Category Archives: General

The missiles from (and to) Gaza

So I have a cynical take on all this, and a non-cynical take.

The cynic in me notes that this latest round of bombings did not happen by chance. We, the Israel Defence Force, took a choice to take out a leader of the Popular Resistance Committee. We also injured a couple of other bystanders too.  Why did we do this?

The cynic answers three-fold:

  1. We did this so as to provoke a response that would distract everyone from everything else going on, and boost Netanyahu’s popularity. For the past few days Yisrael Hayom, the free paper funding by Sheldon Adelson, has had more than 10 pages full of reports from the South. “The Heart is with the South” I read this paper every day, in order to find out what my Prime Minister would like me to be thinking about.
  2. We did this so as to show off the Iron Dome defense system to the Iranians.
  3. We did this to fix the imbalances of the Gilad Shalit exchange. Al-Quaisi was, after all, released from jail as part of the Gilad Shalit deal…
You’ll note that all of these answers assume that our leadership knew that the Gazans would respond with rocket fire, knew that this would put the South of Israel into distress, and chose to… what?… shrug?

But then I check myself back in the other direction.

What are we supposed to do with our sworn active enemies?

Even if I go so far as to agree that, yes, oh yes, the Palestinians must have their own state, and that we must end the occupation, and that their enmity towards us is only because of the occupation and all will be hunky-dory once we fully withdraw to the 1967 lines.

But what do we do until then? 

Bearing in mind that the utopian peace deal will not flutter into our lives in the foreseeable future, what do we do with the people working very hard to kill our citizens?

It’s clear to the world that we cannot do another Cast Lead invasion of Gaza. Too many Palestinian civilians suffered from that campaign. And more international pressure was brought to bear on Israel in a day than was brought to bear on President Assad in a year. So that’s out. And we can’t arrest the guy, because we withdrew our army from Gaza. And the overseas assassinations are out of favour after the Dubai uproar. So what form of pre-emptive defense would be morally right?

It seems to me that a targeted assassination may well be the least worse option. (I’m never going to go so far as Donniel Hartman and argue that it’s Tikkun Olam(!), but I’ll accept it may be an appropriate form of pre-emptive defense)

So why am I nevertheless left with a bad taste in my mouth?

D put her finger on it.

It’s the whining.

We took out a terrorist because that was the least worse thing to do. We knew that the response would be missiles on civilian areas. So can we please praise the heroism, the strength, and the steadfastness of our fellow-citizens in the South rather than turning to the world and crying “poor us”? These people have been effectively recruited to be part of a military operation: We take out a terrorist, and you get bombed. We all know this is the equation. The least we can do is give our Southern citizens the honour of their sacrifice and not humiliate them with our self-pity.

There’s just something about our constant stretch for the comforting blanket of victimhood that is so undignified, so disingenuous, so anti-Zionist.

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Chipping out the crevices

I got into a bit of an online argument the other week.

After the whole furore over the Ministry of Absorption’s commercials, I became upset with the way that some American friends felt it was okay to stereotype Israelis. They were having lots of fun laughing at how rude, gauche, arrogant, and loud-mouthed Israelis are. It bugged me.

I used the ‘r’ word. I said their jokes were racist. Oops.

I got told off. I was asked to explain myself, since “Israeli” is not a race.

I was also told I was being over-sensitive “because, frankly, your job is to defend Israel”. (It was the “frankly” that did my head in. He was being careful not to offend me. You know, like someone might say, “because, frankly, you smell like crap…”)

I stopped myself responding straight away, and sat back to think.

1. WHAT’S RACISM?

Maybe I shouldn’t have called their jokes “racist”. I should have been more specific. I should have mentioned that they were perpetrating generalized, exaggerated and offensive stereotypes of people based solely on where they were born. I don’t know, if that’s not racist behaviour, it’s certainly holding hands with it.

I remember once being on an anti-racist seminar while working in the social services in the UK. We were given a standard equation. Racism = Prejudice + Power. The equation made me extremely uncomfortable even then. How can you judge who has power? It would seem that all a racist needs is to prove that s/he is less powerful than the person they are abusing, and hey presto, they’re all cool. In particular aware of past Jewish experience in Germany (who would have defined Jews as powerless in the early 30s?) I felt the definition was insidious.

I think expressions of prejudice are bad news, whether or not you call them racist.

I’m not saying that there aren’t some rude and boorish Israelis around. Of course there are. But there are fewer than there were. Israeli society is capable of developing.

Just as in right-on Britain the only racism allowed (okay – nasty national stereotyping) was against Americans, so in the Jewish world the acceptable face of racism is to ridicule Israelis’ sense of dress and decorum.

It still bugs me.

2. WHAT IS IT THAT I DEFEND?

Bearing in mind that I don’t even defend Man United when they’re playing crap, I was struck by this comment. Is it my job to defend Israel? Not sure. I imagine there are people in my organization who would say so, though I don’t tend to listen to them. Anyway the point is that what I feel free to write on my facebook or my blog is different from what my job expects of me.

But Dan’s comment led me to ask myself – what is it that I defend? In what do I so fully believe that I will defend it no matter what?

It’s not Israel, and it’s certainly not my job…

It’s complexity.

I believe that the world is destroyed by absolutes. I believe that violence and oppression emerge from absolutes. I believe that it is a moral imperative for us to break down absolute understandings, assumptions, and faiths. Absolute faith leads to war.

The constant search for the undermining argument, the unexpected ‘other hand’, the deflating witticism – these are the tools of peace.

Theodore Zeldin taught me:

“The fact that the world has become fuller than ever of complexity of every kind may suggest at first that it is harder to find a way out of our dilemmas, but in reality the more complexities, the more crevices there are through which we can crawl.”

I defend the need to constantly search out, and even chip out, crevices through which we can crawl.

That’s why the stereotyping jokes bug me. They smooth over crevices.

Banishing the Darkness?

So D asked me to pop into the glass store at the bottom of Dir El Assad to order some glass.

“Don’t tell him I sent you,” she called after me, “Tell him it’s for Muli.”

Muli is the carpenter with whom D often combines forces. He is a man, and D, being my wife and mother of my children, is not. Rabakh, the guy at the glass place, doesn’t like D. It’s not that he doesn’t like her more than he doesn’t approve of her. We know this because he always charges her double. In this, as in many other areas, the traditional Arab meets the (over-)traditional Jew. There are many ways for Middle Eastern men to demote women, many of them far more subtle than barring them from singing or kicking them to the back of the bus.

There was Rabakh, sitting at the front of the store, supping coffee with a friend of his. Knowing what was coming, I checked my watch: It was okay, I had some leeway. Sure enough the invitation came to sit and drink coffee. They say that you need to offer things to Brits three times before they finally accept. Apparently we assume you’re only being polite and don’t really mean it. It’s a reflex it’s taken me 15-odd years in Israel to overcome. I smiled, said thank you, and sat down with the small china cup placed in my hand. Rabakh does good coffee.

His mate asked Rabakh something about me in Arabic, and made some joke on hearing the response. I showed an interest in understanding what he’d said, and he explained simply, “You live on Kibbutz Tuval, built on the land of Dir El Assad.”

I don’t know what I managed to do right, but from what might have seemed an unpromising opening, we ended up getting on really well. We talked together about various bits of land up the top of the hill that had been taken over by various Jewish officials or businessmen. Some had been met with (partially successful) resistance, some with resignation. It was an odd, delicate conversation, as the two of us smiled and laughed about an intolerably tolerable situation.

At one point I, the Jew, living on land that he, the Arab, disputes, asked him “So what do we do?”

He smiled sweetly, and gestured to the coffee, and to our conversation. That’s what we do, seemed to be his answer. We chill over a cup of coffee.

I have to admit to having been somewhat agnostic about the “co-existence” line of political action. The whole “hang out with an Arab” (most of the older folks I end up meeting here in the Galilee don’t call themselves Palestinian) approach to righting the status of non-Jews in Israel has always struck me as too kumbaya for my liking.

I’m always reminded of the parable credited to Rabbi Akiva about the musical recital that the nightingale is giving for all the animals of the forest. All the animals are rapt, except the worm, who remains under a rock, paying no attention to the beautiful singing. Why aren’t you listening to the music? Ask the shocked animals. The worm replies, Because I know that the moment that bird stops singing, she’s going to come and try to eat me.

My thinking goes, why would an Arab wish to hang out with me, to enjoy my company or my culture, when he fears that any second one of my mates is going to appropriate his back-garden? Surely it’s best to fight to right the substantial and substantive wrongs?

But my quiet friend over coffee reminded me yet again that life here is more complicated than that, and I need to learn more modesty. After all, what did I intend to do about my house or my kibbutz’ dairy sitting on Dir El Assad’s land? I have no plans to move out. Nor did my friend really expect me to do so. What was required in this situation was for me to hear his gently stated grievance, and do him the honour of supping a coffee with him. It didn’t solve anything in the physical world, but maybe did some good in the realm of the spirit.

A similar thing is going on throughout Chanukah this year. All over the place people are gathering to light a chanukiah by the mosques that Jewish scum have vandalized or burned in the last year. “Tag Mechir” is the term these people use, putting a “price tag” on the cost of the government acting against settlements in the West Bank. “Tag Meir” is its opposite. “Meir” means “illuminating”. We’ll be going to light a chanuka candle at each place that has been defiled by these race vandals, in a prayer for peace. As the traditional Chanukah song has it, we’ll be working to drive out the darkness with light.

Kumbaya? Totally. But sometimes you just have to fight darkness with light.

Merry Holidays and Chag Sameach.

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