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Monday, May 31, 2004

Pen vs. Sword

I rarely discuss overtly political subjects here. Partly because there are so many people out there who are so much better at it (Yes, Imshin, Allison, Gail, and Jennifer could severally or collectively kick my ass in a political ‘discussion’)…and partly because of my ‘Breakfast Table Rule’. So, in general I simply absorb the news and watch my personal views slowly evolve.

But the Peter Hounam story has really stuck in my craw, and I think the only way to get on with my life is to air out my ideas on the subject.

For those of you who are not news junkies, I’ll provide a quick synopsis of events (news junkies, skip the next paragraph):

Almost 2 decades ago, Mordechai Vannunu, a worker in one of Israel’s nuclear facilities, decided that he was better equipped to decide Israel’s foreign policy than those paid to do so, and shared a great deal of sensitive information about Israel’s alleged nuclear arsenal with a British journalist named Peter Hounam. Shortly thereafter, Vannunu was lured by the Mossad from London to Rome, and there was drugged and taken by naval commandos to a waiting yacht for a trip to face the music. ‘The music’, in this case, was an 18-year jail sentence. One of the terms of his release a few weeks ago was that he not speak to foreign journalists. So…instead he gave a private interview with an Israeli journalist who provided the tape to Peter Hounam…who was promptly arrested by Israel’s security service.

OK…there are obvious nuances I have left out… but for the sake of today’s discussion, everyone is now more-or-less on the same page. For starters, I’d like to share a [rare political] comment I made on Expat Egghead and Cathy’s blog yesterday:

I consider journalists and diplomats to be very nearly inviolable. The same goes for ambulances. I say ‘very nearly’ because there will sometimes arise those who would hide behind the shield of these offices to try to bring about Israel's destruction...and I can't sanction that.

The diplomatic pouch and its messenger may be ignorant of the bomb or stolen state secrets they carry...and the U.N. ambulance and driver may have been used under duress. I will even go so far as to say that Mr. Hounam was carrying out his duties in the finest tradition of his profession.

However, in all of these scenarios, the unseen hand that makes cynical use of these sacrosanct offices works towards only one thing: Israel’s destruction. And I won't allow that.

There’s an old story about a guy who is attempting to show a pacifist friend the flaw in his philosophy. After the pacifist has espoused his views against violence, his friend punches him in the mouth. Getting up off the ground, the pacifist is stunned and angry and immediately reaches for his assailant. The other guy says, “no, no…you’re a pacifist…you can’t hit me. You believe that non-violence is the answer.” Hearing this, the pacifist calms down and agrees that retaliation would serve no purpose and tries to discuss the reasons his friend has hit him. Immediately his friend hits him in the mouth again! This goes on until the pacifist finally realizes he either has to defend himself or die.

I truly hate the idea that we have to search ambulances…women and children…and even occassionally journalists. But what do you suggest if Israeli respect for these institutions is used as a weapon against us? I believe in a free press and the inviolability of journalists. But when someone has figured out a way to punch me in the mouth with one of my own beliefs…eventually I have to punch back or die.

America is just starting to do the whole civil liberties vs. homeland security tug-o-war. Israel has been wrestling with it a lot longer. We have a very lively press in Israel, and every major news service in the world has a base of operations here (mainly because they can’t operate freely elsewhere in the region). But that doesn’t mean that state secrets and security do not enter the equation. In times of war the rules always change…and it is hard to argue that we are not at war. Because the pen truly is every bit as mighty as the sword…sometimes it has to be viewed as a weapon and defended against.

Israel hasn't given up on a free press any more than the fictional pacifist I mentioned earlier has given up on non-violence. Unfortunately, in today's world, terrible exceptions are made or people die.

Damn the enemies of my country for making us soil our ideals.

Posted by David Bogner on May 31, 2004 | Permalink

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Damn the enemies of my country for making us soil our ideals.<<

Yes. Damn them all. You've hit the nail right on the head as far as I am concerned.

Posted by: Gail | May 31, 2004 3:22:20 PM

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