Erez Bitton and the North African Poetic Awakening

After the Yom Kippur war, the blind poet Erez Bitton began writing poetry that explicitly reflected his experiences as an Algerian-born Jew living in Israel. His work, produced at a time when Mizraḥim (Jews from Muslim lands) still faced much prejudice, opened the door for a generation of Mizraḥi poets and artists. Matti Friedman writes:

Until then, Hebrew poems and songs were about the inner lives of the new Israelis who were part of the civilization of the West, or about the beauty of Israel’s hills and valleys. They weren’t about the tenements of Ashkelon, [inhabited largely by Mizraḥi immigrants], or about where the people in those tenements had lived before. Bitton still isn’t exactly sure what the 1973 war had to do with the change in his writing, but he started mixing Arabic with his Hebrew. He used the names for the spices of his childhood home in Oran, Algeria, like lebzar, and the names of musical instruments, like the drums called tamtam and the stringed rababa. . . .

In the early 1980s, [Bitton] began writing about his desire for an Israel that could see itself as a Mediterranean society. . . . [H]e was invited regularly to speak in places like Spain and France. In the 1990s, the years of the peace process, he established fragile links with Muslim writers in North Africa. Most of these connections ended when the peace talks did. In recent years, as Europeans have turned against Israel in earnest, invitations to speak at conferences about the Mediterranean vision have dried up. If he were an Israeli who hated Israel he would be invited more, he told me, but he isn’t.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Algeria, Arts & Culture, Erez Bitton, Hebrew poetry, Israeli literature, Mizrahi Jewry

Why the White House’s Plan to Prevent an Israel-Hizballah War Won’t Work

On Monday, Hizballah downed an Israeli drone, leading the IDF to retaliate with airstrikes that killed one of the terrorist group’s commanders in southern Lebanon, and two more of its members in the northeast. The latter strike marks an escalation by the IDF, which normally confines its activities to the southern part of the country. Hizballah responded by firing two barrages of rockets into northern Israel on Tuesday, while Hamas operatives in Lebanon fired another barrage yesterday.

According to the Iran-backed militia, 219 of its fighters have been killed since October; six Israeli civilians and ten soldiers have lost their lives in the north. The Biden administration has meanwhile been involved in ongoing negotiations to prevent these skirmishes from turning into an all-out war. The administration’s plan, however, requires carrots for Hizballah in exchange for unenforceable guarantees, as Richard Goldberg explains:

Israel and Hizballah last went to war in 2006. That summer, Hizballah crossed the border, killed three Israeli soldiers, and kidnapped two others. Israel responded with furious airstrikes, a naval blockade, and eventually a ground operation that met stiff resistance and mixed results. A UN-endorsed ceasefire went into effect after 34 days of war, accompanied by a Security Council Resolution that ordered the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to assist the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in disarming Hizballah in southern Lebanon—from the Israeli border up to the Litani River, some 30 kilometers away.

Despite billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer support over the last seventeen years, the LAF made no requests to UNIFIL, which then never disarmed Hizballah. Instead, Iran accelerated delivering weapons to the terrorist group—building up its forces to a threat level that dwarfs the one Israel faced in 2006. The politics of Lebanon shifted over time as well, with Hizballah taking effective control of the Lebanese government and exerting its influence (and sometimes even control) over the LAF and its U.S.-funded systems.

Now the U.S. is offering Lebanon an economic bailout in exchange for a promise to keep Hizballah forces from coming within a mere ten kilometers of the border, essentially abrogating the Security Council resolution. Goldberg continues:

Who would be responsible for keeping the peace? The LAF and UNIFIL—the same pair that has spent seventeen years helping Hizballah become the threat it is today. That would guarantee that Hizballah’s commitments will never be verified or enforced.

It’s a win-win for [Hizballah’s chief Hassan] Nasrallah. Many of his fighters live and keep their missiles hidden within ten kilometers of Israel’s border. They will blend into the civilian population without any mechanism to force their departure. And even if the U.S. or France could verify a movement of weapons to the north, Nasrallah’s arsenal is more than capable of terrorizing Israeli cities from ten kilometers away. Meanwhile, a bailout of Lebanon will increase Hizballah’s popularity—demonstrating its tactics against Israel work.

Read more at The Dispatch

More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden