10 July 2014

On Practical Considerations

there's enough Mediterranean Sea for everyone
I'm no longer on the Left or the Right.
I'm not Orthodox or Reform.
I'm an American Jew.  It's as simple as that.
And that's the place I write this from.

Just a week ago, the Jewish world was recoiling in horror at hearing the news of the deaths of three young Israeli men, Eyal, Gil-ad and Naftali--brutally murdered, shot in the head, dragged and buried under rocks in a field.  They had been missing for 18 days.  The parents of the young men prayed and asked for hope.  But it wasn't to be.  Soon others (but not the parents) called for revenge.  Tensions rose.  Many feared the worst.

Moments later (or so it seemed) a group of Jewish youth fell upon Muhammed Abu Khedeir, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem.  He was kidnapped and burned alive, a horrific death, condemned by Jewish leaders in Israel and throughout the world.  Within days the perpetrators were arrested.  Rabbis and philosophers and politicians dug deep within their Jewish souls, taking responsibility for and desperately trying to understand how such brutality could occur in the name of Israel, Judaism and Zionism.    Riots broke out in Palestinian areas. More deaths.  The Jerusalem police beat a teenaged Palestinian-American.  The officers were punished.  Jews visited the Muslim funeral tent of Muhammed Abu Khedeir's family.  Calls for revenge mingled with calls for peace on Facebook and Twitter.  Flaccid, rehearsed calls for restraint were issued by governments from around the world.

And then the rockets started falling from Gaza.  We know how this ends.

It's not a fair fight.  Hamas terrorizes Israeli civilian populations.  Israel strikes back, strong, against rocket batteries that are placed among civilian populations, knowing that children, women, non-combatant men will die.  Those deaths, like human ante at a tired game of poker, will be chips in the media, on Twitter and Facebook, on the international stage of the United Nations.

Zionism is racism.   Zionism is genocidal.  Zionism is colonialism.
Palestinians are savages.  Palestinians are inhuman.  Palestinians don't want peace.

In my life, I know all those above six statements to be false.  Annoyingly, repetitively, debilitatingly and idiotically false.  "Game of Thrones" has a more compelling plot line at this point than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I'm a Zionist because I know it to be true that Jews are a nation with a history, a land and a language all our own.  As a Zionist I also believe that Palestinians, as they have come to define themselves, have a history, a land and a language all their own.

I actually believe that this can be worked out.

I don't think kidnapping teenagers and killing them or launching rockets helps anyone.  It just makes things worse.

So it's mid-July. And the conversation should be about soccer.  But all the world is watching Hamas launch rockets and the Israeli Army bomb Gaza, killing the guilty along with the innocent, as rockets fall in the south and the center of Israel, terrorizing a civilian population including, this summer, my own kid.  (WhatsApp question of the day:  "Dad.  Are there benefits to a ground invasion?")

And when this latest rounds ends, with many more dead than there were at the beginning (some who deserved to die and some who didn't) the people, who live under their leaders, will demand to know what the next steps will be.

I'm a practical man.  So here's my demand:

I want to hear from Palestinian leaders that the Jewish people have the right to live in a state of their own in peace.  I want to hear from Israelis leaders that the Palestinian people have the right to live in a state of their own in peace.

The partisan blows will be tempting.  Cynics will say:  Settlement expansion.  Right of Return.  Refugees.  Jerusalem.  It will all fall apart all over again.

Seems to me, for the better part of the past twenty years, we've got answers to those questions.  They're bound up in agreements.  Stored away.  "Light is sown for the righteous."  Release the light already.

Stop the killing.

So why all the killing?  Hate is a powerful tool, isn't it?  Tens of thousands of Facebook posts calling for revenge against Arabs.  Celebrations in the streets over Jewish dead teenagers' bodies.  On the other hand, thousands express moral outrage in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  Hundreds visit Muhammed Abu Khadeir's family's mourning tent.  The killing doesn't have to be, does it?  Our morality can overcome our baser instincts, can it not?

My sense is that, besides our more savage, uncontrolled urges toward death, killing continues because the people grant the consent to those who govern them to kill in their name.  It's either that or the mark of pure despotism.  But history dictates that either can be changed.  But one does have to take a risk. Yitzhak Rabin, tragically, wasn't the first patriot to risk his life for peace.   Anwar Sadat was killed too. Closer to home, Abraham Lincoln.  Martin Luther King.  This is the 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer in America.  African Americans are more equal today than one hundred years ago because people risked their lives.  It's a terrible dilemma.  There are no guarantees. But history calls for at the least, the risk of sacrifice.

I'm a double patriot.  A proud American and a proud Zionist.  Less than a week ago I sat with friends and family and read the American Declaration of Independence, an annual ritual that reifies, each year, the values embedded in America's imperfect and ever-evolving democracy.

One section interests me greatly each year and this year, in anticipation of what I knew would inevitably transpire in Israel, I paid special attention to these words:

"That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.  Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.  But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

The Israeli government is remarkably contentious.  It's to be expected amongst Jews, no?  I've spent the better part of the last thirty years of my career in Jewish life.  The way we organize ourselves is often no walk in the park.  For instance, even as bombs are falling in the homeland and a military operation is underway in Gaza, news outlets carry speculative reports of the Israeli governments rising and falling, coalitions forming and re-forming--perhaps this time, the theory goes, creating a government that can truly bring peace.  Not for "light and transient causes," mind you.  Rather, peace.

But "mankind are more disposed to suffer."  This I direct to my Palestinian friends and their allies.  To wit:  where is the suffering getting you?  The wave of suicide bombs in the Second Intifada got you behind a security barrier, tighter controls over your movements, and increased Jewish settlements. Bombs from Gaza get you mass death and an economic stranglehold in the form of blockade.

And under Hamas, in the form of messianic religious extremism and a totally blatant rejection of the validity of Jews', Jewishness and Judaism's national expression of Zionism, you are left with nothing.

The "long train of abuses and usurpations" are not just the Occupation you have come to singularly detest.  But in your detestation you are showing your own remarkable capacity for self-abuse.  Hiding bombs among children.  Shame on you.

It is your right to bring such shame upon yourself, that's for sure.  But it is your duty "to throw off such Government" whose actions may very well be contributing to the abuse you so disdain.  You want peace?  Overthrow your own very leaders who are preventing you from accepting reality:  the Jewish people have an equal claim to live in the land.  We are here to stay.

It's an easy transaction.  Stop the terror.  Accept the Jewish state.  You'd be surprised--as the Egyptians and Jordanians have come to learn--that when you exercise that duty, together, we can "provide new Guards" for future security.

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