Monday, March 29, 2010

Passover at a Time of Darkness

I have even less time to write now than I did when I wrote the below two years ago. But in the I/P conflict things rarely change and usually for the worse. Gunther Grass was right, and I only hope that more Germans draw the lesson from their history that no people has the right to be secure at the expense of another people.

More on Grass after the holiday. Let Passover start the countdown of nuclear disarmament in the Middle East -and elsewhere. No country should be allowed to have nuclear weapons.

I don't have time to write a proper Passover post, and I don't have the strength either. Only those who are of the "things-need-to-get-worse-in-order-to-get-better" school can take cheer this Passover. The State of Israel continues to disappoint erstwhile supporters. Liberal Zionists never expected Israel to be a Zionist utopia; they would have been happy with what the Israeli philosophy professor, Avishai Margalit, calls a 'decent society'. Israel, today, is not by any stretch of the imagination a decent society. That it contains many decent and truly good people, that many of its institutions are decent and good, provides comfort in the present and hope for the future. But, as Akiva Eldar points out in an excellent piece here, we are now suffering our own plague of darkness and hard-heartedness. And there is no end in sight.

Those Jews who suffer the most today are liberal Zionists like Eldar. For years they believed that they could wipe clean the stain of 1967 (and, with the resettlement of the refugees, of 1948), by a fair and decent compromise with the Palestinians. They believed that most Israelis were in favor of such a compromise. But at the same time they were aware that they were a dwindling breed, and as the years have gone by, they have become increasingly marginalized by the chauvinistic center, from Labor to the Likud. Most Israelis never supported a two-state solution; they simply supported getting rid of the Palestinians one way or the other. I am waiting for the liberal Zionist to realize, as I had to realize, that the problems for Israel are much deeper than land for peace, that a question mark hangs – or should hang – over the entire Zionist enterprise of creating a state against the will, and without the participation, of the natives of Palestine. Yet as long as there was hope that the Palestinians could have their own state, where they could exercise their self-determination, where they could receive the refugees, where they could build their own society with its own problems, then one could arguably defend the legitimacy of the Zionist state founded in 1948. But now that that hope has faded, what remains? What moral justification can remain for the systematic and never-ending deprivation of fundamental human rights? Only a society where Palestinians are accepted as equals; only a state which defends Jewish and Palestinians rights to self-determination will be sufficient. And how long will it take for that society to come about?

So the night is long and dark; the lights at the end of the tunnel are flashing, and the time between the flashes become longer. As many have recently pointed out, even the perennially clueless Tom Friedman, Israelis don't really care much about a just settlement with the Palestinians; they have lived very well without it, and as long as they are an economic power, who will refrain to do business with it? Demographically, politically, and, yes, Jewishly, Israel has moved to the right, but frankly, they haven't moved as much as is reported because the society always was on the right.

So what to do? Where there can be no liberation on the national front, one can only turn inward and seek personal liberation – liberation from prejudice, self-righteousness, intense tribalism, and from the insensitivity to the Palestinian, whose land we took and take, and whose aspirations we continue to deny. And to forge bonds with like-minded individuals of all types.

In that struggle for liberation from spiritual slavery, we Jews have much to learn from ourselves and our history, but also from others and their history. So tonight at your seder table (or some time over the holiday, if you don't like to let the contemporary intrude) you may want to ponder this post by my friend, Sam Bahour. Sam is a Palestinian-American businessman living in Ramallah who has taken the time to write his own interpretation of the foods of the Seder Plate. His interpretation is here; I urge you to see the original and to read the comments, which prove, by their very insensitivity, how hard our Jewish hearts have become.



pabelmont said...

This essay, like so many others, assumes (or appears to assume) that the existence of the settlements is permanent and unchangeable. That is surely true if the choice is left to Israel, but not necessarily if the choice is left to (for example) President Obama who might have the means to demand the repatriation of all the settlers and, more important, the means to enforce that demand.

If the populations could be rectified (by removal of the settlers) to the day the 1967 war ended, then the settlers needn't prevent the two-state solution as widely envisioned along the green line.

So liberal Jewish prayers this Passover should perhaps be for the arrival of US or UN troops in Jerusalem "next year" or for the return to East Jerusalem of the Palestinians who have had to leave it.

It is an ancient Jewish principle that when you live in a country where you are not sovereign, you try to get along with whoever is. I'm not ordinarily a fan of US imperialism, but I could make an exception for Jerusalem (et al.).

Unknown said...

You are a moral giant! Thank you for writing. Please don't give up!

Andrew H
Sydney, Australia

Devir said...

I was truly touched by your from-the-heart lament and joined your friend Sam Bahour's interpretation of the Seder.
I emailed your post to my fellow pro-Palestine activists, here in Lisbon ( web: mppm-palestine ): Portuguese Movement for the Rights of The Palestinean People and for Peace in the Middle-East ( MPPM, in the portuguese achronym )
Luis Almeida
Lisbon, Portugal

Jerry Haber said...

Pabelmont, you wrote:

"That is surely true if the choice is left to Israel, but not necessarily if the choice is left to (for example) President Obama who might have the means to demand the repatriation of all the settlers and, more important, the means to enforce that demand"

President Obama does not have the will, desire, or means to repatriate all the settlers. To do so, US troops would have to occupy Israel and the West Bank, against the will of the Israelis.

How likely is that scenario.

Mary-Lee said...

Pabelmont, the United States has a history of displacing its Native American peoples and confining them on reservations... which were selected because it was believed that no desirable resources existed there. The United States has continued this policy, choosing even now to neglect the health needs of the Native people or even to see to it that they have access to clean water.
I really wouldn't look to President Obama to help the Palestinians much. He hasn't helped the Native American people at all.

Elliot said...

Thank you, Jerry for speaking from the heart. It takes courage for an Israeli to stay aware and committed to human values.
Thank you for continuing to stand tall.
I left Israel during Netanyahu's first tenure. The Rabin assassination which precipitated Netanyahu's rise to power, the growing anti-democratic officer corps in the army and the disappearance of the Left left me with no hope for the country.
I'm sorry to see things continue to deteriorate.


Michael B said...

Thank you for this post, Jerry.

Pabelmont: instead of looking inward, as Jerry has done, you look to an outside solution, one that is absurdly implausible. The term "rectification of populations", reminds me of George Orwell's essay 'Politics and the English Language':

"Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers."

There can be no solution without addressing 1948. Here's the latest in a long series of articles, referring to the latest in a long series of books, making this point, by Dimi Reider.

evildoer said...

Looking inward to survive the storm is always useful. But is it enough? As you say correctly, the wish of most Israelis was always and still is to get rid of the Palestinians. Recognizing that there is no place within Israeli Jewish society from which a challenge to this project, which we all know is ongoing, can be mounted with anything more than empty symbolism, means that the only ethical choice for opponents of that project is to join as part of the Palestinian struggle.

This is the time to look outside not only for inspiration, but primarily for leadership and organization.

Michael B said...

evildoer: Inward/outward above does not refer to inside/outside Israel, but rather to the person - that is, for each of us, whether we consider what we can do, or look to someone else to solve the problem (in this case, passively waiting for the cavalry).

For those of us outside Israel, looking inward therefore does not mean depending on all Israelis to become as reflective as Jerry. Looking inward is not an alternative to action but a necessary basis for accepting responsibility and taking action, including boycott, divestment, and sanctions.