Tomgram: Waltz with Bashir, Part 1

January 26, 2009

January 24, 2009

As a 19-year-old Israeli soldier, Ari Folman took part in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and was on duty in Beirut during the notorious massacres in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. Just a week ago, Waltz with Bashir, the animated documentary film Folman directed in which he explores his own nightmarish, half-suppressed memories of that period, was given its first underground screening in Lebanon — not far, in fact, from Hezbollah headquarters in southern Beirut — though the film is officially banned in that country. It has also been screened in Palestinian Ramallah and is reportedly soon to be shown in the Arab Gulf states. It has already won six Israeli Academy Awards, best foreign film at the Golden Globes, and is now nominated for an Oscar as best foreign film.

Waltz With Bashir

At this moment, when the Israeli assault on Gaza has ended in catastrophic destruction and death, director Folman’s remarkable voyage — he calls it a “bad acid trip” — into the oblivion of war trauma and the horrific recent history of the Middle East is as stunning, moving, and unnerving an experience as anything you’ll see this year, or perhaps any year. A no less remarkable graphic memoir, Waltz with Bashir, was developed in tandem with the film. It will be in your bookstores in a couple of weeks, but can be ordered in advance by clicking here. Not surprisingly, the book and film have some of the impact that the first “graphic novel,” Art Spiegelman’s MAUS, had when it came out in 1986, and that assessment comes from the fellow — me, to be exact — who published MAUS back then.

The single best piece on Waltz with Bashir and its relevance to the recent invasion of Gaza was written by Gary Kamiya of Salon.com. He concludes: “Of course, Israel’s moral culpability for the 1982 massacre [in Sabra and Shatila] is not the same as its moral responsibility for the civilians killed in the current war. But there are painful similarities. Sooner or later the patriotic war fervor will fade, and Israelis will realize that their leaders sent them to kill hundreds of innocent people for nothing. And perhaps in 2036, some haunted filmmaker will release ‘Waltz With Hamas.'”

Given the power and timeliness of this thoughtful, dreamlike memoir from a living hell, it’s a particular honor for TomDispatch to be releasing two long excerpts, exclusively, over the next two Saturdays. Thanks go to Metropolitan Books, the book’s publisher, for allowing it to happen. I hope what follows stuns and intrigues you. Keep an eye out for part 2 next Saturday. Tom

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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Tomgram: Tony Karon, Obama’s Gaza Opportunity

January 26, 2009

January 22, 2009

[Note for TomDispatch readers: Saturday is usually a dead zone for this site, but no longer. For the next two Saturdays, TomDispatch will be offering sizeable excerpts from a soon-to-be-published graphic memoir, Waltz with Bashir, created alongside the remarkable new Israeli animated movie of the same title about the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which has just received an Oscar nomination for best foreign film. Keep your eyes out for it. Tell your friends. It’s a must read.]

Yes, we now know the ever grimmer statistics: more than 1,400 dead Gazans (and rising as bodies are dug out of the rubble); 5,500 wounded; hundreds of children killed; 4,000 to 5,000 homes destroyed and 20,000 damaged — 14% of all buildings in Gaza; 50,000 or more homeless; 400,000 without water; 50 U.N. facilities, 21 medical facilities, 1,500 factories and workshops, and 20 mosques reportedly damaged or destroyed; the smashed schools and university structures; the obliterated government buildings; the estimated almost two billion dollars in damage; all taking place on a blockaded strip of land 25 miles long and 4 to 7.5 miles wide that is home to a staggering 1.4 million people.

On the other side in Israel, there are a number of damaged buildings and 13 dead, including three civilians and three soldiers killed in a friendly-fire incident. But amid this welter of horrific numbers, here was the one that caught my eye — and a quote went with it: Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, chief of staff of the Israeli Army, told Parliament on January 12th, “We have achieved a lot in hitting Hamas and its infrastructure, its rule and its armed wing, but there is still work ahead.”

Work? The “work” already done evidently included a figure he cited: more than 2,300 air strikes launched by the Israelis with the offensive against Hamas still having days to go. Think about that: in a heavily populated, heavily urbanized, 25-mile-long strip of land, 2,300 air strikes, including an initial surprise attack “in which 88 aircraft simultaneously struck 100 preplanned targets within a record span of 220 seconds.” Many of these strikes were delivered by Israel’s 226 U.S.-supplied F-16s or its U.S.-made Apache helicopters.

In addition, the Israelis evidently repeatedly used a new U.S. smart bomb, capable of penetrating three feet of steel-reinforced concrete, the bunker-busting 250-pound class GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb. (The first group of up to 1,000 of these that the U.S. Congress authorized Israel to buy only arrived in early December.) In use as well, the one-ton Mk84 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and a 500-pound version of the same. These are major weapons systems. Evidently dropped as well were “Dime (dense inert metal explosive) bombs designed to produce an intense explosion in a small space. The bombs,” reported Raymond Whitaker of the British Independent, “are packed with tungsten powder, which has the effect of shrapnel but often dissolves in human tissue, making it difficult to discover the cause of injuries.”

Keep in mind that Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups are essentially incapable of threatening Israeli planes and that the Israelis were using their airborne arsenal in heavily populated areas. Though the air war was only one part of a massively destructive assault on Gaza, as a form of warfare, barbaric as it is, it invariably gets a free pass. Yet, if you conduct an air war in cities, it matters little how “smart” your weaponry may be; it will, in effect, be a war against civilians.

Whatever the damage done to Hamas, what happened in Gaza was, simply put, a civilian slaughter. And yet, as Tony Karon, TomDispatch regular and TIME.com senior editor, who runs the Rootless Cosmopolitan blog, indicates below, the very scale of the Israeli assault on what was essentially a captive population wiped away many illusions, tore up the Middle East playbook, and potentially created the basis for a new Obama era approach to both Israelis and Palestinians. Whether that opportunity will be taken up is another matter entirely. Tom

Change Gaza Can Believe In
Tearing Up Washington’s Middle East Playbook
By Tony Karon

Lest President Barack Obama’s opportunistic silence when Israel began the Gaza offensive that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians (more than 400 of them children) be misinterpreted, his aides pointed reporters to comments made six months earlier in the Israeli town of Sderot. “If somebody was sending rockets into my house, where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that,” Obama had said in reference to the missiles Hamas was firing from Gaza. “I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

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Tomgram: Andy Kroll, Will Public Education Be Militarized?

January 19, 2009

January 18, 2009
Tomgram: Andy Kroll, Will Public Education Be Militarized?

In two days, we enter a new Bush and Cheney-less era, though we’ll be living with their nightmarish legacy forever and a day. In response to change, all of us have to adapt — TomDispatch included. This site certainly won’t lose its focus on the world out there, the ongoing militarization of our country, the way we continue to garrison the planet, or the new military and civilian team of custodians and bureaucrats of empire just now being put in place to manage our ongoing wars. This coming week and next, for instance, the site will turn to the nightmare in Gaza, well covered indeed by the political blogosphere, while considering what, in the new Obama era, the future may hold in the Middle East; but TomDispatch will also (as today) aim to expand its domestic focus, while keeping a steady eye upon the economic devastation now roiling our country and planet. (By the way, on some Saturdays, including the next one, I’ll be having a surprise or two for TD readers, so keep your eyes peeled.)

Just as the Bush administration is handing off a host of foreign policy debacles to Barack Obama (including seemingly endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), a woefully mismanaged economic bailout, and possibly a second Great Depression, so the outgoing president is leaving the new administration with a public education mess. There’s the much maligned and underfunded No Child Left Behind Act which is up for reauthorization this year. The cost of going to college is also rapidly spiraling out of control, as evidenced in a recent report in which every state except California received an “F” for college affordability. And at the same time, student loans are drying up as lenders, fearing economic disaster, scale back their programs.

With this in mind, the stakes are high for the incoming Secretary of Education and Obama pal Arne Duncan, who was received with striking warmth during his Senate confirmation hearings this week. As Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) put it, “Mr. Duncan, there is no question that schools across America can benefit from the same kind of fresh thinking that you brought to Chicago public schools. As you know very well, perhaps our greatest educational challenge is to improve the performance of urban and rural public schools serving high-poverty communities.”

Today, Andy Kroll skips the “applause” and the “warm reception.” Instead, he puts Duncan’s “fresh thinking” in Chicago under the microscope. The results may surprise. (To catch a TomDispatch audio interview with Kroll on the new Secretary of Education, click here.) Tom

The Duncan Doctrine
The Military-Corporate Legacy of the New Secretary of Education
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On December 16th, a friendship forged nearly two decades ago on the hardwood of the basketball court culminated in a press conference at the Dodge Renaissance Academy, an elementary school located on the west side of Chicago. In a glowing introduction to the media, President-elect Barack Obama named Arne Duncan, the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools system (CPS), as his nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education. “When it comes to school reform,” the President-elect said, “Arne is the most hands-on of hands-on practitioners. For Arne, school reform isn’t just a theory in a book — it’s the cause of his life. And the results aren’t just about test scores or statistics, but about whether our children are developing the skills they need to compete with any worker in the world for any job.”

Though the announcement came amidst a deluge of other Obama nominations — he had unveiled key members of his energy and environment teams the day before and would add his picks for the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior the next day — Duncan’s selection was eagerly anticipated, and garnered mostly favorable reactions in education circles and in the media. He was described as the compromise candidate between powerful teachers’ unions and the advocates of charter schools and merit pay. He was also regularly hailed as a “reformer,” fearless when it came to challenging the educational status quo and more than willing to shake up hidebound, moribund public school systems.

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Israeli FM confronted at National Press Club / more from The Real News

January 19, 2009

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