The Elephant in the Room

Fighting the spread of the coronavirus pandemic—in America fighting ingrained racism too, and in Israel the threat of annexation—I myself am facing the extra burden of walking, eating, and sleeping with an elephant. No kidding, stay with me please. It’s not only in my room, mind you, it goes everywhere with me. The few people I interact with these days, and those I pass by on my walk in the park, don’t seem to see that I walk with an elephant by my side. And after reading, hearing, watching millions of words being spoken, coming from the mouths and minds of people much wiser, educated, and knowledgeable than me—some of whom I truly admire, though none can equal Albert Camus, whose ‘The Plague’ I’ve read in my teens and again in my twenties—I’m still completely baffled by the fact that no one ever mentions the existence of ‘The Elephant in the Room.’

Why so? I wish I knew. Though this much I do know: This Elephant belongs to all of us. Only most people, for reasons that escape me, cannot see it. Or are too scared to admit seeing it. So let me tell you also this: I see them, too, and I hear them. I know where most of these people are coming from. After all, this world of ours suffers greatly from our collective misbehavior and ignorant. Our abuse of nature and wildlife—especially our cruelty towards animals and species of all kinds, not the least our own kind—is well documented. This teenage girl from Sweden, Greta Thunberg, who keeps shouting that “the emperor has no clothes” is my hero long before she’d been named Time’s person of the year.

Which brings me to admit this: If it were up to me, I would elect a triumvirate of women—say Germany’s Angela Merkel, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, and Denmark’s Mette Frederiksen—to lead the world in this epic, pandemic war. Their brains are much superior to any man leader alive today, and their hearts are in the right place. We can add the doctors, the specialists—most, but not all, are still men—to work under them. To be their soldiers. Let these women generals command the battlefield in our fight against nature’s long-overdue revenge. Because only those who are capable of compassion and compromise, have the faculties to deal with this enormous challenge.

But what’s worrying me, and keeps me awake at nights, is that even they might not see this Elephant. Or that if they would see it, they might not acknowledge its existence. Because otherwise, how can one explain that this, the most wondrous of animals still walking the face of the earth, also represents our downfall? It leads us, obediently so, to the edge of the cliff. And why, you may rightly ask, I don’t mention it by name? That’s a good question, I give you that. But you see, the nature of the ‘elephant in the room’ metaphor is that when you mention it by name—since it’s so obviously available for all to see—it disappears. And when it disappears, we have the tendency—being human and all—to believe it has never existed.

Yet it does. And it carries on its wide back the climate change crisis. Racism and injustice, it carries too; abuse of natural resources, starvation and desolation, it carries too. Income inequity, class divide, abuse of power and resources… you name it, it carries. Our elephant, beautiful creature though it is, is also the foundation for all the ills in this world. It’s very prominent, for instance, in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities of New York, London, Jerusalem and elsewhere. In these communities in particular, where the commandment to procreate (“be fruitful and multiply”) is so fundamental (it’s common rather than the exception there to have seven/eight children in a family), the coronavirus has inflicted an unusually great amount of suffering and death.

In one television newscast I watched lately, there was a story about how people are suffering economically in America due to the pandemic. A poor, down on her luck woman who lost her job was complaining and crying—my heart was aching for her, believe me—that she’s a single mother with seven children. How can she feed them all? How indeed! And yet, the reporter didn’t see the elephant standing so tall behind her, and had asked her not a single question about it. Neither did the anchorwoman in the studio. But I saw it right away: A single mother with seven children to feed, to clothe, to educate. Help me here, people: How is it possible? Even allowed?

They have their share of elephants in Africa and India, of course. And they have many hungry children and adults to feed there. But they too don’t see the Corona Elephant in their midst. No wonder they keep trying to infiltrate Europe and find a decent living for themselves and their families overseas. I guess they simply don’t want to see it. And BTW: I love children, don’t get me wrong. But we are doomed if we don’t see this elephant and take appropriate action. We will destroy this planet, or it will destroy us. Maybe the three ladies, the leaders I’ve mentioned above—who share three children between them, and also share some of the lowest rates of deaths due to the pandemic in their countries—would see it. Would understand it. And would do something about it.

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Annexation: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

israelpolicyforum.org

As I write this, it’s not clear at all whether Israel’s new government—despite the date of July 1st set for it in its coalition agreement—will indeed go ahead with the annexation plan of some thirty percent of the West Bank, including all settlements blocks and the Jordan Valley. Contrary to common belief and perception, Netanyahu himself might not be so keen on executing this plan, without a clear mandate from Trump. Also, now that the most ardent political rightwing party supporting such a move isn’t in his government, but in the opposition, he may hesitate to take all the blame himself on such a problematic, historical step. And he will, therefore, possibly, continue to maintain the status quo, ‘managing the situation,’ in which he’s so good at and have done so for so long. It worked well for him until now, so why change it? Let’s examine.

The Good: As someone who not only has opposed to the annexation throughout his life, following the Six-Day War, but also has protested and detested vehemently the settlement endeavor, how can I now find any good in it? Well, let me tell you. Simply because this said annexation, for all intends and purposes, is a fait accompli. It’s a done deal, for quite some years now. There’s no conceivable Palestinian state to be found, unfortunately, and no two-state solution either. It is dead. And not from today. In actuality, there’s only a ‘One-State’ solution. Only Israel and Netanyahu are keeping it under wrap and disguise. There’s no going back. It’s much better for the Palestinian leadership to understand and accept this—which I believe most Palestinian people know and accept—and go from there. They should insist on sharing responsibility to the old/new Israel-Palestine State, with equal rights to all its citizens.

The Bad: There’s no way that Israel, and Israel’s citizens, will accept the above solution. As it will mean—sooner or later—the end of Israel as a Jewish state. Alternately therefore, it will mean Israel will continue to control the West Bank in its entirety, will continue to harass and terrorize the Palestinian people, and mostly but clearly: It means an Apartheid-like state. Which is not only bad but disastrous internationally for Israel. A state, a country that was established and built on the ashes of the Holocaust, and generation and centuries of pogroms, persecutions, and denial of basic human rights to Jews not only in Europe, but throughout the world. To do so, inflict the same on another people, on the Palestinians presently, will mean not only the end of Israel as a democratic nation, not only would open a wide chasm with Jews in America and Europe, but will pull the rug from under the entire Zionist dream and endeavor.

The Ugly: As detailed here in a previous blogpost – ‘The Battle That Never Ended” (March 25, 2018), and was published also in Moment Magazine online – before the short and decisive Six-Day War was over, a group of respected Palestinian leaders and elders (and remember, the Palestinian people didn’t initiate, nor participated in that war), wrote a letter to the Israeli government proposing basically the principles of a Two-State solution, with full recognition of Israel by the Palestinians. To this day, they’re still waiting for a response. The reason they didn’t receive a response yet, and the reason why—despite numerous attempts, by some leaders in Israel and abroad—there was never a chance they would get a response, is because Israel never really intended on pulling back from the West Bank. The settlement movement enjoyed the support of all Israeli governments, and except President Bush the father, the support of all American administrations. And the support, until lately (now that it’s too late), of the vast majority of American Jews. Some European countries, who had read correctly the sign on the wall, never really did anything meaningful except shouting “wolf!”

But now that the “wolf” is here, these countries are shouting it yet again. It won’t help. The ugly reality is that Israel has brought upon itself the conundrum it finds itself in. It never meant to withdraw. The occupation—and therefore the annexation—started the day after the Six-day War, and never ceased to exist and prosper. Nothing can change that situation now. The last chance, the last leader who had the power to reverse course—and apparently realized his own and Israel’s grave mistakes in their obsession with “facts on the ground”—was Ariel Sharon. But like Sadat, Rabin, and Arafat (though unlike them he wasn’t assassinated) he paid for it with his life, though in somewhat different circumstances. We, Israelis and Jews, are now stuck with it.

One Final Word: We live in a time of grave global pandemic, the coronavirus. In Israeli hospitals, Palestinian and Israeli Arab doctors and nurses played a significant role in taking care, regardless of their race, ethnicity or religion, of the sick and the dying. Their contribution, and ability to work side by side with Israeli doctors and nurses, might signal the way to go. The future of coexistence, under one state to come, might be here to stay.

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