(July 31, 2006)
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Navigating the Canals of Venice with a Gondola while Keeping an Eye on Alex Cockburn
To the Editor:
Thank you for calling my attention to Alexander Cockburn's article on Venice in Counterpunch, July 14/17. His family name reminds me of my first lesson in British living years ago when I was taught how not to pronounce it obscenely. Cockburn has a sharp eye, but I wish he hadn't misspelled Giudecca four times in three pages. That sort of thing will put Italians off and incline them to consider him just another clueless tourist.
I like to swat at big foreign bucks too. Who doesn't? But it's too easy to see Venice's woes in "the toxic effects of well-bred international money." Venetians and other Italians are responsible for the city's difficulties. They've always put party politics and similar private interests first. It's typical that Venetian criminals burnt down the Fenice Opera House and that the city fathers then trawled for aid to rebuild it from foreign philanthropists
The city's principal scourge, high water or acqua alta -- which Cockburn doesn't mention -- should have been faced squarely thirty years ago. The embarrassing truth is that without an international role, plus the cash that follows, Venice would be a deserted Italian backwater with a lot of former glory in a terminal state of decay. Certainly many artistic treasures wouldn't have survived but for restoration financed from abroad. Without tourism and its sometimes-regrettable side effects, Venice isn't economically viable. The cultural or "tourist ghetto" Cockburn fears is far preferable to a forgotten slum without jobs. By the way, wealthy expatriates buying second homes are not the main reason why young Venetians leave the city. They go away to find work.
As for the "Venice-is-dying" refrain, let's see it in perspective. The death throes began in the 15th century when the city's route to the East became superfluous. Napoleon and the Austrians after him put a lid on the coffin. A finally United Italy was hardly going to resuscitate an imperial capital in its midst. The service-industry economy for foreigners and their money was already in full swing in the 18th century, as the rich Englishman William Beckford found out as a young man (Italy, 1834). The international impetus didn't begin but continued in 1897 with the Venice Biennale of Modern Art (and of Architecture in even years). In 1932 the world's first major film festival came into existence in Venice.
Talk of swatting foreign billionaires, wouldn't it be fun to rubbish the Frenchman François Pinault? The trouble is that with the help of the Japanese architect Tadao Ando he's made a first class European gallery space of Palazzo Grassi. Of course you pay to get in. But Venice's major gallery the Accademia also charges admission, and it's an unventilated warren full of great paintings you can't view without your own flashlight.
Cockburn observed something significant that always impressed me while living in Venice. Though many tourists limit their visit to the best-known treasures, others can be seen elsewhere viewing what interests them in relative solitude. Cockburn found the city bursting but only thirty tourists in the Scuola S. Rocco looking at the Tintorettos and a mere ten before the Carpaccios in S. Giorgio degli Schiavoni. But why does his conclusion seem to be that "most tourists" are an unimaginative lot? For me, once I got to know Venetians well, tourists were by far the more interesting form of humanity in Venice. The trick was not to wish them out of your way and back home, but to try to understand what they were after. I used to risk arrest by actually following individuals around and noting their behavior. Tourists may all wear the same uniform, but their motives and origins are extremely diverse. I'd expect a left-leaning critic to enquire into the vast range of their aspirations. After all, they, not the Venetians, are what our world is about -- except when the Venetians too go on tourist jaunts to Mexico City or Glasgow.
Incidentally, Venetians keep a low profile in high season. One reason Cockburn didn't see many around -- and why I couldn't meet old friends -- was that they like to rent out their homes in the summer and go off to some cool green spot to live off their toxic international rent money, well or ill-bred.
And the World Cup. Like Cockburn I was in Venice on the day of the France-Italy match. There may not have been much exuberance in Piazza S. Marco. But what struck me in the bars where locals hang out was how Italians who are at daggers drawn between regions on most issues come together behind their national soccer team. (These are bars where I've heard Southern Italians routinely called scum in Venetian dialect.) By the time the game was three quarters over I was on an Alitalia plane flying south from Rome. To my consternation the passengers went wild with joy when the pilot announced that Zinedine Zidane had been sent off. In their place, as an Anglo-Saxon, I'd have gloated with a morally superior straight face. News of the Italian victory came as we flew over Naples. Neapolitans, who have little to thank United Italy for, celebrated like no one else. Fireworks in a thousand points of light rose and fell in the city below, probably causing a few joyous casualties.
Thanks again for calling my attention to Cockburn's remarks. I'd like nothing better than to have his views on my Venetian lucubrations.
Lecce, Italy - July 16, 2006
Israel mon Amour and her Love of the Arabs: Gilles d'Aymery's Operation Summer Rains: Gaza, Lebanon... Where Next?
To the Editor:
Could forgetting Israel's guilty origins -- not remembering the Holocaust....
....be what drives Israel to pummel little punching-bag countries to admit its right to exist? Is Israel's only road map to physical -- and psychic -- security forcing the Arab world to accept its guilty rationalizations? Nice deal if you can get it.
Meanwhile back at the settlements: if you successfully rationalize settling your citizens in captured territory to be no different morally from picking up land in Arizona, then, the emotional concomitant is to expect that, sooner or later, "unjust" opposition must call it quits.
This social instinct one-two may be called the "territorial imperative."
On the other hand, frankly admitting that usurping another's turf makes you the bad guy, "instinctively" warns you that attempting to squeeze even below 10% of your population -- limited benefit -- among millions of angry original occupants -- guarantees permanent warfare for 100% of your people: thus spake Richard Nixon and Moshe Dayan.
Israel's latest war for forgetfulness?: Treating a couple of minor infantry skirmishes as -- a couple of minor infantry skirmishes -- might be too close a "social instinct" match for Israeli soldiers as illegal occupiers who should expect their fair share of resistance -- which is where we came into this movie.
Should Israel ever give up moral rationalizing and proceed rationally to renounce its role as the most dangerous nation in the Middle East (armed with 200 nuclear weapons!), quite rational people (a Nixon?; a Dayan?) confidently predict that the "silent Arab majority" is willing to live with (even if that means "put up with") the fact of Israel's creation (but never with Arab prisons named "creating facts"!).
Let's make a deal: After Israel withdraws 400,000 settlers from the West Bank, the USA and others may be able to send millions more Jews to Israel to stave off its worrisome Arab population time bomb. Five of the world's thirteen million Jews already live in the Jewish state despite WW 33 1/3 always going on. Israel should confidently expect additional millions to make Aliyah if geopolitical sense ever rules.
And there's more: Many Europeans live out their retirement in North African locations like Algeria in order to stretch their pensions. An Israel at permanent peace with its neighbors could make an attractive retirement destination (sunny Algeria? -- but Israel will have to keep prices down). Retirees would more Europeanize Israel without lessening its Jewishness because they would not become citizens -- as well as give Europe a personal interest in Israel's safety.
Personal P.S.: I never get depressed; I feel good when I should feel bad; but daily TV viewing Israel chew up its cowering neighbors' vital infrastructure for -- no discernable benefit beyond -- extended target practice discourages me more than anything since America traded skyscrapers for settlements on 9/11/01.
Chicago, Illinois, USA - July 23, 2006
Justifying the Unjustifiable. Defending the Undefensible: Gilles d'Aymery's Operation Summer Rains: Gaza, Lebanon... Where Next?
I hope you are well and of course have stopped smoking... The following are a few comments on your article that, if you wish, you may publish in the Letters section.
First Gaza. Let me remind you that Israel left the whole of the Gaza strip more than 10 months ago.
The plan was that after the withdrawal, all crossing points would be open, thousands of Gazans would be able to work in Israel, there will be free exchange of merchandise, there will be easier travel between Gaza and the West Bank, the international financial help will be invested in Gaza. All that could improve considerably the economy of the strip and also make further withdrawals in the West Bank much easier. That was the plan. But, the Palestinians had other ideas. Since Israel left more than 800 Qassam and Katuysha rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. Just in June, 89 rockets landed in Sderot. There were numerous attempts to blow up the crossing points, to smuggle weapons both by sea and through tunnels and send suicide bombers into Israel. That caused the closing of the crossing points and very vigilant monitoring of the borders and the sea. Then came the killing of two Israeli soldiers and the abduction of a third, from Israeli territory.
No sovereign country can tolerate firing of rockets at its citizens and the killing and abduction of soldiers from its territory, without an appropriate response. Israel is no exception. The Palestinians chose to continue with their war of terror even after Israel withdrew from Gaza, and they will have to live with the consequences of their choice.
Even Abu Mazen spoke against the rocket firing and the soldier abduction but the elected Hamas government chose to continue the terror activity.
The two Palestinians snatched one day before the abduction were Hamas members involved in the planning of the abduction attack. Unfortunately their arrest did not prevent the attack.
I submit to you, that had the Palestinians stopped all terror activity, at least from Gaza, and given the disengagement policy a chance, you would have seen a very different picture. But, you, as usual, ignore the simple fact that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others, refuse to accept the legitimacy of Israel and they are not fighting the occupation of 1967 but the one of 1948. Their aim -- one state from the sea to the river, called Palestine.
Now, to Lebanon. Israel left Lebanon, to the last inch, as certified by the UN, some 6 year ago. During this time the Hizbullah established a state within a state in Southern Lebanon. They erected many heavily armed outposts on the Israeli border. They got close to 13,000 Katyusha, Zilzal and other rockets from Iran through Syria. They got a huge financial help from Iran. The Lebanese army could not be deployed along the Israeli-Lebanese border. The UN resolution 1559 clearly stated that all private armed militias in Lebanon, including Hizbullah, have to be disbanded and the regular army has to be deployed on the border.
It never happened.
The Hizbullah staged several raids into Israel, fired rockets on towns and villages in the North of Israel and four years ago abducted three soldiers, who were killed in the process. Then they lured an Israeli drug dealer to Lebanon and when he got to Beirut he was abducted and held prisoner. Israel responded very mildly and ended up negotiating through the Germans a prisoner exchange. They released more than a 100 prisoners for the three bodies and the drug dealer.
Hizbullah repeated the raid two weeks ago. They entered into Israeli territory, killed 8 soldiers and abducted two. Even The Guardian (no friend of Israel) called the raid an "aggression across internationally recognized border which by any standard, is an act of war" What is more, the Hizbullah is a Lebanese legal political party, with members in parliament and two ministers in the government. Israel responded, like any other country would have. Imagine that an armed group invades France from Switzerland, kills and abducts French soldiers, and then fires rockets at French cities. How long would it be before the French invade Switzerland and take care of the problem?
What is more, the Hizbullah does not hide its final objective. One of its leaders said: "It took us 18 years to get rid of Israel in Lebanon. It may take us 40 years, but we will get rid of Israel in Palestine too." And another one said: "Even if we get the Shebaa farms back we will continue to fight them until their state is destroyed and the Jews go back to Germany or wherever they came from."
I submit to you, that no negotiations are possible with such groups. If Israel responded 4 years ago like it responded now, the present crisis could have been avoided. I hope that this time Israel will be able to remove the Hizbullah from the border and then the Lebanese army can be deployed on the border.
And now to de Gaulle's press conference. I still remember it from 1967. I especially remember the following: "...Juifs, jusqu'alors dispersés, mais qui étaient restés ce qu'ils avaient été de tous temps, c'est-à-dire un peuple d'élite, sûr de lui-même et dominateur..." I will let you analyse the meaning of the generalizations "peuple d'élite" and "dominateur." One wonders when in the last 1900 years were the Jews "dominateur"? And, one could ask the Général, why did not he pressure Nasser to stop his campaign?
And I will repeat, the reason for the incessant violence in our area can be found in the refusal of the Arabs to accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state in Palestine. Had they accepted the partition in 1947, their independent Palestinian-Arab state would have been 58 years old today, without a single refugee. Had they established a state in the West Bank and Gaza, anytime between 1948 and 1967, stopped the terror and recognized Israel, the 1967 war would not have happened and thousands of lives would have been spared on both sides.
I will not react to the odious and absurd comparison of the Warsaw ghetto to Gaza.
All the best,
Jerusalem, Israel - July 23, 2006
Remember,Swans. It only will hurt your wallet, not your freedom to be heard.
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