In May we featured two articles about Israel and its history, one by Gaza author Mohammad Arafat about Palestinian sufferings during the December 2008-January 2009 war between Israel and Hamas, and a longer piece by Leslie Evans on the history of the Marxist Left’s negative view of Jewish identity, principally in nineteenth century Europe but affecting Western perceptions of Israel.
This month we reprise the subject with our same two authors. Mohammad Arafat returns in “A Tale of Determination” to the early days of the Israeli invasion of Gaza at the end of 2008, where he tells the story of his friend Musab, who was badly wounded by an Israeli rocket, as well as examples of civilian deaths inflicted by the Jewish forces. Leslie Evans in “Why the Middle East Is Always in Crisis” pulls the camera back to examine at length the breakup of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, and the legacy of seemingly insurmountable religious animosities built into the postwar map, particularly in Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and, of course, Israel-Palestine.
By Mohammad Arafat
The Gaza strip is located in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea and is an important link between Asia and Africa. The traders of Asia and Africa used to cross Gaza in their comings and goings between the two continents. That importance no doubt made it attractive to the Israelis in their occupation of Gaza and all of Palestine in 1948. The Palestinian people have fought back against the occupation and massacres. They have forced it to withdraw from Gaza and we hope all of Palestine one day.
The Palestinian resistance made Israelis leave Gaza, but that occupation is still in control because Israel besieged Gaza by cutting power and water. It controls our food and the cooking gas. In December of 2008, F16 warplanes and lots of missiles fell on us. Read more
A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. David Fromkin. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1989. 643 pp.
Why write about a book that is almost twenty-five-years old? The best reason is that it uncovers, layer by layer, the consequences, intentional and unintentional, of the confrontations in and after World War I that dismembered the Ottoman Empire and drew the map that built into itself the incendiary ingredients that have made the Middle East perhaps the most explosive portion of today’s world. The results of the final partition of the former Ottoman lands in 1922 directly laid the groundwork for today’s civil war in Syria, now spreading into Lebanon, the emergent second civil war in post-invasion Iraq, the rise of jihadi Islam, and the perennial Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Only by looking at the region as a whole, pulling back from a narrow focus on the abuses of this or that Arab dictator or the Israeli occupation in the West Bank can the underlying dynamics and its actors’ motives be fully understood. David Fromkin’s classic work offers a convenient peg on which to hang a look back at how the Middle East mess took its modern form and what that tells us about where we are now. Read more
by Jack Wallace
He was without a doubt the greatest tunesmith who helped invent the music of Hollywood during the sound era. Just as Aaron Copland defined the sound of the American West of myth and legend for ballet and the concert hall, so did Dimitri Tiomkin do the same thing for the movies. It was a half a century ago and still is today a maxim in Hollywood that more is usually better. For Dimitri, more was usually OK, but the most was even better. For many of his scores, nothing less than the biggest, the loudest, and the most colorful (richly orchestrated) would do. Case in point: in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, I Confess, there’s a scene where Montgomery Clift, playing a priest, is crossing the street on his way to church. For most other film composers, a solo instrument such as a piano would have been sufficient, even in those days. But not for Dimitri, for whom the full orchestra blasting away as though reaching the finale of a Mahler symphony was what was the scene compelled. Excessive? Maybe. But he was a first rate composer who happened to be working in the movies; and the interplay of the music with the action on screen turned the routine into the memorable. Read more
By Bob Vickrey
Several years ago I found myself doing a double-take as I noticed two familiar looking men mingling with a large group at an author speaking engagement in my local bookstore. The scene there was one that utterly embodied the ever-enduring clash of diverse Los Angeles cultures.
The sight of a well-known author who was in the company of a popular actor was so common in West Los Angeles that it normally would not trigger such a head-turning moment. But when I spotted writer Jonathan Kirsch and actor Charlton Heston in the same contingent, I quickly remembered that Kirsch was the author of a biography entitled Moses, A Life; and here he was rubbing shoulders with the actor who had portrayed the Old Testament prophet decades earlier in the movie, The Ten Commandments. That particular scene represented the very essence of the intersection of the worlds of literary and popular culture—a setting that plays out often in the city where I live. Read more
Alone With Everybody
the flesh covers the bone
and they put a mind
in there and
sometimes a soul,
and the women break
vases against the walls
and the men drink too
and nobody finds the
crawling in and out
the bone and the
for more than
there’s no chance
we are all trapped
by a singular
nobody ever finds
the city dumps fill
the junkyards fill
the madhouses fill
the hospitals fill
the graveyards fill nothing else
By Phyl Van Ammers
Alison Lurie’s protagonist in The Nowhere City (1965) said, “You know what I saw the first day I got to Los Angeles, when Paul was driving me back from the airport, the first afternoon I was here? We were driving back from the airport, and we passed a doughnut stand, and on top of it was this huge cement doughnut about twenty feet high, revolting around. I mean revolving. You know. It was going around and around.” Katherine waved her arm in demonstration. “That was the first thing I saw, before I saw the stand. From a long, long way off, that big empty hole going around and around up in the air, with some name painted on it. Well I thought, that’s what this city is! That’s what it is, a great big advertisement for nothing.” Read more
By Bob Vickrey
The day my sister first brought her boyfriend (and future husband) home to meet our family, Bill Graham seemed so tall and larger than life to this scrawny 15-year-old high school sophomore, I was afraid he might bump his head on our living room ceiling.
In fact, years later, when I remembered his first visit to our home, I was reminded of the opening lines of Jimmy Dean’s popular song of that era, Big John. “Every morning at the mine you could see him arrive. He stood six-foot-six, weighed 245.” However, unlike the mythical intimidating character in Dean’s ballad, the physical dimensions were about all those two shared in common. I soon learned this big man was a kind and gentle giant who would eventually become a central figure in my young life. Read more
By Phyl Van Ammers
Whole Foods will soon occupy a building in the strip mall on Glendale Boulevard. This is an important historic location without even an obscure plaque to show what was once there.
Along Glendale Boulevard, but closer to downtown and near the maw of the 2 Freeway, is the site of the Selig Polyscope movie studio. Around 1910, Selig recruited a cowboy who had ridden with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders when he was a teenager, served in the Boxer Rebellion, broke horses for the English in the Boer War, served as sheriff, U.S. Marshall, Texas Ranger, and who wanted only to live on the plains and own a ranch but felt he needed to raise the money himself and organized ranch shows. He and his horse Old Blue performed terrifying tricks in the ranch shows that later became part of the Tom Mix films. Read more
By LIONEL ROLFE
As bombs were blowing up in Boston, I was sitting in my doctor’s office in Los Angeles’ Chinatown and he was telling me that he had no medicines to deal with my painful swollen legs, knees and feet.
Now I know that human misery is a constant, but when you’re experiencing it personally, so is the world. Bombers in Boston, sinkholes, tsunamis, wars, nuclear accidents, meteors hurling toward cities, earthquakes, mad cops running amok, ships crashing into shore as they navigate into port, all somehow equate with my increasingly wobbly legs.
Now I’ll grant there is no apparent connection between a major American city being under siege by a couple of mad bombers and the pain in my body. But it feels as if the world and the lives of all of us in it, are going bonkers in droves. The news is becoming madder by the day. Nothing is left to shock. Read more
By Bob Vickrey
The two tall handsome gray-haired gentlemen stood staring each other down across the bookstore counter as if they were about to break out in a classic Burr and Hamilton duel.
Former Texas Governor John B. Connally and local Houston bookseller, Ted Brown, were trading sardonic barbs in their ongoing colossal battle of giant egos. They were both elegantly attired in expensive pin-striped suits and each represented that era of the male-dominated, testosterone-driven business world of the 1970s. Governor Connally was a regular customer at Brown’s Bookshop, the best-known bookstore in Houston at that time, and seemed to truly relish his encounters with the feisty Brown. Read more