Blog Of Record
Friday, April 26, 2002
From Al Ahram Weekly, 18 - 24 April 2002 Issue No.582
An engineer of the fiercest battle waged by the Palestinians during the invasion of the West Bank spoke to Jonathan Cook about the days of defiance in Jenin
Omar sits restlessly on his chair in the safe-house. He is an "engineer" from Jenin refugee camp: one of the revered bomb-makers from the City of the Bombers. To the Israelis he is the most lethal, and wanted, of terrorists. The poison from the Cobra's head.
We meet late last Thursday, hours after he escaped from the camp as Israeli soldiers took control of the area. We are still close enough to Jenin that we can see the constant stream of illumination flares, three launched by the army at a time, that light up the soldiers' dark work in the city below.
But Omar will not be staying here long. He is going to ground deeper in the West Bank before regrouping with his comrades from Jenin.
There may not be too many. Even according to Israeli army sources, at least a hundred fighters were killed and hundreds more wounded and captured during the eight days of savage fighting.
Omar will not give his name or age. He is slim, in his mid-20s, with a closely cropped beard. He is a member of Islamic Jihad, but says in Jenin all the factions were loyal to only one cause: liberation or death.
Visible beneath a blue bomber jacket is the tightly bandaged stump of his right arm, the end of which he rubs distractedly.
How did he lose it? During the previous invasion of Jenin by the Israeli army several weeks ago, he says. He was hiding with only his arm visible as he tried to throw a 'kwa' -- a home-made pipe bomb -- at a tank. Shrapnel from a shell severed it, he says.
But as a bomb-maker, one of the most highly respected positions in the Palestinian resistance, he could equally have lost the arm in less glorious circumstances: in one of the explosions that are a professional hazard of his job.
Omar admits he is one of only a few dozen fighters not to emerge either dead or in plastic handcuffs from the fiercest battle waged by the Palestinians during the Israeli army's invasion of the West Bank.
Of his group of 30 gunmen, only four escaped from the camp on Wednesday, after the Palestinian arsenal ran dry. Most of the others were shot dead.
"Of all the fighters in the West Bank we were the best prepared," he says. "We started working on our plan: to trap the invading soldiers and blow them up from the moment the Israeli tanks pulled out of Jenin last month."
Omar and other "engineers" made hundreds of explosive devices and carefully chose their locations.
"We had more than 50 houses booby-trapped around the camp. We chose old and empty buildings and the houses of men who were wanted by Israel because we knew the soldiers would search for them," he said.
"We cut off lengths of mains water pipes and packed them with explosives and nails. Then we placed them about four metres apart throughout the houses -- in cupboards, under sinks, in sofas."
The fighters hoped to disable the Israeli army's tanks with much more powerful bombs placed inside rubbish bins on the street. More explosives were hidden inside the cars of Jenin's most wanted men.
Connected by wires, the bombs were set off remotely, triggered by the current from a car battery.
According to Omar, everyone in the camp, including the children, knew where the explosives were located so that there was no danger of civilians being injured. It was the one weakness in the plan.
"We were betrayed by the spies among us," he says. The wires to more than a third of the bombs were cut by soldiers accompanied by collaborators. "If it hadn't been for the spies, the soldiers would never have been able to enter the camp. Once they penetrated the camp, it was much harder to defend."
And what about the explosion and ambush last Tuesday which killed 13 soldiers?
"They were lured there," he says. "We all stopped shooting and the women went out to tell the soldiers that we had run out of bullets and were leaving." The women alerted the fighters as the soldiers reached the booby- trapped area.
"When the senior officers realised what had happened, they shouted through megaphones that they wanted an immediate cease-fire. We let them approach to retrieve the men and then opened fire.
"Some of the soldiers were so shocked and frightened that they mistakenly ran towards us."
On Wednesday, after the fighters ran out of ammunition, he says, armoured vehicles roamed the streets calling out to them in Arabic: "You are finished and can't win against us. We are more powerful than you. Surrender."
He saw one fighter who went down to the street with his hands in the air shot dead by snipers. He chose to flee the camp, although he will not say how.
Using his left arm, Omar shot a revolver during the gun battles.
With a new intensity on his face, he leans forward to ask a question. Do I think the doctors will be able to give him a strong new artificial arm with fingers he can operate. I don't know, I say. Why?
"Because I want to be able to hold a heavy rifle again. That way I can kill more Israeli soldiers. It's that or become a suicide bomber."
Thursday, February 28, 2002
The Lileks Olive Garden Screed
Originally published February 27th, 2002.
NOTES FROM THE OLIVE GARDEN
I thought this would be quick - another Guardian column taking some snide swipes at the rude Colonials. But its more than that. Its a Big Sweeping On-Location piece, an attempt to parse the yawp of deep dark America and find the source of Washingtons new chilliness towards its European allies. It subscribes to the laziest sort of parachute journalism: find a Symbol of America, talk to a guy eating supper, and discern the Pulse of the Culture. Its like the greenhorn Yank reporter who visits an English pub, interviews one toothless old punter bent over his Newcastle Ale, and extrapolates the desires of a nation. (England may be physically toothless, but when it comes to Irish Nationalism, it still has molars, incisors and the spine to back them up. Kill em all, said Liam McSodden, an unemployed shipbuilder who was sacked while still in the womb, but regards himself as part of his citys proud shipbuilding tradition. We all ate the Irish, he added, a nod perhaps to Swifts modest proposal. His sentiments are echoed by many whose quotes Ill now take from this stack of papers I got at the tobacconists.)
Monday, February 25, 2002
Orignally posted on The Blogs Of War, Friday Feb 22nd, 2002
My friend Tristin is the publicist at Lookout Records and the smartest person
I know. One of her dearest and oldest friends was on American Airlines
Flight 11, which crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center on
September 11th. In the intensely grief-stricken aftermath, the indecent
posturing of many spokesmen for the Left in America led her to embark on a
serious self-examination and re-evaluation of her politics. She wrote a
powerful and heartfelt letter about it, which she sent to all her friends and
associates, and which got forwarded all over the place.
A punk rock magazine, Punk Planet, asked to her to expand it into an article
that they planned to run in their upcoming War on Terror issue. As it
happens, the editors of Punk Planet killed the article, saying it was no longer
"timely." That is their right, of course; but I'm skeptical about their
explanation. Most likely they chickened out, worried that this "alternative"
view would not sit well with their usual crowd and its generally Michael
Moore-ish view of the world. (Yes, folks: we're through the looking glass in
punk rock world, as in Berkeley-- support for the war is heresy out here.)
The cover of the issue in question depicts a bomber and the word "why?"
Tristin's essay is as solid and eloquent an answer as any of these people
would be likely to come across and it's a shame that most of them won't.
It's long for a blog post, but I'm putting it up here because I think the punk
kids who read this blog at least ought to have a chance to see it; and it's
well worth reading even if you're not a punk kid.
Moving Towards The Center
Our Losses in the Wake of 9/11
by Tristin Laughter
It's hard to write an article about the events of 9/11 and the aftermath of
those events. It's hard because the current political landscape seems to
shift daily, with new speeches and interviews and military actions. It's also
hard because one of my oldest and dearest friends was murdered on 9/11,
and my own grief, though it comes in waves, is overwhelming. My friend
Karleton Fyfe was killed when his airplane, American Airlines Flight 11, was
hijacked and crashed into the north tower of the world trade center. He has
been my friend since I was 17 years old. His widow is my lifelong best friend,
Haven. They have a son, Jackson, who is 18 months old. This article is the
story of my own gradual shift in political consciousness, which has been
crystallized by the events of 9/11, as well as being about my personal loss.
The humanity of each victim of 9/11 is an enormous story, too detailed,
meaningful, and rich to even begin to be covered in a 2000 word article. To
celebrate each life that was lost welds our politics to morality and to our
humanity. I think any contemplation of the meaning of the events of 9/11
must begin with the recognition of the life lost, its preciousness, meaning,
The morning of Sept.. 11th, I woke up when my cell phone rang. I didn't get
to it in time. The caller ID said it was Christopher, who owns the company I
work for. Oh, I will see him 45 minutes I thought lazily as I made coffee and
turned on CNN, like I always do. CNN featured LAX airport which had been
shut down. "Hmm, some kind of incident or crash," I thought. I couldn't
figure out what the story was. I was running late so I turned off the tv,
threw on my clothes and got in my car to drive to Lookout! Records, where I
work. On the radio I heard the news that planes had been hijacked and
crashed into the world trade towers and the pentagon. I was driving on San
Pablo between San Marin and Gilman when I remembered that I had spoken
to my friend Karleton the previous day, and that he had been planning to
travel from Boston, where he lives, to California. "I'd better call them," I
thought, "just to make sure he's ok." When I spoke to Karleton the day
before, we had finalized my plans to come to Boston for Thanksgiving. It was
our tradition to spend it together. He made the bird, Haven made the pies
(yes, *multiple* pies for 3 people), I did the stuffing. I had said to Karleton,
"I was thinking about maybe staying a week...would that be too long? Be
honest." He had replied wryly "I don't know what you mean." It made me
laugh. We had all gone to the beach together in July, and we had a running
joke the whole time, Karleton and I, that he just couldn't understand what I
meant whenever I tried to pay for anything or apologize for anything or ask
if they wanted me to stay out of anything. "I don't know what you mean,"
he would say in the deadpannest of ways. Sheepishly I dialed the number
they have had the entire 8 years they have been in Boston, knowing I was
being a worrywart and bothering them needlessly. Haven's mother,
Suzanne, answered. "Hi Suzanne," I said, "It's Tris." "Hi, " she said back. "I
was just calling to make sure that everything is all right. I know that
Karleton was supposed to have travelled today." There was a pause.
"Everything is not all right, Tris." Suzanne said "Karleton was on that plane.
He is gone."
In college, I declared myself a socialist. I read Trotsky and Chomsky and
endured endless crates of half spoiled cauliflower being delivered to my
house for Food Not Bombs. I even attended a conference in Detroit for
young socialists, where we learned about identity politics and union
organizing. I was committed. The only problem was that I was studying
Chinese history and coming into daily contradiction between the romantic
idealism of Marxism and earnest study of the atrocities its realization in
China wrought upon the people. The total destruction of their personal
freedom was noble, I attempted to reason, because it was in the name of
ideals higher than the individual, namely, equality between the classes and
sexes, the highest goal there is. The phrases "freedom" and "democracy"
had become meaningless Republican-appropriated catchphrases to me,
devoid of impact or content. Although I could never have articulated it then,
my entire political philosophy could be summarized in two horribly false
truisms: Individualism is wrong, and Morality is relative. When Haven and
Karleton came to visit me at college, we had never been more different. I
always think of friendship as these two strands of something, like reeds,
that are growing, parallel, but are flexible. As each person grows and
changes the reeds can bend away from each other, towards each other.
Sometimes when you are lucky, you can stay relatively close to the same
person in the long run, no matter how you both change. Even at our farthest
point of distance, I still loved them. They were going to UNC, and planning
for careers in business and psychology with their college studies. At the
time, I judged them as apolitical materialists. I didn't find out until Karleton's
funeral that while I was working at a rape crisis center in Portland, Karleton
was organizing all his friends to join the UNC safe walk program, to make
sure women were safe on campus. He never told me that once, even though
I am sure he knew it would have impressed me. Karleton's morality and
commitment to right went much deeper than any political posture or identity.
I wouldn't have understood then anyway.
When Suzanne told me that Karleton was gone, I started crying right away,
screaming, sobbing, shaking, all while driving. I immediately called my friend
Frank, but it took me a long time to able to even tell him what happened. He
told me to pull over so I did, and I just held the phone and cried. He asked if
I was closer to work or home, and when I said work he said to go there and
to concentrate on driving, not talking or crying, so I would be safe, and that
I should call him back from work. I said ok, but then I couldn't stop crying.
When I got to Lookout!, everyone was very loving and supportive, in their
own shock and sadness. I made a few phone calls before going home,
where 4 of my closest friends met me and stayed there continuously until I
went to sleep. We sat around my little apartment, eating grapes and
drinking tea. A contingent was sent to Albertson's to get junk food. I pulled
out old photos, Karleton at our high school graduation. Beach vacations we
had taken at 20, 25, 30. Me looking ridiculous as maid of honor at their
wedding after all my hair fell out from bleaching. The first time I met their son
when he was only 2 weeks old. I finally reached Haven. "Tris, " she said, in
the same quiet voice she has used when she was sad since were 14 years
old, "I was gonna call you today anyway. I'm pregnant again." she said, as
we both cried and cried on the phone, 3000 miles apart.
The first crack in my connection to the kind of Leftism that most punks
embrace came in the form of Nafta, right after I graduated from college.
Nafta raised important issues about environment, capitalism, the role of the
wealthy nations in regard to the development of the poorest ones, the
legacies of colonialism and imperialism, the power of multinationals. I
understood what I was "supposed" to think: US multinationals, like the US
Government vis a vis the CIA, were only capable of bringing cultural
destruction and economic enslavement to the people wherever they went,
that they would chop down the rain forests and pay the people a penny and
overthrow the government if it dared oppose US interests. The examples
were plentiful, Guatemala, many others. I was *almost* on board, except for
one thing, the part about employment opportunities being dismissible
because they would necessarily be exploitive rather than fair. From what I
understood about poverty in the third world, especially in the countries to
our immediate south, the opportunities of employment that free trade could
offer would be the difference between starving and eating, between medical
care and no medical care, between children living and children dying. A job is
a life, and I could not advocate depriving the poorest places in our
hemisphere of employment
opportunities. It just wasn't in keeping with my other politics. Especially
when I considered that the climate of American intellectualism is so different
now than it was in the CIA's heyday of atrocities. The left has done a lot of
good in bringing its critique to bear, so much so that now it is more difficult
for the US to engage in foreign engagement of any type, overt or covert. We
have become, in the post-Vietnam years, a profoundly isolationist nation,
whose vision of our own role in the world is to avoid or minimize conflict, and
especially avoid American lives lost, (anyone remember the pre-9/11 Powell
Doctrine?). American intellectuals, Leftists in particular, see themselves first
and foremost as critics of the state. In the post 9/11 era, this, obviously, is a
Karleton loved being a father. He was really good at taking care of people,
very loyal, very supportive, and someone who had the power to inexplicably
make you feel more capable and confident due to his unshakable belief in
you. Karleton was the kind of person who is so good at being good that he
is almost invisible. He was funny and warm and extremely smart. I realized
how profoundly I had taken him for granted for the last 13 years of my life. I
watched the footage of the planes over and over. I tried not to think about
what it was like for him on the plane. Mostly I tried not to think about his 2
children, born and unborn, who would never know how much he loved being
their father. It is still the saddest and hardest part. At my house, for the
next few days, all my friends figured out what I needed and did it. Molly
called the airlines to confirm his name for me, because I couldn't bring myself
to ask Haven which of the flights he had been on. Haven called and asked
me to start making arrangements to come to Boston. American Airlines had
assigned a "care team" to help fly the entire family to Boston to be together
and so I flew as her sister. I finally got to Boston on Friday, after flying all
over the country as airports closed and opened, eventually driving there
from Albany in a Cadillac that American Airlines rented me. American's rep at
the Albany airport had handed me $20 from her own pocket in case I
needed snacks on the drive, with tears in her eyes. As I drove across
Massachusetts, America was holding a moment of national silence at 7 p.m.,
and I could see rows of candles flickering by the Pike. I still hated
After my internal conflict about Nafta, I watched my punk acquaintances
develop the anti-Nafta strain into a whole new core raison d'etre with the
No WTO protests and the candidacy of Nader. I could not support either. I
could not oppose trade because I believe that the poverty of the third world
requires immediate relief which only employment can afford. I also believe
that the vague idea of "fighting globalism" is meaningless. Corporations are
already global and have been for decades. It is not a matter that "the
people" have any control over, or ever could. It is a rallying cry of futility. And
if offers no alternative to the impoverished, unemployed people of the
developing world who, frankly, need that 5 cents an hour much more than
the white elite protesters could ever know. Monitoring environmental and
employment issues is the correct approach. In Nader I found no discernible
real politick. His views appeared to be an amalgamation of various laudable
causes like environmentalism & women's rights, but with a central
philosophy of "fighting globalism" which he appeared to have no real plan to
do. Nader certainly did not have the background in economics to blithely
write new policies, preventing trade and doubling the minimum wage
without causing disastrous results. I went to his green party website and
saw that he was advocating a $14 per hour minimum wage. With
unemployment at its lowest, I could not believe he could advocate a move
that would likely create depression-era levels of unemployment and small
business bankruptcy. And if Nader was an unqualified economist, he was
totally unacceptably inexperienced in the realm of foreign policy. He
proposed shutting down most of our military. While many progressive people
say that they would want this to happen, it is only the luxury of knowing it
never will that allows them to feel this way. His candidacy was not based on
anything real or substantive, and I watched in awe as so many of my friends
embraced it feverishly. To support a set of ideas that you like but would not
actually want enacted is the worst kind of political posturing. It is amoral.
When you vote, you must consider the good of all people, not be charmed
by radical chic. Nader's claims that there was no difference between the
candidates and the punks and hippies buying it have cost this country and
especially our environment a great deal.
I got to Boston in a daze, and I stayed in a daze for the several weeks I
was there. I couldn't eat or sleep, and I would go on these walks for hours
in the night, walk to Fenway, walk to downtown, walk through Brighton. I
got blisters under blisters under blisters and I could not stop wanting to see
Karleton. Spending the days in his house, looking at his UNC baseball cap on
the knob of his closet door, holding his baby who has his same smile, I spent
my evenings reading the newspapers and watching the news at a
neighbor's and my nights wandering around. I felt totally helpless and
useless. Coming all this way to help my best friend, I couldn't help her at all.
She was enveloped in her own darkness and sadness and I couldn't reach
through to her. Jackson wandered the house calling out for his daddy. We all
needed each other yet could not quite reach each other. The darkness of
the grief around us was so profound that it completely isolated us all.
Haven, her mother, father, their partners, Karleton's parents and sister and
brother in law, me, we were each completely alone in our grief, sitting
together around the table, in the kitchen, on the couch. After the funeral, I
went home to California, convinced that my presence was no longer helping.
Since then, I have called and written very frequently, and plan to return to
Boston over the holidays. If you are wondering how they are doing, I can
only say, they are surviving, even though, at times, they do not want to be.
Immediately after Sept. 11 I started reading outrageous statements from
prominent leftists that shocked and saddened me. The Left does not speak
for me on this issue. I find Michael Moore, Ralph Nader, Noam Chomsky,
Katha Politt, Susan Sontag et al's attempts to blame the U.S. for this mass
murder ideologically weak and morally absurd. I have never felt more clearly
my alienation from political movements in this country than I do now. To
analyze the causation of the terrorists' actions is to accept their violence as
a legitimate political expression. I do not. I feel the Left grasping at the idea
of anti-Americanism which is its only core now that Marxism has been
discredited by history. But this Anti-Americanism is not an appropriate
reaction to the murder of 5000 Americans on Sept. 11. It is clear to me that
the cornerstone of the American Intellectual's entire identity is dependent on
his position of "critic of the state." In a situation of moral absolutism, of mass
murder, as my friend Frank says, terrorism, not "terrorism", it is
heartbreaking and deeply disillusioning to see Leftist political leaders
attempt to justify and explain that which the human heart is not meant to be
able to comprehend. Searching U.S foreign policy for the reason that 19 men
hijacked jumbo jets and crashed them into public buildings is madness. Moral
relativism in the face of mass murder is sickening. And I guess, even more to
the point, bin Laden's Leftist apologists, like the Nation, and all the Leftists I
have already namechecked, Moore, Chomsky et al , who would like to lay
blame for his actions ultimately on US support of Israel & sanctions against
Iraq, have the wrong analysis. Bin Laden is ambivalent about the
Palestinians, and about Hussein. In fact he offered to send his men to Saudi
Arabia to defend them against Iraq when Hussein invaded Kuwait. His real
agenda relates to politics of the U.S's regional presence, first within his
home country of Saudi Arabia. He wants the Muslim world free of
non-Muslims. He is just an ethnic cleanser. So much for tolerance, diversity
and the Rainbow Coalition.
My friend's murder has snapped me out of my dogmatic view that the U.S is
evil, and all our political opponents must be good, must be right, must stand
for justice and the deserving third world people, and tolerance and diversity.
It has brought my years of thought into a crystallized place. The people who
killed Karleton are not my people. I can't and won't listen to their concerns
and beliefs. I won't condemn the U.S as responsible for their actions. I won't
pretend that if the U.S. fights the supporters of this terrorist act, it's only for
control of resources, or an articulation of American racism. Now I know, in a
visceral, human way, that the United States has enemies in the global
arena, enemies capable of a brutality and a barbarism which marks their
depravity. If being an American Leftist today means being defending that,
then, I can't be a Leftist. Fortunately, outside of youth culture, outside of
punk rock world and aging baby boomers, there is a stabler and smarter Left
which recognizes and contains the complexity of a truer vision of the U.S. I
hope the appalling rhetoric of the Left's culture heroes in the wake of Sept.
11 gives other politicized young people pause, even if they did not lose a
I support the war in Afghanistan because I believe the Al Qua'eda network
is an enemy that must be eliminated. I stand almost alone in my community
and in my family in this belief. I do not write this to attempt to persuade any
readers to share my beliefs, but to illuminate that a life a of political
engagement and thought can engender change, and clarity. A dynamic life of
the mind is not one of static political thought. I know more at 30 than I did
at 20. The most important thing I know, perhaps, is that I miss my friend,
and that the world without him is nothing like the world with him was, and
could have been.