What Israeli and Canadian War Songs Have in Common

Feb. 28 2017

Israeli war songs, and even army slang, tend to be filled with horticultural imagery. Noting something similar in the way Canadians have memorialized World War I, Matti Friedman finds something universal:

[The Yom Kippur War] was behind one of [Israel’s] best-known memorial songs, written by a woman from a kibbutz called Beit Hashittah. Dorit Zameret wrote “The Wheat Sprouts Again” after the 1973 conflict consumed eleven men from her tiny community in the space of three weeks, a blow like the one suffered by those Newfoundland hamlets that lost all their young men on the first day of the battle of the Somme in 1916.

“The Wheat Sprouts Again” talks about the resilience of nature, which the author finds amazing and not entirely welcome. . . . This [sort of] language isn’t limited to Israeli songs. When I was drafted [into the IDF] at the age of nineteen and found myself serving as an infantryman in a small guerrilla war in south Lebanon, I discovered that the army’s radio code for casualties was “flowers.” Dead soldiers were “cyclamens.” . . .

The language I encountered here seemed unique. But just a few years before, [as a Canadian teenager], I’d been standing in a school cafeteria, the gray skies of a Toronto November out the window, reciting these lines, which I still know by heart, “In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row . . .”.

World War I poetry, at least the British variety, is full of flowers. . . . Outside Israel, the use of floral euphemisms to mask the worst we inflict upon each other seems to have faded, though echoes remain. To honor dead soldiers Canadians wear a pin shaped not like a dead soldier, but like a poppy. Here in Israel, the old pastoral language remains very much in use. It suggests a universal response to a universal kind of heartbreak—the absence of some young person that will persist long after the war, and the reasons for it, have faded.

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More about: Canada, Israel & Zionism, Israeli society, Poetry, War, World War I

Yasir Arafat’s Decades-Long Alliance with Iran and Its Consequences for Both Palestinians and Iranians

Jan. 18 2019

In 2002—at the height of the second intifada—the Israeli navy intercepted the Karina A, a Lebanese vessel carrying 50 tons of Iranian arms to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But Yasir Arafat’s relationship with the Islamic Republic goes much farther back, to before its founding in 1979. The terrorist leader had forged ties with followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that grew especially strong in the years when Lebanon became a base of operations both for Iranian opponents of the shah and for the PLO itself. Tony Badran writes:

The relationship between the Iranian revolutionary factions and the Palestinians began in the late 1960s, in parallel with Arafat’s own rise in preeminence within the PLO. . . . [D]uring the 1970s, Lebanon became the site where the major part of the Iranian revolutionaries’ encounter with the Palestinians played out. . . .

The number of guerrillas that trained in Lebanon with the Palestinians was not particularly large. But the Iranian cadres in Lebanon learned useful skills and procured weapons and equipment, which they smuggled back into Iran. . . . The PLO established close working ties with the Khomeinist faction. . . . [W]orking [especially] closely with the PLO [was] Mohammad Montazeri, son of the senior cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri and a militant who had a leading role in developing the idea of establishing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) once the revolution was won.

The Lebanese terrorist and PLO operative Anis Naccache, who coordinated with [the] Iranian revolutionaries, . . . takes personal credit for the idea. Naccache claims that Jalaleddin Farsi, [a leading Iranian revolutionary]. approached him specifically and asked him directly to draft the plan to form the main pillar of the Khomeinist regime. The formation of the IRGC may well be the greatest single contribution that the PLO made to the Iranian revolution. . . .

Arafat’s fantasy of pulling the strings and balancing the Iranians and the Arabs in a grand anti-Israel camp of regional states never stood much of a chance. However, his wish to see Iran back the Palestinian armed struggle is now a fact, as Tehran has effectively become the principal, if not the only, sponsor of the Palestinian military option though its direct sponsorship of Islamic Jihad and its sustaining strategic and organizational ties with Hamas. By forging ties with the Khomeinists, Arafat unwittingly helped to achieve the very opposite of his dream. Iran has turned [two] Palestinian factions into its proxies, and the PLO has been relegated to the regional sidelines.

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More about: Hamas, History & Ideas, Iran, Lebanon, PLO, Yasir Arafat