To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Monday, October 19, 2015

50 Years Into Israeli Occupation, Can You Really Blame Young Palestinians For Doing What A Lot Of Americans Would Probably Do?

It’s a bit rich to hear right wing Israelis and their echo chamber in the lobby here describe Palestinians mounting violent attacks in Jerusalem as being consumed by “a blood fetish” or “seized by a communal psychosis.” As Georgetown scholar Bruce Hoffman points out in his recent book, Anonymous Soldiers, Zionist terrorism played a significant role in driving the British from Palestine in the late 1940’s, clearing the way for the as the Jewish state to come into being. Zionist Terror tactics also encouraged 700,000 Palestinians to flee in fear for their lives during the Israeli War for Independence in 1948. Those Palestinians have never been allowed back into the country, a violation of international law that stands uncorrected.

Still, anyone who has seen or smelled the aftermath of a terrorist bombing can’t cheer the prospect of lone wolf stabbings, spontaneous rioting and outbursts of stone-throwing at Israeli authorities escalating into the organized suicide bombings and gun attacks that marked the Second Intifada in the early 2000’s. It’s also pretty accurate to argue that the second Intifada actually made conditions in the West Bank more severe: More checkpoints and less freedom of movement, with almost four million Palestinians sealed off behind an imposing, highly fortified Partition Wall in what Columbia University’s Rashid Khalili has called “The Iron Cage.” The Second Intifada is also widely blamed for traumatizing the collective Israeli psyche, reducing empathy in the general Israeli pubic and making it more likely to shrug at government military actions that enact collective punishment on Palestinians for challenging Jewish domination. In other words, that harsh treatment is a “fitting Zionist response,” as heel-clicking Israeli right-wingers like to say.

Of course it would be much better if Palestinians embraced nonviolent civil disobedience and took a leaf from Gandhi and Martin Luther King. The growing worldwide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) shows that Palestinians understand this, at least on the international front.  But BDS won’t show any impact on the everyday lives of Palestinians in the occupied territories for quite some time, no matter how much potential BDS holds for forcing Israel to loosen its grip. 

After 50 years of Israeli military occupation, a shell of an economy and a peace process that has gone nowhere however, who can blame Palestinian teenagers for throwing stones at the IDF, burning rubber tires at makeshift roadblocks or standing in the middle of the street and taunting Israeli soldiers to shoot them? While individual teens attacking Jewish bus passengers, IDF conscripts or police officers seemingly at random fits a definition of terror, why should that kind of terrorism be seen as something apart from the material conditions that any detached comprehensive analysis would bring into the discussion? This isn’t to justify this kind of violence, or attacks allegedly orchestrated by Hamas such as the drive-by shooting of a young Israeli settler couple as they drove with their children in the backseat. But it is to explain it, especially when it the violence is coming from teenagers with no record of terrorist connections.

In addition to the heavy handed presence of the Israeli military, the occupation has also allowed a government-sponsored influx of more than 500,000 armed and antagonistic Jewish settlers into Palestinian territory, in full violation of international law. Settler “prince tag” attacks on Palestinians are routine now, amid wider concern for the rise of Jewish terrorism. In one such “price tag” attack last summer, Jewish radicals firebombed a Palestinian home on the West Bank in the middle of the night, burning an infant alive and killing her parents from their injuries in the days after.  According to the New Yorker, Israeli journalists say that this prospective third intifada should be called the “settler intifada” ---a violent response to the often violent provocations of that increasingly powerful faction of hardline Jews.  

The kind of volcanic grassroots violence in Jerusalem these past two weeks, which is really more like a leaderless revolt engaging in uncoordinated daily attacks than terrorism as it is more often seen, is almost mathematically inevitable. It flows out of the toxic combination of desperation, humiliation and rage that has been pent up on the West Bank since the last uprising a dozen years ago, exploding with cumulative force. The children who came to consciousness watching their older siblings, cousins and neighbors being beaten and arrested or shot dead in a clashes back in 2002 or 2003 are themselves in their teens and early twenties, with most having no record of terrorist involvement. They’ve grown up knowing nothing but military occupation, joblessness, the depredations of Jewish settlers and the political impotence of their own Palestinian leadership, with little prospect of gaining their own state, or being accorded political rights within a larger binational Israeli state. In fact, many young Palestinians have given up on the dream of full Palestinian independence and prefer to become Israeli citizens with full political rights.  Israel, obsessed with preserving the Jewishness of the Jewish state, doesn’t seem to be too ready to allow that.

Put in an analogous position, I’m pretty confident that a lot Americans would probably throw a few rocks and light a few bonfires too.  Bad enough to have to live with the grinding indignities of occupation as well as the intimidating presence of armed settlers driven by religious messianism and the racial supremacy that accompanies it. But to have to endure such things for 50 years just seems too much to expect any person or any people to withstand without lashing back.  Would that it not be the case, but unfortunately that is the case. Cause has its effect; action prompts reaction---elementary political physics.  In other words, context is essential, especially fifty years of it, compounded day after day.

The oppressive centrality of occupation in the lives of Palestinians on the West Bank was very simply and eloquently described by Hussein Ibish, of the American Task Force on Palestine at a panel discussion at Columbia last December. The panel was focused on the question of whether Israel’s policies toward Palestinians were justified in light of the security issue it faces.  The panel was sponsored by a number of student groups as well as the Sheldon Adelson-funded Values Network, whose director, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach---America’s Rabbi to some---served as moderator. In addition to Ibish the other panelists were Bret Stephens, the very pro Israel foreign affairs columnist of the Wall Street Journal, Peter Beinart, a liberal Zionist opposed to the occupation.

What Ibish stressed was that the Jewish democratic state of Israel was in fact, not that at all in that it “completely disenfranchises” at least 4.5 million people living under its jurisdiction in the occupied territories. There was nothing like Israel’s occupation that he could think of anywhere else in the world today, Ibish declared, citing “intolerable conditions of disenfranchisement and discrimination.”  

Everything you can do in the occupied territories depends on whether the Israeli government classifies you as a Jewish settler or an occupied Palestinian. Every single aspect of daily life is determined by this inevitably ethnic distinction. Where you may live, what roads you can drive on, whether you can be armed for self defense or not, how much water and other basic necessities you get per capita, what type of education your children will have, whether you can travel freely around your own country or leave it with the normal confidence of being allowed to return, or whether you need the permission of foreign soldiers, many of them just out of high school, to go from one village to another, whether you may be subjected to midnight house raids, what laws you live under, etc.

I could go on till midnight, I really could.

Does this arrangement sound like the basis for a reasonable security policy to you? I mean, really? Because that’s how it’s conceptualized– as forward bases in enemy territory. “This is Israel’s strategic depth.” We hear that all the time from people, except Israeli security professionals, who don’t see it that way.

The bottom line is that in the occupied territories, Palestinians, who are citizens of no state, live under one set of laws and conditions, and... Israeli settlers even standing next to each other live under another. Settlers are Israeli citizens, with all the rights and responsibilities that come with that. The Palestinians have neither.

Millions of people have been living like this for almost 50 years, the vast majority of the history of the modern Israeli state. Now I want to put it to you, There’s not a single person in this room, not one of you– not one of you– who would accept to live like that, generation after generation, decade after decade, with no end in sight. You would resist, in an intelligent manner hopefully. And you would not put up with it. And if you think you would put up with it, you’re lying to yourselves.  

As direct and intuitive as Ibish’s observations were, most Zionists here and in Israel reject any suggestion that Palestinian resistance should be contextualized, preferring to see it as expression of a history of “hate” triggered by “incitement” on the part of Palestinian leaders or Muslim clergy. It’s analogous to the way that Zionists denied any connection between the rising tide of anti Semitism among European Muslims and the Israeli military actions in Gaza, which killed almost 1500 noncombatant civilians, many of them women and very small children. It’s far more convenient and exculpating to see anti Israel actions as being a function of anti Semitism---"The Devil That Never Dies,” as Holocaust scholar Daniel Goldhagen titled his most recent book--- than in acknowledging that anti Israel hostility springs from actions that Israel itself has taken: house demolitions, evictions, expulsions, summary executions, live fire attacks from Israeli snipers, to cite just the beginning of a long list.

Last week during the Q&A of a Harvard appearance, Secretary of State John Kerry stepped on this political landmine, specifically the issue of Israeli settlements. “There’s been a massive increase in settlements over the course of the last years, and there’s an increase in the violence because there’s this frustration that’s growing,” Kerry noted. He added that most people involved in the peace process “have a pretty damn good sense of what has to be done,” but implied that there was a lack of “courage” to do what was needed.  Comments like this were a way of “Blaming Israel” for the “Terror Wave” as the Times of Israel phrased the Zionist reaction. Kerry backpeddled pretty quickly, explaining through his spokesman that even if settlements were a source of frustration for Palestinians settlement activity was not “the cause for the effect we're seeing,” and that he was not “affixing blame on either side here for the violence.” 

Wall Street Journal "Global Affairs" columnist Bret Stephens had no real response to Ibish’s remarks that night up at Columbia. But he certainly showed his contempt for those citing “context” in his column this week, indulging tribal generalizations and highlighting his own lack of human empathy even as he condemned the Palestinians for the very same thing. Ridiculing those citing Palestinian despair at the peace process or ragged economy, Stephens declared that it was “time to stop furnishing Palestinians with the excuses they barely bother making for themselves.”

The significant question is why so many Palestinians have been seized by their present blood lust—by a communal psychosis in which plunging knives into the necks of Jewish women, children, soldiers and civilians is seen as a religious and patriotic duty, a moral fulfillment.

Above all, it’s time to give hatred its due. We understand its explanatory power when it comes to American slavery, or the Holocaust. We understand it especially when it is the hatred of the powerful against the weak. Yet we fail to see it when the hatred disturbs comforting fictions about all people being basically good, or wanting the same things for their children, or being capable of empathy.

Today in Israel, Palestinians are in the midst of a campaign to knife Jews to death, one at a time. This is psychotic. It is evil. To call it anything less is to serve as an apologist, and an accomplice.

It was significant that Stephens failed to mention the words “settlements,” “settlers,” “occupation,” and made no reference to the civilian death toll in Gaza last summer or the rising tide of Jewish terrorism against Palestinian civilians, among many other factors anyone with a sense of simple cause and effect would cite. To ignore or to underplay these factors represents an its own apology for violence and exposes one to the charge of complicity too, especially after 50 years. Indeed, it may not be psychotic, but it is in its own way pathological, demonstrating that the Iron Cage that Israel has built for its restive Palestinians has an analogue in the iron cage Zionism has built around itself to protect the movement’s ideological certitudes from the political realities now challenging them.    

Thursday, September 10, 2015

When Trope Is Truth: How 'Big Jewish Money' Is 'Buying' The White House To Make Israel 'The 51st State'

Trope is truth at this point in the US-Israel “special relationship,” as New York magazine explains in its blockbuster story by Jason Zengerle,  “Sheldon Adelson Is Ready to Buy the Presidency.” At least in terms of the corrupting influence of Big Jewish Money in the 2016 presidential campaign. You’re not supposed to talk about Big Jewish Money, it being just a straw man away from the canards contained in such classic 19th century works of anti Semitism as the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. But when you have the self proclaimed “richest Jew in the world” ready to pony up even more than the $100 million he laid out in the 2012 election to ensure a Republican candidate pro-Israel enough for him, it’s kinda hard to dance around the ethnic niceties, although Zengerle does a commendable job in showing that there is really no love lost between Adleson and most of his own landsman.   

The vast majority of American Jews are not hard-liners on Israel, he notes.

Obama won 69 percent of Jewish voters in 2012, even as American conservatives accused him of purposefully undermining the country’s security and status in the region. Indeed, according to a 2013 Pew study, only one in three American Jews feel a strong emotional attachment to the Jewish state. But over the past 30 years, and especially in the last decade, the GOP’s attachment to Israel has become remarkably fierce, to an extent that is basically unprecedented in modern American politics. On issue after issue — from military aid to settlement policy — the GOP now offers Israel unconditional and unquestioning support, so much so that some Republicans now liken the country to America’s “51st state.” The person most responsible for this development is the multi­billionaire casino magnate and Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson.

Like Connie Bruck’s New Yorker article exactly a year ago on the corrupt hold that Israel has on the US Congress, the New York magazine piece confirms what John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt argued almost a decade ago in their ground-and-taboo breaking book, The Israel Lobby. Back then, Jewish journalists got down in a “defensive crouch” about the book, the New Yorker's Jeffrey Goldberg described it at a panel at the YIVO institute, where Zionist stalwarts like The New Republic’s Marty Peretz and Holocaust author author Daniel Goldhagen made Walt and Mearsheimer seem like they were “the second coming of Charles Lindbergh and Father Coughlin,” as per the description of the night that blogger Phil Weiss filed. The mood was so paranoid, Weiss wrote that you would have thought "the Cossacks were just outside the doors.

The scornful, hypersensitive reception of the Israel Lobby book will go down as one of the main reasons that the political and financial power of the lobby has been so difficult to blunt, and why it took such a heroic effort on the part of Obama’s supporters to keep the lobby from defeating the Iran nuclear deal.  I’m not so sure that the lobby has suffered a lasting wound. But the power of tropes to eclipse the truth certainly has. Courageous pieces like Zengerle’s are a good start toward blocking the power of the Israel lobby in the realm of campaign finance---and an overdue acknowledgement that Walt and Mearsheimer were right ten years ago, and are even more right now.                  

Friday, August 14, 2015

ISIS's Satanic Verses

For over a year now since ISIS first came on the global radar screen, international news organizations have been reporting on its viciousness, from beheadings of journalists and aid workers to attacks on non-Muslim minority groups like the Yazadis and Syrian Christians. Some of the most horrendous reporting has focused on very young women who’d been captured or kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery, often to young jihadis as war brides. One of the more harrowing reports came from the Guardian almost exactly a year ago, describing the torment and despair felt by Iraqi Yazidi families who’d learned that their daughters had been sold as slaves to Islamist militants who’d just rampaged through their area.

For the past week, Khandhar Kaliph's hands have trembled whenever his phone has rung.
He nervously greeted his daughter, who had been kidnapped when the Islamic State (Isis) overran the Yazidi city of Sinjar. There was a minute of silence, before he broke down sobbing.
"She said she is going to be sold as a slave this afternoon, for $10," Kaliph said, his tears dropping into the brown dust. "What can a father say to that. How can I help? We all feel so useless."
Kaliph's daughter, who he did not want to name, had access to a group phone passed around between other girls imprisoned by the Islamic State in Bardoush prison in central Mosul.
All face the imminent prospect of being married off. Or worse, being used by the jihadis as a sex slave.

The New York Times takes the story into even more horrifying territory today with a story from the western Iraq town of Qadiya, about the religious justifications that ISIS’s clerical leadership have developed  “ISIS Enshrines A Theology Of Rape” was the story’s headline.” Historically, religion has been used to justify a great deal of violence and iniquity, whether it be ancient Buddhist monks leading battles against Hindus, medieval Christian crusaders taking on the Saracens, or Jewish fundamentalists conducting “price tag” attacks against Palestinians on the West Bank. But I don’t think I’ve come across a situation where a spiritual tradition has been used to excuse or encourage pathology quite like that described here. The mix of depravity and “devotion”---the suras alternating with sexual degradation-- has an edge that is almost Satanic, an Islamic version of a Black Mass.

In the moments before he raped the 12-year-old girl, the Islamic State fighter took the time to explain that what he was about to do was not a sin. Because the preteen girl practiced a religion other than Islam, the Quran not only gave him the right to rape her — it condoned and encouraged it, he insisted.
He bound her hands and gagged her. Then he knelt beside the bed and prostrated himself in prayer before getting on top of her.
When it was over, he knelt to pray again, bookending the rape with acts of religious devotion.
“I kept telling him it hurts — please stop,” said the girl, whose body is so small an adult could circle her waist with two hands. “He told me that according to Islam he is allowed to rape an unbeliever. He said that by raping me, he is drawing closer to God,” she said in an interview alongside her family in a refugee camp here, to which she escaped after 11 months of captivity.
The systematic rape of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority has become deeply enmeshed in the organization and the radical theology of the Islamic State in the year since the group announced it was reviving slavery as an institution. Interviews with 21 women and girls who recently escaped the Islamic State, as well as an examination of the group’s official communications, illuminate how the practice has been enshrined in the group’s core tenets.
The report, filed by Rukmini Callimachi, a former West Africa reporter for the AP who was hired by the Times to report on ISIS and Al Qaeda, explains that the trade in Yazidi women and girls “has created a persistent infrastructure, with a network of warehouses where the victims are held, viewing rooms where they are inspected and marketed, and a dedicated fleet of buses used to transport them.” Of the more than 5000 Yazidis who were kidnapped last year, 3000 are still being held. To handle them, Callimachi reports,
The Islamic State has developed a detailed bureaucracy of sex slavery, including sales contracts notarized by the ISIS-run Islamic courts. And the practice has become an established recruiting tool to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies, where casual sex is taboo and dating is forbidden.
A growing body of internal policy memos and theological discussions has established guidelines for slavery, including a lengthy how-to manual issued by the Islamic State Research and Fatwa Department just last month. Repeatedly, the ISIS leadership has emphasized a narrow and selective reading of the Quran and other religious rulings to not only justify violence, but also to elevate and celebrate each sexual assault as spiritually beneficial, even virtuous.
“Every time that he came to rape me, he would pray,” said F, a 15-year-old girl who was captured on the shoulder of Mount Sinjar one year ago and was sold to an Iraqi fighter in his 20s. Like some others interviewed by The New York Times, she wanted to be identified only by her first initial because of the shame associated with rape.
“He kept telling me this is ibadah,” she said, using a term from Islamic scripture meaning worship.

Yazidi girl, photographed in 2014 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Into The Same River: A Whitewater Tragedy in Westchester County

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irene (August 2011) New York’s normally placid Croton River was transformed into a raging torrent with Class V rapids --- and no shortage of hazards. For a few local rafters, it was too hard to resist. 

They'd waited all week for it. And then finally, on the afternoon of Sunday, August 28, as Hurricane Irene began to ebb in the northeastern states it had ravaged, a group of rafters got their chance. Torrential rains had transformed the Croton, a mild river that flows through suburban Westchester County, into the sort of Class V thrill ride they’d fly across the country to paddle. Earlier that week, Dr. Peter Engel, a 53-year-old psychiatrist and addiction specialist who'd done some of the world's most challenging rivers, texted a friend, "Now that it’s all going to be flood, it's time to go boating."
That day the river, which runs over the spillway of the massive Croton Dam and continues for three and a half miles into the Hudson, was a hellbroth of logs, tree limbs, stumps, and whole trees that had been uprooted from the saturated banks. Normally, the river flows at 300 cubic feet per second; it was now running at 22,500, the heaviest in 55 years. Its currents had reached nearly 50 miles per hour (faster in more narrow chutes) and churned with colossal wave trains and Class V and even Class V–plus rapids – the kind of muscular surge you'd see in the Niagara River below the falls. Midstream, islands of rocks and trees had been almost completely submerged, creating classic "strainers," which whitewater riders avoid at all costs. "That river can be treacherous on any given day," Croton police detective Paul Camillieri says. "But that day it was a monster. It was Mother Nature at its most fierce and unpredictable."

The trip had been organized by 37-year-old Ken GiaQuinto, the business manager of a pharmacy his family owns in the city of Rye, New York. GiaQuinto had worked for a time as a river guide in Breckenridge, Colorado. The 12-foot blue raft was his. As Irene made her way up the eastern seaboard, Gia­Quinto sent text messages to four friends he thought might want to take advantage of the dramatic rainfall. One was Brian Dooley, a third-grade teacher who coached high school lacrosse with GiaQuinto and was celebrating his 33rd birthday that day. Another was Joe Ceglia, also 33, a boyhood pal of Dooley's who’d been a lacrosse All-American at Syracuse University and even played professionally. He was now the athletic director at Rye Neck High. Neither of them had done a lot of whitewater rafting. A third recruit was 37-year-old Michael Wolfert, an avid skier and climbing-school owner with considerable rafting experience. He lived about 100 yards from the Croton Dam gorge and was familiar with the Croton, at least under normal circumstances. The fourth friend was older and more seasoned than the others. Dr. Peter Engel, who had two adult children, had been running whitewater for more than 30 years. He was the last one to arrive at the river that day, rendezvousing with the other rafters at around 4 pm.
The crew had a hard time finding a safe put-in, so they drove to a county park beneath the massive Croton Dam, inflated their raft, and parked it on a bridge spanning the raging water below. GiaQuinto’s and Wolfert’s wives snapped pictures of their children in the boat, while the crew assessed the water from the bridge.

There were dozens of people in the park that afternoon, most gaping at the cataract crashing over the dam’s massive spillway. "Everyone seemed dumbfounded that anyone would try to do this," said Mark Stevenson, a photographer who shot footage of the group that day. But, he said, the group had an "air of authority" and all the right gear. At one point Stevenson asked GiaQuinto if they had experience with whitewater. "Oh, yeah," GiaQuinto joked. "We looked it up on Google."
Normally, rafters wouldn’t put a boat in the water until they'd had a chance to do a safety walk, scanning the river by foot to evaluate various hazards and plot their course. But the water level made a full survey impossible. And the doctor, the most experienced of the group, hadn’t had a chance to read the water features at all.
According to the American Whitewater organization, the Croton River can present rafters with a number of hazards: keeper holes, rocks that cause blunt trauma, natural strainers, and low-head dams that create unpredictable hydraulic perils. That day the five-man crew would encounter them all.
They launched late in the afternoon, around 5:30, but with near–50 mph currents, they knew they'd finish the trip well before dark. The first mile or so was fast but flat. They "smoothed" three low-head dams with ease, and then a higher, more difficult dam, in near-perfect form. GiaQuinto was sitting comfortably in the stern, calling out paddling commands. When they came upon a bridge that had 12 feet of clearance on a normal day, the rafters leaned backward in the raft to duck beneath it. A photograph taken from that bridge shows the crew beaming, thrilled at being on such powerful water.

Less than two miles downriver, the group hit a wave train that resembled a giant roller coaster, as well as a set of rapids. Then, not even 10 minutes into the trip, they rounded a bend into Silver Lake, a wide, flat part of the river used as a town swimming hole under usual conditions. At this point the rafters could have paused in an eddy by the riverbank to assess what hazards lay ahead or to consider altering their original course. The trickiest waters were still to come. If they’d wanted to pull out and call it a day, this was their last chance.
But they pressed on, and at the Silver Lake spillway, the boat skewed to the right and plunged into a lurking depression.
Immediately, the raft somersaulted, stern over bow. "Somehow we just hit the wrong spot at the wrong angle at the wrong time," Wolfert explained later. Another rafter subsequently told police: "We never thought an accident would happen. There was no notion of danger. All of a sudden, the boat just flipped."
Thrown into the smash and boil of the churning 70-degree water, Ceglia, the raft­er with the least experience, knew enough to keep his feet up and his head out of the water as he barreled through a half-mile of powerful rapids and rolling waves in a matter of minutes. He managed to grab onto a tree on the flooded right riverbank and cling to it until a Croton policeman and volunteer firefighters threw him a rope and pulled him to safety. "I’m OK," he told rescuers, "but I've got four friends still out there."
As Ceglia was speeding downstream, GiaQuinto and Wolfert struggled to swim out of the hydraulic backwash created by the underwater dam. GiaQuinto later told a friend it was the hardest swim of his life and that he thought he was going to die as the force of the backwash dragged him and his life jacket under. Somehow, both he and Wolfert made it safely to shore.
Dr. Engel had a more difficult ride downstream. He was found by a Croton police rescue boat at 6:24 pm, facedown in the water about a half-mile from the mouth of the Hudson. He still had on his dark-green helmet, his life jacket, and his dry top. But all of the garments on the lower half of his body — including his baggy Nike swim trunks — had been ripped off by the river or a strainer he might have passed through. According to the medical examiner, he had a laceration on his forehead and an abrasion on the bridge of his nose, as well as contusions, bruises, and scrapes all over the rest of his body. The official causes of death were asphyxia by drowning and hypothermia; his body temperature was 93 degrees at the time of his death.
Now four of the rafters were accounted for – Brian Dooley was still missing. As the sun was setting, dozens of responders fanned out along areas where Dooley – or his body – might be.
As soon as the call went out that a raft had flipped, local rescuers put their boats in and assumed shoreline watch posts. Croton’s volunteer fire department and EMTs were joined by counterparts from neighboring communities, county police, and emergency personnel; police helicopter crews came from as far away as New York City. More than a hundred personnel turned out to assist the rescue operation, several of them nearly becoming victims of the river that day, too.
Three volunteer firemen went swimming after launching an 18-foot skiff just above a railroad trestle bridge. Their engine stalled soon after they launched, and they could do nothing as an onlooker cried out, “Bridge! Bridge! Bridge!” The firemen’s boat capsized when it slammed against the railroad bridge, and the crew members were swept downriver. One of the three, the department's 44-year-old chaplain, found himself trapped under the boat, his foot snared in a line. He didn’t break to the surface until he was more than 200 yards out into the Hudson.
Geoffrey Haynes was at home, listening to his police scanner, when he heard about the missing rafter. The former AP reporter thought he might be able to be "another pair of eyes, if nothing else," in the Dooley search. He and his 23-year-old son grabbed life jackets and binoculars to scan the area where the raft had flipped. On their second sweep of the riverbank, the elder Haynes looked through his binoculars and spotted Dooley’s orange jacket and turquoise dry top about 30 yards from the river’s far bank at the upper tip of Fireman’s Island. He had wedged himself into a sweet spot in the nook of two trees, Haynes said, but the water was still crashing over him, pushing him into one of the trees, forcing him to constantly change his grip. "To get to this guy would have required a Navy SEAL operation," Haynes said. Dooley kept trying to pull himself up higher on the tree, reaching for a small branch above his head. But as the hours passed, his motions got slower as hypothermia set in.
A Westchester County Technical Rescue Team, trained in swift-water operations, put in a rescue swimmer, but he was immediately swept away and pulled from the river by teammates downstream. A helicopter rescue had been considered, but the tree canopy and the continuing high winds made it inadvisable to drop in a crew member on a harness. The only thing a helicopter could do was hold Dooley in its searchlights so rescuers could keep track of him.

Around 8:45 pm, Geoff Haynes picked up his binoculars to check on Dooley, but he was gone. A moment later he heard over the police radio that Dooley was out of the trees. Croton Detective Sergeant John Nikitopoulos and his two-man dive team had been idling in their Zodiac by the shoreline downstream. When they heard the radio chatter, they hurried out into the river. Using powerful handheld searchlights, they got a visual on Dooley, who was moving downriver at about 1,000 yards in 30 seconds. He flapped his arms weakly to signal them. When they hauled him into the boat, Dooley curled up in the hull, "totally spent," Croton police lieutenant Russel Harper later said. Dooley, who’d spent close to three hours of his birthday struggling in the water, was shaking and almost unable to speak. He was admitted to the hospital with extreme exposure and hypothermia. He told police he wasn't sure whether he had lost consciousness or lost his grip. He had no idea how long he'd floated or how he made it without hitting any trees.
The day after the incident was bell-blue and sunny, and a rainbow arced over the Croton River where the rafters had put in, but elsewhere in town, a stormy backlash was brewing. Some townspeople were furious that the rafters had put so many res­cuers at risk simply to satisfy what one called "juvenile urgings." The comments sections of local news sites teemed with ugly remarks. "Score one for Darwin," somebody posted. Another cracked, "Good riddance. Minus one arrogant, reckless soul in the world."
Not helping things were certain statements that survivor Michael Wolfert made to the press. "We were not novices," he told one reporter. And when asked whether they calculated the risks of rafting the swollen river, Wolfert replied, "It's a risk we assume." But the risks of their ride were hardly confined to the men in the raft. Three volunteer firemen and a rescue swimmer nearly drowned. Helicopters came and went in dangerous winds, hovering over a heavily treed gorge. Many in the town thought the rafters should have been billed for the rescue, estimated at more than $45,000; others urged criminal prosecution.
Engel's paddling buddies were left scratching their heads. "Peter was not reckless," insists lifelong friend Gary Maltz, an internist who’d paddled the Gauley with him. "When he went on a river, he usually knew every nook and cranny. He was very safety-conscious, very smart, very rational." But the crew had violated some of the cardinal rules of whitewater paddling. They had not done a full safety walk and had shot low-head dams that they might have portaged. Most significantly, they left no margin of error – for being stranded, caught in a strainer, snagged on a tree, or thrown overboard.
Maybe they failed to give a local, suburban river the respect they'd give rivers with bigger names, fiercer reputations. Croton detective Paul Camillieri thinks it was a case of hubris. "They thought they were going for a Sunday ride. That it'd be over quickly, they’d high-five each other and then go for beers. I don’t think they really took it seriously enough." Richard Charney, who'd paddled the Colorado and whose house is near where Ceglia was rescued, maintained that the big rivers Engel had done are "known quantities." Their features and hazards are studied and discussed by paddlers who'd done them. "But that experience would not apply to the Croton at that level," he says. "At that level, it is a completely unknown quantity."

From Men’s Journal, December 2011/January 2012, originally headlined Man In The River.

Friday, July 31, 2015

What ‘Papa’ Hemingway Might Think About The 'Cecil The Lion' Shooting

Minnesota Dentist Walter Palmer, left.

The killing of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe, by American dentist and bow hunter Walter Palmer, provided a peg for Salon to take its readers “Inside the sick, bizarre world of trophy hunting,” as its hedline put it. It’s worth the read for an understanding of the pressures on guides to “deliver the goods” for wealthy clients. It reminded me of the pressure wealthy would-be summiteers put on their climbing guides in Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, which set the stage for tragedy on Mt Everest back in 1996.

The Salon piece on trophy hunting also brought to mind Hemingway’s The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, published in Cosmopolitan, of all places, in 1936. The Hemingway/Macomber reference seemed especially noteworthy as the fact emerged that the dentist only wounded the lion with his arrows, and had to track him for 40 hours through the bush before finding him and killing him with a high caliber rifle.  Something similar happens in the Hemingway short story, providing a setting for Papa to dramatize the themes most dear to him: courage, cowardice and fate, all infused with plenty of testosterone.  Below is the key scene, when the Great White Hunting Guide, Robert Wilson, has to explain to the hapless and cowardly Macomber that they have to find the lion they just wounded, as a point of honor as hunters and out of responsibility for the people in the bush who might be hurt if they accidentally came upon him. The excerpt I’ve posted is a long one. But as I read through the story almost every paragraph seemed so classic that I couldn’t bear to put any of them down. Memo to the triumphant-now-hunted Walter Palmer: In the end, Macomber does have his moment of glory only to lose his wife, as well as his own life.              

Macomber stepped out of the curved opening at the side of the front seat, onto the step and down onto the ground. The lion still stood looking majestically and coolly toward this object that his eyes only showed in silhouette, bulking like some superrhino. There was no man smell carried toward his and he watched the object, moving his great head a little from side to side. Then watching the object, not afraid, but hesitating before going down the bank to drink with such a thing opposite him, he saw a man figure detach itself from it and he turned his heavy head and swung away toward the cover for the trees as he heard a cracking crash and felt the slam of a .30-06 220-grain solid bullet that bit his flank and ripped in sudden hot scalding nausea through his stomach. He trotted, heavy, big-footed, swinging wounded lull-bellied, the trees toward the tall grass and cover, and the crash came again to go past him ripping the air apart. Then it crashed again and he felt the blow as it hit his lower ribs and ripped on through, blood sudden hot and frothy in his mouth, and he galloped toward the high grass where he could crouch and not be seen and make them bring the crashing thing close enough so he could make a rush and get the man that held it.
Macomber had not thought how the lion felt as he got out of the car. He only knew his hands were shaking and as he walked away from the car it was almost impossible for him to make his legs move. They were stiff in the thighs, but he could feel the muscles fluttering. He raised the rifle, sighted on the junction of the lion's head and shoulders and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened though he pulled until he thought his finger would break. Then he knew he had the safety on and as he lowered the rifle to move the safety over he moved another frozen pace forward, and the lion seeing his silhouette now clear of the silhouette of the car, turned an started off at a trot, and, as Macomber fired, he heard a whunk that meant that the bullet was home; but the lion kept on going. Macomber shot again and every one saw the bullet throw a spout of dirt beyond the trotting lion. He shot again, remembering to lower his aim, and they all heard the bullet hit, and the lion went into a gallop and was in the tall grass before he had the bolt pushed forward.
Macomber stood there feeling sick at his stomach, his hands that held the springfield still cocked, shaking, and his wife and Robert Wilson were standing by him. Beside him too were the two gun-bearers chattering in Wakamba.
"I hit him," Macomber said. "I hit him twice."
"You gut-shot him and you hit him somewhere forward," Wilson said without enthusiasm. The gun-bearers looked very grave. They were silent now.
"You may have killed him" Wilson went on. "We'll have to wait a while before we go in to find out."
"What do you mean?"
"Let him get sick before we follow him up."
"Oh," said Macomber.
"He's a hell of a fine lion," Wilson said cheerfully. "He's gotten into a bad place though."
"Why is it bad?"
"Can't see him until you 're on him."
"Oh," said Macomber.
"Come on," said Wilson. "The Memsahib can stay here in the car. We'll go to have a look at the blood spoor."
"Stay here, Margot," Macomber said to his wife. His mouth was very dry and it was hard for him to talk.
"Why?" she asked.
"Wilson says to."
"We're going to have a look," Wilson said. "You stay her. You can see even better from here."
"All right."
Wilson spoke in Swahili to the driver. He nodded and said, "Yes, Bwana."
Then they went down the steep bank and across the stream, climbing over and around the boulders and up the other bank, pulling up by some projecting roots, and along it until they found where the lion had been trotting when Macomber first shot. There was dark blood on the short grass that the gun-bearers pointed out with grass stems, and that ran away behind the river bank trees.
"What do we do?" asked Macomber.
"Not much choice," said Wilson. "We can't br ing the car over. Bank's too steep. We'll let him stiffen up a bit and then you and I'll go in and have a look for him."
"Can't we set the grass on fire?" Macomber asked.
"Too green."
"Can't we send beaters?"
Wilson looked at him appraisingly. "Of course we can," he said. "But it's just a touch murderous. You see we know the lion's wounded. You can drive an unwounded lion—he'll move on ahead of a noise—but a wounded lion's going to charge. You can't see him until you're right on him. He'll make himself perfectly flat in cover you wouldn't think would hide a hare. You can't very well send boys in there to that sort of a show. Somebody bound to get mauled."
"What about the gun-bearers?"
"Oh, they'll go with us. It's their shauri. You see, they signed on for it. They don't look too happy though, do they?"
"I don't want to go in there," said Macomber. It was out before he knew he'd said it.
"Neither do I," said Wilson very chee rily. "Really no choice though." Then, as an afterthought, he glanced at Macomber and saw suddenly how he was trembling and the pitiful look on his face.
"You don't have to go in, of course," he said. "that's what I'm hired for, you know. That's why I'm so expensive."
"You mean you'd go in by yourself? Why not leave him there?"
Robert Wilson, whose entire occupation had been with the lion ands the problem he presented, and who had not been thinking about Macomber except to note that he was rather windy, suddenly felt as though he had opened the wrong door in a hotel and seen something shameful.
"What do you mean?"
"Why not just leave him?"
"You mean pretend to ourselves he hasn't been hit?"
"No. Just drop it.
"It isn't done."
"Why not?"
"For one thing, he's certain to be suffering. For another, some one else might run on to him."
"I see."
"But you don't have to have anything to do with it."
"I'd like to," Macomber said. "I'm just scared, you know."
"I'll go ahead when we go in," Wilson said, "with Kongoni tracking. You keep behind me and a little to one side. Chances are we'll hear him growl. If we see him we'll both shoot. Don't worry about anything. I'll keep you backed up. As a matter of fact, you know, perhaps you'd better not go. It might be much better. Why don't you go over and join the Memsahib while I just get it over with?"
"No, I want to go."
"All right," said Wilson. "But don't go in if you don't want to. This is my shauri now, you know."
"I want to go," said Macomber.
They sat under a tree and smoked.
"What to go back and speak to the Memsahib while we're waiting?" Wilson asked.
"I'll just step back and tell her to be patient."
"Good," said Macomber. He sat there, sweating under his arms, his mouth dry, his stomach hollow feeling, wanting to find courage to tell Wilson to go on and finish off the lion without him. He could not know that Wilson was furious because he had not noticed the state he was in earlier and sent him back to his wife. While he sat there Wilson came up. "I have your big gun," he said. "Take it. We've given him time, I think. Come on."
Macomber took the big gun and Wilson said"
"Keep behind me and about five yards to the right and do exactly as I tell you." Then he spoke in Swahili to the two gun-bearers who looked the picture of gloom.
"Let's go," he said.
"Could I have a drink of water?" Macomber asked. Wilson spoke to the older gun-bearer, who wore a canteen on his belt, and the man unbuckled it, unscrewed the top and handed it to Macomber, who took it noticing how heavy it seemed and how hairy and shoddy the felt covering was in his hand. He raised it to drink and looked ahead at the high grass with the flat-topped trees behind it. A breeze was blowing toward them and the grass rippled gently in the wind. He looked at the gun-bearer and he could see the gun-bearer was suffering too with fear.
Thirty-five yards into the grass the big lion lay flattened out along the ground. His ears where back and his only movement was a slight twitching up and down of his long, black-tufted tail. He had turned at bay as soon as he had reached this cover and he was sick with the wound through his full belly, and weakening with the wound through his lungs that brought a thin foamy red to his mouth each time he breathed. His flanks were wet and hot and flies were on the little openings the solid bullets had made in his tawny hide, and his big yellow eyes, narrowed with hate, looked straight ahead, only blinking when the pain came as he breathed, and his claws dug in the soft baked earth. All of him, pain, sickness, hatred and all of his remaining strength, was tightening into an absolute concentration for a rush. He could hear the men talking and he waited, gathering all of himself into this preparation for a charge as soon as the men would come into the grass. As he heard their voices his tail stiffened to twitch up and down, and, as they came into the edge of the grass, he made a coughing grunt and charged.
Kongoni, the old gun-bearer, in the lead watching the blood spoor, Wilson watching the grass for any movement, his big gun ready, the second gun-bearer looking ahead and listening, Macomber close to Wilson, his rifle cocked, they had just moved into the grass when Macomber hear the blood-choked coughing grunt, and saw the swishing rush in the grass. The next thing he knew he was running; running wildly, in panic in the open, running toward the stream.
He heard the ca-ra-wong! of Wilson's big rifle, and again in a second crashing carawong! and turning saw the lion, horrible-looking now, with half his head seeming to be gone, crawling toward Wilson in the edge of the tall grass while the red-faced man worked the belt on the short ugly rifle and aimed carefully as another blasting carawong! came from the muzzle, and the crawling, heavy, yellow bulk of the lion stiffened and the huge, mutilated head slid forward and Macomber, standing by himself in the clearing where he had run, holding a loaded rifle, while two black men and a white man looked back at him in contempt, knew the lion was dead. He came toward Wilson, his tallness all seeming a naked reproach, and Wilson looked at him and said:
"Want to take pictures?"
"No," he said.
That was all any one had said until they reached the motor car. Then Wilson had said:
"Hell of a fine lion. Boys will skin him out. We might as well stay here in the shade."
Macomber's wife had not looked at him nor he at her and he had sat by her in the back seat with Wilson sitting in the front seat. Once he had reached over and taken his wife's hand without looking at her and she had removed her hand from his. Looking across the stream to where the gun-bearers were skinning out the lion he could see that she had been able to see the whole thing. While they sat there his wife had reached forward and put her hand on Wilson's shoulder. He turned and she had leaned forward over the low seat and kissed him on the mouth.
"Oh, I say," said Wilson, going redder than his natural baked color.
"Mr. Robert Wilson," she said. "The beautiful red-faced Mr. Robert Wilson."
Then she sat down beside Macomber again and looked away across the stream to where the lion lay, with uplifted, white-muscled, tendon-marked naked forearms, and white bloating belly, as the black men fleshed away the skin. Finally the gun-bearer brought the skin over, wet and heavy, and climbed in behind with it, rolling it up before they got in, and the motor car started. No one had said anything more until they were back in camp.
That was the story of the lion. Macomber did not know how the lion had felt before he started his rush, nor during it when the unbelievable smash of the .505 with a muzzle velocity of two tons had hit him in the mouth, nor what kept him coming after that, when the second ripping crash had smashed his hind quarters and he had come crawling on toward the crashing, blasting thing that had destroyed him. Wilson knew something about it and only expressed it by saying, "Damned fine lion," but Macomber did not know how Wilson felt abut things either. He did not know how his wife felt except that she was through with him.