Al-Ahram Weekly Online   15 - 21 January 2009
Issue No. 930
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

'Modest Proposal...'

In 1729 the satirist Jonathan Swift presented his Modest Proposal for solving the problem of starvation in Ireland under British rule. In order to prevent the children of poor people from being a burden to their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the public, he suggested selling them. What might a contemporary Israeli modest proposal look like, asks Amira Nowaira*, in a tribute to Swift

Detail from Picasso's Guernica, 1937, Museo de Prado, Madrid

As a lover of humanity, and a keen observer of recent events, I've come up with a proposal that will no doubt offer a humane solution to the problems challenging our leaders during these difficult times. These problems have also caused me many a sleepless night, as I try to think of a fair way of dealing with these problems without injuring either party. I have arrived at the conclusion that with understanding and justice we can find a way that will be acceptable to all those concerned.

Over the past 40 years I've had many opportunities to observe our neighbours the Palestinians and to study their behaviour. I hope no one will accuse me of bias, because I've tried as best I can to keep my objectivity. Such opportunities for observation have led me to conclude that the Palestinians are human specimens that can be rather hard to understand --being given, as they are, to an inexplicable wish to kill themselves, sometimes by strapping bombs around their waists and blowing themselves up and injuring others.

We Israelis have naturally been concerned by this phenomenon and have tried to reason with them. We told them this was a waste of human life, but they, being what they are, would not listen. It is also reported in the history books that in 1948 the Palestinians spontaneously decided to leave their lands and homes, finding it more agreeable to live in congested camps outside habitable areas and amid poverty and disease. In our civilised country, where we have plenty of showers, soap, and spaces in which to think, it is difficult to imagine why people would decide to live in such conditions. However, their perverse temperament is such that they would apparently prefer to live in poverty. There is always the suspicion, of course, that their faculties are not developed enough to understand such distinctions.

Having observed all this, and at the same time being keen on preserving this species for humanity -- it does, after all, represent a unique phenomenon that, if allowed to die out, would be a great loss to science -- I humbly present the proposal that follows. Acting out of the goodness of my heart, and as the heir to a great legacy of humanist thought, I hope that no one will find it in his or her heart to reject it.

Over the past several weeks I have been observing the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and have noted that, because of their mischievous suicidal tendencies, along with the bombing campaigns we have resorted to out of pure self- defense, the number of Palestinians has begun drastically to dwindle. Some United Nations officials have even said that the situation is so serious that, if the bombing goes on, the species may become extinct. Naturally, we cannot allow this to happen: after all, we have been able to save the whales and other endangered species from extinction. What a shame it would be if we were to fail with the Palestinians!

My proposal, then, is twofold. First, for those Palestinians who have survived their own self- inflicted violence, we create a large reservation and keep them inside it for their own safety. Of course, we will also place soldiers armed with machine guns around this reservation, in order to save the Palestinians from themselves. We will threaten to shoot them if their suicidal tendencies reappear. The Palestinians can be clothed and fed; people can even come to look at them, if they sit in the safety of their jeeps.

The second part of my proposal concerns building a large museum to house all the severed limbs, the charred bodies, the bones and skulls, and the remains of children and elderly men and women that are collected from Gaza, Jenin, and other such places. Some of the remains may be in danger of disappearing, and some may even have already disappeared, but we must insist on preserving the rest. This will serve as testimony to our humanity and to our belief in truth, justice and democracy. We can't have history saying of us that we were lax in the performance of our duties! I will even go further and suggest that we extend the same treatment to our other Arab neighbours. This naturally cannot be done without the full cooperation of the United Nations and the blessings of our friend and ally the United States.

Moreover, in view of the unfortunate events taking place in our neighbour Iraq, I would like to urge our friend the US to adopt a similar strategy in that country. The US, having embarked on a self- denying mission of liberating the Iraqi people from a regime that had long oppressed them -- in a war waged in self-defense and to preempt the threat of Iraqi children growing up to become terrorists -- is now in danger of misplacing the vast heaps of corpses and maimed bodies that have grown up as a result of the war.

The consequences of this cannot be ignored. If all those who have died in the war disappear, how will the world learn its lessons? How will "rogue states" like Syria and Iran, among others, understand the point? Building a memorial to the dead in the form of a huge museum would caution such states against actions that may prove catastrophic for themselves and their people.

The squeamish may argue, unjustifiably, that such a museum should be avoided on grounds of taste. Many media networks have adopted a similar argument in not relaying pictures of the ruined houses and dead bodies resulting from our current bombing campaigns in Palestine. However, we could present the following argument in favour: while we are as much in favour of good taste as the next man, the benefits of our proposal far outweigh any drawbacks, since a museum would stand as testimony to our resolve to fight terrorists wherever they are and in whatever disguise they adopt. Terrorists could be disguised as women, for example, or as old men, or children.

It is with reference to the value of human life, to the inalienable right of human beings to pursue their own happiness, and in order to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, that I humbly present my "modest proposal." I feel certain that it will not fall on deaf ears. Such a museum of the dead, the result of our wars conducted in self-defense, would surely be a beacon of light in the deserts of the Middle East.

* The author is Professor of English literature at Alexandria University.

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