Vargas Llosa: A writer’s shame

He said that the Israeli Armed Forces operation in Gaza, "Is completely out of proportion," and that "It shames me to be a friend of Israel." These words don’t come from some "Jew who hates himself," as Tel Aviv and its Western lobbyists classify all of the Jews in the diaspora -or not- who reject their colonial and aggressive policies towards the Palestinian people. They come from Mario Vargas Llosa, who isn’t in this category for obvious reasons: He’s not Jewish, nor does he hate himself. The great novelist formulated these statements in an interview with the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz (, 9-7-06): "Israel" -he added- "Has turned itself into a powerful and arrogant country and it’s fitting for its friends to be very critical of its policies." What would the Jerusalem Prize winner of 1995 and honorary member of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have thought about the matter of proportions, when days later Israeli troops made an incursion into the south of Lebanon, blocking its ports, bombing the Beirut Airport and two Lebanese military bases in reprisal for the capture of two of its soldiers. They caused 53 deaths and provoked the Hezbollah response (Reuters, 13-7-06).

Tel Aviv receives a daily average of 15 million dollars in subsidies and military aid from the US. The Palestinian NGOs receive a meager 232,000 dollars daily, which the White House has suspended since the victory of Hamas at the polls, moreover. Thanks to North American help, the Israeli Defense force has more than 3800 tanks, 1500 heavy artillery pieces, 2000 bombers, combat and pursuit helicopters, including F-16s made in the US, and an indeterminate number of nuclear bombs, which was estimated to be 300 at the end of the last decade. Next year will be the 40th anniversay of Israel occupying Palestinian territory with an iron hand, and its troops have gone back to entering Gaza. The response, the suicide attacks that take lives of innocent Israeli civilians, is certainly repudiable. It looks like, as Vargas Llosa pointed out, "Paradoxically, the extremists from one side and the other share an agenda whose purpose is to impede negotiations and mutual concessions. Clearly this is this and that is that.

The notable Israeli journalist Amira Hass has made the distinction. "A Palestinian is a terrorist when they attack Israeli civilians and when they attack Israeli soldiers quartered at the gates of a Palestinian city…When a unit of the Israeli army breaks into his neighborhood with tanks and the Palestinian shoots an Israeli soldier who emerges from the turret of his tank for an instant…when he is receiving fire from a helicopter while he grasps his rifle. The Palestinians are just as much terrorists if they kill soldiers as if they kill civilians." He adds "The Israeli soldier is a combatant when he launches a missile from a helicopter, or a Howitzer tank, at a group of people meeting in Kahn Yunis [a town in Gaza]… When he throws a grenade at a [Palestinian] house the Israeli Army confirms a rocket has come from and killed a man of a woman… The Israeli soldier kills armed people and kills civilians,,, kills murderous terrorist battalion commanders and kills babies and old people that are in their homes. More exactly, those fall under Israeli fire." (Haaretz, 9-10-02)

Nor is this the only manner of death that Palestinians know. The International Red Cross has stated that between 3000 and 7000 Palestinians have been waiting in Cairo for permission to return to Gaza since the end of June. They crowd of the Egyptian side of the border in the frontier town of Rafah and 578 of them urgently need medical attention. (Haaretz, 11-7-06) Tuesday the 4th July a 19 year old Palestinian girl, who had been operated on in a Cairo hospital, and whose conditions deteriorated during the wait, died. A one and a half year old baby died of a cardiac infarction. Two other sick people passed over this other type of frontier, a 68 year old man and a 15 year old boy who had been treated for cardiac illnesses in the Egyptian capital. (Reuters, 11-7-06) Others continue waiting for Israeli permission to return to Gaza while these lines are printed.

They aren’t the only people who wait: for the first time since the Six Day War in 1967, Tel Aviv has now prohibited the entrance of Palestinians with foreign citizenship, the majority of whom are United States citizens, some are European. Several thousand cannot return to their houses and jobs, or visit their families in the occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank. This measure includes foreigners married to a Palestinian and professional visitors as well. They require a permit dispensed by the Palestinian Authority and authorized by the Israeli functionaries, but this process was interrupted in September 2000. "The Ministry of the Interior and the Civil Administration [of Israel] decline to comment upon the fact that for 40 years Palestinian citizens who were resident in Western countries didn’t need a "Visitor’s permit". (Haaretz, 11-7-06). But this is a petty detail the Israeli government does not love.

Juan Gelman is a writer and political analyst from Argentina who regularly writes for Página 12

Originally published in Página 12, 16th ofJuly, 2006,

Translated by  Gen Higgs for UpsideDownWorld