictional works included The Hidden Persuaders, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and Silent Spring. As for autobiographical works The Bell Jar, Big Doc’s Girl, Moveable Feast, Soul on Ice, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings are six perennially refreshing works.
And then came Elie Wiesel’s Night.
Suggested by the chairman of the English department soon after Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986, Night, by now jumping off the charts, was adopted by our department, added to the reading list, and was popular for a while. Wiesel’s Night no doubt helped spawn coast to coast Holocaust Studies programs on American university campuses.
And the Holocaust became almost exclusively synonymous with Jewish suffering, utilized to justify Israel’s wars, occupation, illegal annexations and the subjugation of Palestinians – always under the guise of victimhood and self-defense. Never mind that another 5 million Roma/Gypsies, Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Romanians, “the unfit,” the degenerates, ad infinitum were also brutalized by the Nazis.
While I recall including Night on my reading list twice, perhaps three times, I must admit that I lost interest soon after Wiesel’s blatant support, defense, and exoneration of Israel’s serial murders, ever-expansionist and ever-brutal wars on the Palestinians and Lebanese — wars that shook the Near East and no doubt helped lay the foundation for the current depravities afflicting the region. The 1948 and 1982 wars would be two of many serial atrocities committed by Israel — this behavior was and continues to be condoned, excused, financed, and supported by its compliant servant, the U.S.
Night fell on Lebanon towards the end of the horrific 1982 murderous invasion (which began on June 6, 1982, and ended in late October, 1982). The September massacres of the defenseless Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps occupants, orchestrated by Israel and executed by its Lebanese clients, resulted in several hundred Palestinian dead — mostly the elderly, women and children. Because the bodies were hauled off in the front end buckets of dozers and dumped on flat bed trucks (mostly under the cover of Night – the Israeli modus operandi) and buried in mass graves, we’ll never know the exact numbers of dead, which, by some estimates are between 3,500-4,000. Even the poor animals were not spared — dogs, donkeys, goats and sheep were shot in cold blood, and for three days carcasses lay bloated, alongside human corpses, in the hot, humid sun of Beirut’s darkest days turned into shamefully dark Nights. For detailed information I suggest that the reader peruse reports by the reputable Robert Fisk and Jonathan Cook, two journalists with impeccable professional credentials.
The following email exchanges took place just a few days ago between a dear friend, a preacher/peace activist/university president, and me:
Date: July 4, 2016 at 10:15:38 AM CDT
To: Raouf Halaby <HALABYR@OBU.EDU>
Subject: God Cried
Happy 4th of July, Raouf! I hope we live to see the birth of a Palestinian State!
Raouf, I ordered and received the book, God Cried, by Tony Clifton and Catherine Leroy, on Beirut 1982. Powerful memories!!!!
Just thinking of you. Israel has given us official state evil. With the passing of Elie Wiesel I hear tributes of “Never Again.”
What a sinister joke!
I love you,
Subject:Re: God Cried
Randall, Just read you precious missive after i sent you my email. Yes, Wiesel’s moral indignation is very selective, and his use of horror as propaganda and cover for Israel’s brutality makes mockery of all the WWII dead.
God never stopped crying. Somewhere in Genesis we are told (if it is true) that Cain killed his brother Abel. Methinks God cried that day for creating such petty creatures. And God has not stopped crying since.
Yes, the book is powerful. Just think of all the carnage since 1982.
And I recall two dear friends, men of character and goodwill, two blessed peacemakers, accompanying me to see Senator Dale Bumpers who doubted my telling him that Gaza, an open air prison, had the largest population density in the world. As for a Palestinian state, ain’t gonna happen. The forces of evil are far too powerful.
I am copying your mirror image. Am also going to forward a piece about Night written by Alexander Cockburn, CounterPunch co-founder.
Sincerely and Salam, Raouf
Ya know, for a guy who liked to say, “Never again!” he surely was strangely silent in ’82, wasn’t he? He shoulda been saying, “Never again to Israel,” not, “Never Again.” Right?
He should’ve won the Israeli Peace Prize, not the Nobel. Agree? Randall
On August 10, 1982, Ariel Sharon, aka The Butcher of Lebanon, ordered a saturation bombing of the besieged city of Beirut; for 13 consecutive hours Israeli tanks, artillery and air force carpet bombed a defenseless city leaving senseless destruction akin to the wanton Allied bombing and destruction of Dresden.
Thus it was that in the fall of 2006 I penned a letter to Elie Wiesel, by then affiliated with Boston University’s Department of Religion. To the best of my recollection, I posed the following questions to Mr. Wiesel: How could he preach a “Never Again” ad infinitum sermon when the country to which he has pledged allegiance and financial support is depriving the Palestinians of their human rights? How could a people who suffered so horribly occupy and expropriate Palestinian lands and subject them to daily humiliation and racist indignities reminiscent of the manner Germans treated their Jewish citizens? I really didn’t expect an answer, for after all, by then, Wiesel, an avowed Zionist, was on record as a defender and apologist for “his country (Israel), right or wrong.”
Before long and to my utter surprise I received a light blue envelope with Boston University’s insignia and, scribbled above the return address, were six letters. “Wiesel.”
His hand written response was short. He never answered my question/s. If anything, he defended his stance and reminded me of Jewish suffering. And to this day I wonder, had I not typed my letter on university letterhead, Mr. Wiesel might not have responded.
Exactly one year ago last week I was boxing 42 years’ worth of professional correspondence, lectures, professional papers, research grant materials, publications, newspaper clippings, miscellaneous committee reports, public speeches, maps, drawings, handwoven tapestries and oodles of mementoes and memorabilia I’d collected on all my overseas trips, to be deposited, at the request of the university librarian, in the university’s archives. And it was exactly one year ago last week that I saw Mr. Wiesel’s letter in the stack of several hundred letters. (Call me a paper pack rat if you wish.)
And for the last few days I have hunted for that letter in each of the 25+ acid free card board boxes and all over the house. It has to be somewhere; it better be. The pack rat I am, I shall find it. I had hoped to scan it and use it, in Shakespeare’s words, as “the ocular proof” to this essay to attempt to prove Wiesel’s gross omission, his sinister self-imposed Night on the facts to the Nazi-like treatment of Palestinians and to deflate air, even a few puffs of it, out of the inflated balloons of high praise lavished on Wiesel. We were told that Mr. Wiesel was “Humanity’s conscience,” “messenger to mankind,” and that “with surviving comes a moral burden.” With surviving comes the responsibility of not only “talking the talk,” but also “walking the walk.”
Elie Wiesel’s relegating Israel’s ongoing and unabated brutality and the pain inflicted on the Palestinians to the realm of the obscurity of Night makes mockery of his lecturing the world on suffering and morality. His refusal to even pin-prick the consciences of his Israeli brothers and sisters, the World Jewish Community, and humanity is tragic, indeed. You’d think that those who suffered much would have empathy for others.
Never Again? Tell that to the Indonesians, the Vietnamese, Cambodians, Rwandans, Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians, Yemenis, Iraqis, Syrians, Kurds, Libyans, Algerians, Kashmiris, Armenians, Native Americans and Congolese. Are they, perchance, children of a lessor God?
In concluding, I’d like to refer the reader to the following (articulated infinitely better than I could ever so do) CounterPunch postings: Alexander Cockburn, (Repost) “Truth and Fiction in Elie Wiesel’s Night,” July 2, 2016; Joseph Grosso, “Elie Wiesel Poseur for Peace,” July 6, 2016. Max Blumenthal “Elie Wiesel’s two sides: the Holocaust survivor gave voice to Jewish victims while ignoring other’s suffering,” July 6, 2016, Alternet and Huffington Post. And Norman Finkelstein, “The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the exploitation of Jewish Suffering,” Verso Press, 2000.
Cockburn, Grosso and I (even though I am a Semite) will no doubt be accused of anti-Semitism; Blumenthal and Finkelstein will no doubt be accused of being self-hating Jews.
When the machinations of the darkest hours of the Night are exposed to the light and the truth of the daylight hours becomes visible, then, and only then, could we truthfully state that Night has taught us a moral lesson.