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Friday, August 29, 2014

बीस साल बाद, or thereabout

Walking on Marine Drive and watching the clean-up after Independence Day - which is basically seeing a pile of paper flags get scraped into the gutter - brought to mind an extremely powerful poem we had read in school: Bees Saal Baad (Twenty Years Later) by 'Dhumil'.

Sudama Pandey "Dhumil" (1936-1975)

A refrain has been echoing in my head for a while, and I finally have the time to write it out. This is a first for this blog - a post in Hindi. When I started the blog, I was using Hindi mostly for official work, so writing in it at leisure would have felt like I was still in the office. Dhumil's poetry, however, cannot be replied to in any other tongue.

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फिर वही  सवाल

कल, पंद्रह अगस्त का दिन रहा |

आज़ादी का त्यौहार एक बार फिर मनाया गया
पता नहीं, क्यों लगा, विषाद-सा मौसम है छाया हुआ
लाल क़िले पर वही तिरंगा एक और बार लहराया गया
कई बातें थी, जिन्हें एक और बार दोहराया गया
जिन्हे शहीद माना, उन्हें आदरपूर्वक याद किया गया
जिन्हे दुश्मन माना, उन्हें दुबारा ललकारा गया
कहते हैं, बदलाव का वक़्त है --
हमें तो सुना हुआ-सा ही राग सुनाई दिया |

चलते चलते, मन में कई सवाल उभर आये
जवाब ना आप जानते थे, हम भी ना दे पाये |

बच्चा हूँ, धूमिल : क्या जानूंगा जवाब ?
समझता हूँ सिर्फ अपनी औकाद -
अपना रास्ता समझना मुश्किल
हमारे कदम कोई और सवारे
देश की नैय्या तो कोई और ही तारे !
हम सुनते, चुपचाप, चलते जाएंगे
किसी दिन अपने ही घर में चोर कहलाएंगे
तब तक आज़ादी का जश्न मनाते जाएंगे |

बच्चा हूँ, धूमिल - नहीं जानता जवाब
आपके जैसा चलता गया, चुपचाप -
जाते-जाते, एक बात कह दूँ, इजाजत है ?
एक बात जो उसी दिन मन में उभर आई -
जो नक़्शा-नज़ारा देखा, उससे साफ़ नज़र आई -
बीस साल बाद आपने जो चीज़ महसूस की थी, धूमिल
वह आज एक दिन बाद भी महसूस आई |

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Guest Post: From Tel Aviv

The Longest Thing I’ve Written in Grad School: Confessions of Personal Struggles, the Things I’ve Done and Felt

(This is a guest post by Rebecca Aguilar, a classmate at The Fletcher School. Rebecca is currently in Israel for a summer internship.)



Escalation is everywhere.  

My eyes are weary from reading news updates.  My brain is swimming.  Everything sounds like the beginnings of a bomb siren.  80 kilometers south of me civilians are dying and more will be killed and injured. 1,500 soldiers, some as young as 18, march to the precipice of war.

The Iron Dome and a high degree of functional religious and cultural diversity make Tel Aviv a bubble.

Escalation is mostly in the frenzied media circus.

Today, I ate a slice of cake and felt like Marie Antoinette, completely removed from reality.

Netanyahu has been the most militaristically reserved president and there is fear in Israel.  There is a weariness to go to battle, but a sense that it must be done.

Every once and a while the ground will tremble and a white puff of smoke blossoms in the sky.  The knot in my throat and stomach gradually release.

I came to Israel because it seemed like a safe bet.  I came to study business and intern at a microfinance organization for African asylum seekers. I’ve been here many times before, I have friends here, and the politics are often depressing but predictable.  Except that I didn’t see this one coming.

Seeing the outpour of charged social media posts from people everywhere else in the world except here, I felt maybe I am obligated to reflect on the attitudes I’ve encountered in Israel, and share my own. I have read comments made by people I respect that are harmful and do nothing but paint the conflict in hate-tinged strokes that distract from developing creative solutions and out of the box dialogue. But neither am I blameless.

It feels like the world is so subjugated to this debate.

And painfully I am aware that as I write this, there are four million Palestinians in the background whose restricted freedom provides me the liberty to type on my laptop in Tel Aviv a block from the beach writing as I am.  

Even the settlers can agree, four million is a haunting number.

We’re all really searching hard for that one magic number that will really hit a nerve and be the tipping point in the media’s war of attrition.

So many are quick to criticize Israel, rightfully so. Israel’s critical appraisal of itself is the lengthiest I have yet to encounter. How else do societies improve?

How else does democracy get negotiated? Especially in such a young country with such religious diversity.

- x -

Things I can say for certain: Most Israelis agree that the three Israeli kids were stupid to have hitchhiked through areas where they didn’t belong.  It is tragic that such reckless behavior ignited a violent international incident derailing the peace process even further.  Unfortunately, attempts at kidnapping happen all the time, most of them unsuccessful.  Most Israelis agree that things are almost as bad as they were in 2009, before Israel took over Palestinian territories after the Gaza War.  But there’s infinite discord over all the answers to all the questions that fall around “how did it happen” and “how bad is it”.

Now what, then? Do Olmert and Netanyahu ask themselves how, in 2009, taking over Gaza stopped the attacks? Do they wonder if they successfully taught Hamas a lesson about not messing with Israel?  Sadly, probably not.  I could give you one of many inadequate anthropological answers: that Israel is still in many ways a fledgling nation that relies on defining a common enemy and fostering a sense of victimhood to unite its pluralistic base creating a national Jewish identity because otherwise Israelis would tear each other to shreds over what it means to be Jewish and the fact that some Jews look different than other Jews, the fact that some Jews want to marry non-Jews.  Also, if Israelis ever went to polls over anything other than national security, it would be the end of the Likud coalition and power in the Knesset. In fact, it almost happened in 2011 when Israelis were outraged by soaring prices and began voting with their pockets instead of their security.  Then, suddenly, Iran’s nuclear weapons program is Israel’s greatest threat, not the near impossible cost of living.

But enough with Orwellian fantasies.

I read one article in Slate praising the IDF for warning Gazan civilians of future bombing so they can save themselves, blaming Hamas for the mounting destruction and death toll for placing rockets in civilian residencies and forcing them to serve as martyrs.  I read another article in Haaretz, an Israeli newsource, written by a Gazan, Abeey Ayyoud, a young girl facing the destruction itself and asking how the IAF can warn a people of the shooting and still respect itself. I read one article about Arab Israelis and Jewish Israelis coming together in ynetnews.com.  I hear a reporter on NPR describing things like that a stunt.

Back and forth, back and forth ad infinitum the world goes in building the case for and against Israel’s moral and political legitimacy. Every logical point in this well monitored debate has an equally logical counterpoint. At the end of every explanation is the beginning of a new one.  I constantly find myself playing devil’s advocate in conversation, disagreeing with statements of which I had previously convinced myself.  It’s the only way I know how to find a middle ground with others and with myself.  And soon I find myself in a nauseating and torrential downward Hegelian spiral of dialectic argumentation aimed at one shrining truth.

What do I have to believe to be a responsible onlooker of the war? What does asking that to myself even mean?

This isn't even why I’m here. Microfinance and refugees.

And Hegel, what a racist.  Who wants his advice? I hate political debate because of the inability to accept multiple truths.  Israel is such a complicated, contradictory place.  To give an example, I was in Sderot, a Jewish city near Gaza, the frequent and current receiver of rockets from Hamas, where I met children of founding members of Fatah, a former political faction in Gaza, who fought a war against Hamas in 2006-2007, lost, and sought shelter in Israel.   There they were, going to school alongside Israeli Jewish students and their parents working alongside Israeli Jewish parents living in the security the IDF provides (albeit at the expense of four million Palestinians). But, on the other hand, let’s not forget that time, at the end of the Second Israeli-Lebanon War, when Israel completely abandoned its SLA allies who had cooperated with the IDF – some argue they were literally thrown to the wolves, like lambs to the slaughter.  And who can ignore the hypocrisy of Israel demanding that the PA undo its unity government with Hamas because it’s a terrorist organization in order for peace talks to continue?  Have they forgotten that the Likud and the Irgun parties were also declared terrorist organizations before the founding of Israel? So why is the IDF going in to try to eliminate terrorists instead of empowering the PA to take control of Hamas and its stash of missiles?

Yet for all the criticism Israel receives for being an apartheid overrun by a racist mob of trigger happy Zionists, according to a vote in the Knesset, Haneen Zoabi (the Arab Israeli Knesset Member who was rescued by the IDF from the flotilla that sparked another international incident in March 2010 with Turkey) was not impeached.

Jewish Israelis especially don’t always like her, and sometimes she may go too far, but she secured the right to fill her seat through democratic processes, and here’s where I can agree with her:

“Do you not consider the kidnappers to be terrorists?” Gal asked a little while into the interview.

“That’s a naïve question,” Zoabi replied. “Is it strange that people who are under an occupation and who live lives that aren’t normal and who live in a reality in which Israel kidnaps detainees every day, is it strange that they’ll end up kidnapping?”

“As far as you’re concerned,” Gal continued, “they’re not terrorists.”

“They’re not terrorists,” Zoabi replied.

She did go on to say that she did not agree with the kidnappers and argued that Israeli society had to learn to accept the other side’s pain, but little of that mattered—nuance has a habit of fading away when offered after an exoneration of terrorist acts [emphasis added]. Gal got heated, Zoabi hung up, and another media storm was created.”(Taken from this link).  

No matter what justification or explanation I, in my limited knowledge, give, you’ll disagree with me, and anyone living here will be the first to do so.  Everyone is right and wrong.  The more I learn about the history and current realities in this region, the more faces I see that this single war has - the more insane the situation becomes.  

No one can ever include enough into any one argument (e.g. the price tag killings, Hamas rejecting peace offers, the physical cage that is Gaza, the trauma of the first two intifadas). There is an infinite amount of detail about which I am intentionally and unintentionally silent that could sway the reader one way or the other.

- x -

We label the kidnappers terrorists but not the band of Israelis who attacked Mohammed. [The Palestinian teenager killed in a reprisal attack.]   

We don’t recognize the trajectory of power in the words that we use.

We assume that certain things about each other are natural dispositions.

We categorically apply these assumptions to each other.

We recognize only negative patterns of behavior instead of positive patterns, coercively reinforcing them and the cycles of violence they perpetuate.

We are reluctant to expose ourselves to situations that make us feel psychologically uncomfortable as though it threatens our physical existence.

We default to assuming the worst in each other.

We both surrender to illogic because we are all drops of water in a bucket.

For every question that we ask ourselves about why Israel is the way it is and about the longevity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – why it’s so exceptional or why it’s not exceptional at all – there are many answers, some which completely contradict each other.

I visited Jericho and Bethlehem with Fletcher students doing their internships in Rawabi, West Bank.  On the way back, I was refused entry into Israel for reasons that were completely my fault and classic Aguilar. The guards laughed at me from behind their thick bullet proof window and sent me back through the turnstile to the Palestinian side, where my spat brought some comical reprieve to the 50-60 Palestinians forced to wait every time almost an hour to cross the border.  Was I happy to distract them for those 15 minutes that the Israeli guard announced “No passport, no entry” over the loudspeaker, or just embarrassed?  I made it back into Israel because a young Palestinian, Ma’atez, offered to drive me and two other men to their jobs across the border in East Jerusalem through less rigorous checkpoint, risking his own freedom of mobility.  Then he generously drove me an hour and a half out of his way to Tel Aviv.  We spoke in broken Hebrew and broken English; we spoke about the World Cup; we spoke about jobs; we spoke about ourselves; we spoke about anything but the conflict.

Often, what I encounter online are jejune, oversimplified quotes completely abstracted from any meaningful context (pretty much summing up my own writing style).  There is one I have seen that can stand alone.  Nelson Mandela once wrote, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

There are certain things that distinguish us from each other that will always divide us, in our lifetime at least. So cultures and societies compete over land and other scarce natural resources. Individuals are in conflict with each other. Maybe the faction of Israelis embroiled in this conflict that support the occupation of Palestinian territories think that freedom is a limited resource.  Maybe because this conflict spans centuries and vast territories, over which time and space Jews were not free.  How many Jews live in Iraq compared to how many Arabs live in Israel? Answer: There were 34 left in 2006 even though Iraq is home to one of the oldest Jewish communities (since the 6th century B.C) in the world and there are about 1.6 million Arab Israelis of Palestinian descent in Israel. There are Israelis with a more enlightened sensibility and better historical perspective, and there are others with opinions that span the gamut.  The same is true for Palestinians, who are being denied entry into Jordan from Syria, who suffer abuses in other countries, who have been pawns in the political games between Israel, Europe, and other North African and Middle Eastern countries, who do not stand a chance against the IDF. What precedent is Israel setting in the battle to be morally and politically legitimate? In order to be free we must all also behave in a way and use language in a way that enhances each other’s freedom.

We have reached a generation of Jews, Israelis, and Palestinians, Arabs born into cycle of violence and yet are made to ask for absolution. Neither society stands before the other side with very much merit, and yet we are forced by our surroundings to cast judgment on each other as individuals.   To ask right-wing Israelis to shed their way of thinking is to dismantle what has kept them feeling comfortable and safe, even though they aren’t. In other words it won’t be easy – it would be a denial of the decades – centuries – of pain, persecution, and terror they have also endured.

The next day after returning from Palestine, I heard about the horrendous kidnappings and, soon after that, the retaliatory and appalling murder of the young Palestinian boy. I am not a religious person, but I bless Ma’atez.  I bless him and I bless the Palestinians that show mercy in their judgment of Israelis and any minutiae of mercy in their judgement of Israel.

-x-

Unfortunately, that’s not enough. How can I ask for anything when innocent people are being killed? This requires so much physical, historical, and emotional distance.

There are weaknesses in what I say, I am sure. I am also guilty of simplifying arguments.   So please, criticize however you like. I want you to because to deny history would be to deny all parties of freedom.

- x -

Here is where I reveal myself.

“There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism” – Walter Benjamin

In college, I fell in love over Walter Benjamin, a neurotic Frankfurt School philosopher who killed himself fleeing from the Nazis.  There is no work to which I have so often returned than his Theses on the Philosophy of History. (You should ask me if this is this an intellectual campaign of self-affirmation. I do not know.  I hope Said wouldn’t think so)

Nothing exists in a vacuum and knowledge is a socially produced artifice. We, most of us and as individuals, begin at the point of assuming our own experiences signify truth. We feel expected on this earth and that we carry with us a weak ability to direct some small or large course of history. But, as mere puppets to the automaton, we have zero perspective of the tide of history that we ride.

Thrust forward into the future, we only look back.  

And if we are all situated differently, how do we create a working agreement, going forward together?  

Every utterance is the present in transition. Time halts.  Time originates.

Positivism and all its derivations, when applied to its intellectualizing efforts, can turn into a strict and homogenous tyrant, incapable of reconciling multiplicities of rich and varied experiences, of apprehending a vast and shifting constellation of truths. Incapable of explaining and handling change. Voices are irretrievably lost.  

We must learn to empathize.  Empathy is a process of preservation and of transmission. Empathy is a bridge.  Empathy is knowledge.  There are Israelis who empathize, some so much that they live in Palestine now as human rights workers.  There are others with no empathy at all, if you catch them at the right moment.  Knowledge is political.

The world is a complicated place. It is we humans who have made it so.

I do not try to separate meanings: the Hamas terrorist is the freedom fighter, the politician, jihadist, the champion of Palestinian nationalism; the fervent Zionist is the Jewish nationalist, the refugee, the perpetrator.

Yom HaAtzma’ut is the Nakhba.

Meaning is a construct.  Our beliefs are framed by social trappings in which we are suspended, free to float about– until we are frozen in space by the only thing to crystallize our position: fear.

It’s ironic that I am here, writing about this issue now, when for so many years I avoided it. After college I practiced archaeology for the sake of preserving history where I could in Africa, piecing together long lost pasts and restoring them to their owners. I believed that archaeology was a useful tool of giving voice to a silenced past; of restoring historical narratives to marginalized people.

Modernity has brought to this conflict a different kind of memory.  It is digital and it tracks every gesture.  There is no process of forgetting, of losing. It has the power to bring regulation into everything - to demand regulation of everything - for better or worse.  It forces an infinitely reciprocal self and cultural negotiation and reinvention. It poses a new lens over the meaning of human beingness.  It compresses time and raises expectations of change, growth, development. It commodifies and fetishizes war, peace, conflict, hope, hatred in globally disseminated images and simplified campaigns.  The dissonance created by media analysis between the here and there, the then and now,  makes every conflict also a war between our future and present selves.  

I’ve been following Cassy Pagan’s blog, which you should all go visit here because she’s much braver than I and a much better writer, and in it she shares a quote by Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist, “Waiting is painful. Forgetting is painful.  But not knowing which to do is the worst kind of suffering.”  I have yet to encounter a more apt description of how emotionally and psychologically ill-equipped humans are to handle modern conflicts and symptoms of the uneven, unequal pace of globalization.  Why should we be?!

There is no singular Israeli-Palestinian reality. I couldn’t weave one even if I tried.   People who swear they have the single solution have the least understanding.  

But using only polarizing language and monolithic heuristics to discuss and analyze a situation that has evolved for centuries and that is conflated by shifting attitudes, modes of modernity, and new and varied realities, such an approach is so limiting and forces the conversation into such a narrow impasse that it can only be aligned with and it can only generate extremist attitudes. It too quickly hones in on a point of conflict before it even has time to reveal itself, calling both sides to arms for some arbitrary purpose. Worse, it encases real human lives living in the dialectic and thrusts them towards each other, still unprepared to forgive, still remembering, and with every right to those feelings.  Of course it’s combustible!

i.e. calling Israel an Apartheid is useless at best, harmful at worst, and maybe most accurate in the sense that for many in South Africa, it felt like Apartheid would never end. It undoes the experience of the actual Apartheid and misidentifies the maelstrom of values and history that carve out this specific conflict.  It ignores the fact that Apartheid, in many social and coercive ways, is still operating in South Africa. Calling Israel a ‘colonial’ Zionist imperial entity, applying modes of ‘orientalism’, implicates narratives that don’t belong and ignores narratives that do. The situation here is much freer than colonialism and simultaneously much less free.

i.e. what does it mean that Palestinians have a different understanding of life and that’s why they blow themselves up (how many times have we heard this in Western news)? That’s not even a legitimate statement except to prove how desperate foreign policy hawks are to create a field of ‘knowledge’ aimed at dehumanizing certain Muslim/Arab (they don’t know the difference) actors and in so many steps absolving Israel from the humanitarian crisis it is (we are) responsible for creating. And even believing that doesn’t mean that Palestinians are not victims of Israeli occupation. It doesn’t give Israel the moral high ground. Of course they are victims. How can we possibly speak of any moral high ground?

- x -

I could go on and on.

A calm day in Israel is never a calm day in Gaza.

But political narratives interrupt growth.  Words usurp the trajectory of original meanings and intent.  Interpretations intervene potential realities.

Labels - “pro” and “anti”, “Zionist” and “terrorist”, “freedom” and “democracy”, “colonialism”, “orientalism”, “racism”, “Israeli”, “Palestinian” etc, etc – subsume, conflate, ignore, destroy meaning.  

Even for those actors moral and intelligent enough to separate the institutions from the values and rationality underlying their conduct, it is impossible to agree on any one truth.

Every generalization of the situation feels like an image completely abstracted from the actual individual’s reality and fabricated by machinations belonging to one side or the other in an attempt to perpetuate a system of disenfranchisement either under the name of victimization or national threat.  But I don’t believe you guys are the crowd that needs to be convinced of how the media’s portrayal of humanitarian crisis often results in the negation of individual agency among the people depicted as victims.  Or the way that governments use propaganda to depict minorities as cancers (I’m talking about Israel, not 1930s Germany).

Where are the days when nations were judged by an orderly God? Now nations are left to judge each other and themselves - against precedent, against the concurrent actions of other nations. Have media and governments turned pain into a currency? This is an incitement against everyone.

I am not writing this because I think I have the power to test the way some Israelis feel about national security or or the way some Palestinians feel about living under a Jewish flag - those ideas themselves have no exact form and are untestable. I am not absolving Israel of its crimes, and Hamas is also guilty of massacre. I’m writing this out of the megalomaniacal assumption that my experience means anything at all.  It already feels like I’m confronted every time I read my Facebook newsfeed.

- x -

The other night, I had the gross misfortune of being privy to a conversation held between two American Jews about an ‘academic’ article they shared on Facebook.  This article was nothing more than an attempt to invent an historical explanation of inherent violence in Arab culture and justify our own violent response.

“Arabs honor violent victories,” they would say.  “They respectfully concede defeat.  The rest of the world needs to understand that this is how you deal with Islamists”.

Whhaaaaa???

Disgusting. Infuriating.  A complete mess of a statement that did nothing but reveal this person’s own complete ignorance and need to rationalize their own unwillingness to be intellectually critical, to learn, to empathize, to go beyond their own situatedness, to question, to operate against ideological machinations of knowledge production that perpetuates violence by justifying it.  Maybe I should have reminded them how we Jews react when such claims are made about our natural tendencies as Jews.  I wanted to vomit.  It felt like the beginning of World War III.

Completely stupefied, I didn’t. I reached, instead, forward for my drink in a well-lit room while lights flickered on the Strip.

(Every moment here is a Marie Antoinette moment.  I am in a constant cycle of self-decapitation and regeneration)

“All of Israel is a target,” said Mishaal. That’s me too, like it or not.

Should I put aside personal differences because we are both Jews and must unite against forces that try to exterminate us? Israel won a war because the UN said it did.  It doesn’t feel like the war is over. How are wars fought in the 21st century? What does it mean when the ideation of the International exerts pressure on all nations to conform to modes of behavior?  Who fits into that scheme, who doesn’t? How does that get decided? Through barbarism? How un-21st Century.

What if the personal differences between me and the other American Jew are at the very crux of what I believe is causing the conflict to begin with? Then who is exterminating whom?

This person and I may not share political viewpoints, but we share a collective memory. I said nothing.

Whose forces am I joining when I am silent?

Why did I not rail – rail! –against the machine?

I am not armed to confront a member of Hamas.  I do fear militant jihadi extremism.  I am not within fighting distance of anybody that hates me. It is the right wing extremist I have to thank for my current physical safety. I probably wouldn’t make it into Hamas headquarters if I tried.  I can only confront myself. I can only confront the opinions of the people around me.

In the mere weeks of sustained bombing and the three days of military escalation I have witnessed, I can easily see how political factions form quickly during war.

I like small details.  I enjoy day-to-day pragmatism. Why should I allow analytical frameworks to dictate the nature of my relationship with someone? So I see things in increments and not in overarching generalizations that are way above my head and give me the sinking feeling of not having any control over a situation. There are many issues with what I’ve just said, but in the brief time I am here implicated by my identity in this conflict, how else can I cope?

My roommate here, whom I respect and who also held a high post in the military, supports the two state solution.  He recognizes the necessity for dialogue, compromise, withdrawal.  The problem, he says, is how do you do that?

We grew up with the image of the Berlin wall being torn down and a specific type of freedom being so easily restored.  But the emotional barriers between east and west Berlin had deteriorated long before the wall.

Change happens in places you don’t see and on such incremental levels that it’s hardly felt.  But how can I possibly reduce the immediate grip that Israel has on Palestine to philosophical arguments about change? It’s inhumane!  The sky above me is literally a battlefield.  

The other day, my friend told me about her Palestinian medical colleague doing a fellowship at a hospital in Holon, Israel  (another place targeted by terrorists) that treats children from third world countries with heart defects in need of emergency, life-saving surgery.  Where was she from in the West Bank? Hebron. [the city were the three Israeli teens were found dead.]

Imagine living in a world where everything you do and say is polemicized by the people around you. Even the things over which you have no control, like where you were born – culturally, geographically.  And then, you are interpreted and abstracted in ways over which you have no control, completely beyond the individual.

In fact, I want to go back to the West Bank.  I want to go to support the local economy and treat it as its own country because it is a choice I make as an individual and to not go now would only personally reinforce the illogic of the conflict and occupation of Palestinian territories. But how can I go over there and have it not feel like a stunt? Like a violation of Palestinian sovereignty?

How does that serve either country?

Why are gas chambers the golden standard for a legitimizing a people’s right to exist freely and not the chopping down of olive trees or the abduction of children from their beds?

I want to go and spend my money in Palestine. The BDS movement is nonsense.  Just invest in Palestine (why wasn’t this Plan A?). And, in Israel, I’m not alone in that sentiment, but companies that try to are decried as human right violators.

To me it feels like certain things are crumbling.  The conflict and the use of fear mongering to sway the Israeli public (whether or not the threat is real) are becoming more and more transparent. National identity grounded in the narrative of the victimhood and the Holocaust is becoming less sustainable.  The Likud coalition is dismantling.

(I can sense the cringing and clenched fists of certain people who might read these statements – dispute already brewing.)

Israeli and Palestinian fates are becoming more inextricable.

- x -

For someone in my position, I can refuse to fit into any one of the categories used to reinforce and normalize hatred.

For someone in my position, I can hope to serve Israel by also serving Palestine. I cannot know the history of Israel without knowing the history of Palestine and the Arab world, among other things. I can refuse to believe that the 1951 UN Convention in response to the atrocity of the Holocaust is meant only to serve (or protect) Jews from persecution.  We have encased each other and understood ourselves in mutual systems of Othering (it is, at its core, a psychological process resulting in ideas and experiences used to foment the epistemological underpinnings of what those who pen history, only retrospectively understood as inherently racist and violent institutions, and it had to be taught to them by its very victims, Franz Fanon, Edward Said, Hannah Arendt, et al.). I can only hope to change the way we learn about each other and the conflict, and to reveal how frighteningly fragile all perceptions of truth are. How much they depend on individual choices and interpretations.

From someone in my position, who cannot see into the future and know what the end of this war will look like, I chose to give more weight to the positive patterns of peace and dialogue that frequently appear in smaller news sources and on the streets, but are never painted into popular images of the conflict that fuel the global imaginations of media hawks and soldiers. They flicker in my newsfeed briefly before being flooded by taglines featuring more polemic words that satisfy the ideological cravings of predators. Death has always been a spectacle.

Or am I invariably subjugated to the fetishization of this conflict and every grasping for images of peace is the creation of another kind of spectacle?

These are choices I consciously make – to silence certain things happening around me, to cling to others - to inject the Arab Palestinian narrative into every corner of the Jewish Israeli narrative.

Can I control more than my own actions and recognition of the assumptions I make?

Yet, my position is also provided by the sacrifices that those young soldiers and their families are about to make.  They serve to protect me.  Many of them afraid; many of them reluctant; many of them proud. How can I ask onlookers who liken Israel to Nazi Germany to empathize? It is their choice and their right to interpret however they like.  Those soldiers are a part of me. Israel is a part of me. How should I protect them? How can I forget them? How do I emotionally and mentally organize them?

We here, implicated in this crisis, are all part of something different and something the same. That something, what we are and where we are, is a function of time, of personal and collective actions.

We here, implicated in this crisis, are all having multiple different and simultaneous conversations with ourselves and with each other. And I am dreadfully naive.  Dreadfully.

The best I can usually answer is always yes and no.


“All I have is a voice

To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in Stupor lies;
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.”

-W.H. Auden
from the poem September 1, 1939

A pale moon now gleams on the fabulous fable out of which Israel was fashioned.  But the fog has not yet lifted from over the new Shangri-La.