Gaza scene, January 2009
My eyes shall flow without cease
Until the Lord looks down
And beholds from heaven …
(Lamentations 3:49, JPS trans.)
1. On the Hurban of Gaza
For three weeks we rained bombs and fired artillery shells on an helpless civilian population. We punished them for their rocket fire, which was their punishment for our siege, which was our punishment for their election results, which was their punishment for Fatah's corruption, and so the story goes one. What should we have done? We should have negotiated – a cease fire, a prisoner exchange, a withdrawal from Gaza. We should have talked with them. Instead, we treated them like flies, whose lord we were. And so we bombed, killed, and maimed, using them as human shields, raining down phosphorus as weapons, finishing only when we were forced to stop. At the end of the nightmare, in additional to the tens of thousands of lives ruined, there were over 1400 Palestinians dead, mostly civilians, and 13 Israelis dead, mostly soldiers.
The death and destruction should have been unbearable for all decent human beings. But with deep sadness I can only say that relatively few in my country of Israel were disturbed. "They started it." "They deserved it" "What would you have done?" As if what Israel did was the last resort.
Every Ninth of Av as long as I live will remember the latest in the Jewish catastrophes that have befallen the Jewish people – when our hearts were Cast into Lead.
2. On the Hurban of Jerusalem and al-Quds
For thirty-five years I have lived in Jerusalem, the so-called "United Jerusalem." I have seen it grow into a sprawling and overbuilt megalopolis where the building never stops. Part of the development is based on developer's greed; part is based on Israel's never-ending struggle to de-Arabicize Jerusalem (which now includes banning the Arabic word for Jerusalem from street signs). So rightwing Jewish groups join hands with Jewish bingo moguls and government officials to buy up, legally and fictitiously, parts of East Jerusalem, or when that fails, to get tracts of land zoned for "archaeological parks" run by rightwing settler groups, despite the intervention of the High Court.Jews should be allowed to live anywhere in East Jerusalem, we are told, and Arabs should be allowed to live nowhere in West Jerusalem. Not a day goes by without more revelations, for which one can read the Ir Amim website here. The idea is clear – to surround the Old City with as many Jews as possible – and to convince the Israelis that East Jerusalem, including Arab East Jerusalem, is part of the Jewish state. Let us not forget that according to the UN and the world, the State of Israel is not sovereign over West Jerusalem, and let us hope that, speedily in our days, Jerusalem will be internationalized. Till then you will see the continual sprawl and growth that has choked the city, destroyed its center, and, together with the inflated prices of real estate due to absentee owners, sent many of its educated young people into exile.
3. On the Hurban of the Jews.
"The Jews, as a majority in their state, will be judged by how they treat their own minorities." Well, judging from the present situation, I give my state a D-. Consider the plight of foreign workers. They are imported to Israel, work often under horrible conditions, and then expelled. If they marry Israelis they may or may not become citizens; it is up to the decision of the Minister of Interior. But even if they don't, then they and their children born on Israeli soil, are liable to be deported. Now the press, politicians, and an impressive list of intellectuals and religious leaders (with only one orthodox rabbi, of course, Rabbi David Rosen) are trying to avert the decree of deporting the children, who have known no other homeland besides Israel.What other country deports children in this way? And why Israel? Because, you see, it has no real process of naturalization for non-Jews. I would like to know what other state besides Israel does not have a process for naturalizing eventually children of foreign workers born on their soil. Even Germany now has one,and think of all the foreign workers there. "Do not afflict the stranger for you were a stranger in the Land of Egypt." Well, how quickly we have become hard-hearted Pharaohs. And don't think for a moment we are going to stop importing new foreign workers. And what will be with their children? For a cry of decency, read Haaretz's editorial here
And here's another minority, this one much smaller – asylum seekers from problem areas in Africa. Israel cannot turn them away, but it can make life miserable for them and subject to unfair restrictions and discrimination. And why? Because we are Jews and we have our hands full taking care of our own. And don't throw the "boat people" at me, either. Because you do a mitzvah years ago – a mitzvah that any civilized country would do – you never have to act like a mentsh again? From Haaretz's editorial here:
The Interior Ministry's newly created Immigration Authority is a vital mechanism. To this day Israel has not drawn up an immigration policy, because anyone who isn't a new immigrant under the Law of Return is seen as a temporary visitor whom the state has no interest in naturalizing. The entrance of hundreds of thousands of foreign workers, only some of whom have left, has brought the state to its senses.
It is regrettable that the authority's first step was to round up a few hundred asylum seekers from Africa in south Tel Aviv, in what appeared to be a senseless demonstration of ostentatious bullying. Most of the detainees had been brought into Israel by the army at the Egyptian border. They met the representatives of the United Nations refugee agency and have been granted temporary protection due to the danger and persecution they were subjected to in their countries of origin, such as Eritrea and Sudan.
These detainees are protected from deportation, so one must assume the Immigration Authority intended to intimidate and deter other asylum seekers from coming to Israel, in addition to enforcing the problematic procedure forbidding them from living and staying in the area between Gedera and Hadera. Instead of engaging in intelligence activity to find people staying in Israel illegally, the authority's inspectors chose the easy route and filled the prisons with fugitives from disaster and massacre areas.
It is no credit to the Jewish state that only around 400 asylum seekers who entered its gates have been recognized as refugees by the Interior Ministry. The status of refugee entitles its holder to rights, mainly medical insurance and a work permit. The authorities' slow handling of the refugees' applications for this status is immoral in a country that was established by refugees. So is incarcerating asylum seekers in Ketziot Prison for months. The Immigration Authority was not set up to persecute the persecuted
I will discuss the Palestinian Israeli minority in another post.
On my way to shul I heard A. B. Yehoshua say, once more, that one can only be a Jew in the full sense of the term in the State of Israel. I once believed that.
But this Tisha B'Av, when we read about destruction and exile, I ask the question that was the title of Akiva Ernst Simon's last book: "Are We Still Jews"? And to Buli Yehoshua I ask, how can one still be Jewish and live in Israel 2009 – unless one lives in constant despair and depression?