In the mid 1960s a Dutch family traveled from Mexico city to Acapulco, and along the way made a pit-stop detour in a small town. While driving into the town they came upon a corpse lying in the middle of the street. After pondering what to do, they drove slowly around and past the corpse only to be stopped at the next corner by policemen who promptly accused the driver of having run over the victim. The sorry purpose of this exercise was to extort the requisite “mordida”, the payment one makes into the police benevolent fund. That day the corpse was used for only one such extortion — a bit of a waste of a perfectly good corpse — because the Dutch driver refused to pay, and had to be taken to jail. But the corpse would prove to be so profitable, a gringo in jail will have to pay a heftier bribe!
And then there are the iconic corpses; all of them are used to score propaganda points against the “regime” du jour. A pretty Iranian face killed at a green colour coded demonstration, presto, iconic image. A refugee child drowned and laying face down on the beach… instant iconic image; that was Alan Kurdi, and of course we all know his name. Kurdi’s image was used to exalt the plight of the refugees, but also to accuse the nasty “regime” responsible for forcing the Kurdi family to flee. Then there was the case of Omran Daqneesh, a kid pulled out of the rubble in Aleppo by the “white helmets”, not quite dead, but ever so useful to score yet some more propaganda points. When it is a child victim “on the other side”, e.g., Mohammed al-Dura, the child murdered by soldiers in front of the cameras in Gaza, then this is not allowed to become an eponymous image; no iconic image here. In this case, flak groups and mercenary lawyers sprang into action to claim that it was a cynical and sadistic act staged by Hamas. Never mind that the French journalist who filmed the scene vouched for its veracity, he too must now be disparaged.
Beware of the next image of a corpse showcased in the media. It might be prudent to determine whether the image is meant to elicit your sympathy or merely to jerk you around.
You are respectfully asked to attend…
When a mafia boss dies the funeral is an important event where jockeying takes place to maintain coalitions, and allegiances are struck to determine next pecking order. Tears aren’t required, merely some soothing words for the widow; then it is time to pursue the real order of business. Public reverence towards the departed indicates a willingness to continue the enterprise. To impress others of one’s devotion requires kissing the corpse — usually on the forehead. Soon some more kissing will follow — usually a ring. Of course, a no-show at the funeral ceremony is a serious matter, it indicates a possible participation in the demise of the deceased. All absences are duly noted.
And then Shimon Peres passed away… one would almost be tempted to say “rest in peace”, but it was more a case of good riddance. Several writers have provided a good overview of this dubious operator, by now hagiography has given way to a more sober appreciation of Peres and the implication of his deeds. There is no need to rehash his history here. What is worth exploring is the funeral spectacle staged at Mount Herzl. The state funeral enabled the current Israeli regime to festoon the area with Israeli flags, to posture and show off its power. Never mind the daily killings, the arbitrary imprisonment of hundreds of Palestinians, and the continuing siege of Gaza (the world’s largest open air prison), here came dozens of western dignitaries to be seen paying homage. The attendees jostled to outdo one another in this farcical show. Why would an entire stable of politicians attend a funeral in “a shitty little country” — as a candid French diplomat once referred to Israel?
A JTA article title said it all: “Here’s the insanely long list of US dignitaries attending the funeral”. In attendance were the president, a former president, the secretary of state, the current and former national security advisors, a senator, 18 congressmen, assorted high government officials, former government officials, and a long list of sidekicks and wannabes. The list wasn’t longer because Air Force One and Two couldn’t fit all those clamouring to clamber on board. For one of the congressmen, this was his third trip to Israel this year. Obama arrived hours after having showed off his executive vigour by ordering all US flags to fly at half-mast in honour of Peres! A few days before he had overseen a $38bn armament give away to Israel, and if that wasn’t enough, Israel received a squadron of “surplus” F15 warplanes for free ($38bn goes an awful long way if the weapons are free). The American contribution to the comedy was punctuated by Obama’s high sounding empty speech. A few more speeches and then it was a smooch fest — shaking hands, back slapping, and then back to Air Force One.
The preposterous Abbas climbs Mount Herzl
The most ridiculous and humiliating appearance was that of Mahmoud Abbas, Saeb Erekat (the former negotiator who resigned 10 times) and some other tragipathetic officials in the so-called Palestinian Authority. The banal exchange between Abbas and the Netanyahu couple ranged from “It has been such long time”, “how have you been…” And Erekat seemed to be beaming, and all too eager to shake hands with Netanyahu and embrace. For Majed Faraj (the “intelligence minister”) a handshake was not enough, an abject deep bow was necessary. This all occurred in front of the cameras, and in front of a bemused Netanyahu. Then Abbas was led to a seating area far away from the other dignitaries, awkward encounters with western politicians precluded; he had preferential seating location to go to the outhouse. Abbas’ presence was very much like the Arabs dressed in Bedouin costume who attended Ariel Sharon’s funeral. These are the house Arabs, the ones who are paid directly or indirectly by Israel.
Not far behind in the ridiculous and humiliating category was the appearance of François Hollande. During the commemoration of the Charlie Hebdo killings one witnessed the spectacle of Netanyahu’s bodyguards pushing Hollande and Manuel Valls (the prime minister) and making them sit in cramped section of a bench. Manuel Valls protested briefly, but then just bore this humiliation. Now a few years later Hollande appears at the funeral all smiles, back slapping, as if nothing had happened.
And then there was Joachim Gauck, the German president. His appearance was a bit more dignified, but one wondered if he’d declare a major avenue in Berlin to be named after Peres. NB: one of the main avenues in Berlin is Ben Gurion Strasse, and nearby one finds Yitzhak Rabin Strasse. It would have been quite apropos for Peres to join his memorialised buddies in Berlin! But maybe Netanyahu would prefer yet another subsidised nuclear-capable submarine (that would make it the 15th); a INS Shimon Peres submarine would be a more suitable tribute to “the father of the Israeli nuclear bomb”.
The British are always capable of providing a fawning set of politicians. This time David Cameron (the former Prime minister) and Tony Blair (the former Quartet “peace mediator” and recipient of the $1m Israeli Dan Prize) were on show together with the awkward Prince Charles. The only thing Blair needed to do was to rehash the eulogy he had given at Ariel Sharon’s funeral.
And the president of Mexico was also present — in Mexico nobody listens to him anymore, and so he must have been searching for other lame ducks to cavort with. The Mexican president’s eulogy was either an attempt for Mexico to sell more chimichangas to Israel, or an indication that Mexican politics is also an Israeli-occupied territory.
The presence of these politicians in Israel is an endorsement of the Israeli project. But any long term observer of the area will find a coincidence of the arrival of so-called dignitaries and provocative, or even violent actions, taking place on the ground. In March 2010, at the time Joe Biden arrived for an official visit, the Israelis announced plans for a major settlement expansion. Biden was “embarrassed” but did nothing but utter ineffectual protestations. These intentional provocations are meant to show that any Israeli action will not encounter any foreign opposition — the “dignitaries” do not oppose violent actions, or further dispossession of the native population. The provocations are meant to challenge such politicians respond, but the inevitable silence merely confirms their acquiescence and complicity.
Beginning 28 September after Peres’s death until his funeral, there were dozens of houses stormed and ransacked; a young man was murdered and at least 56 Palestinians kidnapped by the Israeli military; several prisoners were on hunger strike. The list of Israeli barbarism during those days is far longer. None of the so-called dignitaries uttered a peep about these sordid events and conditions; there was no mention of arbitrary imprisonment, or the ever expanding construction of the wall. The politicians’ silence was another indication that they acquiesced to the chronic and systematic violence perpetrated against the Palestinians. Western politicians have perfected their sight aversion, and by now it is called “pulling a Berlusconi”. This refers to Berlusconi’s reply to a question about the apartheid wall he had just driven through when he stated that “I didn’t see anything”!
The Peres funeral was such a propaganda boon for the Israeli government. It showed that most world leaders support the Israeli project with all its warts and violence. It is seldom that a corpse has proven so useful. But Netanyahu has made a mistake. Instead of burying Peres, he should have been embalmed and kept in the Knesset, just like Lenin in the mausoleum. Foreign dignitaries could first be required to genuflect at Yad Vashem, and then they could kiss a freeze dried Peres on the forehead. For those keen to show their devotion alternative kissing options could be arranged. One thing is sure, Israeli officials are taking note of those who didn’t show up to demonstrate their devotion.