Sunday, January 11, 2009
So I'm back from my almost half-year sojourn to Jerusalem. Back to the suburban silence of Hvidovre, only interrupted by the ridiculous ringing of an ice cream truck in winter. I use my fancy coffee machine and worry about the brakes in my car that need fixing. I went to hear my son's rock band play a concert and told him he shouldn't be out on school nights. I watched tv with my daughter and braided her hair. I slept in my own bed next to and with my wonderful husband.
But I'm not quite here. My mind travels back to Jerusalem and my browser to haaretz.com, al-jazeera and the NYTs online. My e-mail inbox gets filled with invitations to either denounce the evil Zionists or to show my support for Israel's right to protect itself. I haven't responded to any of them. I just can't seem to find a place that feels comfortable within all the zero-sum/us-them arguments. It pisses me off.
On one hand I receive e-mails describing the fundamentalist nature of Islam, as if such explanations could provide some kind of helpful perspective on the situation in Gaza. Or I'm confronted with comments like: "The Jews said they would never forget, and now they're doing this". And then there is : "Gaza is like a concentration camp." Or try this one on for size: "When the Arabs love their children more than they hate us, there will be peace."
Wtf? Can we really understand what is going on by asking "Are all Muslims fanatics?" or "Are Israelis using Nazi tactics? "
No. And we are doing ourselves, Israel and Palestine a great disservice by feeding this kind of discourse. Couching the situation in such terms makes it easier to assign guilt and victimhood and so we grab onto these explanations for dear life because they give us a way to understand a very complicated conflict. But it is wrong and we must not buy into it. I don't care if your Rabbi or Imam says so. You know it is wrong.
So, if what is presented in the media, on facebook and from the bimah/pulpit is wrong, what is really going on? And where the hell do I get off discounting "expert" analysis?
I'll cut to the chase: Israel and its its supporters need to accept that the Palestinian cry for autonomy is legitimate. No ifs or buts. By constantly pulling the Islamic extremism card, we push their reasonable demand for respect and freedom under the carpet and buy ourselves a clean conscience - at bargain basement sale prices. "They're extremists; you can't negotiate with them." Clean and easy.
I have met many Palestinians who accept Israel's existence - they do not want Jews to be pushed into the sea. In fact, they want to continue going to their universities and being cared for in their hospitals. They want the developments that Israel has made over the past 60 years to be a part of their lives.But when they are consistently disempowered and humiliated by Israeli policy, both public and private, "down with the Zionist evil" seems to be a reasonable reaction. It was not different in the United States during the civil rights struggles of the sixties. Should darky just shut up if he wants to be treated nicely? I wouldn't shut up and neither would you. I do not in any way condone making innocent civilians pay the highest price for our "leaders'" ineptitude - on either side. But I understand the need for agency behind resistance.
More tacheles: Palestinians need to differentiate between legitimate resistance and the blind violence perpetrated by the few, but powerful extremists that abuse the cause for their own purposes. It is a despicable and dirty game that Hamas is playing. Palestinians that I spoke to recognized that Hamas was not doing them any good in the long run. Hamas offers them desperately needed health care but they also recruit their boys for suicide bombing. Many Palestinians recognize the sickening irony of this, but they have not accepted the consequences and taken action. Hamas is unwilling or incapable of protecting its citizens. Innocent civilian casualties become the most powerful weapon that Hamas has in their fanatic struggle against Israel. And this weapon is not to be underestimated. But Hamas' struggle is not the struggle of the Palestinian people, although they will try to convince them that it is. If Palestinians want autonomy and peace they need to mobilize and offer their citizens a viable alternative to Hamas. Now.
And you ask: What about Israeli rights? Yes, they have the right to a life free from terrorism, from missiles raining down on their towns. This right needs to be taken very seriously and should be protected. However, it cannot and should not be compared to the structural violence and discrimination that Palestinians are subjected to by the Israeli occupation on a daily basis. Apples and Oranges each have their own claim to legitimacy and rightly so, but as we know, they cannot be compared because they are not in the same category. The Israeli's right to be safe in their own country is not protected by thumping Gaza. It may disarm them now, but the danger is not the stockpiles of weapons, its the stockpiles of hatred.
And another thing about rhetoric: If the suffering caused by Qasam rockets pummeling southern Israel cannot be compared to the structural violence committed against Palestinians, then it follows that Israeli defensive-offensive maneuvers (whatever you want to call them) cannot be compared to Nazi crimes or Holocaust suffering. They are different and recognizing that difference is important. The IDF and the Israeli government, no matter how critical I allow myself to be, have no intentions of exterminating the Palestinian people. End of discussion. Evoking Holocaust imagery to legitimize or condemn current violence is inappropriate and deeply provocative.
And, since we're talking tacheles, it is also an effective way of provoking a fight. A man who lost his 14 year old daughter in a suicide bombing told me once that this excruciating pain of his was like a nuclear power plant: it could destroy a city or provide it with electricity. What will it be, my friends (click on the link and you'll see which route he chose)?
The infuriating reality of this conflict is that human loss of life, on either side, is completely in vain. There is no military solution to this conflict - only a political one. Let me repeat that: Peace will not come to Israelis and Palestinians by exerting violent force. What will happen is that the Israeli army will kill hundreds of Palestinian civilians and many of those soldiers - those boys who are as old as my own son- will leave their lives in the process. For nothing. That is the only result that the war in Gaza will bring. I'm sorry, soft fuzzy fantasies of heroism are in for a rude awakening. as I write and you read, there are families in Palestine and Israel who are living through a hell that most of us cannot begin to imagine, that could have been avoided.
For the sake of clarity: Military tactics will not bring Israel and Palestine any closer to a lasting peace agreement; it brings them further away from one.
So you ask, what should Israel do? They can't just stand by while Hamas rains missiles, 8000 and counting, on Israeli citizens. No they cannot. But the answer is not to beat the crap out of Gazans. The answer is to make a reasonable deal with Palestine. The agreement has been on the table for years. It "just" needs to be signed. And yes, it will be costly. Israeli leaders need to take responsibility, be role models and do what needs to be done. The longer they mess around, build walls sectioning Palestine into tiny little disconnected enclaves and harass Palestinian civilians at check points,the more anger will grow and violence will escalate. That agreement will become less and less the well-respected document it was and more and more a cynical text not worth more than the paper it was written on.
Similarly, Palestinians need to swallow their pride and ask for international help in extracting themselves from their disastrous relationship to Hamas. They need to take responsibility for their people's well being because victimhood is not a sustainable commodity. It is not enough to point exclusively at Israel as the scapegoat. The combination of internal squabbling, corruption and the united struggle for autonomy form the base for Palestinian misery. Not just one or the other.
At the beginning of this little sermon, I asked, where the hell do I get off discounting "expert" analysis?
I refuse to define this conflict by the cheap rhetoric clogging our radios, tvs and historically accurate chit chat. And so to all of the friendly people who have invited me to join Palestinian or Israeli "support" groups or to forward e-mails spreading what I can only define as racist material, I will answer my question, in line with good jewish tradition, with a question:
Where the hell do you get off?
Please post your comments.
Sunday, January 4, 2009
I have many opinions, most of them conflicting, regarding what is happening in Gaza right now. But it is important to remember that the problems there are not limited to the present military campaign that no doubt has been broadcast into your living rooms over the past many days. It is one tragic and confounding event within a long succession of similar events, dating back to the pre-state period.
Instead of however offering my own opinions now, I've inserted some comments that others have shared with me. I have edited them slightly, by leaving small sections out that were either difficult to understand linguistically or would reveal the identity of the person quoted. We are all familiar with the rhetorical political ping-pong connected to this conflict. And so instead, I ask you to try and suspend your judgement and your historical knowledge for a few moments while you read and to try to slip into the emotional mind set of the authors of the following lines:
"A lost cause
Suddenly everything about life becomes nothing but either existence or death, and it is all death that we see popping from TV screens. People still having chances of survival, losing it with lack of any help, no medical resources or any kind of appropriate help.
Scrutinizing human lives being lost while we watch, a whole world watching, and still Palestinian factions fighting and arguing over who is what, and Israel announcing this is the beginning, and Washington asks Israel to avoid civilians and Hamas victoriously announces a death of an Israeli, and we keep roaming in this cycle of death.
Our death and their death...
Two hundred Palestinian souls for one Israeli soul, how cheap our souls are and how expensive theirs is.
And our leaders and theirs, using out lives to endorse their agendas. As if people's lives are the sacrifice to their politics. As if we do not exist. Hamas announcing that resistance is ongoing, of course the sacrifice is those people who are being collected in cars like rice sacks.
The world cannot see these people any more, our leaders do not see them. People only transform, onto numbers.
It is so heartrending to witness, human lives being hovelled, with disregard to human veracity.
Shame on us who watch. Shame on us for looking into the tragedies of life and moving as if it is nothing except another episode of that is natural in life.
Resistance is something profound, even sacrificing one's soul for a cause is even more intuitive, but our cause is a lost cause, a cause lost between Palestinian factions and Arab acquiescence, under an enormous force of domination and despotism, higher in power than ours within our meekness and fragmentation.
Today Hamas is threatening, and we know, and they know, that the only asset have is the loss of those lives. As if these people are wiling to sacrifice those poor people until the last person. as if Gazas asset is with the people Hamas is willing to sacrifice.
I wish, God is really up there just sending us any message telling us that all what we have is down here.
Hamas is using ht e same ways of Iraq, but they ignore the fact that we know, we know the Qassam, who cares if they fired 60 or 6000 missiles when the are more peaceful in their effects than their announcements.
And Fateh s calling for the release of their prisoners from the Hamas prisons,
And Egypt condemning Hamas for not listening, and the Arab foreign ministries will set their emergency meeting after six days.
And the number of people killed increase.
And we are still scrutinizing.
Israel justifying its actions, Palestinians mitigating theirs, and victims are falling down.
In a world of injustices, yes, it appears that our victims are dissimilar than theirs; apparently an Israeli soul is more, much more, 200 times more important than a Palestinian soul.
Those children running for their lives, rushing in streets from schools, with death surrounding them from everywhere.
Those wounded victims, who could have survived of they were properly moved out, those still missing under the rubble of the attacks, those packed in hospitals waiting in a station for a closer stride up to paradise.
Is it resistance, or is it a waste of lives.
perhaps this is how all occupied nations resisted, maybe this is how Omar Mukhtar led his revolution, and all resistance groups did. But at some point all was too faraway.
Too far from seeing it all to thump from our living rooms, it was all too far from our current present and becoming a just so close yesterday.
For more lives to get lost, for what,
Even the occupation is left behind in all this scene of cruelty.
And it doesn't really matter to any further extent,
Those lost lives,
For which cause have they been sacrificed?
It is all nothing but a lost cause.
I add on, to this state of loss, some words written by Edward Said maybe to add some light to this darkness:
"Consciousness of the possibility of resistance can reside only on the individual will that is fortified by intellectual rigor and an unabated conviction i the need to begin again, with no guarantees except the confidence of even the loneliest and most impotent thought that 'what has been cogently thought must be thought in some other place and by other people.' In this way thinking might perhaps acquire and express the momentum of the general, thereby blunting the anguish and despondency of the lost cause, which its enemies have tried to induce. We might well ask from this perspective if any lost cause caver really be lost.""
And here is another response to the situation in Gaza:
"I think that it has been clear that one of the guiding principles in the work I do has been my willingness to expose the complications and layers of truth which exist in every situation we encounter. For me, education, good education has always involved giving plenty of room to the other voices around me as well.
Your screens will be filled over the coming days with people attacking us in Israel for using our military might against the people of Gaza. You will see countless pictures of civilian casualties, and many will actually be civilian casualties. You will see scenes of homes destroyed and farmers fields in ruins; and over and over again the narrative you will be told will include the phrase 'disproportionate response'. Israeli casualties, and I know sadly there will be Israeli casualties, will be dismissed as soldiers who die in war, something perfectly normal in a situation of conflict, you will be told.
And you will be helped to forget that this conflict, this awful conflict which will take the lives of many who are non-combatants, is the result of a group of ruthless terrorists who are so determined to destroy is, so caught up in their fundamentalist version of the world, so sure that Allah will lead them to victory just as he lead the prophet Muhammad to victory also most 14 centuries ago, that they are prepared to sacrifice their own people in a scenario which can only lead to death and destruction for so many of the Palestinian people.
No one will make mention of the over 8000 missiles launched at the civilian population of the south of Israel. No one will make mention that even as Israel was pounding military targets fro the air, close to 300 trucks were crossing the border from Israel to bring supplies to desperate Palestinian civilians. No one will mention that Israel's blockade was put in place as an alternative to military action to try and get the message across to the Hamas as they continued firing rockets at Sderot and the kibbutzim in the area during the 'ceasefire'. No one will mention that 690 people from Kibbutz Kfar Aza fled over the last week as the could no longer deal with the rockets falling around them all the time during the 'ceasefire'.
We too deserve to live in peace without the threats of rockets aimed at us for the sole purpose of destroying us because the fundamentalist ideology of the Hamas does not allow for Jewish State. As much as we want peace, and as much as don not want my son to ever be on the field of battle, my sense of who I am and my sense of what I am entitled to after such a long and complex history will not allow me ti turn the other cheek we the first one gets slapped to hard.
If I had a magic wand, i would wave it and ensure that not one innocent Palestinian civilian gets caught up in the cross fire. unfortunately, such wands do not exist so I will trust that the IDF will do its best to avoid casualties to civilians and at the same time I will stand by the ethically sound position which places the lies and well being of the young men we send into battle as the first priority in this situation of conflict.
So, this rant is I suppose to ask you to understand our situation this evening, or at least my understanding of our situation(...). I believe that all people who believe in an open and free society where terror is not allowed to determine how we behave, we all have to in our little way fight that terror. As Jews, we have always been commanded to choose life. I urge you all to do that both my Jewish and Gentile friends,and for those of you who pray, please pray that this conflict ends with as little loss of innocent life as possible, on both sides. "
I will be returning to Denmark next week after having immersed myself in this society for five months. When I return, I will be taking a piece of Israel home with me, with all of its complexities, beauty, idiosyncrasies, double standards and energy.
Please post your comments.