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Guns Uncontrolled; Settlements Uncontrolled

theguardian.com

theguardian.com

For some time now, I’ve been bothered by the similarities between the issue of guns and violence in America, and the issue of settlements and violence in Israel. And while, at least on the outset, it seems as if there is no connection between these two issues and countries, in terms of the proliferation of both guns and settlements, and the inability of sane people – in both countries, the majority – to bring them under control, and the misery and bloodbath they continue to bring, the similarities are striking. So let’s set the stage for this argument by describing two (fictional) scenarios. You’ll be the judge as to how closely they might resemble reality and truth.

First, imagine a gathering in the luxurious headquarter of the NRA – President, Vice President, all the other honchos – following a mass-shooting. The latest one, you know, which took place last month, or the one that will take place next month. They sit around the most beautiful, expensive mahogany boardroom desk, sipping champagne while watching three HD screens. On the one, a mixture of television live coverage and studio reporting going on at FOX from the latest shooting incident. On the other screen there’s a live CNN feed from the White House, awaiting the President reaction speech. On the third one, a large computer monitor screen, there are a number of graphs in various colors, indicating a minute-by-minute gun sales throughout America.

Now, when the president speaks, gravely and even teary-eyed about the latest incident, our “expensive suits” in the room raise another glass of champagne, and laugh loudly. Because right then, the graph of gun sales in Texas begins a steady rise. When an enraged father of one of the victims speaks on the other TV screen, vowing to do all in his power to bring about sane gun control measures in order to prevent such tragedies from happening to other parents, the most expensive Cuban cigar box is opened, and cigars are fired up by all men in the – soon to be smoke-filled – room. And when the PR secretary enters the room, the only woman there, and asks for instructions regarding the barrage of requests from the media for interview and reaction from the NRA President, he puffed a long funnel of heavy smoke to the ceiling, smiles and asks her to join the fun. No interviews; no need for them. Even in liberal, democratic California gun sales are hitting the roof. New members are joining the NRA all over the land. The dollars are pouring in. Later, she is told, she can issue the regular press release statement: The NRA is terribly sorry for all innocent lives lost in this tragedy, but it has nothing to do with the availability of guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens in the country. It’s just a mental illness issue, and criminals getting their hands on guns. Come honey, sit on my lap, and raise a glass of champagne with us, why don’t you. Cheers.

Second, imagine a gathering in the modestly furnished (by compression to the NRA), mid-sized office of Israel’s Prime Minister. He’s sitting behind his desk, and opposite him are a couple of close advisers. Last week – or the following week, it doesn’t matter – Israel announced a new settlement, or new buildings to be built in an existing settlement. When the expected phone call from Secretary Kerry comes, voicing the American administration displeasure and deep concern over this new development, the Israeli PM answers that, for all intents and purposes: It is what it is, Mr. Secretary. We will take your complaint under advisement, but let me remind you that Israel is a sovereign country. And anyway, what are you going to do about it, ha? But please, before you hang up, don’t forget to send us the scheduled quarterly installment of aid, nine hundred million dollars, is it not? Thanks a million. See you in D.C. next time.

Cheers and laughter all around, from the Prime Minister to his aides. Ice cream is now served, the PM favorite flavor, and pistachios and orange juice are being brought into the room by a pretty secretary. A backgammon board is being opened. But just before a game is about to begin, Angela Merkel is on the phone line from Germany, voicing her displeasure with the new settlement, and/or the new land-grab by Israel in the Jordan Valley. Angela my dear, says the PM while spooning his ice cream, you have so many other problems to worry about right now with all those Arab immigrants. We got to do what we got to do, see, and you do the same. You know, if the Holocaust had taught us anything… Sure, dear Angela, nothing else is planned for the near future, I promise you. And of course, don’t forget the delivery date of our latest submarine. Make sure it is capable of launching a nuclear second attack. With this disastrous Iran Nuclear deal, you know, we need to be ready. Sure, Angela, no worries about the money. I know we got a very good deal from you. Auf Wiedersehen.

And so it goes, my friends. No stopping the proliferation of guns in America; no stopping the proliferation of settlements in Israel. Both situations bring only disaster with them – yet the beast of big-money and fundamentalist-evil needs to be constantly fed. Guns and violence go hand in hand – believe me, I speak from experience. And so are settlements. No matter how many scholars and law enforcement people will tell you that America cannot continue to be the only civilized, western country to have such an epidemic of gun violence, the patriotic ignorance masses who sleep with the second amendment under their pillow will tell you otherwise. Or will kill you; watch out. And likewise, no matter how many historians and diplomats, good people who actually love Israel and want to see its future secured, will tell you that indefinite continuation of the settlement endeavor leads to an apartheid state, and ultimately to the destruction of Israel as a democratic, Jewish state, the fundamentalist patriots who sleep wrapped in the flag, the bible on their nightstand, will prevent them from putting a stop to that madness. What unite the two camps is god, guns and money. Bringing only blood, tears and violence.

* The “Leave a comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

The Unthinkable

 

barnesandnoble.com

barnesandnoble.com

This last Chanukah, I met an Israeli friend of mine at a Chabad celebration, ahead of lighting the first candle of the menorah. Unlike other Israelis around town, I don’t know this man for that long, but we are fast becoming friends. He’s lived here long, he’s around 60 or so, and from a few political tidbits I heard him say, I assumed he’s moderately—not extreme, like most Israelis here—right of center politically. It was therefore doubly shocking to me that, as we were waiting for the ceremony to begin, and as naturally the discussion drifted towards Israel—he had told me already that he has family and relatives all over the country there—he suddenly looked at me straight and asked me this: “Do you think Israel was a mistake?”

I looked at him dumbfounded; this question came as such a total surprise to me. I said “N0 WAY!” But he persisted, saying, “C’mon, don’t you think so?” I reiterated, saying no way it was a mistake. He asked for an explanation. At that crucial moment the ceremony, led by Rabbi Mendy Cohen began, and I not only turned my attention to that, but told my friend that this is not the right time and the right place to discuss such a serious matter. We are celebrating a big win, after all; a miracle, if you prefer. Sometimes, somewhere else, maybe we’ll come back to that topic and that question. As it happened, the ceremony took a detour towards a magician for the kids, and I decided to leave early.

His question was on my mind, though, and so was President Obama unusually urgent, primetime speech that evening to the nation. But then, during the early part of the following week, or the one after, a title of an article in the online Tablet Magazine caught my attention. It boldly proclaimed this: “Thinking the Unthinkable: A Lamentation for the State of Israel,” by Ron Rosenbaum. I thought the post was somewhat long and protracted, but in short, it lays claim, analysis and some facts to the idea that Israel would not last long. I did not have the stomach for the article that evening, but was bothered by it all week nonetheless, and later—finding a connection between that article and my friend’s question—came back to it and read it again at length.

I realized then that there is a straight-line connection between the question and the article, and that I needed to address it. I thought at first that I never before encountered such a question and an assertion, but then remembered that more than ten years ago, when I was the Executive Director at the UC Davis Hillel, a Jewish professor once, at a faculty discussion group we had there, voiced the same concern. I believed he questioned whether Israel will survive even the next ten years. Well, it did. And it will survive much longer. And it was most defiantly not a mistake.

Here’s why: Israel was created, and established anew as a safe, secure home for the Jewish people. For all the Jewish people, the world over. As such, the Zionists’ vision and dream was justified by any measure known to mankind: Historically, religiously, heritage(ly), socially, humanly. As well, the argument can be made that Herzl‘s dream had already been accomplished, its premise and promise already fulfilled. As it happened, however unfortunate we may consider it, the Jews coming to their ancestors’ land (among them my parents, survivals of the Holocaust), intending on establishing their home there and working the land, did not find it entirely barren (as the legend has it), and most definitely not empty of people. Arab people lived in what was then called Palestine for many generations, and while some stayed, many fled or were forced to flee when Israel was created and fought for independence. It is my belief, always was, that unless Israel—its leaders and people—realize the need to grant those Arab inhabitants of the land equal rights, and a state of their own side by side with the state of Israel, the whole Zionist endeavor comes, indeed, into question.

And in that question’s footsteps, comes the question of survival, too. Unfortunately, the leaders and people of Israel, with active support of American Jewry, are moving farther away from that understanding—Herzl understood that, and so to a degree did Ben Gurion—and from the realization that unless the Palestinian conflict is solved, the question of Israel ultimate survival and justification remained open as well. In that sense, one begins to understand why such “unthinkable” questions and lamentations are being raised by well meaning people. Jewish people. Moreover—indeed, in spite of myself—it brings validity to the question of Israel’s survivability. And I suppose what my friend had really meant, asking that troubling question. In the sense, therefore, if it will not survive, then it was a mistake.

Well, I don’t think so. It was not a mistake, and it will survive to celebrate a hundred years in existence. However, putting that innermost optimism aside—as well as the many arguments why it might not survive, which Ron Rosenbaum had listed and analyzed in his article—I believe that the failure of the Israeli and Jewish people to understand that their refusal to acknowledge the right of the Palestinians to have a state of their own—not just paying lip service to it once in a while, as they have the tendency of doing, but acting upon this understanding, and from a position of strength—is pulling the rug out from under the entire Zionist endeavor. It endangers it greatly, and brings people—good people—to raise these troubling questions. It is also the first order of business for the state of Israel to take care of, more important to its survival than even the nuclear threat, the BDS threat, the anti-Semitic threat and so on and so forth.

And who is wiser, or was ever wiser, than Hillel the Elder, Hillel the Wiser (I carry his name proudly, young and unwise that I am in comparison), who said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

And learn we must, if we don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past. Because after the Maccabees, and after Bar Kokhba, we still experienced 2000 years of diaspora. And putting it in that context, that of the Miracle of Chanukah—I consider the uprising and the fight for liberation much more a miracle than the fantasy story, which I like nonetheless, of the oil lasting eight days—I begin to understand why my friend asked that question. Maybe it was the right time even. We have to make sure this time that Israel is not just a miracle. A passing victory. A short-lived success story. But a sustainable existence. A reality forever.

* The “Leave a comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

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