Titus and the Gnat

Aug. 12 2022

After the Roman general, and later emperor, Titus razed Jerusalem and plundered the Temple—according to a talmudic legend—God punished him by sending a gnat via his ear into his brain, which eventually drove him to madness. Cynthia Ozick transformed the tale into a poem in 1982, published for the first time last week. It opens thus:

Wicked Titus (the name the Rabbis gave),
Commander-in-Chief
of Roman arms,
strategist of bloody harms,
took Jerusalem in fief,
razed the Temple to its grave,
and Zion brought to grief.

The flame of the Ark
brutally he blew to dark
shaped of its tapestry a sleeve,
loaded it with loot.
For holy Zion, no reprieve.
Then homeward went the Roman boot.

At sea, up sprang a gale.
It shook the Roman masts to sticks.
“This God of theirs can play these tricks
on water, but the land is dry,
On land He can’t prevail.
Just let Him try!”
Thus spake that master of detritus,
Zion’s ruin, Wicked Titus.

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More about: Ancient Rome, Cynthia Ozick, Poetry, Second Temple, Talmud

 

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy