COMMENT

Letter from Thessaloniki

By Spyros Payiatakis

The Palestinians - the ancient Philistines in the Bible - are distant relatives of Greeks who came to modern-day Israel presumably from the region of the Aegean Sea and settled along the coast of ancient Palestine around 1200 BC. As the centuries passed, the Philistines acquired a bad reputation. In biblical chapter and verse, the term «Philistine»was used in a slanderous manner by the Israelites to characterize coarse, ignorant, uncultured people. Oh, how unjust and wrong! Recent archaeological research in Israel has shown that if anything, they were by far more refined than the crude farmers and shepherds in the nearby hills, that is, the Israelites themselves. As an article by John Noble Wilford (March 13, 2007) in The New York Times states, archaeologists have applied more polish to the long-tarnished reputation of the Philistines, who had fine pottery, elegant architecture and cosmopolitan tastes. Needles to say, the Philistine people - who, like the ancient Greeks, did not practice circumcision and ate pork - are of particular interest to researchers because they were Indo-Europeans, while the people of Israel and others in the region were Semitic. Born in violence and still under attack from an array of Arab opponents, modern-day Israel believes that it must never let its enemies forget its ruthlessness. Undoubtedly, Israel's military prowess and well-publicized readiness to fight back whenever (and even before) it is attacked has helped it survive. Today, as Israel pushes deeper into Gaza, as heavy attacks from the sea and air accompany Israeli ground assaults and as the death toll climbs, the exchange of violence between Israelis and Palestinians does not necessarily impair the will for peace. On the contrary, it actually increases it.  The biblical adage of «an eye for eye» is a statute of limitation, not a spur to indiscriminate reprisal.  One constantly discovers parallels between the ancient Philistines and modern-day Israel. Firstly, like the ancient Philistines, the Israelis were able to conquer parts of the Palestinian/Israelite center of the country, which they governed ruthlessly. Lacking success in conventional combat, the Arabs have practiced suicide bombings. Such actions, though, were invented by Samson the Brave and later popularized by Hamas. Note that Israel has always lionized its own mythical human bomber.  Yesterday we learned of yet another suicide blast, the target of which was Shia pilgrims who had gathered at a shrine in northwestern Baghdad. The revered Samson, who killed more Philistines in the process of dying than in his entire lifetime, became the Israelite hero by knowingly sacrificing his body in order to kill the enemy, including women and children. He was the first suicide bomber. According to the Hebrew story, the Philistines put out Samson's eyes and chained him to a pillar. Let us remember the biblical story as told in the Good Book: «And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. And Samson said: Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.» Of course there are many who claim that being captured by the Israelis can be much worse than what the biblical Samson suffered. Regardless of the fact that one could be accused of lacking moral fiber by equating Israeli and Arab evils, the argument makes no sense. In fact, I received several angry letters from Israel when I first wrote on this subject back in 2002. Yet, the evils have been traditionally shared by both parties since the Iron Age, when the Philistines and the Israelites/Judeans were in constant conflict. During the biblical age of the Philistine occupation («and the Lord delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years») Samson must have been something of a terrorist, carrying out terrorist attacks against the intruders, «for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.» So, according to the Hebrew Old Testament Book of Judges, Samson became the Israelite hero by knowingly sacrificing his body in order to kill the enemy, including women and children. Bear in mind that Samson was a kind of Israeli Goliath, killing Philistines. He was captured, but managed during his captivity to destroy the temple of the Philistines in Gaza along with the royal family, much of the army and himself, all inside. Here are Samson's words, according to the Hebrew Bible, Judges 16:30: «'Let me die with the Philistines!' He pushed hard and the temple collapsed on the rulers and all the people in it. He killed many more people in his death than he had killed during his life.» Today there are elite Israeli combat units named «Samson.» Furthermore, the Israeli nuclear program was called the «Samson Option.» Philosopher, political-activist and critic of the foreign policy of the United Sates and other governments, Noam Chomski has jested that Israel suffers from a «Samson complex,» a fact that could lead to the destruction of itself as well as its Arab enemies. In fact, today there are many who are concerned that Israel appears quite happy to flatten any handy Palestinian target if it cannot find the specific perpetrators of attacks against it. Observers are justifiably worried that Israeli reprisals against such groups as looney-led Hamas could prompt wild reactions from them. The argument that peace prospects are inevitably diminished by an upsurge in violence is an oversimplification. Wars sometimes intensify right up to the moment before negotiation. One can only hope that this will indeed be the case here.

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