Make no mistake: were Shamir's articles read only for the qualities that
they share with other fine political comment, they would be invaluable.
Shamir's capacities for rigorous analysis, for dredging up neglected,
uncomfortable facts, for getting to the scene of the action and observing it
with clear eyes, take a back seat to none. Some have discovered this to
their cost: he is a formidable polemicist as well.
Yet these are not the qualities that make Shamir's thinking and writing
uniquely precious. It is rather his almost personal relationship to
literature, history, and geography that makes one feel, reading his essays,
a sense of revelation.
This manifests itself in several ways. First, people are never cardboard
cutouts for Shamir: Palestinian, Norwegian, Malaysian, he takes them
seriously. They are not idiots; they are not pathetic victims; they are
not specimens. Their opinions, and their ways of looking at the world,
matter to him. Shamir seems incapable of condescension.
Second, Shamir sees beauty in the land of Palestine; he loves it deeply. No
one evokes its landscape and history as he does. Through his eyes the
stubborn, bitter, resistance of the Palestinians is more than understood; it
Third, Shamir is open but not exhibitionist. He will speak of his feelings
and his personal experiences, but he does not ask for our attention, our
admiration, or our sympathy. He is courteous; he does not impose on his
readers, but he gives us the tools to understand what he feels as he
experiences the history through which he lives.
Fourth, his mind discovers illumination throughout our historical and
cultural evolution. Like the people he meets on his journeys, the writers
and thinkers of the past are very real to him, so that he can see the world
through their eyes: Only Shamir, for example, could speak of "a
Palestinian Rob Roy". (And how typically modest, for Shamir to make so
little of his own courage while praising a Palestinian sniper.) For his
readers, there is some comfort in this. This world has not, after all,
outgrown its artistic heritage. Through Shamir, it speaks to us, not from
on high, but from across the table.
Finally, Shamir does not rest with self-satisfied moral condemnation. He is
as keen to understand the criminal as the crime: "Sharon and his people are
held together by a perverse form of love to the land. It is perverse because
they imagine it is possible to love Palestine without Palestinians. But
Palestine is not a dead object, it is a live country and Palestinians are
her soul." In this and many other passages, we sense almost an informed
pity for those whose narrowmindedness complements their cruelty, and this
helps prevent us sinking to their level.
Some of Shamir's work is speculative in the very best and most honorable
sense of the word. Shamir does not engage in wishful thinking, not does he
speculate where hard work would make more progress. On the contrary, he
insists on recognizing that hard work can take us only so far, and that we
need to go further, to explore possibilities without which we can have no
direction, nor any hope to sustain us. We have to imagine, not only a
future, but a present we cannot see. For him religion is not a crutch, but
the home of a steady compassion and integrity which humans can emulate, but
to which they can scarcely aspire. Literature, history and even economics
display, each in their own way, the human soul, and therefore a key to
understanding human beings in their most prosaic and pedestrian adventures.
And Shamir's approach works: you may sometimes come away from his writings
unconvinced, but rarely uninspired. Shamir writes, not to glorify himself,
but to support us in our best impulses, and even when we disagree, we are
pushed to new and better ideas than we had before.
I do not know Shamir personally, but I suspect he likes to break taboos. He
insists on going after truth wherever he can find it, whether it is in the
most respectable journalistic sources or the Protocols of the Elders of
Zion. Many are understandably appalled as this practice; they see Shamir as
a renegade, taking his place among the 'holocaust revisionists' and the
traditional anti-semites. What they do not see is that, while traditional
anti-semites use stories such as the Protocols to condemn an entire people,
Shamir uses them to condemn a Jewish Р№lite, in whom he sees a moneyed clique
as dangerous to other Jews as to gentiles. More important, they do not
see, or forget, how joyously, even lovingly Shamir takes pride in the
courageous Jews who resist Israeli crimes. Even among his opponents, Shamir
sees humanity as well as guilt, in Jew and gentile alike. His real enemy
is no race or creed, but mean-spiritedness. Thus Shamir has said that,
while Barak is "arrogant and unpleasant man", Sharon is a soldier, far more
likely to sit down and share a plate of hummus with his Palestinian foes.
Of Shamir it can be truly said, as it is falsely said of so many, that he
hates the crime, not the criminal. It is in this ability to prize humanity,
though all the twists and turns of bitter experience and sharp dispute, that
Shamir teaches by example his most valuable lesson.
Prof Michael Neumann,