“I Got Vision and the Rest of the World Wears Bifocals”

by James M. Wall

Butch Cassidy is talking to the Sundance Kid:  “Boy, I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.”

The line comes in one of many memorable moments in the 1967 film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, starring Paul Newman (at left) as Butch, and Robert Redford as the Kid.

We lovers of classic films like to believe we remember most of the good lines from movies we admire, but it was not until a recent episode of NCIS* that this line returned to my consciousness.

In a flashback NCIS episode “Baltimore”, of the 2010-2011 season, Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) has just enlisted a new agent for his NCIS team. 

The new guy is Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly), who recognizes the line Jethro tosses him as he walks down the hall, shouting over his shoulder,  “Boy, I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.”  Tony shouts back, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!” Tony knows his movies.

Tony proves to be a worthy addition to Jethro’s team, indicating that Gibbs is a man with a vision. Jethro is shown here, not with Tony, but with another member of the team, Ziva (Cote De Pablo).

We desperately need a few good men and women with vision in Washington this week when President Obama, AIPAC and both houses of the US Congress, prepare to receive a foreign visitor to American soil.

The visitor is Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, who has demonstrated again and again, that he lacks vision. Israeli leaders have governed their state since 1948 on the short term vision of paranoia, military power and fear, not a good recipe for a newcomer to bring to a neighborhood.

Focusing only on the immediate moment, Bibi was unprepared for what would happen once the Arab Spring reached Egypt. Israel’s old best buddy, Hosni Muburak, was gone from power. The new Egyptian military rulers put together an Hamas-Fatah unity meeting last week which forced Bibi to look up and discover that he no longer feels the love from his southern border.

Gone is the love he felt when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was a reliable one half of the oppression of Gaza.

Bibi never did feel the love from his northern border. All he, and his predessors, knew from that direction was a military standoff with Syria and ongoing military clashes with Lebanon.

A leader with vision would have known what was coming on the first Nakba Day after the the Arab uprising began. On Sunday, May 15, reality crashed into Israel’s northern borders.

Palestinian refugees descended on Israel”s borders with Syria and Lebanon. The Arab Spring had spread from North Africa into Syria, Lebanon, and briefly, into Israel. No doubt, it will be back in a yet uncertain form. 

Israel reacted to the incursion in the only way it knows how to react, with force, killing at least 15 Arab “protestors” who climbed border fences and threw stones at the Israeli soldiers. Tear gas or air attacks are usually the weapons of choice used by the IDF against civilians. Not this time. 

Reporting on these incursions, the US media, which covers the region from an Israeli perspective, demonstrated its own short-term vision by also not anticipating how Arabs along Israel’s northern border would respond to Nakba Day, 2011.

The US media might better have served its readers, viewers and hearers, and reported on what a long term vision would have told them: The days are over, thanks to the Arab uprising, when the US government could maintain the fiction that the US is an honest broker in the region.

That term lost its meaning in Bill Clinton’s first term in office.  The Arab Spring is an event which erupted from the people, armed only with cell phones linked to Facebook. These are largely young people who no longer expect any help from the democracies of the world.

This is how the Huffington Post reported the story from Majdal Shams, in the Golan Heights:

Mobilized by calls on Facebook, thousands of Arab protesters marched on Israel’s borders with Syria, Lebanon and Gaza on Sunday in an unprecedented wave of demonstrations, sparking clashes that left at least 15 people dead in an annual Palestinian mourning ritual marking the anniversary of Israel’s birth.

In a surprising turn of events, hundreds of Palestinians and supporters poured across the Syrian frontier and staged riots, drawing Israeli accusations that Damascus, and its ally Iran, orchestrated the unrest to shift attention from an uprising back home. It was a rare incursion from the usually tightly controlled Syrian side and could upset the delicate balance between the two longtime foes.

Huffington Post is displaying its own Israeli bias when it refers to Nakba Day as “an annual Palestinian mourning ritual marking the anniversary of Israel’s birth.”

That same bias is also evident later in the report:

Palestinians were marking the “nakba,” or “catastrophe” – the term they use to describe their defeat and displacement in the war that followed Israel’s founding on May 15, 1948. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were uprooted. Today, the surviving refugees and their descendants number several million people.

Nakba is not a day of “mourning”; it is a day when not only Palestinians, but supporters of Palestine, both Arab and non-Arab, remember the “catastrophe” when, to be more precise, not “hundreds of thousands”, but more than 750 thousand Palestinians were driven out of their villages and cities.

And they were not “uprooted”. Thousands were killed; the rest were driven away from land Israel had identified for its future state.

It was this new state which obliterated more than 475 villages from which the Palestinians were forced to leave. Nakba is not a “mourning ritual” for these events; it remembers them with an intensity that anyone with a long term vision should have anticipated.

Contrary to the Huffington Post version, the surviving refugees and their descendants number not “several million people”, but 4.7 million people, and growing, some of whom were killed on Nakba Day, 2011, by soldiers of the Israeli Defense Force.

JTC, “the global news service of the Jewish people”, described the Nakba Day events as a “breach” of Israel’s northern border”.

Uriel Heilman writing from Tel Aviv, touches on the familiar theme of hyperbolic paranoia in describing that breach.

If a single phrase could capture the sentiment that motivated thousands of Arabs to try to cross Israel’s borders on Sunday to “retake Palestine” from the Jews, it would be this: Yes, we can.

That can-do attitude had toppled regimes in Egypt and Tunisia, and threatened dictators from Tripoli to Damascus. So why not apply it toward Israel? If Arab leaders weren’t willing to send their armies to storm the Zionist state, the Arab protesters figured, well then, they’d just do it themselves.

Heilman stretches matters a bit when she sees the border protests as the start of a campaign to “storm the Zionist state”. More likely, and seen from a less paranoid vision, the Nakba protests have more to do with demanding justice and freedom than with conquest.

Prime Minister Netanyahu put the paranoid icing on the cake with this warning from the world’s fourth (at least) most powerful military force:

Let nobody be mistaken, we are determined to defend our borders and sovereignty.

JTA does not bother to ask, “which borders and which sovereignty”?  The news service for the Jewish people is content to describe the border crossings as just possibly the start of a third Palestinian intifada, “at least on Facebook”.

Uriel Heilman writes further that “For Israel, the breach of the Syria-Israel border came as something of a surprise. It marked the first major violence along the border since the May 1974 disengagement agreement that followed the 1973 Yom Kippur War.”

And there you have it. Both a government, and a news service locked into a short term vision, were surprised when Israel felt the latest wave of the Arab spring. To paraphrase Ray Bradbury, “If they didn’t see the steeple on the court house, what else has Israel missed?”

Which raises yet another question: Whatever possessed President Barack Obama to agree to “keynote” this years’s AIPAC conference?

JTA, again, has the story:

President Obama’s decision to keynote the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference, rumored for days, was confirmed Monday by Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, to reporters traveling with the president aboard Air Force One. AIPAC confirmed the news.

The Associated Press quoted Carney as saying that Obama will not outline policy in his speech but instead will focus on the “deep bond” with Israel.

The AIPAC Conference runs from Sunday, May 22 through May 24.  On Thursday, May 19, Obama will deliver a “policy speech on Arab democracy”.  The next day, Friday, May 20, Obama will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

A policy speech on “Arab democracy” delivered just before the President pays homage to AIPAC and sits down for a chat with Bibi?  Is there no one in the White House who might have suggested to the President that the Arab Spring is all about democracy, and Israel will have nothing to do with a genuine Palestinian or Arab democracy?

This is a president we thought would bring a vision to the White House.  Now it turns out he is wearing bifocals that see no further than the Zionist script handed him by his AIPAC hosts.

Or perhaps not, cries the eternal optimist in each of us.  The next ten days are crucial to Arab democracy. Washington will be Zionist Central for this period. Does President Obama believe he can “send a message” to the Arab people by discussing their future in such a Zionist setting?

We can only wait and see what our leader has to say. Wait, see, and, of course, pray.

* NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which conducts criminal investigations involving the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

The picture at top of Gibbs and Ziva are from CBS television. The photo above of the demonstrators on Israel’s Northern border is by Hamad Almakt from Flash 90.

About wallwritings

James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Jim launched this new personal blog April 24, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
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