Two weeks ago I saw the thrilling production of Julius Caesar at St Anne’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. The actors are all women; and the image of the show the company highlights at its website is of Harriet Walter as Brutus, wearing red gloves. Brutus and the other senator/assassins put on those gloves to show that they’ve washed their hands in Caesar’s blood.
It’s an arresting image; and the New York Times’s Sara Krulwich made a photo of the actresses wearing those gloves, which ran with the Times review.
The scene reminded me of an exchange I had with Scott Roth in Ramallah earlier this year. We were talking about the famous incident during the second intifada when a Palestinian mob carried away two Israeli soldiers who were being held by authorities and murdered them, and some stained their hands in the soldiers’ blood. The incident is generally called a “lynching” in the Israeli press, and it figures in two books by Israelis arguing that Palestinians are not partners for peace.
‘”For the Israeli public, that was the moment when the peace process with Arafat died. A lynching inside a police station became the symbol, for Israelis, of Arafat’s real intentions,” Yossi Klein Halevi writes in his new book Like Dreamers.
While Yaacov Lozowick writes in Right to Exist:
[T]wo reservists who mistakenly entered Ramallah, where Arafat has his headquarters, were lynched by a mob in the center of town. The purportedly wild and uncontrollable mob had the presence of mind to confiscate the film from all of the cameramen present, except for an Italian who smuggled out video images of the killers exultantly bathing their hands in Jewish blood. It was a deeply shocking illustration of the savage hatred of the enemy we had thought we were making peace with: say what you like about Israeli policies, we could not think of a single case where Jews washed their hands in the blood of their enemies.”
In Ramallah, Roth made the point that while horrific, the “lynching” was not actually extraordinary: it is not all that unusual for political militants to defile the bodies of their enemies. The history of Algerian independence, for instance, is littered with grotesque mutilations of bodies. I just read Ted Morgan’s book. The French tortured Algerians with electricity applied to their genitals and threw people out of airplanes. The revolutionaries cut off the sexual parts of political victims and stuffed them in their mouths.
Supporters of Israel have sought to argue that Palestinian resistance is in a different category from other forms of resistance. And that Israelis are specially moral. As Lozowick writes:
“[The] need to account for their actions in a way that shows a decent respect for the opinions of mankind is one of the things that distinguishes the Jews from their enemies, who observe no morality at all in waging war and show no compunction in twisting the truth to their ends.”
In Julius Caesar, the senator-assassins justify their actions by itemizing Caesar’s abuses of power. Here’s what Shakespeare had Brutus say, to explain the bloodying:
Stoop, Romans, stoop,
And let us bathe our hands in Caesar’s blood
Up to the elbows, and besmear our swords.
Then walk we forth, even to the marketplace,
And waving our red weapons o’er our heads
Let’s all cry, “Peace, freedom, and liberty!”