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David Remnick: I come at this with not one identity, but multiple identities. I'm an American, I'm a Jew, I'm a reporter.
Brooke Gladstone: As the war grinds on in Israel and Gaza, reporters struggle to find clarity in the murk. From WNYC in New York, this is On The Media. Also on the show, a Netflix series has sparked a long-awaited MeToo movement in Taiwan. Don't even think of asking what took them so long.
Vickie Wang: Not everything has to happen on an American timeline. If the reverse were true, you guys would have national health care like we do.
Brooke Gladstone: Plus, a new novel re-examined the role of the internet in the MeToo movement, like the deployment of anonymous online accusations.
Yomi Adegoke: We weren't given enough time to unpack the ways in which the internet intersected with that movement and could be taken advantage of because it felt like a criticism of the movement.
Brooke Gladstone: It's all coming up after this. From WNYC in New York, this is On The Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone. It's been nearly a month since the surprise attack by Hamas into Southern Israel, killing 1,400 Israelis, and prompting a response. 9,000 Gazans dead and counting, that Hamas, given past experience, surely would have foreseen.
Speaker 1: Planes streaming overhead, streaking overhead, dropping bombs, and now the Gaza Strip is cut off from the world. Now they can't call ambulances, they can't communicate among themselves, and they can't communicate with the world.
Speaker 2: My family lives not far from here. I don't know what's going on with them. I don't know if they're still alive or dead.
Speaker 3: The Israeli military saying the number of hostages held in Gaza has risen to 240.
Speaker 4: An explosion at a refugee camp in Gaza, the images are pretty difficult to watch.
Speaker 5: They're showing the entire neighborhood flattened, completely reduced to rubble.
Speaker 6: Despite more than two-thirds of the UN General Assembly voting in favor of a ceasefire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, says he will not agree to one.
Brooke Gladstone: Meanwhile, the battle of irreconcilable worldviews continues apace in world capitals, small outposts, and everywhere else, the news, or some stunted variant of it, can reach. Recently, New Yorker editor David Remnick went to Israel. He couldn't get into Gaza and returned with a 10,000-word piece called In the Cities of Killing, a reference to a famous poem.
The piece is part reporting, part history, and a range of conversations that strives to balance perceptions and passions, and the challenges posed to a reporter by both proximity to and distance from what truly may be the hardest story to report. Remnick found it useful to use the word and when one might be tempted to use the word but, because one thought or fact does not cancel out the other. The first paragraph reads, "The only way to tell this story is to try to tell it truthfully and to know that you will fail."
David Remnick: I come at this if we're speaking personally, with not one identity but multiple identities. I'm an American, I'm a Jew, I'm a reporter, and I try to call on those identities, recognize whatever powers I have but also weaknesses, to tell the story as best I can. As I say in the beginning of the piece, and it wasn't just rhetoric, it was confessional almost, knowing that I would, at least for many readers, fail.
Brooke Gladstone: You wrote that the task of holding in one's head multiple thoughts, multiple facts, was nearly impossible, particularly in the face of the sloganeering and the allure of the militancy. There are a number of multiple facts you have to hold in your head. The fact that Israeli settlers, a lot of them armed, have stepped up their daily violence against Palestinian villagers, egged on by the Netanyahu government. The thought that Israel is well-armed and has powerful allies but is still the size of New Jersey and faces a whole region where many speak of its elimination. The situation in Gaza is seen by many as nothing more or less than colonialism.
David Remnick: The terminology is settler colonialism.
Brooke Gladstone: Or else you think that the Jewish people finally found a home and people want to kill them.
David Remnick: There are elements of both that are true. If your habit of mind is to say that the Israel-Palestine situation in history is precisely the same as France and Algeria, you're going to have one approach to how you think about it. If your view of the situation is entirely shaped by the history of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, and only that, then it's very hard to accommodate other facts like the way settlers and the Israeli government harass, and worse, people in occupied West Bank, just the use of the word occupy. Certain narratives, certain fixed ways of seeing things do not permit complexity.
Brooke Gladstone: Let's talk about the propaganda war. When you got there, you were shown a lot of gut-wrenching images on a big screen.
David Remnick: Yes, I accepted an invitation to come see this film that had been assembled. I wasn't born last week. I'm fully aware that there's a history of governments and militaries lying all over the world. At the same time, if information is offered to me, I'm going to examine it. This film was, and maybe history will overturn this assessment, it was genuine. It was a compilation, a lot of it from cell phones and GoPros by both Hamas and the victims. It was a methodical pogrom.
When Jews speak of pogroms, they very often refer to the pogrom in Kishinev in 1903. This was in the Pale of Settlement in the Russian Empire. There was a conspiracy theory that was put in a local anti-Semitic newspaper that a young Christian boy had been killed by Jews in order to have the blood used for Passover Monza. This set off, it could have been predicted a pogrom against Jews, which became the source of one of the great poems ever written in modern Hebrew and a further inspiration for the desire for a Jewish state. That's the poem called In the City of Killing.
How many people died at the Kishinev massacre, Brooke? 49. 49. On the October 7th massacre, it was 1,400, plus hostages, plus thousands injured. Now, the difference is that, unlike the Jews of Kishinev, Israel has a state, Israel has an army. That is absolutely true. At the same time, the sense of insecurity, the sense of vulnerability, it's very hard for me to describe how intense it is now in Israel.
Now, again, this is an and, not a but, across the wall, across the fence, the sense of vulnerability of Gazans. I'm not talking about Hamas. Gazans. Having airplanes flying over this very small area, like the size of Detroit. I don't know how many thousands have been killed on the day we're speaking. 7,000, 8,000, something like that, is horrific. At the same time, there's this threat of a wider war. The sense of peril, the sense of grief and rage, it just couldn't be-- Yet another thing I'm sure I failed in doing is conveying that intensity.
Brooke Gladstone: You were on an Israeli press junket, right? You weren't able to get into Gaza. That must have posed a challenge to the reporting.
David Remnick: It wasn't a junket. It wasn't like one reporter after another interviewing a movie star. I went into a military zone, and the only way you could do that was with the IDF. Getting into Gaza was, at that point, impossible.
Brooke Gladstone: You did go to East Jerusalem, and you met with a scholar of early Islamic philosophy named Sari Nusseibeh, who was an informal advisor to Yasser Arafat.
David Remnick: Sari Nusseibeh is a scholar of international reputation, not only of Palestinian affairs but also of early Islamic philosophy. When Arafat was alive and in power, he was an informal advisor to him. I would say this about Sari Nusseibeh, he was certainly one of the more moderate advisors that Arafat had to such a degree that eventually Sari Nusseibeh was on the outside of that circle. We met a short walk from his home in East Jerusalem and he looked a lot older than when I had seen him last, which wasn't so long ago. I think everybody did.
The way he explained the reaction in the West Bank to October 7th in East Jerusalem and his many, many friendships and acquaintances in the community. Nothing is unanimous, but the initial reaction was enormous euphoria. The euphoria being we broke out, like a prison break. When the news started coming in about how extensive the killings were, how brutal they were, how ecstatic they were, when videos started circulating, not just in the channels of foreign countries or in Israel, but throughout the Palestinian community, there was a very different reaction of wariness, of reluctance, of sadness, in some quarters, regret.
Sari Nusseibeh like anyone, when he saw those videos, when he heard the news of what had happened, when the details reached him, he was appalled, and he's hardly alone. This is not just the violence of military conflict in the conventional sense, it's something else. However, when the bombing of Gaza began to happen and quite frankly, when violence against Palestinians in the West Bank began to pick up pace, which has already been going for quite a while, then the narrative for many people turned again.
Brooke Gladstone: He said it was a mistake to think that Hamas is an alien being. It's part of a national tapestry. It grows bigger or stronger depending on other factors.
David Remnick: He's just analyzing the situation. He's also reacting to the rhetoric that you were hearing in Israel that Hamas must be eradicated. I think his view, which is not an uncommon one, is that Hamas is an idea and an impulse more than it is any individual. You may, and this is him talking, you may kill a lot of soldiers of Hamas and even many of their leaders, but new ones will appear. Radicalism will persist so long as the problem persists.
The general condition here is that you have in both societies. Again, I'm not trying to on the one hand or the other hand, it's just the fact of the matter, is that in Israeli politics you have voices of really dark reactionary textures. The guy that was just appointed the head of the committee to run West Bank Affairs in Israel is a radical settler that wasn't permitted to be in the army because he was deemed unfit to serve because of his activities and his harassment of Palestinians.
That's who's the head of the subcommittee in Knesset. Zvi Sukkot is his name. He's not an aberration. On the Palestinian side, Hamas, I don't see how that can be considered anything other than, in some ways, the mirror image of such ministers. Those strains in Israeli politics and in Palestinian politics will remain relatively popular until this conflict finds some resolution or at least progress. That's going to be very, very difficult.
Brooke Gladstone: Nusseibeh did seem to offer maybe a sliver of possibility of resolution.
David Remnick: I think Sari Nusseibeh's sensibility is such that pessimism, much less despair, is no position that we can afford as human beings. If you resign yourself to despair, the unforgivable sin in the Bible, then you're in a state of perdition and there's no way out of it. I think he is a realist in the sense that he knows this is going to take a long time. I think he's a realist, many Palestinians are when they're being open with you, often in private, that there were many missed chances in the past, not least when Ehud Barak and Arafat under the aegis of Bill Clinton seemed to come to a resolution in 2000 at Camp David and then Arafat walked away from it.
It's a complicated story. When Arafat told Clinton as Clinton was leaving office that you were a great man. Clinton said, "No, I'm a failure and you made me one."
Brooke Gladstone: Tony Klug, he's the vice chair of the Arab-Jewish Forum, he writes for Haaretz. He said that amidst all of this sense of hopelessness, that it was true that every peaceable advance in '67 was provoked by an unforeseen seismic event. The '67 war goaded Palestinians and at least accepting a state.
David Remnick: 100%.
Brooke Gladstone: The '73 war led to the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. The Palestinian Intifada, the first one, prompted the Oslo Accord. The second Intifada prompted the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.
David Remnick: Without question, that's true and it also led to other kinds of repercussions. Anwar Sadat made a separate peace between Egypt and Israel in 1977 and he was assassinated by his own military. Every Arab leader knows that that is a terrible risk including Yasser Arafat. This cycle which you cite, and it's absolutely true as a pattern, is another specter, another Damocles that hangs over these processes.
Brooke Gladstone: You spoke to Yair Golan, a retired army general who drew some links between some processes that preceded the Holocaust and some that popped up in Israel in 2016, specifically the othering of a race.
David Remnick: What's probably very surprising to Americans is that even in the national security apparatus in Israel, among people in the Mossad, people in the Shin Bet, which is like the FBI, and the army itself, some of the loudest, most convincing voices for the need for finding a resolution with the Palestinians comes from them, not just college professors in Tel Aviv. Yair Golan was a highly decorated general who, by the way, was also in command in the West Bank. He gave a speech in the wake of the killing of a Palestinian who had stabbed an Israeli. He was apprehended by Israeli soldiers and he was flat on the ground, fully subdued, but nevertheless, the Israeli soldiers shot him to death.
In the wake of that, Golan gave a speech, this is years ago now, warning against these tendencies. The violent overreach of soldiers, hideous rhetoric, harassment by settlers in the West Bank, which is something that's only gotten much worse in recent weeks. Again, this is not me mitigating or excusing or softening the horror of October 7th, which will live in the minds of Israelis and Jews and I hope in the world generally with extraordinary grief and bitterness. It's a historic event, but other things are true as well. It's not a matter of X but why it's a matter of X and Y, and that's what makes it so complex and that's what makes it so complex.
Brooke Gladstone: You sought out David Grossman, known in Israel for his great writing and his outspoken politics. Tell me why you wanted to talk to him.
David Remnick: David Grossman has been writing about the Palestinians since the '80s. He wrote a book called Yellow Wind, which was a collection of articles that depended not just on his imagination, but on real experience. He got around. He learned about Palestinians in the way most Israelis don't. David Grossman did something unusual for that time and remains what's called a liberal Zionist. He believed in the future of the state of Israel and at the same time recognized the absolute need for a fair resolution for Palestinians while maintaining security for Israelis. An increasingly unpopular stance.
By the way, his own son, two days after he and Amos Oz and Olivet Yeshua demanded a truce in the Second Lebanon War, two days after that gesture, his own son was killed in that very war. He's not some American who comes in on an El Al flight and does some reporting and leaves. That's me. He's living this. It just struck me as so meaningful to hear him talk about the likely effect in Israel in the months and years to come that Israel will have to be Sparta as well as Athens. In other words, the Athens Bar trying its best to be liberal, and have some decent sense of human rights, but Sparta as well. The walls go higher, the military atmosphere gets more intense. He was speaking in deeply tragic terms.
Brooke Gladstone: You quote a lieutenant colonel and a senior IDF spokesman who said that at a stint at the Kennedy School in Harvard, "He found his fellow students frozen when it came to discussing the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Scared to get into its history lest the discussion goes sideways." I think this goes back to your point about the emotional turmoil surrounding the story.
David Remnick: How we react to things politically and emotionally is shaped by what we're willing to admit into our minds. We live in a political culture of strident simplicity. It's exemplified by, made cartoonish by, and made infinitely worse by our previous President. He established a habit of mind so manipulative, stupid, cruel, and infinitely entertaining that it's had an influence. The world is now full of these people. I was just thinking about this, Brooke. You and I have a similar experience in life when we were young.
We lived in Moscow even overlapped a bit, and it was at a time from 1989 until 1995, in which the following things happened historically. The Berlin Wall came down, Eastern and Central Europe liberated, the Soviet Union turned into 15 independent states of highly varied textures, apartheid ended in South Africa and the Oslo Peace Accords were signed. This didn't end history. It didn't mean that heaven on earth had been established, but there was some sense of human and political possibility and progress that was inspiring.
Brooke Gladstone: There seemed to be a path forward.
David Remnick: Damn right. That's come crashing down for reasons that will be studied for centuries to come. To be in this place now, to see Russia invade Ukraine, an invasion by a gangster state.
Brooke Gladstone: You have a chilling line at the end that on both sides of the border in Israel and Gaza killing is the common condition. I think a lot of us watching this conflict from afar are searching for clarity. Did you get to any beyond the fact that killing is the common condition?
David Remnick: Well, there are some things that are clear. Antisemitism is hateful, Islamophobia is hateful. That at some point, Israelis and Palestinians have to not only recognize that they are in this very, very small landscape together, but that they have to reach a resolution together. That much is clear to me, but there are just such tremendous barriers to it. The wound to the Israeli psyche, the destruction of dozen lives and Gazan infrastructure-
Brooke Gladstone: And the brutalizing of a generation.
David Remnick: Yes, people are not born this way. [chuckles] People are not born this way. Cruelty hands down cruelty.
Brooke Gladstone: David, thank you very much.
David Remnick: Thank you.
Brooke Gladstone: David Remnick is the editor of The New Yorker.
Brooke Gladstone: Coming up a viral scene in a Taiwanese Netflix show lights the fuse for a MeToo reckoning. This is On The Media.