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.