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The Silence of The Jews

savethecat.com

Be warned: This is a horror story, a Halloween story. And since Halloween is my birthday (thank you very much), and I’m going away for a week to celebrate a milestone, I’m writing ahead of schedule and attempting something a bit different for the occasion. I don’t know where I’m going with it (usually I have a pretty good idea before I sit down to write), so we’ll find out together where it leads me. Hopefully—if it’s not scary enough, forbidding enough—you will forgive me.

First though, a bit of background. Some of you may know already that I’m the son of Holocaust survivors. My father, who died in the kibbutz he helped build, escaped from three labor camps in Hungary and Czechoslovakia during five years of horrors, spending his last year as a hungry rat in the streets and sewage tunnels of Budapest while the allies rained bombs. MY mother, still alive and residing in Tel Aviv, survived Auschwitz, seeing her parents and older sister—who refused to be separated from her crying baby—taken away into the gas chambers. I grew up without grandparents, therefore, in a place without grandparents.

And yet, I never liked the saying that the Jews of Europe were led to their death like “lambs to the slaughter.” I didn’t like it because it implied that these six million Jews had other options. As if they could fight. As if, unlike lambs, they could rebel. And yes, I know, a few—the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Jewish Partisans, others here and there—tried to fight. But by and large, the Jews of Europe were minding their own business. They exercised their religion and culture, they worked hard and prospered well, they were educated and successful in the arts and sciences. And then the most sophisticated, the most brutal, the most inhumane killing machine ever known to man had hit them suddenly. Just as most of them, when being loaded into the trains—like my mother and her family—didn’t know where they were heading.

They couldn’t fight even if they wanted to. They didn’t know how to fight. They didn’t have any weapons. That’s why the state of Israel was envisioned, established, and built. That never again such a calamity would befall us Jews. That’s why, also, many other survivors and refugees immigrated to America. And what I’m afraid of is that now—here comes the horror—when they have power, and weapons, and army, and money, and political strength, they are not only using it wrongly, but they inflict—even if on a different scale—shame, death, and injustice on other people: The Palestinians.

What the Israeli government and people since the Six-Day War of 1967 are doing, led by the settlers zealots—lately with increased violence, cruelty, and freehand—is not only unbecoming of the people of the book, of the people who survived the Holocaust, but of any decent human being. The continuation of the occupation, colonization, and abuse of basic human rights of the Palestinian people in the West bank might lead to the destruction of the Zionist dream. As an idea, for sure, if not in reality too. The security and prosperity of a safe home, a democratic home for the Jewish people is in grave danger.

Some Jews, not many, do speak out. Lately, Ben & Jerry decided to take a stand and not sell their ice cream to settlers in the West Bank. And yes, American Jews who support J Street and its call for the Two-State solution—dead or comatose, floating in shallow water—do speak out. Americans for Peace Now, New Israel Fund, and Jewish Voice for Peace all speak out. Even yours truly, here in this blog, shout out from time to time. Representative Andy Levin introduced in September the ‘Two-State Solution Act’ in congress. Well done. But mostly, the greater Jewish organizations and religious congregations not only maintain their silence, but enable Israel to continue its occupation and colonization.

There is a debate going on, naturally, whether Israel’s rule over Palestine is de facto an Apartheid already. I believe it is. And the scholars, historians, thinkers I trust most believe it is. But even if it’s not already there, it’s heading there fast. The hottest (not due to her looks) writer in the English language these days, Sally Rooney, had refused her latest book to be translated to Hebrew as a protest against Israel’s occupation and mistreatment of Palestinians. Others are sure to follow. Netflix, the biggest streamer of visual content on the planet, starts streaming some thirty short films, ‘Palestinian Stories,’ by filmmakers living under the occupation. If you’re on Twitter and you try to hashtag Apartheid, the first and most used term that pops out is #IsraeliApartheid.

But Prime Minister Bennett didn’t even mention the Palestinian people or conflict in his first speech in the UN. His right hand in his party, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, said we want to “manage” the conflict, not “solve” it. Netanyahu before them, likewise, had no intention of solving it. Other experts want to “shrink” the conflict. Anything but solving it. There is no—and won’t be any longer—political power in Israel, supported by the people, that can affect a change on this disastrous trajectory.

There are only two powers that, if united, might be able to force Israel’s hand into reversing course. First, the American President and administration. Second, a united American Jewry front standing together with the president. President Biden, sympathetic as he is to the Palestinian cause, won’t be able to do it alone under the current political climate. Just reopening the Palestinian Consulate in Jerusalem, which he’d promised he’d do, he is now hesitating to go ahead with under pressure from Israel. Only a united, strong front of Jewish America and the American President might be able to accomplish it.

But I don’t see it coming any time soon. My horror story ends with it; with the thundering silence of the Jews continuing unabated. Enabling Israel, therefore, to continue with the creation of a One-State Solution, undemocratic, with a ruling class, Jewish, and a plebeian class, Arab.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

‘The Present’ – On Netflix – Makes Apartheid Visible

This year at the Oscars ‘The Present,’ directed by Farah Nabulsi, represented Palestine in the short live-action film category. It did not win. It did win, however, the best short film at the ‘British Academy for Films and Television,’ as well as at the Cleveland, Brooklyn, and Palm Springs Film Festivals. Incidentally, an Israeli film in the same Oscar category, ‘White Eye,’ also didn’t win. Maybe the two films had simply canceled each other out (more about it later).

What brings me to write about the film, which I recently watched on Netflix, is the question of Apartheid in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in regard to the Palestinian people, very much in the news lately. Just earlier this month, according to the Times of Israel: “Poll finds a quarter of US Jews think Israel is ‘apartheid state’.” These numbers are higher in Europe and elsewhere, while Israel keeps rejecting this label as libel. However, for Israelis and Jews worldwide to bury our heads in the sand regarding this escalating sentiment won’t help matters, or change the terrible situation on the ground. Which is what the short film ‘The Present” had set out to show.

With limited success, in my view. As for the plot: The film centered on a father and daughter in the Palestinian enclaves of the Israeli-occupied West Bank who are trying to buy a wedding anniversary gift. From their small village they travel to Beitunia, a Palestinian town near Ramallah, where they buy some groceries and a new refrigerator. Their progress in both directions is impeded by roadblocks and checkpoints, culminating in a harrowing scene when at a checkpoint near their home, a group of young Israeli soldiers tries to prevent them from passing through with their present back home.

As for the film itself, I do understand why the Academy voters hadn’t selected it the winner. While as the story of the father and daughter (Saleh Bakri and  Maryam Kanj) rings true, is well-acted, and very emotionally engaging, some of what they go through—especially at the end—doesn’t make sense at all. In the beginning there is a scene at a real checkpoint, when the father goes to work in the morning, which is very real and horrifying. But the checkpoint near their small village is utterly ridiculous and cartoonish.

Yes, checkpoints are placed in the West Bank in strategic locations where Palestinians cross into Israel and coming back from Israel. There are roadblocks and such when military situations demand them. But no checkpoint, quite an elaborate one at that, is placed near a small Palestinian village of a few houses, separating that village from a nearby Palestinian town where the father goes to buy the groceries and the present. No Palestinian in the West Bank leaves his village to buy milk and toilet paper and has to pass through a checkpoint in order to do that. Checkpoints are bad, absolutely so, but this one was placed there artificially by the director just to score a point. She misses. *

The ‘bad’ Israeli soldiers (speaking Hebrew with an Arabic accent) aren’t real, just as the whole situation isn’t real. To make things worse, the little girl (who earlier peed in her pants just seeing the Israeli soldiers and their threatening behavior towards her father) now saves the day by wheeling the trolley with the refrigerator on the road. It’s no more plausible than if I’ll try to push an elephant off the road. For no apparent reason—another artificial plot point—the truck that brought the fridge had to stop, so that the father will continue his journey by wheeling his fridge back home on a trolley. Sympathetic as I am to the Palestinians’ plight and aspirations, the last scene at the “checkpoint” stretches the imagination big time, and it is just about ludicrous. It’s a pity that such a good idea, and overall a good film at its core, gets a propagandistic treatment at times, especially at the end. **

However, regarding the larger point the film tries to make (including, I assume, female empowerment), it is more successful. That the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own, was pointed out here in this blog plenty of times. That the occupation must end, likewise. The inhumanity of it all, of course. But concerning Apartheid, it was a close call for me so far. In fact, in my April post—”What’s Behind the Latest Buzzwords: ‘Israeli-Palestinian Confederation’?”—I termed it “an Apartheid-in-progress.” I stick by this definition, for now, though no doubt every day that passes without a solution brings the situation on the ground closer to a real Apartheid.

What Israel doesn’t get, not only regarding the Palestinian people and conflict but also about the increasing discomfort and doubts spreading among American Jews, is that the current situation is unsustainable. Just ‘managing the situation’ won’t solve anything and doesn’t work anymore. Calling it ‘unfeasible’ and ‘unsolvable,’ likewise. The last flare-up between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has shown, at least as to the ‘media wars’ and the opinions of most people around the world, that Israel is losing that war. And rightly so. A film like ‘The Present’ most definitely underscores this point, and helps spread the word. 

* According to the IDF, a Palestinian civilian in the West Bank can travel from the northern city of Jenin to Bethlehem just south of Jerusalem, without encountering a single military checkpoint. (Wikipedia.)

** According to program director Col. Triber Bezalel, the IDF employs humanitarian officers at various checkpoints. These officers are tasked with making life easier for those who cross the borders and aiding the elderly and sick. (Wikipedia.)

*** The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

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