Friday, September 23, 2011

Palestinians submit UN statehood bid

[What part don't you understand? The "Pal" or the "estinian"? Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?]
By Amy Teibel and Mohammed Daraghmem - Associated Press | AP

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Defying U.S. and Israeli opposition, Palestinians asked the United Nations on Friday to accept them as a member state, sidestepping nearly two decades of failed negotiations in the hope this dramatic move on the world stage would reenergize their quest for an independent homeland.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was greeted by sustained applause and appreciative whistles from the delegations in the General Assembly hall as outlined his people's hopes and dreams of becoming a full member of the United Nations. Some members of the Israeli delegation, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Liebermann, left the hall as Abbas approached the podium.
In a scathing denunciation of Israel's settlement policy, Abbas declared that negotiations with Israel "will be meaningless" as long as it continues building on lands the Palestinians claim for that state. Invoking what would be a nightmare for Israel, he went so far as to warn that his government could collapse if the construction persists.

"This policy is responsible for the continued failure of the successive international attempts to salvage the peace process," said Abbas, who has refused to negotiate until the construction stops. "This settlement policy threatens to also undermine the structure of the Palestinian National Authority and even end its existence."

To another round of applause, he held up a copy of the formal membership application and said he had asked U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon to expedite deliberation of his request to have the United Nations recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
Ban has to examine the application before referring it to the Security Council. Action on the membership request could take weeks, if not months. [If not years. If ever.]

The speech papered over any Palestinian culpability for the negotiations stalemate, deadly violence against Israel, spurned peace offers and the internal rift that has produced dueling governments in the West Bank and Gaza. It also ignored Jewish links to the Holy Land. [Cough-cough, excuse me? They want to take all of the Holy Land away from Israel? Of course not; they just want the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem. Israel doesn't overlook the Palestinians' links to the Holy Land? It's been more than seven centuries since the Battle of La Forbie in 1244. Look it up. Do the math.]

Abbas' jubilant mood was matched by the exuberant celebration of thousands of Palestinians who thronged around outdoor screens in town squares across the West Bank on Friday to see their president submit his historic request for recognition of a state of Palestine to the United Nations.

"I am with the President," said Muayad Taha, a 36-year-old physician, who brought his two children, ages 7 and 10, to witness the moment. "After the failure of all other methods (to win independence) we reached a stage of desperation. This is a good attempt to put the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people on the map. Everyone is here to stand behind the leadership."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, addressing the General Assembly shortly after Abbas, said his country was "willing to make painful compromises." [Painful? How painful?]

"I extend my hand to the Palestinian people, with whom we seek a just and lasting peace," Netanyahu said, to extended applause.

Palestinians, he added, "should live in a free state of their own, but they should be ready for compromise" and "start taking Israel's security concerns seriously." [Israel has security concerns because they continue to build settlements on Palestinian land. If they withdrew from the settlements, what would happen? Threats to their security would increase? Of course not. They have security concerns because of their own actions.]
[The US and Israel against the world. ♫ Sometimes it feels like... ♫

I understand the necessity for the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948, after the horrors of the Holocaust. I think anyone in the West who was against its creation at the time had to be completely devoid of a capacity for empathy. But in 1967, rather than having a Six-Day War, Israel and Jews worldwide should have taken stock of themselves and seen how well things were going for them then and realized that they didn't need modern Israel anymore. They had outgrown the need for it. (In 1967, Jews were ghettoized in New York? In L.A.? In Atlanta? In Dallas? What, Beverly Hills was a ghetto in 1967? Nice ghetto. Gays should have had to endure such ghettos in 1967.) Instead of ramping up the conflict, Israelis should have just lost interest in having a homeland that hadn't been their homeland for 19 centuries, since the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-136 ce). The land should have just drifted back to Palestinian possession over time as Israelis left to find nicer digs elsewhere.]

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The fiction unearthed

My email (4/9/2011) to the authors of The Bible Unearthed:

Dear Drs. Finkelstein and Silberman:

I know I can't be the only one who, after reading The Bible Unearthed, actually came up with a novel based on some of the information you present in it. In any case, I'm interested in knowing your reaction to the idea of broadening the discussion about the origins of the Bible by way of fiction. Bad idea? Or would it be good to reach an audience who wouldn't ordinarily read a nonfiction book on the subject? Or do you expect that broadening the audience would do nothing more than add to the number of people who already resist the ideas expressed in your book? My own hope is that, if greater numbers of people were to realize that neither Moses nor Muhammad had any special revelation and were just writing from what they understood at the time, the conflict over the modern state of Israel might ease somewhat, as might the conflict in the US between right and left over the fusion or separation of church and state; but that may be just my naivete. If you consider it inadvisable to popularize the discussion of the Bible’s origins any more than it already is, it would be interesting to know your reasons. If you thought that (given that the writing in my book is of high enough quality and the research thorough enough) broadening the discussion in this way would benefit the public, it would be very appreciated if you would consider giving your reasons in a foreword for the book.

I'm currently querying the book to literary agents and describing the book to them with the following paragraphs:

There's a short episode in II Kings in the Bible where an old scroll of the law is found during Temple renovations. I learned from reading The Bible Unearthed by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman that scholars have speculated for quite a while that the scroll that was found was actually new, composed by the priests and scribes not long before its "discovery." So I thought, what if the rough draft of that scroll surfaced?

At the core of my debut novel, The Talpiot Find, is an archaeological dig in present-day Jerusalem uncovering ancient clay tablets that potentially will anger Jews, Christians and Muslims alike when the text they contain is made public. The novel weaves together two storylines. The story set in the 7th century BCE focuses on a slave manager at the Temple in Jerusalem who is given the task of disposing of clay tablets used to compose the rough draft of the scroll of the law that was later "found" during Temple renovations, but which were mistakenly taken to a potter and fired, preserving the edited text on them. Because of the secrecy surrounding the tablets and the scroll copied from them, the manager suspects that the Temple scribes plan to have him killed. In the present-day story, the archaeologists try to keep the tablets low-profile, but a provocative video about the tablets surfaces on YouTube. They then learn that one of the tablets, acquired in the 12th century, has been kept a secret through the centuries by a small, select group of rabbis. In order to contain this knowledge, special-ops agents contracted by Mossad detain a student from the dig team and threaten to kill him if the rabbis’ tablet is disclosed by the few people who know about it. Word count: 71,000.

Regarding my background, I spent my first 32 years as a super-Evangelical. (We even thought Jerry Falwell was a little on the liberal side.) I graduated from Bob Jones University with a B.S. in cinema and with extensive knowledge of conservative Bible doctrine and history. I’m now an agnostic, better educated and a bit older, but my knowledge of Scripture provides valuable perspective when I examine history and contemporary issues from a secular standpoint.

I haven't read any of Dan Brown's books, in case you're wondering; I wrote my book as literary fiction rather than as a thriller. My writing is influenced much more by Umberto Eco and John Updike than by popular authors.

Thanks very much.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The 4,000-year-old hat

My email to John Brockman

Mr. Brockman:

You see the absurdity in the term "Christian atheist" of course. But in the term "Jewish atheist" you see no absurdity. You just see your heritage informed by science. You may not even see any absurdity in the concept of a secular synagogue. Jews who no longer believe in G-d, continuing to go through the motions? Keeping to the 613 mitzvot, give or take a few? Like using the Sabbath mode on their oven? The reason for that, ultimately, is simple: They haven't set Judaism aside because they don't want to become common like everyone else. To an objective observer it's very clear that that is the motivation. Can you detect it in yourself? Don't veer off into an accusation of anti-semitism. Focus on the question itself. Examine your reluctance to change any action or reaction that is specifically associated with your Jewish heritage. Your reluctance to x is based on what? It's harmful? It's inefficient? Of course not. It would make you seem common.

My reason for writing this to a complete stranger is because you and the other thinkers involved with the Edge Foundation are so influential. And you cannot reach the furthest boundaries of human knowledge and understanding if you continue to wear that 4,000-year-old hat. You've cut off the brim, yes, but that just makes the hat look ridiculous. You need to take it all the way off. And it's puzzling to observe, from a distance, that your innovative, iconoclastic thinking cannot reach that point. Exempli gratia, is the modern nation of Israel an occupation of Palestinian land? Do you believe that modern Israel has no claim to the land 19 centuries after the Bar Kokhba revolt marked the dissolution of the nation of Israel? That hat influences your thinking. If a people can make a claim to land 19 centuries after the land ceased to be an independent nation of those people, then modern Iranians of Babylonian descent could make the same claim regarding Babylonia in modern Iraq, since Babylonia was taken over in the Arab conquest only 13 centuries ago, after having been under Persian control for the previous 12 centuries. Would the UN condone a military invasion of Iraq motivated by Iranians' desire to reclaim their beloved city of Babylon?

As I understand it, the foundation and justification for the modern state of Israel are the covenants G-d made with Abraham, Moses and others giving the land to the people of Israel in perpetuity. With Jews who believe that G-d directed Moses to write the Torah and chronicle the covenants, it's understandable that they feel the land will always belong to the people of Israel. But Jewish atheists go along with that? People who believe that there was no G-d to make a covenant with Moses or Abraham have to acknowledge that the land of Israel must have been given to the Israelites in perpetuity by the Israelites themselves. Nineteen centuries ago Israel had a valid claim to the land, yes, and Rome was quite wrong in so brutally denying Israel its independence. But after 19 centuries of rule by peoples other than the people of Israel, the land having been given to the Israelites in perpetuity by the Israelites themselves is a very tenuous claim. As much as Palestinians have lost the moral high ground with the atrocities they've committed, their claim to the land is obvious: seven centuries of continuous governing of the land following the defeat of the Crusaders at the Battle of La Forbie in 1244.
But it’s not his issue. It’s ultimately between the Israelis and the Palestinians. People have been trying for more than half a century to resolve the conflict and haven’t been able to because the parties don’t want the conflict resolved. Conflict is a raison d’etre. Without it, life is dull. Ergo, as long as no Muslim nation fires rockets on Los Angeles because of its large Jewish population, Marc isn’t involved in the conflict. It’s not his issue; graduating with high honors is his issue. Three hundred years from now, Israelis and Palestinians will still be fighting over who owns the land. Five hundred years from now. Whatever. It’s not his issue. As long as they don’t blow him up, or the people he cares about, it’s not his concern. They benefit, somehow, from the perpetuation of the conflict. They actually don’t want to win the conflict; a victory or an accord would be followed by an awkward silence. The conflict gives them a script and a to-do list.
The previous paragraph is from a novel I wrote about a fictional archaeological dig in Jerusalem. A novel you would decline to represent, not because of the writing or because it's fiction or for any other aspect but because of the ramifications of the book's premise: It's possible that the priests and scribes under King Josiah of Judah in the 7th century bce synthesized a new scroll, an early version of Deuteronomy, from the oral traditions of different regions but presented it to the people as if it had just been found in the Temple, after having been lost long ago, and held within it the words of Moses. The novel resulted from my wondering "What if the rough draft of that scroll surfaced?" If what you already believe regarding the Torah—that priests and scribes, not G-d through Moses, composed Devarim—somehow became clear to the public with the discovery of a rough draft preserved on clay tablets, the dynamics of the conflict over the possession of the land could change. Israel would no longer be able to claim that Moses informed the people that G-d had given the land to them in perpetuity if G-d needed to start with a rough draft before committing the text to parchment six centuries after Moses was believed to have lived. Even though the discovery of the rough draft on clay tablets in the story is an invention, it points to what has been there all along, the episode in II Kings concerning the finding of the scroll of the law in the Temple and the King initiating reforms based on it. Other things being equal, if the publication of this novel could, just very hypothetically, result in the Palestinians gaining the advantage in the conflict over the possession of the land, how would you react? Would you feel that you needed to prevent that from happening?

Lest you think the book is a diatribe: Of the four central characters, two are very sympathetic portrayals of Jews, one an American, one an Israeli. The other two are also sympathetic, a Jordanian Muslim from London and an American atheist. I didn't portray any evangelicals sympathetically, although I kept them low-key.

I'm not interested in the argument that the novel wouldn't sell. Controversy sells books. Making the claim that the Torah grew out of a deception in 622 bce would be controversial. I'm not even convinced that the writing in the novel is terrible. My favorite novelists are John Updike and Umberto Eco. I've never read a novel by Stephen King or Dan Brown.

Thanks very much.