Sunday, March 04, 2007

"Rocky" Marciano Remains Undefeated

Rocky Marciano made a miraculous return to the ring one last time to reclaim his heavyweight championship, winning a record 50th straight bout without a defeat last week in Herzliya...

Well, OK, it was actually a barroom brawl, and the fighter was MK Yoram "Rocky" Marciano - not the heavyweight champion who died in 1969. But it's easy to get the two confused these days. The real Rocky retired as the only undefeated heavyweight champion in history, winning all 49 of his fights, 43 by knockout. The Israeli "Rocky" took on a crew of security guards, pushing his record to 3-0 in one night, all by TKO.

The fight took place late Wednesday night. "Rocky" and his friends were drinking in a crowded pub, minding their own business. At about 1:30, the crew decided to leave, and went to the back door to exit discretely. But the security guards wouldn't let him out, insisting he leave through the front door like everyone else. Understandably, "Rocky" could barely contain his anger. After than, accounts vary, but all agree that punches were thrown.

By all accounts, "Rocky" made an impressive showing. "He went wild and started yelling, saying, 'A public official must not be assaulted like this, people should learn that a public official should be treated nicely," a witness told Yediot Aharonot after the fight. But no one denied he handled the three security guards singlehandedly.

Some witnesses even suggested "Rocky" was channeling the former champ - possibly the greatest fighter in boxing history. This is how Haaretz described the incident: "Marciano shoved the guard, and the guard shoved back. The MK pulled out his Knesset pass and repeated his demand to be allowed out, but the guard again refused and summoned his superior."

Outnumbered and outgunned, "Rocky" emerged the clear winner: "When this man arrived, however, Marciano shoved him, and also threatened, cursed and spit at him, the source said. At that point, both sides called the police" - to stop the fight, no doubt. It was the bar fight equivalent to throwing in the towel.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Chaos and It's Discontents

For the past few months, I've been learning Hebrew in a small group setting. The class usually starts with one of the students speaking about something interesting that happened the previous week. Yesterday - the last day of the class - only two of us showed up, so it was mostly a dialogue between us, with the teacher correcting us every now and then.

The topic of the conversation was an Israeli-Palestinian encounter shabbaton the other guy recently attended. It was held in Beit Jala, which I guess is a place both sides could reach relatively easily. Apparently, there were participants from all over, including Gaza, Ramallah, and Sderot. The guy is genuinely pro-Israel but also extremely tolerant, with a strong interest in inter-faith and inter-cultural activities. I'm always interested in hearing his impression of these types of events.

The encounter went well, he said. All of the participants managed to express their feelings about what was happening without stirring any conflict. However, he said he was often frustrated during these events because too little is done to challenge the prevailing mindset on both sides - the Palestinians all think Israel is responsible for everything bad in the world (or at least in their world) and too many of the Israelis go along with this passively, and even apologetically, as if Israel alone is responsible for all the check-points and the border closures.

As I listened to his story, I experienced a strange feeling. On the one hand, I wished I were there at the Shabbaton in order to challenge people when they said things I would find simply wrong. For example, one of the participants promoted the idea that Israel should remove the checkpoints because there aren't any more terrorist attacks. I read about attempted suicide bombings every week, and I'm sure the checkpoints make it harder, so I think it's cheap talk for Palestinians to demand we take greater risks for their benefit. The Palestinians may be right to complain about checkpoints, but the complaint should be directed the other way, at the Palestinians responsible for making us feel that we need more security.

But on the other hand, as the conversation continued, I realized the problem was much, much deeper than I was making it out to be. During the Shabbaton, someone raised the point that there was no viable Palestinian peace movement. One of the Palestinians said there was no movement because the pro-peace viewpoint was strongly suppressed and those who attempt to hold peace rallies were threatened and intimidated, and sometimes even beaten.

After hearing all of this, I started to reframe the problem in my head. Maybe much of the problem stems from the fact that there is no protected freedom of expression in the Palestinian territories. Or that there is no real rule of law. If people cannot rally for peace, what chance is there that the idea will gain any traction?

I don't have any solutions. But I've known for quite some time that the conflict won't end until there is a genuine change on the Palestinian side. Israel can do everything on earth for peace, and it won't be enough without substantial change in the Palestinians. That change won't come easily. But part of the answer, I think, has to address the difficulties encountered by those who want to make it.