The Other Beautiful Game
Where's this then?Some exculsive tennis club? Maybe the grounds of a nice hotel or sports club? Part of Bill Gates' garden?Nope - it's a public tennis court in Christchurch Park, Ipswich at a little before 9:00AM this morning.I think it's the most beautiful court I've ever seen - too bad my game doesn't do it justice.
Hotter than July
Hottest day ever recorded for July and I spend the damn thing in an office - technical writing live from Cambridge. At least lunch by the lake (a pond actually) was nice - sort of a Monet feel if you half shut your eyes and ignore the biz-bland architecture that surrounds it...
Labels: My life
Remembering the Nakba
Palestinian families leaving behind their homes, olive trees and planted fields in Al-Faluja Village, 1948. Picture courtesy of SHAMLSandy Tolan writes a powerful and important account of the fall of Palestine:The Arab-Israeli war of 1948, known in Israel as the War of Independence, is called al-Nakba or the Catastrophe by Palestinians. For generations of Americans raised on the heroic story of Israel's birth, especially as written by Leon Uris in "Exodus," there is no place for al-Nakba. Yet this fundamental Palestinian wound, and the power of its memory today, cannot simply be wished away.
The obscure anniversary in question, July 11-15, is little known outside of Palestinian memory. Yet it helped forge the fury, militancy and Palestinian longing for land in exile that helps drive the conflict today. In fact, it's not possible to understand today's firefights without first understanding the Nakba, and especially what transpired under the brutal sun just east of Tel Aviv in the midsummer of 1948.
On July 11, 1948, a convoy of halftracks and jeeps from Israeli Commando Battalion 89 approached the Arab city of Lydda on the coastal plain of Palestine. The 150 soldiers were part of a large fighting force made up of Holocaust survivors, literally just off the boats and themselves the dispossessed of a European catastrophe, as well as Jews born in Palestine who had sharpened their fighting skills in World War II with the British army. Their jeeps were mounted with Czech and German-made machine guns, each capable of firing at least 800 rounds per minute. The battalion leader, a young colonel named Moshe Dayan, had passed along orders for a lightning assault that relied on firepower and total surprise.
The war had officially begun in May, following months of hostilities between Arabs and Jews. In November 1947, the United Nations had voted to partition Palestine into two states, one for the Arabs and one for the Jews. For the Zionist movement, as for many people around the world, this represented a guarantee of a safe haven for Jews in the wake of the Holocaust. The Arab majority in Palestine, however, wondered why they should be the solution to the Jewish tragedy in Europe. They owned the vast majority of the land, including 80 percent of its citrus groves and grain fields, and the Arab population that fell on the Jewish side of the partition had no desire to become a minority on their own land. They wanted an Arab-majority state for all the people of Palestine, and they appealed for help from neighboring Arab states to prevent the Jews from establishing the state of Israel.
Fighting intensified in the early months of 1948. In April, a massacre by the Jewish militia Irgun in the Arab village of Deir Yassin shot waves of fear through Arab Palestine; this provoked a reprisal massacre by Arabs of Jewish doctors and nurses on the road to Hadassah hospital near Jerusalem. In the meantime, in the wake of Deir Yassin many thousands of Arab villagers fled for safe haven, intending to come back once the hostilities ceased.
On May 13, the Arab coastal town of Jaffa fell, and refugees began filling the streets of Lydda and the neighboring town, al-Ramla. The next day, in a speech to the Jewish provisional council, David Ben-Gurion declared Israel's independence, and on May 15, Arab armies crossed the borders to launch attacks on the new Jewish state.
The Arab and Jewish fighting forces on the ground, contrary to subsequent narratives much-repeated in the West, were relatively equal as the war began. For a time the Arabs appeared to have a slight edge, but during a four-week truce that began on June 11, Israel was able to break a U.N. arms embargo, and as the war resumed in early July, Israel had a decided advantage.
In the late afternoon of July 11, the convoy of Battalion 89 turned left off a dirt track and roared toward Lydda. At the edge of town they began shooting from the convoy's mounted machine guns -- tens of thousands of bullets in a few minutes. "Everything in their way died," wrote the correspondent for the Chicago Sun Times, in an article headlined "Blitz Tactics Won Lydda." The commandos were followed by Israel's regular army, which occupied Lydda and brutally put down a brief local uprising: 250 people died, including at most four Israeli soldiers as well as up to 80 unarmed civilians in a local mosque. In the meantime, Israeli planes had strafed the two towns and dropped fliers demanding the Palestinians take flight to the east, toward the kingdom of Transjordan. Local Palestinian doctors worked feverishly, without electricity, using strips of bed sheets for bandages as they struggled to save the wounded.
The next day, Maj. Yitzhak Rabin ordered the expulsion of the Arab civilian population of Lydda and of the neighboring town of al-Ramla.
***You can read the rest of the article here at Salon.com but you'll have to watch a short ad first...
How to Cope with Terrorism
It’s a year since the suicide bombings in London.
Four sad losers with dreams of the glory of the Caliphate and (maybe) the heavenly virgins ended up dead and taking over 50 people with them.
Two things struck me in the aftermath of the bombing. One was how multi-cultural London is - amongst the dead and injured it seemed as if scarcely a nation or a race wasn’t represented. The other was how calm people were, and how almost everyone understood the bombing was the action of a tiny group of pathetic losers.
Tony Blair will never recover from the massive mistake of the supporting the war in Iraq, and the lessor one of being Dubya’s poodle. But here was a golden opportunity to read the mood of the public, and respond to the bombings in a measured controlled way.
Needless to say he blew it, blithering on about the war on terror, then moments later rejecting a link with the war in Iraq (does any rational being deny one?) and doing his halting…………l-o-n-g….. pause….for authenticity………another…….l-o-n-g pause "I'm almost overcome with grief - honest!" theatrical turn that we first heard nine years ago when Di died.
In Orwell's novel 1984, Winston Smith sometimes feels as if he’s the only person left alive with a memory. This is a familiar feeling for those of us old enough to remember the terrorist bombing campaigns of the IRA which took place from about 1970 to 1997.
The IRA were a far more formidable opponent than an unwashed bunch of amateurs who squat in a cave on the Pakistan/Afghan border. Until the United States intelligence agencies christened them Al Qaeda, they didn’t even have a name.
The IRA not only chose it’s own name, it had a purpose, and a core group of extremely brave and dedicated young men and a few women (all of whom the British tabloids described as cowards).
Around that core goup, a much larger number of people, who on occasions could be equally brave and resourceful, supported and abetted the active fighters. The IRA could also rely on a very large and well integrated Irish population on the British mainland, who even if they weren’t sympathetic to the cause, at least provided a certain layer of cultural and practical ‘cover.’
Yet these weren't all of the advantages. IRA members looked identical to the target population against whom they operated. They spoke the same language. Despite their denials, they came from a very similar culture. They had a large and powerful and well armed backer in the shape of the huge and ignorant United States’ Irish community.
Yet despite three decades of steadily evolving tactics and sophistication, the IRA ultimately failed in it’s primary goal of achieving a united Ireland. In fact as the years roll on since the peace agreements of the late 1990s, and both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic become steadily more prosperous and content, the chances of unification seem more distant than ever.
How on earth did Britain manage to neutralise this large, well organised, well led, and highly efficient terrorist group? It turns out by doing pretty much the opposite of everything Blair has done.
Once upon a time I rather liked Tony Blair, and it's taken me years to accept he no longer learns from past mistakes (Dubya has neither the courage to admit his mistakes, or the intellect to learn alternative strategies). So here, for the benefit of Blair and Dubya's successors, are some lessons on how to neutralise a terrorist threat:
Follow the advice above, and you can hope for some kind of resolution to the terrorist action in three decades, hopefully less. Ignore the advice, and go along with a "war on terror" and you can look forward to a global Forever War that inflicts permanent damage on your society.
- Downplay any terrorist success. No two minute silences, no elaborate memorial services, no indication that the attack has been anything other than a grubby crime, best forgotten.
- Don’t ever suggest the terrorist action is anything other than a local criminal act. No declarations of being in a global war, that the event itself has anything to do with being international. The IRA was always trying to get help from other countries. Apart from substantial American assistance, it largely failed in these efforts.
- Don’t change the laws of the country in response to a terrorist attack. To do so shows the terrorists are winning. During the entire 30 years war with the IRA, the government was able to reject calls for internment without trial, and identity cards. The one experiment in internment took place in Northern Ireland itself and was a disaster with hundreds of innocent people arrested and imprisoned.
- Stress vigilance in your general population, but otherwise it’s business as usual as soon as the broken glass is swept up. Don’t ever claim that a terrorist attack has “changed the world” – that's a terrorist’s wet dream.
- While you maintain the façade of business as usual, invest heavily in electronic and human intelligence. Recruit agents, monitor phone calls and e-mail and anything else, offer large sums of money to informers, and look the other way when your elite counter-terrorist forces murder in cold blood. Yes, we can be ruthless bastards too.
- Rely on the fact that no terrorist group, large or small, can hope to equal the damage done by even a single night of the Luftwaffe in World War 2. Ultimately terrorist acts, even spectacular ones, are no serious strategic threat to a modern western state.