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New York War Crimes

New York War Crimes

New Writing

The Epic of the Goat and the Wolf

A new translation of Ghassan Kanafani on reading Western media
Ghassan Kanafani

In one of Kanafani’s last essays, published just months before he was assassinated by Mossad agents along with his 17-year-old niece in Beirut, and appearing here for the first time in English translation, the Palestinian author and revolutionary describes the maddening experience of reading the Western media and its “reporting” on Palestine.

Arabs must be made of different stuff than what foreigners are made of — especially different stuff than what Israelis are made of. David Elazar was very polite when he announced his regret over civilian casualties during the Israeli air raids on Lebanon, “Because this is something that cannot be avoided.” In fact, though, this phrase is an extension of the widely used Israeli slogan that “A good Arab is a dead Arab.”

I’m one of the people who hasn’t been able to read stories or write literature for the past week. Instead, I’ve spent the whole time busy reading the newspapers, the reports of the Israeli attacks, the orations from the masters of diplomatic language in the halls of the UN Security Council. But it’s become clear to me—as is the case for at least 120 million Arabs — that the historical work of literature most relevant to our situation is the short story we learned as children about the goat and the wolf: how the miserable goat was polluting the stream’s water and making it muddy for the polite wolf, even though the goat was drinking from a spot downstream from the strategic location where the wolf had stationed itself. This has been the case at least since the occupation of 1967!

I read the newspapers and their commentaries following the first Lydd Airport incident, then after the second Lydd Airport incident, then the ensuing Israeli attacks. I folded up the papers, exploding with anger, for this stupid world could not be any stupider. Millions of years from the Stone Age and the Golden Rule remains correct: he who has the biggest stone, who carries the thickest rod, he who is the most vicious thug — is the one with Right on his side!

Zev Schiff, an expert in Israeli military logic, says that Israel must acknowledge that Ali Taha, the fedayee who hijacked the Sabena plane, displayed unimaginable courage through this act. I asked myself that day if Zev Schiff would make that acknowledgment had the Sabena hijacking operation ended in success, or whether his question is in fact more like the ancient Arabic insult poems where the poet would compose 99 lines describing the bravery and strength of a lion in order to say in the 100th line that he’d killed it?

God granted me a month of patience, then this very logic came to describe the three fedayeen who stormed the Lydd Airport as cowards! Praise be to God! I waited a little bit and — lo and behold — the very same fraudster extolls the “bravery” of the Israeli pilots sitting in their SkyHawks and Phantoms knowing that there isn’t even a slingshot to bother them as they launch their 2,500 ratl bombs on the clay and adobe houses of Deir el Achayer.

Through this all, the editors of the French paper L’Express were analyzing the resistance’s attacks by saying that “The Orthodox sects in the Arab world have been influenced by Islam to the point where they allow themselves to perform acts of savagery against peaceable civilians sitting in peace and quiet atop occupied lands!”

So, I said to myself “Oh how far has the western mind sunk that it has become so corrupt and cowardly, isn’t this talk like Hitler and Rosenberg and the likes of them?” L’Express itself didn’t make a single mention of the rain of death that poured down on the defenseless villagers of the South [of Lebanon] and chose instead to describe this barbaric operation as a “military response.”

Radio London doesn’t trouble the gentlemen’s thoughts!

I then said to myself, “Perhaps Time, despite its bias, hasn’t descended to the level of L’Express and the Nouvel Observateur.” But then, when I started reading, I was greeted with the following lines: “Why must the Japanese kill Puerto Rican pilgrims simply because the Arabs hate Jews?” Strange! I said. Was the writer really incapable of at least saying “. . . simply because the Arabs and Jews hate each other?” — if, that is, false objectivity was what Time wanted . . .

And the next morning, I said “Perhaps Radio London is more reasonable . . .” but it turned out to be even more cursed. When it comes to English-language broadcast, it doesn’t want to trouble the thoughts of the gentlemen living in London: it didn’t mention a thing, not even a single word, about the hundreds who died under bombs from Israeli planes during the attacks on South Lebanon.

So, I came back to The New York Times, The Economist, Le Figaro, Le Monde, La Stampa, and Die Welt. They all contained a single implicit slogan, one with a wide circulation these days: “The only good Arab is a dead Arab”! Yesterday, Radio London said quite plainly, “B-52 planes dropped 20 tons of bombs around the city of Hue” Just like that. Nothing more!

I said to myself, “Oh, you poor Arabs!” All that the Lydd [Airport] fedayeen did was each of them fired a hundred shots and threw one or two hand grenades in the space of two minutes, in the heart of occupied lands, in a strategic position, against an enemy who continues to give us a taste of death every second . . . This is called violence, savagery, barbarism, murder, slaughter, brutality . . . Whereas those two thousand tons — that is, millions of kilos of death — in less than five hours over an uncountable number of Vietnamese villages, those bombs with plastic (sic) shards that don’t deign to kill until they’ve tortured their victims for two or three months . . . This collective crime whose aim is not liberation, but occupation, is given the name in the lexicon of newspapers and broadcasters of a “Strategic Raid.”

Planes, not fedayeen! Oh, you poor Arabs!

But if you had — instead of three fedayeen — three squadrons of B-52 strategic bombers, and — instead of a simple machine gun — enough firepower for 2000 tons of bombs in a single hour, your way of thinking would be that of L’Express, The New York Times, and Radio London. And Waldheim, with his own intelligent way of thinking, would listen to it. But what a pity! What’s to be done when the right way of thinking is stricken by polio and the false one is armed with a thousand kilos of muscle?

And after all this, Yosef Tekoah, Tel Aviv’s representative to the Security Council, shows up and reproaches the world for not caring about “Jewish blood, as if it were of less value.” History is replete with shamelessness, but not to this degree! Tekoah is, after all, the representative of a state whose officials say repeatedly and publicly to the entire world that they consider one Israeli the equivalent of one hundred Arabs. And they don’t just say this, they also act accordingly: their calculators continue to drink the blood of the Southern villagers in order to amount to one killed or wounded during the bazooka attack on the Kiryat Shmona settlement.

So after reading all of this — and especially after scrutinizing the government’s clever “responses” and taking in our cultural landscape — I realized that we had to revisit the story of the Goat, the Wolf, and the Stream. For it seems that some people have not grasped the story properly. From here on, and until our bodies burst with muscles ready for struggle, the literary impact represented by the story of the Goat and the Wolf remains our singular epic.

And all we hear now in the official statements of Arab leaders is bleating!