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We were out of town Memorial Day weekend, visiting with my in-laws in their senior living residence in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It sits under a huge Mid Western sky that shone blue as an American eye. The sun reflected on the boundless spread of land that will soon bear its corn and bounty from the rich black earth of rural farms.
As a New York City guy, I felt like I was in another world, almost somnambulant in the warm light when I woke with a start. I heard the news, oh boy, that Israel had attacked the Turkish flotilla, ironically on Memorial Day, the day we honor the war dead.
And how indecently ironic was it that the world’s number two barbarian nation had picked Memorial Day, by design or happenstance to drop their angels of death out of the air from choppers in their play station gear to open fire on a group of activists bringing supplies to the beleaguered people of Gaza, unfortunately without a clearance from the nouveau Huns, who wouldn’t have given it even if the Turks had asked. In fact, this was the retribution for not asking the mini-master of the Universe, Israel.
It was my 88-year old father-in-law who handed me the local paper with the lead story. He was a WW II Veteran of the Army Air Force, a navigator flying paratroopers into the fray on D-Day, in a war fought to end all wars and guarantee the world freedom and democracy. So it was billed by America.
The Israel that sprouted from the US mandate in 1948 was to be a separate but equal state with Palestine. Yet Israel, sprouting from holocaust guilt or darker agendas, had become a kind of monster slowly, surely Holocausting Palestine. The brave peace activists, from more than 50 countries, who had come bearing humanitarian aid for Gaza to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, were its latest victims. I shook my head, as if to wave off history.
Amid the preparations for a barbecue later on, we talked about the event as TV voices droned on about the 9 activist deaths. Any notion that I had of being in another world out here, among the farm houses of Norwegian settlers, the interstates sprawling across the bread basket of produce, the Herford cattle idling in pasture, the truck farms and tiny towns with a saloon, a video store, super market, grain elevator, church and coffee shop, were dispelled. Reality broke in like the IDF commandos spewing bullets, even after a white flag was raised, as one writer reported.
My father-in-law, who nodded his head in disbelief as he sketched out what happened, looked through his thick, flyer frame glasses, at the local newspaper version, looking like an older version of Clint Eastwood, a man who had been there and wondered why anyone wanted to go back, let alone revel in war. But there it was: more sodomy of justice, now with a belligerent Netanyahu claiming “As a non-signatory of the Non-Proliferation [of nuclear arms] Treaty, Israel is not obligated by the decisions of this conference, which has no authority on Israel.” In other words, we are free to take down whomever we wish, whenever we wish, however we wish.
You had to have a mighty big, Big Brother to talk like that and we all know who that was, our own “home of the brave and land of the free,” the good old bad old U S of A. And we wondered how long this bad dream would last, the US propping up this pipsqueak dictator and his ever-widening network of murderers, now major peddlers of arms, conventional and nuclear to the world, including some $10 billion worth to the pro-Nazi, apartheid South Africa from 1976 through 96. I handed my father-in-law a downloaded copy of the article I’d written from Online Journal about it.
Not too soon after, more relatives arrived and the conversation swayed back to family matters. But the incident lingered in my mind, as did that young soldier I met, sitting across the aisle from me on a puddle-jumper to Sioux Falls. He was a big old farm boy in his khaki uniform, going back home for the weekend, now stationed in Virginia, about to be shipped out to who knew where. He was as clean cut as the morning. On deplane-ing, I wished him well and to take care.
As I said that, I could see him lost somewhere in a Humvee on an Afghanistan mountain, fighting for his life; would that he’d return to a John Deere in a Dakota field, negotiating through rows of sprouted corn, not through IED’s. Would that he’d have a family some day, a pretty wife, and a couple of fair-haired kids, not mutilated like the Afghanistan children, from wounds or depleted uranium’s birth defects. Jesus, it was scary just to think about these horrors.
Yet, wherever I looked in the airports, LaGuardia, O’Hare, or Sioux Falls, I saw these young people, their boot camp haircuts, their look of apprehensive innocence, in or out of uniform. I even came upon a group of what seemed like high school students, boys and girls, toting khaki National Guard backpacks. No stone was left unturned.
After all, this was the muscle of the tyrants, big or small. The kids, the men, half-wondering why there were there, half-knowing they would have to fight their best, at least to protect their lives, as one day back in the 40’s my father-in-law had done the same. Now, nearing 90, when he napped in his big chair, I wondered if those sudden starts, when he opened his eyes and looked around, were from moments of unforgotten combat.
It was ironic, that the first articles and TV reporting I saw condemned the attack. Yet when I went to the senior residence library, to the computer the next day, the New York Times had slanted the event to sound like a conspiracy “to thwart Israel’s blockade.” It went like this…
“ISTANBUL — Since 2007, a small group of hard-core activists has repeatedly tried to sail cargo-laden ships into Gaza in an effort to thwart Israel’s blockade. But when the Free Gaza Movement teamed up with a much wealthier Turkish organization to assemble a flotilla, it became more than a nuisance, supercharged by the group’s money, manpower and symbolic resonance into what Israel sees as a serious and growing threat.”
Now, it was all about the growing threat manipulated by a Turkish group, Insani Yardim Vakfi, known by its Turkish initials, IHH. My, how far the truth had traveled in such a short time. The fact that the Turks were empowered enough to have brought together large boats and donations was laid at the feet of Al Qaeda, along with Hamas. In truth Hamas was the duly elected group to represent the Palestinians. But “they” were represented as allies of “radical Islamic, anti-Western orientation” via an Internet link.
What? All of a sudden the Times quoted the Internet as a source? And it was about seeding an “Islamist charity” as “quite fundamentalist.” So what? Here was the United States giving Israel upwards of $3 billion plus a year for weapons, unsecured loans, military hardware, bombs, planes, nuclear weapons, while having Israel steal and sell our military secrets, including those nuclear weapons to the highest bidder in the political marketplace. But there was no word about that, only the demonizing of Muslims and anyone vaguely sympathetic to them. Here was the Israel myth and paranoia in a handful of words.
“The Free Gaza Movement has its roots in the International Solidarity Movement, another organization that sought to take direct action in defense of Palestinians, [though the Times admitted] using nonviolent strategies to impede Israeli military actions in the occupied territories. Members would often act as human shields.” And finally admitting the truth…
“In 2003, an Israeli Army bulldozer crushed to death an American woman, Rachel Corrie, who had kneeled in the dirt to prevent it from destroying a Palestinian home.” And so, too, were Israeli sympathizers in the New York theater able to ban the play of that incident from the Broadway stage [not far from the Broadway Bomber’s locale], thereby blanching the truth from still another media outlet.
And so, when the steaks were off the grill, the vegetables and potatoes served, the family stories told, the sated groups broke up into men and women and the women talked about fun things. And the men talked about the politics of the Israeli/US situation going back to the JFK assassination. That is Jack had asked the Israelis for an accounting of their nuclear arsenal at Dimona in August of 1963. He was killed as you may remember in November of 1963, a bit more than three months later.
And so went the day, the sun lowering into the Dakota horizon, a ball of fire reddening the patchwork landscape like blood, as the birds chirped, a slight chill rose, the various family members hugged and kissed goodbye, and my father-in-law and I watched the ballgame with my niece, who was sleeping over.
About two innings in, the old soldier was asleep in his big chair, snoring, staring up every now and then mumbling a word or two, shaking his head. He was tired, very tired of everything but life and the family he loved. At some point, he opened his eyes, looked about at us then closed his eyes again and laid his head back on his small pillow. For now, the enemy was still at a distance, even though at times it felt eerily present. As for the war dead, their ghosts flew up like a flock of sparrows through the dusk, circling, dipping then rising, then disappearing.