Like Oedipus in the tragedy, who won renown by giving the correct answer to the riddle posed by the Sphinx at the gates of Thebes, blissfully unaware that the was thus condemning himself to perdition - so, too, the good reservist officer Tamir Masad, who was killed Sunday morning in the terrorist attack at a gas station in Ariel, won renown 20 years ago when he answered the three questions put to him by the prime minister at the time, Menachem Begin, in a visit to the Beaufort stronghold in southern Lebanon.
Indeed, one experienced a certain heartache at the nostalgic images screened on the Mabat newscast (Channel One, Sunday, 9 P.M.) of Begin's visit to the Beaufort in June 1982, accompanied by the architect of the war, Ariel Sharon, the defense minister, as he asked the young officer with the unkempt hair a series of innocent questions: "Did they have machine guns?" Begin asked. And: "Did many surrender?" And: "Was there a face-to face battle?"
Later, these questions would be seen as proof that Begin was not informed about the events of the war, if not of his senility. Sharon, who is seen in these old images standing between Begin and the young officer, looks as embarrassed as a son who takes his aged father out of the nursing home for an outing and hopes in his heart that he won't shame him in front of the passersby.
As in other tragic situations, one can ask what would have happened if Tamir Masad had been less polite 20 years ago and had told Sharon, say, "Who is this confused old man you have brought here?" Or, to Begin, "Grandpa, wake up, the First World War ended a long time ago."
Instead, he chose the path of perdition set for him by the gods and, like Oedipus, and indeed like all of us, was struck by the blindness that is making us - two decades on - continue to lay down our lives for Begin's energetic escort, who now occupies the prime minister's chair.
And, like Oedipus, whose life came to an end at Colonus at the hands of the winged women called the Furies, the emissaries of the gods who carry whip and torch and from whose punishment no one can escape - the good officer Tamir Masad was killed by the wrathful emissaries of the fate that has been sealed for us by the colonies in the territories, the product of the political senility we continue to put up with and to nod our heads forgivingly, as Tamir Masad did back then, at Begin's questions.
"It looks as though the government has decided that we will not leave this place," Anya whispered in a cowed voice into her mobile phone seconds before Russian special forces burst into the theater in Moscow where she was being held, together with hundreds of other hostages by Chechen terrorists. Her phone call was cut off by a thunderous hail of bullets.
The end is known: The Russian government decided to take the risk that its citizens would be paralyzed or killed by the gas that was intended to paralyze and kill the terrorist monsters who were holding the hostages. Anya's words - a kind of credo of the ordinary citizen, who accepts every decision by his government submissively, even when it kills him - were broadcast on Sunday on all the newscasts.
That was not the only manifestation of civilian submissiveness seen in Moscow. Look at the abject misery with which concerned relatives are waiting at the gates of the hospitals, in the rain and cold, though the gates are sealed by men in uniform who refuse to give them any information.
The Israeli viewer clucks his lips and says, "That would never happen here," because "here," after all, we have a democracy, because "here" consideration is shown for people's lives, not like there.
Yet there is another possible interpretation for the phrase "it looks as though we will not leave this place," and on second thought, it is more reasonable than the previous one. It could be that in her phone conversation, Anya was giving voice to the disillusioned idea - and showing far greater understanding than we who toy with the illusions of "democracy" - that the ordinary citizen everywhere is inevitably a tool in the hands of one of the two monsters that are becoming ever more alike in their cruelty: In the face of the terrorism monster, all countries are becoming quite monstrous in their own right, and if you are not hostage to one of the monsters, you will assuredly be hostage to the other. The one kills you with bombs, the other with gas, and there's one that sucks out your soul slowly, slowly, just like that.
That's journalism! (1)
The basic service that a television station worthy of the name is supposed to provide during a disaster such as the one in Moscow is to send a special correspondent to the scene. That's what the foreign English-speaking channels did, as did the French and German channels. In Israel, though, where a fifth of the population is from Russia, we had to make do with second-hand reporting or with official statements. As a result, Israelis are missing the trenchant debate now being conducted in Russia over the rescue operation. Leading the debate is a central figure in the Russian media, the journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, a woman without fear.
The special correspondent in Moscow for France 2, the Jewish journalist Dominique Derda interviewed Politkovskaya (Sunday, 9 P.M. news), who like a version of our Amira Hass, went last year to cover the war in Chechnya and was arrested by the Russian army with the aim of dissuading her from writing about the atrocities the Russians are perpetrating against the Chechens.
On the day the Chechen terrorists took over the theater in Moscow, she was supposed to receive a prize in Europe, but returned home to follow the events first-hand. That's journalism! It is precisely from journalism of this kind that Israeli television flees as though bitten by a snake. After all, someone here is liable to think that the good guys in this episode are the Chechens, and where would that leave us?
That's journalism! (2)
The first shot showed a general view of the stage, with two ferns in the forefront partially hiding the exposed legs of a woman with large eyeglasses who was sitting on a light-colored couch, wearing a tight-fitting sleeveless top that revealed the shoulder straps of her brassiere. At first glance, I swear, I thought it was Zusi, the mythological switchboard operator of Ha'aretz, who used to shout at the reporters who called in at night (in the pre-computer age) that she was sick of their "discourses" and they should stop defending Arafat all the time. What in the world, I asked myself, is Zusi doing on the stage of Beit Ha'am in Rosh Pina in a special edition of "Media File" (Channel Two, Saturday, 12 noon)?
When the camera moved closer, I discovered that I was mistaken, though not entirely. Sitting there on the couch to the right of Ehud Ya'ari and to the left of the American correspondent Bob Simon was Irit - that, at any rate, was what the panel moderator, Yisrael Segal, called her when he rebuked her for bad-mouthing Gideon Levy of Ha'aretz for being a "moonlighter" (didn't our Zusi used to call him exactly the same thing?).
Before the assault on Levy, Bob Simon spoke in praise of Ha'aretz (he reads the English edition): Fortunate the country that has such a paper, etc. That, of course, was taken askance by the Irit person (after the program I learned that she is the journalist and writer Irit Linur; what a fool I am: Zusi the switchboard operator must be a lot older than that today!).
Ehud Ya'ari, the Arab affairs commentator on Channel Two, came to Irit's assistance in her war against Ha'aretz, accusing the paper of aiding the enemy and of keeping the truth from the public. Ya'ari turned to Irit Linur and said she was "right on." And the audience in Rosh Pina applauded her wildly for calling Arafat a "demon." That's journalism!
Best of all is Vienna
The Viennese cabaret star Gerhard Bruner was among the fairly large number of yekkim (German Jews) who came to this country in the 1930s and escaped back to Europe at the first opportunity. They may have been blind and stupid, or perhaps the opposite. Bruner returned to Vienna in 1948. There he met a professional colleague, Georg Kreisler, a Jew who had gone to America and returned. Together they established the first postwar satirical theater in Vienna, the "Intimate Theater." One of their songs is about a Viennese Jew who is on a quest for a place where he will be happy. With the brother in New York? With the sister in Israel? Best of all is Vienna.
These events and the story of the renewal of cabaret in Vienna in the 1950s - it became even more of a Jewish scene than it had been before the war - were related in the second episode of the excellent documentary series, "We Laugh Anyway" (SAT 3, Tuesday, 11:15 P.M.). The series is recounting the history of satirical cabaret - dubbed the "little art" in German - which to this day makes the Viennese laugh with its Jewish jokes.
It's noteworthy that Bruner's son, who was born in Haifa in 1943, is the editor of the highly regarded Austrian paper Standard.
Prose of the trans-Holocaust
There was once a poet named Blaise Cendrars, a pioneer of modernism in the French literature of the early twentieth century and author of the poem "The Prose of the Trans-Siberian." Cendrars married Fela Poznansky, a Jewish woman from Lodz, by whom he had two sons and a daughter; he died in 1961. Two years ago, I interviewed the daughter, Miriam Cendrars, who is now about 80. She told me that her son, Thoma Zhilou, is a film director and the maker of a successful comedy about the Jewish textile wholesalers in Paris.
Blaise Cendrars, who had his grandson baptized a Catholic in order to sever forever the Jewish connection in the family, would turn over in his grave if he knew that the grandson was continuing to investigate Jewish subjects and had made a moving film called "Stars Speak," which was broadcast on the popular investigative program, "Our Special Correspondent" (France 5, Monday, 3:15 P.M.).
The stars in question are the yellow Stars of David that Jews were forced to wear in Nazi-controlled Europe.
The film interviews, without giving names, French Jews who for the first time break their silence and tell about their childhood during the war: how they were hidden, smuggled out, escaped, saw their parents being taken away. Oddly, they remember petty details, such as one woman who was angry with her mother for sewing the yellow patch on a pink dress that she liked. Another interviewee told about the good teacher who warned the non-Jewish students that anyone caught harassing a student wearing a yellow patch would get a kick from him. One man still has the wallet his father gave him when he was put on the train to Auschwitz. The film also shows the notorious Drancy transit camp, which is now a tenement of immigrants.
At the end of the film, Zhilou was asked why he made the film. In his reply, he did not say a word about his Jewish origins.
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