It seems that in The Information, discussed by Julian Loose (LRB, 11 May), Martin Amis makes up with virtuosity of writing for what he lacks in originality of metaphor: readers of Julian Barnes may recall having already seen the ‘oyster into a parking meter’ metaphor in Barnes’s Talking It Over, which as an extra treat also gives us the reverse – ‘trying to ease a parking meter into an oyster shell’.
It is a pity that, before criticising the book reviews written by Avi Shlaim, Robert Fisk and myself, Rafael Ruppin (Letters, 11 May) did not take the trouble to read the books we were reviewing. Had he done so, he could not have allowed himself to serve up to your readers such large portions of hopelessly out-of-date Israeli propaganda: for instance, the canard, repeated by Mr Ruppin, that most of the Palestinian refugees left their homes at the behest of their own leaders was exploded by Erskine Childers as long ago as 1961.
According to Mr Ruppin, ‘the contention that the Jewish leadership engineered the exodus of Palestinians in 1948 is quite ludicrous.’ In a recent interview in Yediot Ahronot Benny Morris, one of the Israeli historians implicitly criticised but not read by Ruppin, had this to say about the eviction of the Arabs: ‘The Jewish generation of 1948 knew the truth and deliberately misrepresented it. They knew there were plenty of mass deportations, massacres and rapes … The soldiers and the officials knew, but they suppressed what they knew and were deliberately disseminating lies.’ Ruppin is also disseminating lies, though he is not, of course, doing so deliberately but because he is content to be uninformed. Morris went on to say: ‘True, in 1948 a transfer was not officially adopted as a policy. There was no central plan to force Arabs to run away. But there were eye-winks to the commanders of forces in the field and a clear policy of impunity for those who ordered deportations and transfers. The same was the case with the commanders who perpetrated or tolerated atrocities against the Arabs in order to prompt them to flee. Ben-Gurion was hypocritical to the core.’ So much for ‘the quite ludicrous contention’. Much the same could be said of what Ruppin writes about Arab ‘infiltration’ after the war. That subject is dealt with in Morris’s excellent new book. Should Ruppin read it, he will learn a lot.
Ruppin is no luckier with his claim that the Israeli occupation has economically benefited the Palestinians. In fact it has been wholly malign economically as well as politically. One of Israel’s most respected journalists, Danny Rubinstein, wrote in Haaretz earlier this year:
a comparison between the standards of living of Palestinians residing in Jordan and that of the residents of the West Bank and Gaza arouses sad thoughts regarding the actions and neglect of almost thirty years of Israeli rule … Whatever Jordan has done for its residents, including Palestinians, is much more than the Israeli Government has done, or more accurately has not done for the subjects of the military government. The differences exist in every area of public government investment … Most of the roads in the West Bank and Gaza remained in the same state as they were in 1967. Not even one traffic light is to be found … The Israeli rule never granted any government assistance for investments in building factories. Except for two small hotels in Bethlehem, not one hotel has been built in the territories, nor one large factory … The result is that the backward and poor Jordanian Kingdom did much more for the Palestinians who lived in it than Israel. The comparison with Jordan shows in an even more glaring form how badly we treated them.
Even if Ruppin is not prepared to read Israeli historians, it should not be too much to ask him to read Israeli newspapers.
Since he has uncritically accepted all the past Israeli propaganda, we cannot be surprised that he now uncritically accepts Israel’s current version of events. Accordingly, Ruppin puts all the blame for the current failure of the peace process on Yasser Arafat and Palestinian ‘terrorism’. Certainly Arafat is open to heavy criticism, though not for the reasons given in Ruppin’s letter. Yet his letter contains not even a whiff of criticism of such Israeli actions and breaches of the agreements as their accelerated stealing of Arab land to enlarge their illegal settlements in Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, their refusal to release thousands of Palestinian prisoners, their failure to redeploy their army, and their postponement of elections. Similarly he says nothing about Israeli ‘terrorism’ or the Hebron massacre.
As I have already expressed my views on this subject in the LRB, I will not inflict them again on your readers. But perhaps I may quote another journalist, this time an Arab, Muhammad Hallaj: ‘The peace process has degenerated into a scheme to persuade the Arabs to live in peace with Israel without persuading Israel to live in peace with the Arabs.’ It is that Israeli attitude – well illustrated by Mr Ruppin’s letter – together with the Clinton Administration’s craven and contemptible support for every Israeli action and pronouncement, however indefensible, which stands in the way of a fair and lasting peace.
House of Lords
I don’t think one should let Rafael Ruppin’s historical revisionism go unchallenged. He states that I claimed ‘that the Christian Lebanese militiamen who perpetrated the massacre of Palestinians at Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in Beirut were sent by the Israelis.’ And continues: ‘To the contrary, when it became apparent to Israeli commanders what was happening, they stopped the massacre, saving untold Palestinian lives. Palestinian propagandists turned the story around, blaming the Israelis.’ This is factually, historically untrue. The Israelis sent the Christian militiamen into the Sabra and Chatila camps on 16 September 1982, allegedly to ‘flush out’ two thousand ‘terrorists’ who, Ariel Sharon claimed (totally wrongly, as it turned out), had remained behind in the camps after the PLO evacuation. Israel’s own Kahan Commission report records how a joint liaison office was set up between the Christian militia and Israeli intelligence officers. I myself saw the military markers which the Israelis had placed around Beirut Airport to guide the Christian militiamen on their way to the camps.
The Kahan Commission, which held an official inquiry on the massacre, states that Israeli troops, contrary to what Ruppin says, knew very well what was going on in the camp from an early stage – but did nothing. Their official report, which was published by the Israeli Government, records how Lieutenant Avi Grabowski, deputy commander of an Israeli tank company, witnessed the murder of five women and children shortly after the massacre began. The report says that he was discouraged from complaining and was informed that his unit’s battalion commander had already been informed of the massacre but had replied: ‘We know, it’s not to our liking, and don’t interfere.’ At noon on the 17th – more than twenty-four hours before Ruppin claims the Israelis discovered what was happening – Grabowski’s tank crew asked a Christian militiaman why he and his men were killing civilians and were told: ‘Pregnant women will give birth to terrorists; the children when they grow up will be terrorists.’ And still the massacre continued.
Of the Arab village of ‘A-Nufiat’ (correct name:’ Arab al-Nufay’ at) which adjoined Ruppin’s settlement, he says that, had the Arab villagers heeded his advice not to flee in 1948, they would still be in this village ‘to this day’. Ruppin must know this is incorrect. The Arab villagers were ordered to leave ’ Arab al-Nufay’at by the Haganah on 10 April 1948; the village was bulldozed by Israeli forces less than three weeks later. Today – as Ruppin must be all too well aware, since he lives there – only a single house and a mulberry tree remain.
Joan Coleman (Letters, 20 April) is quite wrong to suggest that I might regard the subjects of witchcraft and black magic as boring mumbo-jumbo, as she apparently once did. I find them fascinating. Nor did I set out to prove that the extreme satanic cult she describes doesn’t exist: I went into the area with an open mind. I have no problem believing that people belong to dubious cults, and I am unsurprised by any cruelty that human beings carry out on each other. But this is meant to be a cult of mass murder, and there is no evidence that its members exist or ever have existed, or that they have ever killed anyone. There is ample evidence that during the Great Witch-Hunt the authorities, convinced of the cult’s reality, killed thousands of people.
‘Why is it so hard,’ she asks, ‘to believe that professional people could be members of satanic cults?’ She has misread me. Of course professional people can belong to all sorts of strange organisations. However, as she well knows, people who believe in satanic ritual abuse explain the lack of evidence by the hypothesis that well-placed satanists are actively involved in a conspiracy to suppress it. If she were to reread my piece, she would see that conspiracy theory is part of belief in the satanic sabbat. I don’t think she and her colleagues are necessarily fanatical witchhunters, but the evidence of history is that ordinary decent people can commit the most appalling injustices: all it needs is an ideology powerful enough to wreck their sense of proportion.
Stephen Sedley’s reference to Charles Evans Hughes’s well-known remark that ‘the Constitution is what the judges say it is’ (LRB, 11 May) got the quote right but the date wrong. Hughes made the comment not 60 years ago, as Chief Justice of the United States, but 88 years ago, as Governor of New York, in a speech at Elmira, NY on 3 May 1907. The entire sentence, from which the famous words are usually jerked out of context, reads: ‘We are under a Constitution, but the Constitution is what the judges say it is, and the judiciary is the safeguard of our liberty and of our property under the Constitution.’ Whether Governor Hughes was speaking, as Sedley asserts, ‘of all rights instruments at all times’, and whether he endorsed an expansive role for judges on behalf of rights beyond their clear constitutional meaning, cannot, I believe, be properly inferred from that sentence.
Bernard Knox knocks Christopher Logue’s Husbands for not being what it was never designed to be, a literal translation (LRB, 11 May). Really, it’s like going after Sonny Rollins for playing ‘All the Things You Are’ in a manner quite different from what Jerome Kern probably had in mind. But it’s a very interesting version, no? Logue has his antecedents in this sort of thing. Paraphrase, quote, interpolation – these are hardly cutting-edge techniques, but belong rather to good old High Modernism. Knox would have to know Pound’s ‘Homage to Sextus Propertius’, which takes considerable liberties with the original indeed, but gives us the most vital Propertius in English. He would know of Schoenberg’s liberties with Handel or Schnittke’s with Mozart or Lucian Freud’s version of Watteau in his Large Interior, W11. One could spend an afternoon ransacking libraries, museums and record-bins for examples of this sort of thing. When Logue writes of the sky agleam ‘As when Bikini flashlit the Pacific’, I cannot help but think he is aware that the Iliad was composed before atomic weapons were around.
It is well that Adam Mars-Jones put his remark about Randall Jarrell’s definition of a novel (LRB, 11 May) in the form of a question. What Jarrell wrote, near the end of a 48-page appreciation of Christina Stead’s novel The Man Who Loved Children in his own The Third Book of Criticism, was:
But The Man Who Loved Children has been a queer exception. I have lent it to many writers and more readers, and all of them thought it good and original, a book different from any other. They could see that there were things wrong with it – a novel is a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it – but they felt that, somehow, the things didn’t matter.
Jarrell reserved this oft misquoted remark for a writer whom he enormously liked. Quite a different story from Mars-Jones’s Timothy Mo.
Jeremy Harding thinks Peter Dale ‘always pushed for rhymes’ (LRB, 20 April) and whether or not this is the case (I think not), it would have helped if the typesetter of Harding’s review had felt a similar compulsion when compositing Basil Bunting’s line ‘that DEATH is written over all’ (and not, as they have done, printed ‘that DEATH is written all over’, making Bunting’s Villon sound like a contemporary of Status Quo’s!).
Incidentally, it is reported by Denis Goacher in the 1995 Durham University Journal special issue on Basil Bunting that Pound’s statement in Canto 74, ‘Bunting/doing six months after that war was over’, is incorrect. Goacher says: ‘You must remember that Basil was born on March the first and that the Armistice was not until 11 November 1918. He was born with the century, so he was called up soon after March the first 1918, refused to go, and was stuck in jail as a “conchie". ’
Jeremy Harding writes: The depressing misquotation from ‘Villon’ was my fault and not the typesetters’. To deprive Bunting of a rhyme is certainly no improvement. Denis Goacher speaks only of Bunting’s internment in Newcastle. He thinks the idea that Bunting was not released until after the Armistice was cooked up by Pound, ‘who always had to go one better’. But Peter Makin (Bunting: The Shaping of his Verse) gives Wormwood Scrubs and Winchester as other places of detention at that time and suggests that Bunting’s release was ‘less difficult’ because the war had ended. Victoria Forde’s account (Basil Bunting: A Life), like Goacher’s, has Bunting arrested ‘almost on his 18th birthday’, but she tells us he spent ‘eighteen months in jails’ and that he was ‘one of the last one or two to be released in late 1919’.
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