THE BLOG

From Port-au-Prince to Silwan

05/25/2011 11:45 am ET

I always enjoy convergence. When two parts of the world, culturally utterly removed from each other, engage in similar behaviors, it can be illuminating. Here’s my favorite new example.

In Haiti on Saturday, Haitian police forces raided a slum I know very well, and killed as many as 30 people, firing indiscriminately, which I must say is what the Haitian police have always done in crowds, in neighborhoods, in demonstrations. The police also burned down at least 12 houses there, also not such a new method in Haiti when the Tontons Macoute, the Duvalier dictatorship's death squads, held sway, but less common in the hands of the police. Unfortunately there’s a competition on now for who is to replace the Tontons Macoute: the Haitian police or the gangs in the slums. The police have a leg up, as they are working for the government, as did the Tontons Macoute back in the day. However, the gangs also are able to compete, because they have money and are better shots.

The rationale for the government-approved rampage through the slum in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, is that forces partial to ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide are holed up in this slum (which, to amuse those of you reading in L.A., I will mention is called Bel-Air), that these Aristide supporters are responsible for a recent spate of kidnapping in Port-au-Prince, and that they have taken their hostages into Bel-Air while demanding ransom.

During the police raid, Bel-Air residents who fled the police gunfire reportedly ran straight into U.N. peacekeeper roadblocks, where they were arrested.

Meanwhile…. 5,000 miles away, the Israeli government is planning to demolish 88 houses in Silwan, a Palestinian town on the outskirts of Jerusalem, in order -- improbably -- to erect an archaelogical park dedicated to Biblical Jewish history, according to Laura King in the L.A. Times today. When I was nursing my baby in Jerusalem in the early morning hours, I used to listen for the muezzin sounding from Silwan, that’s how close it is to Jerusalem, and therefore how important it is to the Sharon government in its continuing campaign to broaden Jerusalem while keeping the city’s Palestinian population as low as possible.

The Israelis definitely have a nicer touch in executing their political operations than do the Haitians; they sent out little notices to the people whose houses are scheduled for destruction, and gave them time to prepare (and to protest). The Haitian police are using more heavy-handed, presto-destructo methods, like the Vogon Earth-destroyers in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Boom, your house is burned. In any case the security park is a pretext; the Israelis have been demolishing homes in Silwan for almost a decade now, and allowing an American Jewish developer to build "Jewish" housing there in an effort eventually to claim the Silwan hill for the Israelis.

The nice Israeli notices were in Hebrew, by the way, while the language of the demolishees is, of course, Arabic.

The Silwan incursion is all part of the Sharon plan to give up Gaza while enlarging Jerusalem, using the wall (known as the security barrier in pro-Israeli newspeak) and now this “park” (the “security park,” perhaps?) to restate and to further Israel’s ostensible claims to certain areas, thereby cutting deeper into what was once to become the Palestinian state. It must be remarked also that the Israelis do not in general practice delicacy, and on Friday shot into a Palestinian demonstration against the wall, wounding fifteen people, including Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, brother of imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti.

Most interesting in Haiti is watching the paralysis of the UN peacekeeping forces (more than 7,000 strong), which seem to be promoting -- usually by their inaction but sometimes by their actions -- the agenda of the “interim” “government” in its crusade to put down supporters of the ousted president, whose rule, at least from a strictly political point of view, was a lot more legitimate than the current government’s. No question, this is a very rough patch for Haiti. More than 750 people have been killed in political and criminal fighting and assassinations since Aristide’s removal.

In both the case of the Haitian police rampage and the scheduled Israeli demolitions, a good friend of the perpetrators of violence is the Bush administration.

By the way, just an aside: if the Supreme Court can find reasons to disallow the use of marijuana for medical purposes, ought not all opium derivatives, such as morphine, also be forbidden for medical use?