Who’s afraid of Klinghoffer?




The Death of Klinghoffer, John Adams’s 1991 opera about the hijacking of the Achille Lauro by the Palestine Liberation Front in 1985, has achieved a rare distinction in contemporary classical music: it’s considered so dangerous by its critics that they’d like to have it banned. For its opponents – the Klinghoffer family, Daniel Pearl’s father, conservative Jewish organisations, and now the former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and former New York governor George Pataki, who took part in a noisy demonstration outside the Met last night  Klinghoffer is no less a sacrilege than The Satanic Verses was to Khomeini and his followers. They haven’t issued a fatwa, but they have done their best to sabotage the production ever since the Met announced it.

Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, capitulated in the summer to pressure from the Anti-Defamation League (and, according to the New York Times, from ‘three or four’ major Jewish donors), cancelling a live broadcast to cinemas around the world. The rationale for the decision, made against the backdrop of the Gaza offensive, was that the opera might be exploited by anti-semites. How, they didn’t say. For some reason the opera’s enemies don’t seem concerned that its unflinching portrayal of the murder of an elderly Jew in a wheelchair might be ‘used’ to foment anti-Muslim sentiment.

The notion that Adams and his librettist, Alice Goodman, are justifying terrorism is absurd. The hijacking is depicted in all its horror, chaos and fear. The scene that raised accusations of anti-semitism, a dinner table conversation among ‘the Rumors’, an American-Jewish family, was excised from the libretto long ago. The Klinghoffers come off as typical American tourists, and are drawn with wry affection. In a particularly tense scene, Leon Klinghoffer baits his attackers, reciting a litany of attacks by Palestinian commandos. His version of Middle Eastern history could have been lifted from Leon Uris’s Exodus, but in the circumstances it’s a nervy speech: from his wheelchair, he isn’t afraid to confront the men who end up killing him.

Another complaint against Klinghoffer – one that Giuliani, the self-styled saviour of New York after 9/11, has predictably raised – is that it ‘humanises’ the hijackers. But the hijackers were human, and one of the opera’s chief strengths is its refusal to portray them as a collection of monsters. They are certainly not ‘glorified’ – another charge that’s been levelled at the opera. One is a brute who relishes the job, gleefully humiliating the passengers. But another takes pains to tell the ship’s captain about his family’s expulsion from Palestine. And then there is Omar, the reluctant hijacker who – as a British dancer on board describes in a hilarious aria – socialises with the passengers and always ‘kept us in ciggies’. Omar is given the task of killing Klinghoffer: part of the drama of the opera turns on his silent, anguished attempt to steel himself for this act. He dances, he writhes, he imagines himself lying in his mother’s arms, a Palestinian pietà, before finally pulling the trigger. In the words of the journalist Elizabeth Rubin, with whom I saw the dress rehearsal, he’s the Michael Corleone of the opera, who to prove himself in the eyes of tougher men has to transform himself into a ‘soldier’.

Still, you could make the case that if The Death of Klinghoffer caricatures anyone, it’s Palestinians, not Jews. The ‘Chorus of Exiled Palestinians’ that opens the opera features a group in Afghan-style clothes, evoking the vanished paradise of pre-1948 Palestine and the Nakba that robbed them of their land and future. Dressed in black and virtually indistinguishable, they’re designated mourners of Palestine, an undifferentiated mass united in suffering and thirsty for revenge. The women are all covered in full abayas, which is unusual among Palestinian women today, and was even more unusual in 1985. The men wear Afghan-style beards that, outside the Gaza Strip, are rare in Palestine. They wave the green flag of Islam, not the Palestinian red green, white and black flag that even Hamas prefers. The effect of the set design is to frame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an episode in a larger clash of civilisations between Islam and the West. The libretto, too, accentuates the ‘civilisational’ dimensions of the conflict. With their incantatory talk about Islam and their love of martyrdom, the hijackers sound more like members of Hamas (which emerged only in 1988) than of Abu Abbas’s secular nationalist PLF.

The ‘Chorus of Exiled Jews’ which follows is a much sweeter, more intimate piece of music. Their suffering has not been poisoned by anger, but is suffused with sorrow and the hope of renewal. The Jews wear different kinds of clothing; one lyric refers to Hassidim protesting against a cinema opening in Israel, a reminder that Jews aren’t a monolith. Perhaps Goodman’s implication is that after 1948 – when, for those who follow the Zionist narrative, their ‘exile’ ended – Jews could be individuals rather than history’s victims; Palestinians, still under occupation or in exile, have no such luxury. Still, the collective depiction of Palestinians in the opera looks like a failure of imagination.

In 2001, Richard Taruskin accused The Death of Klinghoffer of ‘romantically idealising criminals’: the Palestinian hijackers, he said, are moved by higher ideals than their victims, ideas of collective struggle and sacrifice. It’s a fair description of the libretto, but it also misses the point: it’s precisely those noble ideals that lead the hijackers to murder an unarmed civilian. I suspect that what disturbs the opera’s critics is that Palestinian suffering is expressed with such eloquence and compassion, not only in the libretto but in the score. Taruskin and others have complained that some of the most stirring music occurs in the ‘Chorus of Exiled Palestinians’. It’s a telling criticism, an example of what Talking Heads called the ‘fear of music’: the anxiety that musical beauty might act on its listeners in transgressive ways, and lead to forbidden forms of pleasure or sympathy. What appears to trouble Klinghoffer’s enemies most is that, through the force of his music, Adams has put Western listeners in the shoes of Israel’s victims.

Yet there’s also something unsettling about the chorus, something that causes us to stop short of identification. (The character it’s easiest to identify with is the reasonable and ineffectual ship’s captain, who is neither Jewish nor Palestinian.) The beauty of the Palestinian chorus is stark, brooding and threatening; in Klinghoffer, Palestinians appear condemned to inhabit a realm of perpetual struggle, where life is a battlefield and mundane pleasures are but a memory. And because life is a battlefield, the hijackers see themselves as ‘soldiers’, not terrorists, when they storm the ship – and when they execute Klinghoffer. The comparative superficiality of the passengers on the Achille Lauro – which, in the case of the Klinghoffers, has been misconstrued as anti-semitic caricature – is a mark of their innocence, their freedom and their privilege. Oblivious to the history that connects them to their tormentors, they naturally see the attack by these ‘meshugganah’ (as Marilyn Klinghoffer calls them) as an inexplicable accident: their reaction makes them more recognisable, and more believable. The contrast is perhaps too neatly drawn, but it captures a clash in perception that is arguably a strong feature of the encounter between kidnapper and captive.

Those who are afraid of The Death of Klinghoffer because Palestinians have been awarded some of its most beautiful music haven’t listened very carefully – or haven’t stayed in their seats until the end. The heartbreaking aria that closes the opera belongs to Marilyn Klinghoffer, mourning her husband with controlled anguish. The loss that The Death of Klinghofferinvites us to experience most acutely is personal, not political.



see also : The Met’s “Klinghoffer” Problem


Yehuda Shaul Breaking the Silence

Noam Chomsky and Glenn Greenwald (2014) “No Place to Hide”

Death at sea: Syrian migrants film their perilous voyage to Europe – video

This is the story of five friends – Moaaz, Majd, Rasha, Kinan and Khalid – who fled war-torn Syria to embark on a perilous trip to reach Europe. So far this year an estimated 3,000 migrants have died attempting this same journey. On 16 August 2014 they set off from Syria to Lebanon, where they caught a flight to Algeria, to begin their journey 

 All mobile phone footage in this film was filmed by Majd 
 ‘I feel for those who were with me. They got asylum in the sea’


see the video here

Professor Chomsky’s Solidarity With Palestine at UN

ALSO WATCH https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJh5m…

If this version is hacked try this ; much better because you see the speakers close up : http://entermint.com/watch/1eGlgOnHOJE

SHORT FILM “JAFAR” (by Nancy Spetsioti)






PRODUCTION: http://www.iconastudioathens.gr

Why did Israel target and kill Hebrew speakers in Gaza?

With the eyes of the world’s media well and truly off of Gaza and onto the hideous situations in Iraq and Syria, the Palestinian people are once again neglected; their dead go unnoticed.But the consequences of Israel’s latest and deadliest war against the civilian population of Gaza this past summer go on. For seven weeks, Israel bombarded the coastal strip, targeting whole neighbourhoods, wiping out entire families and systematically dismantling civilian infrastructure. The Palestinian resistance factions, who were, on paper, seriously outgunned, stood their ground and fought, killing 64 Israeli soldiers.

Israel acted its customary fashion: massive, brutal and deliberate targeting of the people of Gaza themselves. In the Israeli military and in the increasingly right-wing crucible that is Israeli society, Palestinian civilians are regarded as non-existent. Therefore, it is considered permissible by most Israelis to kill and devastate the population as a whole during Israel’s wars. Punish the mothers, as one popular racist Israeli lawmaker put it this summer, since they will only give birth to “little snakes” – her vile way to describe Palestinian babies.

By the end of it in August, 2,139 Palestinians were left dead by Israel’s war machine.

According to UN figures, some 75-80 percent of these dead were civilians. With each new war, the proportion of Palestinian civilians to fighters dead seems to rise. Israeli attacks get more and more ruthless. We can no longer speak of “indiscriminate” Israeli attacks against Palestinians civilians, since, with such sophisticated weapons, and with such a consistently high number of Palestinians dead, this must be deliberate.

To go alongside the dead and wounded, there was decimation of Palestinian homes and businesses. The people of Gaza are only now beginning to be able to deal with and recover from this severe collective trauma. They may have dropped out of the headlines, but their suffering goes on.

Out of this devastation, testimonies are beginning to emerge, the likes of which have not been heard before.

Max Blumenthal, a colleague and friend of mine recently headed to Gaza in the wake of Israel’s summer war. Avoiding the clichés and sometimes fly-by-night nature of war reporting, Blumenthal spoke to people about the horrors they had seen and the sheer devastation they had been through.

At a talk of his in London last week that I attended, and at his testimony to the Russell Tribunal on Palestine recently, Blumenthal recounted some of the stories Palestinian eyewitnesses had told him. You can watch a video of his talk at the Russell Tribunal here, or read the transcript of his prepared remarks here.

According to several different eyewitnesses he spoke to, offering corroborating accounts of different incidents, it seems that Israeli soldiers were executing a new practice during this latest Gaza war. As Max puts it: “wanton targeting of Palestinian civilians who spoke Hebrew”.

One example: “In Khuza’a just east of Khan Younis, multiple witnesses described soldiers gathering locals in the centre of town as they occupied the area on July 23, then asking if anyone spoke Hebrew. When a 54-year-old man stepped forward to answer in the affirmative, they shot him in the heart.”

While Arabic is Palestinians’ first language, many Palestinians speak at least some Hebrew, especially those who regularly come into contact with Israelis. In Gaza, sealed off from the world for so long, there are far less Hebrew speakers than in the West Bank, and certainly far less than in Jerusalem. But some of the older generation, who still had permits to travel into Israel for work, do speak the language. And many Palestinian prisoners learn the language while in jail.

This targeting is a new phenomenon, to my knowledge. I have never heard of it happening in any sort of systematic way before. Dena Shunra, an Israel expert I asked about this concurred on that.

Why would Israeli soldiers do this? Surely they would find Hebrew-to-Arabic translation useful in issuing orders to Palestinians in their custody.

These are preliminary reports coming out of Gaza that warrant further examination and analysis. But we can start to surmise some possible explanations.

It could have been a wanton act of control, something to keep people in line and afraid. If there were no way for Palestinians to know what the soldiers were planning, they would have been able to keep them guessing for longer.

The idea that occurred to me, however, is one with longer-reaching implications. Over the last few years, with more and more boycott initiatives targeting the state of Israel, and more and more legal cases for war crimes and other acts of oppression against the Palestinians being carried forward in international venues, Israel has become more conscious of its international image.

Such cases almost always draw on Palestinian eyewitness testimonies. That is why the Russell Tribunal, for example, invited Palestinians to testify at its various hearings. Israel has been known to block Palestinian activists from travelling abroad for just such activism, or for punishing them afterwards.

Could it be that Israel was killing Hebrew speakers in Gaza to stop more detailed understanding of Israeli soldiers’ war crimes in the Strip?

For now, we simply don’t know, but with the emergence of further testimonies over time, the picture may become clearer.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.



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