Israel, Gaza, and Robert McNamara’s Lessons for War and Peace

by Ashutosh Jogalekar

Once again the world faces death and destruction, and once again it asks questions. The horrific assaults by Hamas on October 7 last year and the widespread bombing by the Israeli government in Gaza raise old questions of morality, law, history and national identity. We have been here before, and if history is any sad reminder, we will undoubtedly be here again. That is all the more reason to grapple with these questions.

For me, a particularly instructive guide to doing this is Errol Morris’s brilliant 2003 film, “The Fog of War”, that focuses on former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s “eleven lessons” drawn from failures of the United States in the Vietnam War. Probably my favorite documentary of all time, I find both the film and the man fascinating and the lessons timeless. McNamara at 85 is sharp as a tack and appears haunted with the weight of history and his central role in sending 58,000 American soldiers to their deaths in a small, impoverished country far away which was being bombed back into the stone age. Throughout the film he fixes the viewer with an unblinking stare, eyes often tearing up and conviction coming across. McNamara happens to be the only senior government official from any major U.S. war who has taken responsibility for his actions and – what is much more important than offering a simple mea culpa and moving on – gone into great details into the mistakes he and his colleagues made and what future generations can learn from them (in stark contrast, Morris’s similar film about Donald Rumsfeld is infuriating because unlike McNamara, Rumsfeld appears completely self-deluded and totally incapable of introspection).

For me McNamara’s lessons which are drawn from both World War 2 and Vietnam are uncannily applicable to the Israel-Palestine conflict, not so much for any answers they provide but for the soul-searching questions which must be asked. Here are the eleven lessons, and while all are important I will focus on a select few because I believe they are particularly relevant to the present war. Read more »

On War: A St. Patrick’s Day Offering

by Barbara Fischkin

My 1985 photo of the priest who helped me to sneak into Armagh Jail, Father Raymond Murray: Jail chaplain, with former inmate Catherine Moore.

I arrived in Ireland in the mid-1980s to cover the seemingly intractable bloody conflict colloquially known as “The Troubles.” I studied up on materiel: Armalite rifles, homemade fertilizer bombs, the plastic bullets protestors ducked. And on the glossary of local politics: Loyalists were mostly Protestants who wanted to remain British citizens; Republicans were mostly Catholics who yearned for a united Irish nation. I interviewed people on both sides of the conflict but more women than men. I wanted to make their voices heard in the United States.

I was taken by one issue that had already created international headlines—the strip searches of female political prisoners.

But the stories I read did not quote the women who were being strip searched. They quoted politicians and  sociologists instead of the women themselves. The stories said the policy was routine, part of the process of getting inmates out of civilian clothes and into prisoner uniforms. Not true. This was actually a well-conceived British military psychological operation to humiliate the women, a technique intended to “break” the women.

I decided that the only way to write about this was to getting inside the 100-year-old stone walls of Her Majesty’s Prison Armagh—and to talk to the women directly.

But to get in, even to speak to only one woman, I had to lie. I could not say I was a reporter. I had to say I was a cousin, visiting from the states. The Northern Ireland Office, run by dutiful Protestant colonists controlled by the British, kept the press out. Perpetrators of abuse do not like publicity. Now, as St. Patrick’s Day approaches, and two larger wars rage—wars that unlike the one in Ireland threaten us all—my mind keeps racing back to what is better known as “Armagh Jail.” Read more »

Germany and the Unfolding Tragedy in Gaza

by Andrea Scrima

In November 2023, in an essay for the German national newspaper die taz, I wrote that Germany’s Jews were once again afraid for their lives. It was—and is—a shameful state of affairs, considering that the country has invested heavily in coming to terms with its fascist past and has made anti-antisemitism and the unconditional support of Israel part of its “Staatsräson,” or national interest—or, as others have come to define it, the reason for the country’s very existence. The Jews I’m referring to here, however, were not reacting to a widely deplored lack of empathy following the brutal attacks of October 7. In an open letter initiated by award-winning American journalist Ben Mauk and others, more than 100 Jewish writers, journalists, scientists, and artists living in Germany described a political climate where any form of compassion with Palestinian civilians was (and continues to be) equated with support for Hamas and criminalized. Assaults on the democratic right to dissent in peaceful demonstrations; cancellations of publications, fellowships, professorships, and awards; police brutality against the country’s immigrant population, liberal-minded Jews, and other protesting citizens—the effects have been widely documented, but what matters most now is now: the fact that the German press is still, four months later, nearly monovocal in its support of Israel and that over 28,000 civilians, two-thirds of them women and children, have died. Read more »

For My Jewish Refugee Family, Brooklyn Was The Promised Land

by Barbara Fischkin

My refugee grandfather, Isaac Siegel, in his New York City  watchmaking shop, on St. John’s Place in Brooklyn, probably in the 1940s. The black and white sign on the wall behind his head is an advertisement for an accountant—my father, David Fischkin, who was his son-in-law. Family photo.

In 1919, after a brutal anti-Semitic pogrom in a small Eastern European shtetl, my grandfather knew that his wife and three young children would be better off as refugees. He prepared them to trek by foot and in horse-drawn carts from Ukraine to the English Channel and eventually to a Scottish port. Finally they sailed in steerage class to the United States. My grandfather was a simple watchmaker—and one of the visionaries of his time. Europe, he told his tearful wife, was not finished with murdering Jews, adding that things were likely to get much worse. And so, my grandmother became a hero, too. She said farewell to her mother and sister, knowing she would never see them again. In Scotland, she descended to the lower level of a ship with her children—my mother, the eldest, was seven years old. My grandmother traveled alone with her children. My grandfather was refused entry to the ship. He had lice in his hair. He arrived in the United States weeks, or possibly months, later.

My grandfather, Ayzie Zygal of Felshtin, Ukraine became Isaac Siegel of Brooklyn, New York, where he lived for the rest of his life. In his later years he spent summers in the Catskill Mountains, always asking to be let out of the family car a mile before reaching Hilltop House, a bungalow colony. My grandfather wanted to walk that last mile along the local creek. It reminded him of the River Felshtin. He never regretted coming to America.

My grandparents died, in Brooklyn in their early sixties. My grandfather had been poisoned by the radium he used on the paint brushes in his shop to make the hours glow. He licked them, with panache, to make them sharper. My grandmother had a heart condition, exacerbated by diabetes. They were both gone before I turned three.

They had lived much longer than they had expected they would in 1919.

I was told my grandfather left Europe to save his family’s life. And because my mother narrowly escaped death. I was told he did not believe there would be any more miracles. Read more »

On War And Autism

by Barbara Fischkin

Photo: Mahmoud Ajjour, The Palestine Chronicle
Children in Gaza who have autism enjoyed a day at the beach in July. Photo: Mahmoud Ajjour, The Palestine Chronicle

Our elder, adult son, Dan Mulvaney, has non-speaking autism. For the most part, Dan has a good life. He lives near us—his mother and father—in a lovely group home on Long Island in suburban New York and often surfs the Atlantic Ocean off Long Beach. During quiet moments when Dan is out at sea, waiting with his surf instructor for a great wave to bring him to shore, I watch from the beach.

Since October 7, I also worry about his compatriots in autism—younger and older—in Israel and in Gaza.

Dan may not speak but he does have his own way of communicating. He has given me permission to write about him here and to relate that he is well informed about world events. He is a devoted viewer of CNN, in particular.

Dan also knows that surfers call the big waves “bombs.” Once in a while a word or two springs from his mouth, sometimes a sentence. Recently, bobbing on his board at the “break” where the waves rise from the ocean in their final push to the shore, he told his instructor they should: “Wait for a bomb.”

There are no real bombs in Long Beach, New York. Before Dan was born I lived and worked in Belfast. I know about bombs. Read more »

When I Worked for Fox News

by Barbara Fischkin

I once wrote a political column for Fox News. My point of view was liberal and at times decidedly leftist.

This is true-true and not fake news.

The notorious Fox was then a media baby, albeit an enormous one. At its American launch in 1997, it already had 17 million cable subscribers. Millions of Americans looking for a conservative alternative to CNN and company.

Two years later I was hired, as a freelancer, to write an opinion column for a nascent website: Fox News Online. Back then, the television screen ruled. The website was an experiment, to see if the Internet was real. I was told I could opine as I wished, as long as the facts backed me up and I was not libelous or incoherent. A cartoonist was assigned to illustrate my words.

When I was first approached about writing this, I thought it was a practical joke. A dear friend and former newspaper colleague showed up one morning in our family backyard and told me to stop calling her every morning with my take on national and world events. “Write it,” she said. “I will pay you. Two hundred bucks a column once a week. Eight hundred a month.”  Not a lot for Fox News, even then. But I needed the money. Needing money is one of my hobbies. Read more »

Caught in the Middle: The Boycotted Students of NYU Tel Aviv

by Ethan Seavey

Tel Aviv Port. Photo by Ethan Seavey

The door to the lounge is heavy. Six students enter and sit on large bean bags and a small couch and two cots. They laugh as someone struggles to connect their computer to the television. Behind or between them is a plate with writing in Hebrew, directing attention to the metal door set into the floor. It leads to the common room on the floor below as I’ve been told. The television is turned on and the lights are turned off; but no, the room does not become a dark void with their focus turned to the screen. Eerie green light radiates from the corners, where glow-in-the-dark tape has been pasted. Here, the common room is a bomb shelter. The students who live here brush it off; but I, the visitor, cannot shake the idea of that heavy door slamming shut and the lights going out and the room filling with green and the cots being shared by the six of us.

The students at NYU Tel Aviv are caught in the middle. Fortunately they have not been in any danger—unlike many because of the conflict between Israel and Palestine—but in Tel Aviv they are stuck in the center of the rising tensions within their academic community. In May 2021, a letter was drafted calling for members of the New York University community to support academic non-cooperation with the campus in Tel Aviv until Israel is de-militarized and Palestinian students are offered equal opportunities for education. Over a hundred faculty signed the letter, and it’s safe to say that the sentiment is shared by a lot of students as well.

I knew about this before I made the journey from Paris to Tel Aviv to visit my boyfriend in this past month. He’s a student of NYU Tel Aviv. COVID blocked travel for the past few months, but Israel opened up to tourists in November, and I took the many bureaucratic steps necessary to visit him for a very short weekend. Read more »

How To Fake Maps And Influence People

by Thomas O’Dwyer

Google blots out the entire village of Guwacun in Tibet for some unknown reason.
Google blots out the entire village of Guwacun in Tibet for some unknown reason.

Truth may be the first casualty of war or, nowadays, of politics, but few of us would have thought of using a map to look for lies. But thanks to Google Maps and other geographic meddlers, there may now be fewer lies in a Donald Trump speech than on the face of the good Earth. It’s not hard to find places Google doesn’t want you to see, but not all are as obvious as its satellite image of a part of southern Tibet. There, the entire village of Guwacun lies under an unsubtle grey rectangle. Such geographical censorship goes far beyond pandering to mandarins in some Chinese ministry of paranoia. Take democratic, advanced, high-tech Israel, for example. Only low-resolution images of the entire country and the surrounding Palestinian territories are available online. Google alone is not to blame for this — America is. In 1997, the US government passed a law called the Kyl–Bingaman Amendment. This law prohibited American authorities from granting a license for collecting or disseminating high-resolution satellite images of Israel. The US mandated censorship of commercial satellite images for no other country in the world except Israel.

The largest global sources of commercial satellite imagery include online resources, such as Google and Microsoft’s Bing. Since they are American, the US has used the “Israel images amendment” as a powerful tool for suppressing information. Hence, images of Israel on Google Earth are deliberately blurred. Strangely, anyone in the world can zoom in on crisp and detailed pictures of the Pentagon or GRU headquarters in Moscow, but all one can see of Tel Aviv’s public central square and gardens is a fuzzy grey blur. This odd restriction has frustrated archaeologists and other scientists who depend on satellite imagery to survey areas of interest to their disciplines. It does, however, enable Israel to conceal practices in the occupied Palestinian territories that attract international censure. These include expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights, demolitions of Palestinian homes, and abuses of power by the military in clashes with Gaza. Read more »

Letter From Be’er Sheva

By Jenny White

IMG_6976_2 I remain convinced, despite my anthropological training not to generalize, that every society has an aesthetic, a particular repetition of pattern, that informs its material manifestation. In contradiction to the anthropological view that you must delve under the surface to understand a place, I’m going to suggest that this aesthetic is most powerfully visible to the uninitiated. The observant tourist, for instance, who sees everything through a child’s indiscriminate and unfiltered gaze. Patterns pop out to the uninitiated. For locals, by contrast, patterns harbor familiarity, wholeness, comfort, rootedness. Patterns are woven into the everyday, felt, but no longer seen. On my first visit to Japan, I was struck by the layered rows of boxes I saw everywhere, in the arrangements of windows, proportions of houses, the way images were arrayed on fliers and ads, far beyond what I would expect by accident or convenience. I experienced the boxes as a powerful imprint on my surroundings wherever I went. Perhaps I was wrong. A friend who is a specialist on Japan doesn’t see it. Does the forest have a shape without its trees? Nonetheless, I will continue with my conceit, on the justification that I am also a writer and writers gleefully play with any patterns they see, even if an anthropologist would tell them that without context, there is no meaning. No writer believes that; her job is to create meaning, not analyze it.

I am now in Be’er Sheva in the Negev desert, teaching a three-week course at Ben Gurion University. A driver brought me from Tel Aviv airport to my residence in a ten-story building that towers over the neighborhood. The streets near the residence are little more than rows of cement rooms with walled-in tile forecourts. Behind them loom three- and four-story apartment buildings of unfinished cement without ornamentation or color. There is little attention to detail and the buildings are crumbling, festooned with wires and rusting grates. They remind me of bunkers with blank walls and slits for windows. That is the only pattern I see beyond the ubiquitous lack of ornament. But it is a pattern.

Read more »