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Jaffe Center Poll: Jewish Majority Backs Gaza Pullback

By Ha'aretz

A majority of Israeli Jews support Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plans for unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, according to an annual poll conducted by the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. According to the poll, the disengagement plan is viewed as a means to improve security and ensure the Jewish nature of the state of Israel. However, the public harshly opposes concessions bound to a peace agreement with Syria. The poll results also find that a majority of the public rejects the Geneva Accord as a basis for a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Twin Terror Bombings Kill 10 in Israeli Port

By VOA News, & Ha'aretz

Explosions in the Israeli port city of Ashdod have killed at least 10 people and wounded 20 others. Police initially said the twin blasts appeared to be the result of a worker accident at the port. However, authorities later linked the blast to terrorism and said two of the dead appear to be teenage suicide bombers.

The attack marks the first time suicide bombers have penetrated a strategic Israeli facility since the start of the Palestinian uprising more than three years ago. (Editor's Note: Read the latest commentaries and OP-Eds at Then send your reaction to

The terrorists, residents of Gaza, killed themselves in an attempt to carry out a 'mega-attack' that would have released deadly chemicals into the port city. One of the terrorists made his way into the port's inner workshop and blew himself up at 4:30 p.m. Soon after the first explosion; the second terrorist detonated his explosive vest outside the fence of the port compound. A port official told Israel Radio that it was a miracle the blasts did not rupture a bromide tank and cause an even greater catastrophe.

Proponents of the partition wall have always pointed to a security border dividing Gaza from the rest of Israel as a model for the positive role that fences could play in preventing suicide bombings within Israel's pre-1967 borders. Shin Bet and IDF officials are looking into the possibility that the suicide bomber infiltrated into Israel through the fence surrounding the Gaza Strip. They are also considering the possibility that they arrived at Sinai through the Rafah underground tunnels, and from there traveled to an area in the Negev that is not separated by a fence.

Southern Region Police Chief Moshe Karadi said that the bombers were using a different type of explosives from the kind usual used in such attacks and may have been trying to detonate the tanks of bromide and other dangerous chemicals stored in the port, in order to cause a far greater number of casualties. "It may be that they accidentally detonated themselves prematurely, before they reached the intended target," Karadi said.

Port worker Sami Pinto told Army Radio that when he entered the port area he saw smoke rising from the site of both explosions. One explosion took place near the perimeter fence of the facility while the second was from a workshop inside the port. "Five bodies of our workers were on the ground and two more were outside the fence, "said Pinto in an interview shortly after the attack. "One of our workers who was lightly injured told me that the terrorist came in and asked for water. The second he showed him where the tap was he blew himself up. One of our workers who was lightly wounded told me that the terrorist came in and asked for water and the moment he showed him where there was a tap he blew up."

"I didn't understand what was going on. Never in my life did I think that such a thing could happen here, with all of the security, but apparently that's the situation in our country at present," Eli Sa'adon, a 32-year-old Ashdod port worker said Sunday evening.

Knesset member Danny Ben-Loulou (Likud), who lives in Ashdod, said, "The attack proves the disengagement plan is a prize for terrorists. Even the sea cannot stop the waves of terror that are now washing up on our shores." Tourism Minister Benny Elon (National Union) warned that a withdrawal from Gaza would result in such attacks becoming commonplace. "He who retreats from Gaza, Gaza will follow him."

The Prime Minister's Office announced that Monday's meeting between Israeli and PA officials, as well as the meeting scheduled for Tuesday between Ariel Sharon and PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, has been cancelled in light of the attacks.

Israel Television Channel Two Arab Affairs Correspondent Ehud Yaari emphasized in his report that the announcement from Fatah that was released after the attack termed Ashdod as 'occupied territory'. This marks a change in the terminology typically used by Arafat's Fatah organization when referring to targets within Israel's pre-1967 borders. The announcement noted that while the suicide bombers were from the Jabalya slums in the Gaza Strip, this was just a 'refugee camp' as their true home was the, "Palestinian town that is now Israeli-occupied Ashdod."

According to Al-Manar Hizbullah TV, Hamas as well as Fatah's Al-Aqsa Brigade dispatched the bombers. Al-Manar identified the two terrorists as Nabil Saoud and Mohammed Salem, both 17, and in the 11th grade in the Jabalya slums in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority condemned the attack and urged Palestinians to stop such attacks immediately.

Physicians Say Mideast Violence Takes Toll on Civilian Populations

By Meredith Buel (VOA-Washington)

Two doctors from the Middle East, one an Israeli, the other a Palestinian, are touring cities in the United States in an effort to raise public awareness about the severe impact 3.5 years of violence has had on the health of both populations. Israeli physician Zeev Wiener and Palestinian doctor Jumana Odeh say the continuing conflict in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza is having a severe impact on the health of the populations.

During a tour sponsored by the group Physicians for Human Rights, the two doctors said the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation is taking an increasing toll on both sides. They said the closures, restrictions and incursions by the Israeli Army have severely hurt health services to the Palestinians. They pointed out Israelis killed or injured by suicide bombers are not the only victims of those attacks, because many people are experiencing high anxiety and other forms of emotional trauma when they see and hear news reports about the blasts.

In fact, Wiener, a psychiatrist practicing in Tel Aviv, said many Israelis are suffering from what he calls "chronic traumatization" and are so overwhelmed they are disassociating themselves from the conflict. "There is good news about the media and that is the media is broadcasting less and less terrifying pictures. But the bad news is they are doing that for the wrong reasons. Not because they realized it is bad for our health, but people are not interested anymore. People vote not to look at those pictures anymore because they are tired, they are sick of those pictures."

Odeh is a Palestinian pediatrician based in Jerusalem who is on the faculty of the Medical School and School of Public Health at Al-Quds University. She also produces a local television show about children's health. Odeh said virtually all young Palestinians have been affected by the violence, noting that in the Gaza Strip alone 83 percent of the children have personally witnessed shootings or explosions. Odeh said most families simply want to live normal lives.

"I would dream of a day when Israeli kids would be able to go to their schools, safe, not being afraid of any bombing or any attacks against them," said Odeh. "At the same time I would dream of a day when Palestinian kids would be able to go to their schools with no checkpoints, no Israeli soldiers, nobody bothering them and go safely and live a normal life as all kids all over the world."

An Academy Award for Bigotry

By Mike Davis (Commentary)

The most evil film ever made was probably Jud Suess, commissioned by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels in 1940 to fan hatred of the Jews on the eve of the Final Solution. A thousand years of European anti-Semitism were condensed in the image of the cowering rapist Suess, with his dirty beard, hook nose, and whining voice. The audience was instigated to rejoice in the lynching of this subhuman monster at the film's end.

To anyone who has ever seen Jud Suess (as I did in college), the most startling thing about Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ - even more than its relentless, shockingly eroticized cruelty - is its fidelity to the anti-Semitic conventions of Hitlerian cinema.

Indeed, the high priest Caiaphas and his colleagues are such exact, blatant replicas of Suess that I suspect they must be direct borrowings. Moreover, Passion is one of the most manipulative films ever made and, after two hours watching mobs howling in delight at Christ's suffering, it is no wonder that many devout American viewers, like their German predecessors, have left theaters muttering, "I hate the Jews."

The Romans, on the other hand, are shown as noble imperialists. In contrast to the vile Caiaphas, Pontius Pilate is depicted by Gibson as a sympathetic, even saintly figure, tragically trapped between orders from Rome (no more uprisings) and the implacable machinations of the high priests.

As in Suess, moreover, there is a constant contrasting of somatic stereotypes. Mediterranean types - the two Marys, Pilate and his wife, and so on - are rendered with softened features and sensitive spirits, while the Semites - Caiaphas, sybaritic King Herod, and so on - are depicted as coarse and repulsively sensual. (In a contemporary American context, such heavy-handed visual anti-Semitism, of course, instantly summons up anti-Arab connotations as well.)

Gibson's insistence on using original languages - Aramaic and Latin - has impressed naive viewers that The Passion represents some new benchmark in historical accuracy. In fact, history (the little actually recorded of these events, apart from the posthumous theology of the gospels) is bizarrely inverted.

Jesus, of course, is an utterly enigmatic figure. The only 'facts' in his life - as attested by both Roman and Jewish historians - is that he existed and was executed by the Romans. Pilate, on the other hand, has left a slightly larger record.

Unlike Gibson's kindly fiction, the historical Pilate was an ordinary imperial procurator in a third-class province that kept his legions busy with brutal executions of Jewish and Samaritan rebels. Palestine, then as today, lived under an iron heel, and the Passion's confusion of oppressor and oppressed is morally obnoxious.

Some American critics, however, have tried to defend The Passion by pointing out that Gibson's real bête noire is the Vatican, not the Jews. Indeed Gibson explicitly made the film to promote the religious vision of the rabid Catholic traditionalist splinter group in which he grew up. (Passion's tormented Jesus, Seattle actor James Caviezel, is also a fundamentalist Catholic, claiming personal visitations from the Virgin.)

But the "tradition" he so zealously defends is precisely the anti-Semitic Catholic fascism of former Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco and Pope Pius XII. And, like Franco ideologues and their Croatian fascist counterparts of that era, Gibson has the same morbid, vengeful obsession with pain, mutilation, bodily corruption, and the ever-present temptation of Satan (who constantly prowls the perimeter of his film).

In short, Passion is the medieval vision of a pogromist, amplified by Hollywood special effects and the cachet of celebrity. It is protected by a formidable wall of enthusiastic endorsements from the American religious right as well as by the tolerance of ordinary Gibson fans that just can't believe that their goofy, handsome hero is really such a grotesque reactionary.

(Mike Davis is author, most recently, of the kids' adventure, Land of the Lost Mammoths (Perceval Press, 2003) and co-author of Under the Perfect Sun: the San Diego Tourists Never See (New Press, 2003).

Violent Purification

By Robert Jay Lifton (Commentary)

I saw The Passion of the Christ at a theater in Harvard Square, but much of the audience consisted of organized religious groups from the broader Cambridge community. Some people were visibly moved by the film and applauded enthusiastically at the end.

Since the film is about Jesus and violence, everybody brings to it powerful personal preoccupations. The violence some experienced as confirmation of their religious convictions was to me not just excessive but suffocating and ultimately numbing.

Several reviewers have called the violence "gratuitous," but that does not seem to be the right word. For the violence is integral to the film; indeed, the violence is the film. The beatings, the thorns, the nails, the scourging, and the sustained image of Jesus as a bloody pulp - these represent the film's version of his purifying mission. Moreover, for Mel Gibson, the filmmaker, violence is a métier, a longstanding means of intense communication with his audience, of taking that audience, in his own words, "over the edge." It is violence that cannot be transcended by compassion and love. Rather, the camera is enthralled by every detail of cruelty, every vicious blow, every bloody wound. Precisely these brutal images are what the camera loves. The violence itself becomes transcendent, hyper-real. And this display of sadism is in the service of an ideology of purification.

For the film makes clear in its opening scenes that Jesus must take on the terrible burden of all human sin. The violence of his ordeal, it is suggested, must be made commensurate with the extremity of that burden. The sins Jesus has taken on, and therefore Jesus himself, must be brutally annihilated.

At issue is the purification not just of Jesus or even of the sins he carries for others, but of the whole world. And that larger world can be purified, the film tells us, only by sustained cruelty and murderous violence. One must destroy the world, or in this case Christ, its divine representative, to save it. That kind of vision of all-encompassing violence as a means of spiritual renewal finds structured expression in the Old Testament in the Book of Daniel and in the New Testament in the Book of Revelation.

Only in the 20th century, however, could the apocalyptic mindset take on a more activist form as human beings acquired the actual means of purifying the world by destroying it and so could attempt just that, always claiming to be doing so in God's name. This was the mindset I encountered in the small but ambitious Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo, which in 1995 produced and released chemical and biological weapons (having unsuccessfully attempted to acquire nuclear warheads) meant - at least in the fevered fantasies of its guru Shoko Asahara - to initiate World War III and thereby bring about a biblical Armageddon. For his sarin-gassing of the Tokyo subways, only last week he was sentenced to death by a Japanese court.

Another example of an apocalyptic mindset is that of Osama bin Laden, his organization al Qaeda, and related fanatical groups who seek to annihilate much of the world in order to create a purified Islamist utopia. And there are stirrings of a different version of such a purifying mindset in those contemporary American leaders who combine a Christian fundamentalist vision of eliminating evil with a militarized projection of American world domination.

The Passion of the Christ, then, says a good deal more about the violence of the present-day apocalyptic imagination than it does about the experiences of Jesus in the first century. Hence the crude depiction of a sadistic Jewish rabble demanding crucifixion. Within a Christian apocalyptic narrative, Jews tend to be featured either as foils for world redemption who must gather in Israel and convert or be annihilated, or as the evil perpetrators depicted in the film who, in collusion with the devil, reject and kill the true messiah.

The problem of The Passion of the Christ goes far beyond the individual psyche of Mel Gibson, or even questions of biblical interpretation. The crucifixion here becomes a vehicle for a contemporary mentality that is absolute and polarizing in its starkly violent vision of world purification - a vision that fits well with an apocalyptic, all or nothing "war on terrorism." While many will be moved by this vision, there may also be a backlash of revulsion and a reasoned rejection of the zealotry and love of violence the film promotes.

(Robert Jay Lifton is visiting professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. His most recent book is Superpower Syndrome: America's Apocalyptic Confrontation with the World.)

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