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Some Thoughts for New-Spring-or-Autumn Holiday-Time 2014

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Some Thoughts for New-Spring-or-Autumn Holiday-Time 2014

(I’m still working on drafting that post, & it’s changing a lot.) Meanwhile, I warmly recommend this article by Yitzhak Laor, published on Haaretz (.co.il at 02.00 & .com at 09.20) on 14.04.

The English title is not a translation of the Israeli-Hebrew title

חירות חרותה בגוף הערבי

so I’m translating it here:

A Freedom Engraved in the Arab Body

Here are the links:
Hebrew – http://www.haaretz.co.il/opinions/.premium-1.2295996
English – http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.583766

I think Laor describes the situation so sharply &  so truly & with such directness of feeling, & I’m so glad to see these things expressed so by a gifted Hebrew-Israeli writer & published in (& on) such a major Israeli daily.

I see & feel these things also, even though I’m no longer (but I was, for several decades, as were my wife, two of our three sons & our two daughtersinlaw, while our middle son still is) a member or a part of the “we” he speaks about (& for), the “abnormal nation” that has turned into “a nation of prison guards”.

& while I still feel bound in many ways to that nation, & to the Israeli-Hebrew culture & its language (which I still speak every day at least half as much as I speak English), & also profoundly feel myself a part of what is generally meant by the term “the Jewish people” in whose name the State of Israel continues to enact its policies, my freedom (such as it is), is no longer “engraved in the Arab body” – it is made possible for me by the way of life of the nation that governs the country where I live, the only country I vote in (which by the way doesn’t have a national “holiday of freedom” like Passover), & my & our freedom too, if (if that matters) to a lesser extent, is also engraved in the bodies of others (perhaps some Arabs among them).

& I also think that “being a nation of prison guards” is not so abnormal today. How many modern nations today “protect” their inhabitants with detention camps or prisons for asylum seekers or illegal immigrants? Although among such nations Israel is also abnormal, with its prisons both of Palestinians & of ‘illegal’ Africans.

But I think Israel – & Falastin too – whose voters are the ones who will decide if there will be a solution, are indeed abnormal nations & that (although in entirely antithetical situations: one of them basically rules in Palestine where/while the other is divided & oppressed) they are especially & uniquely abnormal among nations, & are abnormal in exactly the same (“noble”) way: both of them are nations that place their feeling of responsibility for the majorities of the “people” they feel part of who now live outside Palestine before considerations of a possible peaceful solution for their own inhabitants & their offspring. More on this in the post I’m drafting…

Hope for Palestine (Filastin/Eretz-Yisrael)?

I think what it will take is what seems now unimaginable: a transformation of consciousness
that creates a significant majority of both Israeli & Filastini voters who are able
to separate & free their national identity from their idea of their national state,
to respect one another’s societal entities, religions, languages, cultures, histories –
before which must come from each side to the other
due acknowledgment, due apologies,
due compensations for whatever they are due.
Hope is in the cyber hyper generation, who else?

I wrote the lines above towards the end of a conversation with Ayala Shalev, a contemporary of my sons who lives & works in Israel & whom I’ve known (& loved & respected) since she & they were children, when we lived in the little house next door to her parents & her little twin brothers in Tel Baruch, a suburb just across the Yarkon River from Tel Aviv. The conversation began when she posted on Facebook the text of the letter by some 50 brave young 12th-Year students in Israel explaining their refusal to be drafted into the Israeli army. I was so moved by that letter that I decided to translate it into coherent English, & then posted the translation (& also her concise & cogent introductory comment) on Facebook.  With her agreement, I’m now reposting the entire conversation.

Richard Flantz I’m sharing this post because I was very moved by its contents. (Thank you Ayala for sharing it.)
I’ve translated this letter that expresses the intention of (I have no idea how many) brave young Jewish-Israelis to refuse to be drafted into the “Israel Defense Forces” this year, because I think that it deserves broader exposure & certainly a clearer & more coherent English translation than the Bing automat’s (which did get some parts right).

We are citizens of the State of Israel who are due to be drafted into the army.
We invite the readers of this letter to set aside what seems self-evident, and to reconsider the meaning of service in the army.

We the undersigned intend to refuse to be drafted, and the main reason for our refusal is our opposition to the occupation of the Palestinian territories by the army. The Palestinians in the Occupied Territories live under the rule of the government of Israel, even though they did not elect it and cannot legally influence its decision-making. This situation is unequal and unjust.

In these territories, human rights are being violated and actions that are considered to be war crimes according to international law– such as assassinations (executions without trial), the building of settlements in an occupied territory, administrative detentions, torture, collective punishment and unequal distribution of resources such as water and electricity – are being committed on a regular basis. Any military service contributes to the preservation of the existing situation, and therefore our conscience does not allow us to take part in a system that performs the actions described.

The problem in the military system is not confined to the extent of the injuries it wreaks on Palestinian society; it also seeps into the everyday life of Israeli society: it shapes education in schools and the opportunities in the labor market, and causes racism and violence within the society as well as and ethnic, national and gender discrimination.

We refuse to assist the military system to promote and perpetuate male superiority. In our opinion the army encourages a violent and militaristic masculine ideal of “might is right”. This ideal injures all of us, especially those who do not fit this characterization. In addition, we oppose the power system of repressive gender discrimination that also exists within the military framework itself.

We refuse to give up our principles and our values as a precondition for our integration into our society. Our refusal is an outcome of in-depth thinking, and we accept the consequences of our choice.

We call on young people of our age, on soldiers in regular and reserves service, and on all citizens of the State of Israel, to reconsider their position with regard to the Occupation, to the draft, and to the army’s role in our society. We believe that it is within the power and the capacities of the citizens to change the existing situation, and to create a fairer and more just society, and our refusal is an expression of this belief.

Rachel Leah Jones

להלן נוסח מכתב הסרבניות והסרבנים 2014:

אנו אזרחי/ות מדינת ישראל, מיועדות/ים לגיוס לצבא.
אנו פונות לקוראי/ות מכתב זה בהזמנה להניח בצד את הברור מאליו, ולשקול מחדש את משמעות השירות בצבא.

אנו החתומות/ים מטה מתכוונות/ים לסרב להתגייס, והסיבה העיקרית לסרובנו היא התנגדותנו לכיבוש השטחים הפלסטינים על ידי הצבא. הפלסטינים בשטחים הכבושים חיים תחת שלטון ממשלת ישראל, על אף שלא בחרו בה ואינם יכולים להשפיע באופן חוקי על קבלת ההחלטות שלה. מצב זה אינו שיוויוני ואינו צודק.

בשטחים אלו מופרות זכויות אדם ומתבצעות פעולות הנחשבות לפשעי מלחמה על פי החוק הבינ”ל על בסיס קבוע, כגון חיסולים – הוצאות להורג ללא משפט, בניית התנחלויות בשטח כבוש, מעצרים מנהליים, עינויים, ענישה קולקטיבית וחלוקה לא שיוויונית של משאבים כמו מים וחשמל. כל שירות צבאי תורם לשימור המצב הקיים, ולכן, על פי מצפוננו, איננו יכולות/ים לקחת חלק במערכת אשר מבצעת את המעשים שתוארו.

הבעיה במערכת הצבאית אינה מסתכמת בגבולות הפגיעה בחברה הפלסטינית, אלא מחלחלת לחיי היום יום בחברה בישראל: היא מעצבת את החינוך בבתי הספר, ההזדמנויות בשוק העבודה, וגורמת לגזענות ולאלימות בתוך החברה ולאפליה אתנית, לאומית ומגדרית.

אנו מסרבות לסייע למערכת הצבאית לקדם ולהנציח את העליונות הגברית. לדעתנו הצבא מעודד אידיאל גברי אלים ומיליטריסטי של “החזק שולט”. אידיאל זה פוגע בכולנו, ובעיקר במי שאינו/ה תואמ/ת דמות זו. נוסף על כך, אנו מתנגדות למערכת הכוח הדכאנית והמפלה מבחינה מגדרית המתקיימת גם בתוך המסגרת הצבאית עצמה.

אנו מסרבות/ים לוותר על עקרונותינו וערכינו כתנאי להשתלבות בחברה. סירובנו הוא תוצאה של חשיבה מעמיקה ואנו שלמות/ים עם בחירתנו.

אנו קוראות/ים לבני/ות גילנו, לחיילות/ים בשירות סדיר ומילואים ולכלל אזרחי/ות מדינת ישראל, לשקול מחדש את עמדתן/ם בנוגע לכיבוש, לגיוס לצבא ולתפקיד הצבא בחברה. אנו מאמינות/ים בכוחן/ם וביכולתן/ם של האזרחיות/ים לשנות את המציאות הקיימת, וליצור חברה הוגנת וצודקת יותר, וסירובנו הוא ביטוי לאמונה זו.

‫#‏נחת

See Translation

Richard Flantz I’ll also translate what Ayala wrote when she shared this post (paraphrasing, in her second line, the opening line of Hatikva, Israel’s national anthem):

Clear, fluent, to the point.// Our hope is not yet lost to be a free, thinking and reality-choosing people in our country.

Yesterday at 3:45pm · Like · 1

Ayala Shalev .
Wow. Thanks.
And I read somewhere else that it was written by 50 shministim. (:

Yesterday at 4:25pm · Like

Richard Flantz Thanks again… shministim means Year-12-ers… & Nitza told me she read the letter in Haaretz…

Yesterday at 4:47pm · Like · 1

Ayala Shalev .
I don’t get that it makes the same buzz as the original shministim letter. It’s so much harder to be heard today, with so many media channels. It’s not making it to a true public debate, as it should.

Yesterday at 4:56pm · Like

Richard Flantz Yes, well, to once again quote the late Kurt Vonnegut: So it goes.

Yesterday at 5:07pm · Like · 1

Richard Flantz & it’s probably not only the proliferation of media & information transmission since then but also the somewhat different political climate?

Yesterday at 5:21pm · Like · 1

Ayala Shalev Definitely. The political climate here is the worst ever. And it’s going to new heights this week with the three laws they’re about to pass -
אחוז החסימה, הגיוס ומשאל העם.
I was thinking of asking you guys if maybe you want to adopt me.

Yesterday at 5:53pm · Like

Richard Flantz Ayali, if you ever need it, you’ll always find a home here.

Yesterday at 6:00pm · Like · 1

Ayala Shalev .
It’s a comforting thought. Bc it sometimes feels like this place is getting scarier by the minute.
Thanks for that.

Yesterday at 6:37pm · Like

Ayala Shalev .
Look – Lapid’s reaction to the letter. I can’t even begin to describe how this makes me feel…
https://www.facebook.com/…/a.289771…/289945437821890/…

Yesterday at 6:48pm · Like

Richard Flantz But Ayali, in this political climate how would you not expect such responses? Isn’t Yair Lapid essentially expressing what is most probably the opinion of the majority that elected the present government coalition (& similar governments before it)? To let English readers get a glimpse of that opinion, I’ve translated Lapid’s remarks too:

48 hours before we vote on the “Sharing of the Burden” law, tens of Year-12ers sign a letter calling for draft-refusal.
For a start, this should be called by its right name: this isn’t draft-refusal, this is draft-dodging.
These youngsters don’t wear shtreimels, but they too are extreme Dreaders [the Hebrew word that is usually Englished as ‘ultra-orthodox’ is Haredim (with a guttural H), which means Dreaders (those who are in awe & dread {of God})]. [They’re s]ecular Neturei-Karta who think that if they believe in something then it’s all right to send others to bear the burden and to risk their lives instead of them.
One lot hides in the tent of Torah, the other in the tent of hypocrisy.
Secular draft-dodging is not an ideology, it is the self-pampering of sated youngsters who think they have a right to everything and that there are others – your children and mine – who have to serve instead of them.

21 hours ago · Like · 1

Ayala Shalev Sadly, it is. Or at least, it’s the voting majority. Although Lapid, when he appeared on the political map last year, gave hope to light left wingers as well. His real face, and abilities, were exposed only after he was so overwhelmingly elected.
I wrote on his wall, in response to this post of his:
תתבייש. במקום לפתוח את הדיון הציבורי המתבקש ולהתייחס לנקודות שהם מצביעים עליהן, אתה רומס אותם תחת ססמאות נבובות ועושה דה-לגיטימציה לדבר החשוב הזה. וכשזה בא ממך, זה עוד יותר חמור מאשר אילו זה בא מהאח ההוא שלך, בנט, כי בך האמינו שתשנה.
איך אתה ישן בלילה.
And still, I haven’t lost complete hope that things will be different in the future. Sometimes I don’t know why.

2 hours ago · Like

Ayala Shalev And Lapid is known for blocking people who oppose him and write too many comments on his wall. Which is unbelievable in itself. I haven’t been blocked so far.

2 hours ago · Like

Richard Flantz I think what it will take is what seems now unimaginable: a transformation of consciousness
that creates a significant majority of both Israel & Filastini voters who are able
to separate & free their national identity from their idea of their national state,
to respect one another’s societal entities, religions, languages, cultures, histories –
before which must come from each side to the other
due acknowledgment, due apologies,
due compensations for whatever they are due.
Hope is in the cyber hyper generation, who else?

Ayala Shalev .
Transformation of consciousness is definitely needed. From what I know, that’s a personal process, each in his own time. From what I see, it is happening. Slowly. It has a slow pace. And it has a lot of shit and brainwashing and indoctrination to work through. There are the people who are awakening, thinking, seeing. And then there are those who keep digging their heels into the ground and refusing to release and move forward. Like our PM for instance.

I hope the first group will come out winning. Sometimes it’s really trying to hold that hope. (:

Richard Flantz I agree with you, & think that if you can write what you just wrote here there are definitely grounds for hope. Slowly, slowly, yes, but also (slowly for now) accelerating… Ayali, I’d like to re-post this entire conversation in a way that others can see & share it — but only if that’s ok with you. Is it?

Ayala Shalev .
Sure. (: Happily.

34 minutes ago · Like

A pause, & maybe another, & a post I was preparing

For the past few weeks I’ve been coping with some health issues (none of them life-threatening, no need for anyone to worry, but also not easy & quite exhausting), & I haven’t even thought of continuing with the blogging. I’m recovering and regaining strength nicely now, though slowly (which is fine, I’m in no hurry).

But I’ve been through something, and I’ve been feeling somehow more distant from the things I’ve been writing about in this blog. I now want to rethink what I want to do with this blog, how, if at all, to continue with it. So I’m writing this now to explain both my previous pause and the pause that will or may follow this present post for I have no idea how long.

Before I stopped thinking of my blog I had prepared a draft of what was to be my next post. It began with a quotation of a comment on my previous post that I’d already received (submitted on 130418) but hadn’t yet related to. On rereading it, I decided that although I do feel more distant from these things right now, I still feel more or less the same way about this matter, & so I may as well as post what I’d prepared. Here it is:

 

In the latest recent comment on my last post, Peter Weiniger wrote:
“As always, an eloquent and empathetic commentary, this time, on the so-called ‘two state solution’. If we dismiss this as the least worst solution, what alternatives remain: the one state solution, advocated by the far left and nationalist Israelis, but for different reasons and outcomes. The left position: a state for Jews and Palestinians dominated by Palestinians, who will comprise the majority, or the nationalists: a state dominated by a Jewish majority. Or do we settle for the status-quo? No easy, convenient solutions here, I’m afraid.”

Reading Peter’s concise & I’d say accurate iteration of the three kinds of “solutions” that are being mooted as alternatives to the “status quo”, I realize that I think it’s wrong to call any of them solutions. Surely it’s more correct to see them as proposals, ideas being advocated by different interest groups with different agendas, and thus also as drivers of different kinds of activism in the status-quo.

I think all of them are — or would be — convenient for some & more than just inconvenient for others, as is the uneasy & not-so-static status quo, & I think it’s hard to foresee any clear resultant of the conflicting vectors of this complex dynamism.

I don’t “dismiss” any of the proposals, least of all what Peter aptly calls the “least worst” one. I just don’t think any of them is a solution, in any reasonable or humane sense of that word.

But not I’m not ultimately pessimistic: I hope & believe that among the younger generation of both “peoples” there will emerge some who will be able to imagine, conceive, act for, & ultimately bring about a viable alternative to the ongoing strife.

& that is not all: I for one am glad to know that for some time now there have also been various forms of cooperation & dialogue between Israeli Jews & Palestinian Arabs, especially among the youth. This process, in fact, can be seen as peace actually being made, at least among those participating in these activities, but surely also rippling beyond them to at least everyone they come in contact with. It makes me think of the deeper meaning of the saying or slogan I have encountered several times, “There is no way to peace; peace is the way.” & I think it’s good to keep in mind that with all the terrible things that are still happening, the recurrent attacks & counter-attacks with their inevitable casualties, the grief & the bitterness that they cause, the suspicion & fear & hatred of the other side that they provoke – at the same time there are Israeli Jews & Palestinian Arabs who are already living in peace with one another & at the same time building the basis for future peace in the land. There is much more of this going on than we generally imagine or know about. With a bit of googling I’ve drawn up a short list of sites that tell a little of this story…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab-Israeli_peace_projects

http://www.insightonconflict.org/conflicts/israel-palestinian-territories/peacebuilding-organisations/

http://www.smh.com.au/world/gloves-on-as-sweet-science-spurns-division-20130313-2g0px.html

http://www.jpost.com/Diplomacy-and-Politics/Israeli-Palestinian-cooperation-aids-Kusra-victim

http://soccerstarsforpeace.com/

http://www.jspace.com/news/articles/barcelona-advocates-soccer-match-for-middle-east-peace/13087

http://www.streetfootballworld.org/special-womens-day/twinned-peace-soccer-schools-for-girls

http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/1/prweb10378852.htm (Israeli and Palestinian Youth Musicians of Heartbeat Embark on Debut U.S. Tour to Promote Cooperation and Understanding)

http://israelseen.com/2012/11/16/y-theater-project-jerusalem-israeli-palestinian-cooperation/

Not that there aren’t difficulties:

http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/israeli-palestinian-dialogue-isn-t-for-wimps-we-need-more-of-it.premium-1.493705

http://books.google.com.au/books/about/Shared_histories.html?id=VNAvAQAAIAAJ&redir_esc=y

& if anyone knows of other sites on Israeli-Palestinian collaborations, please send me the links to add to this list…

A Post: “The days go by”, & a Page: “A two-state solution” for Israel/Palestine?”

The days go by

The days go by, or maybe it’s I who go by, mostly with other things on & in my mind than the things I blog about: life things, family things, health things, home maintenance things, things I read in books or online, things we see on TV, things we talk about, things we don’t talk about, things I remember, things I forget – &, beyond & beneath these, things I feel that I know I’m feeling & others that I don’t even know I’m feeling… Same as everyone, I suppose, everyone has their own mix of things they think about & feel & know they feel & don’t know they feel, only a fraction of which gets expressed…

Autumn’s begun, & even though the rainy season hasn’t ended there’s a cooler crispness in the air some days amid the last many days of high humidity. I’m feeling better today after a difficult few days… In the northern hemisphere it’s spring that has started. In the three weeks since my last post the Hebrew Feast of Spring, aka Passover, aka the Feast of Freedom has come & gone, seven days in Israel, eight days in the Diaspora, beginning the Monday night before last with the traditional Seder held in many Jewish homes. We didn’t have one at home, and didn’t go to one, we were invited but didn’t want to go, both of us weary of the repeated ritual & the constrained socializing, happy to be free of the obligation which we had fulfilled for so many years “for the children” or “for the family” or even “for our friends” (the several times over the decades when we had either edited or rewritten the texts to be read). We just raised a glass and said the one Passovery thing we could affirm as a wish & a choice for ourselves, including the choice we had made not to be at a Seder this evening: “Mi-avdut le-herut!”  (“From slavery to freedom!”)…

I have thoughts about the traditional texts too, but won’t go there now, perhaps another time. I began something in my last post, & have had several responses, not all of them directly. D, a friend in Israel who is a close friend of Nitza’s since their childhood, emailed her that it was difficult for her to read what I’d written. This is my home, she wrote, my whole life is here. & I think I understand: like so many Jewish Israelis of her and Nitza’s generation, their parents came to post-Balfour-Declaration British Mandatory Palestine/Eretz-Israel carrying the Zionist dream of a life in a country where Jews could live with dignity & one day have their own state & be free of foreign oppression. They joined the earlier generations of Zionist and Hebraist colonizers who had come and settled and worked to build a “national” economy & society & culture, to revive and structure the ancient & sacred Hebrew language into a modern vernacular, & to  create a Jewish public sphere in the land they believed was their historical homeland & which most of them related to almost as a terra nullius, a “land belonging to no one” (in spite of the presence, always understood as temporary, of the occupying British forces & administration, & of the not so clearly temporary presence of the indigenous Palestinian population,  much as many of the earlier colonizers of Australia had done here), & gave their all to raise a generation of native Israeli-Jews who could live good lives & be proud of who they were – as Jews in the countries they had come from had never been able to be.

We can’t know how many really believed in these things, or how many merely accepted the myth & the ideologies that drove the forces acting for the creation of this entity that was known as the Yishuv (I think the best translation of this word is the Settling, because although yishuv is a substantive that in other contexts should be translated simply as settlement, the plural being yishuvim, it is also a gerund that expresses an ongoing process, that of settling) until it became, in 1948, the State of Israel. We also can’t know how many considered the possible consequences – moral, political, psychological, sociological, economic, military, etc. etc., for their own & for future generations – of ignoring the effects of their basic disregard & subsequent treatment of the Palestinian inhabitants of this land, which has many parallels to attitudes of pioneering European colonizers to the indigenes of many countries of what for them (the Europeans) became the “Second World”. How much compassion can one have for people who resent your incursion (which you believe is somehow yours by “right”) & also sometimes resort to violence to express their resentment & try to make you move away?

Raised by parents who saw the future in their children & did what they could to give their children a good life in this “Old New Land”, Nitza’s generation (as a whole, of course this is a generalization and there would have been exceptions) had a childhood & youth that gave them a deep identification with the country of their birth. They imbibed this at home, at school, in youth movements (a vibrant social environment in comradeship groups that were a focus of their social lives through their high school years & into the years of national service in the IDF, & for some continued into kibbutzim).  Most of them have built their lives in Israel, they’ve built families & raised children & many now have grandchildren; they’ve established relationships, neighbourhood connections, & cultural associations that are linked indissolubly to the place they live in & love; they have lived through several wars, survived the Scud attacks during the Gulf War of 1991; many of them & their children have fought in this country’s wars. They have grieved together for the many casualties of battles & of terrorist attacks, have commemorated the fallen in these wars on many Remembrance Days, & celebrated the military & other achievements of their state on many Independence Days.

They are for the most part secular Jews, not religious, although most will have the traditional family gatherings on Seder nights (whether they actually read from the Haggadah or not, or, as many do, skip through the part until the meal begins & ignore the part that follows) and Rosh Hashanah (the Hebrew New Year) eve; their sons will be circumcised eight days after they’re born & have a bar-mitzvah when they turn 13, & their daughters will have bat-mitzvahs. They’re secular Jews who feel their Jewhood as an ethnicity, feel themselves part of the Jewish people, & each year on Holocaust Day commemorate those who perished in World War II & the heroism of the ghetto fighters & the partisans who resisted the Nazi machine. Many of them may feel stress & distress about the ongoing conflict, many of them may have participated in rallies & been part of the “peace camp” until it imploded in 2000 after the abortive Camp David summit, & may still wish for peace & be opposed to the occupation & to the current political climate in the country & even feel despair because they’re now a minority in the demographic make-up of the present-day Israeli-Jewish population, which has changed dramatically since the 1967 war & the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – but still they see as Israel as their home, as a Jewish state they want to continue to live in.

So of course it cannot be a solution for them to leave their established lives & homes in Israel, (even if they could get an immigration visa to somewhere like here & had the means to make the move) & to have to try to start a new life in another country, with another language, another culture, other customs, to become foreigners, immigrants, as earlier generations of their ancestors had to do every now and then.

Many of them, I imagine, probably may well support a two-state solution, and would support the ceding of occupied territories now settled by Jews (the “territories for peace” formula) to make this possible. But, as I wrote in my last post, I find the idea that there can be a viable & lasting “two-state solution” very problematic. I’ve now written a page about this, & am publishing it with this post:

 

A two-state solution for Israel/Palestine?

I once really supported the two state idea, participated in several “Peace Now” demonstrations for it in Tel Aviv during the ’90s, & remember marching  alongside other demonstrators in the middle of the road in Dizengoff Street in on the way to Rabin Square for a protest rally, carrying placards and chanting, in Hebrew, “Yisrael Falastin, shtey medinot leshney amim!” [Israel Palestine, Two States for Two Peoples!]. We were a minority then, and encountered not a few hecklers on the sidewalks along the way who angrily berated us as traitors… Click here to read entire page.

My Mixed Feelings About Israel/Palestine

I do want to post something at least once a week, but last week I felt it was time to start introducing my musings about certain things that have mattered to me & still matter to me when I think of them.
One general subject, which I’ve summed up in the title of the present post, keeps coming back to me, even nagging at me to at last come out with these things.  I think it comes upon me in waves, sometimes in response to something I read or see on the news (the most recent of these being the spate of news & commentary about “Prisoner X” Ben Zygier & about dual Australian and Israeli citizenship, & also a short article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 130307 by Ruth Pollard, “‘Systematic’ abuse of Palestinian youth”).  & sometimes it comes with an urgency, a want to express, usually accompanied by a feeling of not knowing how to do it or what good it might do anyway…  So last week I started trying different ways of introducing it, & it has taken me a fortnight to prepare this post.

I wonder how many Jews really have very mixed feelings (as I do) about the Israel/Palestine nexus. From what I see & read online & on TV, Jews who publicly express themselves seem to have quite unmixed & unambivalent feelings & views – most of them defending (at least, if not championing) Israel & tacitly accepting or even justifying whatever inhumane action “the Jewish state” commits in the ongoing conflict as regrettable but necessary “collateral damage”, a minority protesting, condemning (if not attacking) Israel for any or all of those.

Foremost among the former are the presidents, chairpersons or spokespersons of national or state Jewish roof-bodies made up of delegates of officially recognized Jewish organizations in that country or state. In Australia these roof-bodies are the federal “Executive Council of Australian Jewry” (ECAJ), and the state Victorian & NSW “Jewish Boards of Deputies”. In the US, where the most important “pro-Israel” lobby in the world is active, there is a more complex network of Jewish roof-bodies. One of these is the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), which together with another Jewish roof-body, has set up the Israel Action Network to protect Israel’s “right to exist as a sovereign democratic Jewish state“. The JCPA honestly characterizes itself as “the representative voice of the organized American Jewish community”.

But I suspect that today most Jews in any country (& especially in the more “developed” “First World” and “Second World” countries), are (like myself) not “organized”, & do not belong to or identify with any of the official Jewish organizations. I also feel that all the Jews in any country do not really constitute a “community” in any real or physical sense, though I think there is certainly such a thing as Jewish “community feeling”, even when it goes little further than feeling something in common with other Jews. That feeling may also extend to feelings about Israel. After all, Israel is so often referred to, not only by Zionists but also by the media at large, as “the Jewish state”, and Zionists even call Israel “the state of the Jewish people”.

I also suspect that all those who do publicly express themselves unambivalently do actually also have very mixed feelings, but that they keep the feelings that conflict with their chosen position  to themselves (or suppress them in themselves) for fear of one kind or another (or several).

Anyhow, I have very mixed feelings about the whole complex Israel/Palestine nexus, & also some understandings that I sometimes think & feel are important, & I want to try to express them (over time) in this blog.

My own case is not a typical one, I know. I lived in Israel for more than half of my 76+ years, as a dual citizen. I married my Israeli-born wife Nitza there, we raised our three sons there, we all had occasional (& sometimes close) contacts with the families of Nitza’s sister & cousins, & also had not a few friends & many acquaintances there. While living in Israel I lived as an Israeli citizen: I worked (for many years as an untenured university lecturer on English & American Literature, & for even more years as a translator of art-critical, scholarly & literary writings from Israeli-Hebrew to English & paid income tax & “national insurance” (social security) levies; I voted in elections, served in the army reserves, participated in demonstrations against the Occupation. Nitza & I left Israel for good almost 12 years ago, primarily because we now had a grandson, Emmanuel, in Australia, born to our eldest son Jonathan & his Israeli-born wife Ora, & our youngest son Zohar was also living in Australia, but also because we both wanted to live here now. & I was glad to leave Israel, even though I loved so much about living there, because I wanted to no longer feel complicit in any way in so much that I opposed, and felt (and I still feel) that Israel’s wars are not my wars. Another important reason why we came back here was because we could, because we were & are Australian citizens.

& we’re still living here, as Australian citizens – & as immigrants (I can think of myself as a second-time immigrant: the first time I immigrated was with my mother in 1946) – & like  many first- & second- generation immigrant families, we (Nitza & I & our three sons & two Israeli-born daughters-in-law) are all bilingual – & on an everyday basis. We speak to each other in a mixture of  Israeli-Hebrew & English, sometimes even switching languages in mid-sentence. Our middle son Ohav lives in Israel but visits us for about a month every year, & when he’s not here we often skype, sometimes en famille.  I still do some translation work & continue to conduct email conversations with clients in Israel. I still have very warm feelings for friends & acquaintances in Israel, even if I don’t keep up contact except perhaps rarely with some on facebook; Nitza has skype & email contacts with close friends in Israel; she reads news & articles in Haaretz & Maariv & Ynet online every day & keeps me posted on many things; I feel & think much & often about the situation there & the issues surrounding it. & we also have the same, if much more occasional and random, bilingual contact with quite a number of immigrants from Israel now resident in the Byron Shire, individuals & families generally of our sons’ generation or younger, who have also chosen to live here rather than there… (I’ve heard it said that the two largest groups of immigrants in the shire are from Germany and from Israel – and by the conversations in Israeli-Hebrew or German I sometimes overhear in passing on the street or in a shop I think it’s probably true).

When I first came to Israel, in 1959, I was an idealist who believed in Zionism & had come to Israel to help to “rebuild the Jewish homeland” (which, as a believer in the Borochovian Socialist Zionism of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement, I thought of as a necessary condition for effective participation by Jews in the world socialist revolution). Had I been told then that I could do this only if I gave up my Australian citizenship, I think I would have done it. But I wasn’t, & I was happy to keep my Australian citizenship, an Australian passport would be better to have when entering other countries or visiting Australia again. It wasn’t until 1967, after the Six-Day War & the occupation of Palestinian territories that followed it, that I started having second thoughts about Zionism, & also to feel glad I hadn’t given up my Australian citizenship. Nitza & I were living in Melbourne then: we’d come to visit my mother  in 1965, not intending to stay, but we stayed four & a half years, during which time Jonathan was born, my mother died, I “turned on” & “tuned in” (a subject for some later memoirings & posts), & I might well have stayed here then had Nitza not decided to go back to Israel because she didn’t feel secure with the “tuned in” me in Oz & also wanted Jonathan to have the same kind of childhood that she’d had (as if that were possible).

When I left Melbourne again in 1969 to go back to Israel, it was not as a Zionist, it was to be with Nitza & Jonathan. For the next few decades I lived there as a citizen who loved many things about the country & the culture & lots of people but had increasingly strong feelings about policies & practices pursued by successive governments of the country & the occupied territories. Many of the Israelis I mixed with had similar feelings. There were then (& there still are) not a few other Israelis who publicly objected to & opposed those policies & practices. I read or heard or saw some of these in the media, encountered many of them at demonstrations, & felt with them the increasing general frustration & sense of inability to do anything real about these things or to affect the views of the majorities that elected these governments. Like so many other Tel-Avivians I knew, we lived our life there in a bubble that essentially closed us away from matters that did not directly impact on our everyday lives (although, like them, we would often find ourselves putting our lives on pause to watch “breaking news” reports of terrorist actions, reprisals, wars, & “critical” political developments). The “everyday life” of this Tel-Aviv “bubble”, I should add, also incorporated a rich, vibrant & diverse cultural, social & economic life, replete with media, literature, cinema, theater, music, museums, art galleries (with access to both the latest & the best in Israeli-Hebrew and international cultural creation), sport, restaurants, cafes, etc., etc.  & there was much to love (& much that I loved & still love) about Israeli-Hebrew cultural creation & people involved in it.

I’m glad we came back to Australia, glad to be living here without the pressures of life in Israel, glad to be no longer paying taxes to a regime of occupation that I opposed. I’m glad to be a resident & citizen in a  country where race, ethnicity or religion no longer legally constitute factors determining whether one can immigrate & become, & then be, an equal citizen, in a country that is progressing more and more (if not always rapidly or consistently) towards equal civil rights for all, irrespective not only of race, ethnicity & religion, but also of gender & sexual orientation.  I think “progressing” is the right word: Australia has come a long way since, say, 1933 (see, for example, Jewish Immigration After WW2 & History of the Jews in Australia) & especially since the scrapping of the White Australia Policy – & there’s still a long way to go, & there are people saying so, and ongoing public discussion of critical issues (see, on the issue of asylum seekers for example, Malcolm Fraser’s article in the SMH of 130304, and a 120817 opinion piece by Paul Power, CEO of the Refugee Council of Australia). 

I’m still technically a dual citizen, but I’ve only kept my Israeli passport for the few brief visits I may make there, you get out of the airport quicker.

So: my mixed feelings may not be quite the same as those of many other Jews who have mixed feelings, & I suspect that some of what I feel stems from those emotions in me that drew me to socialism in my youth, but I imagine that in essence many Jews are torn between conflicting feelings of love & antipathy, pride & shame, hope & fear for & about much that is done in Israel/Palestine, by or to Israelis, by or to Palestinians, & for & about much that is connected to what I’m calling the  whole complex Israel/Palestine nexus.

I love & care about much about Israel – people, places, landscapes, atmospheres, smells, tastes… I feel for the many Jewish Israelis who live there not because they chose the Zionist idea but because they were born there, & Israel is the only homeland they have. Many of them may even not be Zionists in their thinking, though all have been conditioned to some degree by the state’s education system & by the general consensus. & many may accept Zionism, but cannot think of its xenophobic implications or consequences. I do not want harm to happen to any of them, I feel they are in a tragic bind.

But I also have feelings about what the State of Israel does, & how that affects both the perpetrators & the victims, & I have feelings for & about the Palestinians, for people I don’t know who were born in pre-Israel Palestine or after the Naqba, to become either not-quite-equal citizens of the “sovereign democratic Jewish state” or denizens of refugee camps outside it, most of them under Israeli occupation since 1967, & who also have no other homeland, whose situation cannot be  humanely disregarded even though the resistance of their militants to the occupation resorts to acts of terrorism against Israeli civilians.

& I have problems not only with the occupation, but also with the contradictions inherent in the notion of a “sovereign democratic Jewish state”, with the Zionist representation of Israel as “the state of the Jewish people”, with the widespread practice of the general media of referring to Israel as “the Jewish state” – & also, I think, with the idea that there can be a viable & lasting “two-state solution”.

I hope to take these matters up further in later posts, but will welcome comments  at this stage too.