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The Colonel and the Shepherd

This story is dedicated to the memory of a dear friend and colleague, Dan Gorfain, who passed away recently after a valiant battle with cancer. It’s a story about territory; it’s a story about occupation; it’s a story about oppression; and ultimately, it’s a story about the battle for peace. You’ll be the judge, I’m just reporting the incident. Here goes:

The Colonel gets out of his armored vehicle, leaves it behind on the winding dirt road, and climbs the low hill ahead. Behind, a convoy of armored army vehicles, a whole battalion in fact, comes to an abrupt stop. Some of the Colonel lieutenants, and lower rank soldiers—their weapons at the ready, just in case—follow the Colonel up the hill. There, the Colonel—dressed neatly in his military fatigue—halts and looks around. Ahead of him, far in the distance, he sees the beautiful silvery lake glistening in the valley below. He puts his binoculars up to his eyes, which enable him to see the green river, and how it flows majestically into the lake. Behind it, he can see the high, red mountain range, from where the blazing sun is now appearing. The Colonel breathes deeply, his heart full of joy; he can never get enough of this glorious site.

But then, as if out of nowhere, a Shepherd comes into view from within the rolling hills below. He’s dressed as if he were an old Biblical figure, holding his rough wooden stick, leading his white sheep and black goats ahead. It’s not a large herd: fifty animals at the most. At the tail end of it walks a boy, twelve or maybe thirteen, playing a simple tune on his crude flute. He has a yellow, happy dog running by his side. Now, while the Colonel is mildly disturbed by this sight, and by this sudden interruption of his morning moment-of-peace, the Shepherd continues to walk slowly, letting his sheep and goats graze the meager grass and shrubs around, as if he has no worry in the world; as if he owns this place. So thinks the Colonel.

Thinking and seeing that, something possesses the Colonel suddenly. It’s as if a foreign element, a complete stranger—though in truth, the Shepherd and his ancestors have been living here for many, many years—has captured this land, this magnificent holy land, and has grabbed it away from him. The Colonel takes it personally, and with a swift urge for action—of teaching the Shepherd a lesson, maybe—he goes downhill towards the Shepherd and his herd. Behind him, his lieutenants and soldiers, with their guns of various kinds pointing forward, follow him closely. Farther behind them, the golden city perched on the highest hilltop, watches after them.

The Shepherd—how so?!—is not entirely surprised to find the Colonel in front of him, blocking his path. Even more alarming, with a smile on his face, he greets the Colonel humbly. The Colonel is surprised somewhat, since the Shepherd says “Shalom” in the language the Colonel speaks. Nonetheless, the Colonel demands to know what the Shepherd is doing here, disturbing the peace. The Shepherd answers quietly that he is doing no such thing, just leading his sheep and goats on their daily outing, as his family has been doing for a thousand years. And where do you live, demands the Colonel. Some distance away down the hill, says the Shepherd, but you cannot see it from here.

As they are talking, the sheep and goats disperse around, no longer in a close group, yet still grazing peacefully. The boy, meanwhile, has stopped playing the flute, as he becomes very worried about his father. His dog, irritated, begins to bark. He orders him to be quiet, as he sees with alarm how the Colonel commands his father to sit down on the ground, pointing his gun at him. When his father refuses, protesting he has work to do, and accidently raising his stick, one of the lieutenants punches him in the face. He falls to the ground; his stick taken away from him.

The boy cannot understand what has brought that about. Instinctively so—after all, he’s just a kid—he picks up a small stone from the ground and throws it at the colonel. The stone misses its target, but that doesn’t prevent some of the soldiers up the hill from shooting at the running boy and the barking dog. Indeed, his flute flies out of his hand when he is hit by one of these speeding bullets, and falls to the ground. The dog stops too, yelling first, then licking the boy’s face.

Seeing that, the Shepherd gives a cry of anguish, and tries to jump to his feet. That doesn’t work so well, as one of the lieutenants by the Colonel’s side knocks him down to the ground, using the butt of his rifle. Then, as the Shepherd is lying on the ground on his back, helpless and injured, the Colonel puts his heavy army boot on the Shepherd’s chest, pressing down on it. The Shepherd stops crying, as he could hardly breath now. He can no longer see his beloved sheep and goats, as his eyes are full of tears. They took off running anyways, the animals, upon hearing the shots ringing in the previously tranquil air. And of course, his son’s fate is piercing at his heart like a sharp dagger.

This has no effect on the Colonel, as his boot continues to press hard on the Shepherd’s chest, his gun pointing at his face. The Colonel instructs the Shepherd to never return with his herd to graze on these hills. Surprisingly, the Shepherd still has the audacity to demand an explanation. My soldiers are going to build an ‘outpost’ here soon, the Colonel tells him. What’s an ‘outpost,’ the Shepherd asks. A temporary habitat, the Colonel patiently explains, before a large settlement is to be built right here on this beautiful, strategic hill.

Why is it strategic, the Shepard has the ‘chutzpah’ to ask. Because you can see forever from here, comes the reply, and because this land is our ‘promised land.’ It’s belongs to ‘my’ people!

And who says this land belong to ‘your’ people, and not to my people, insists the Shepherd. I say so, says the Colonel. I’m the ‘decider’ here from now on, and my word is the law. If you want to live in peace, continues the Colonel, go gather your herd and never come near this hill again.

But what kind of peace is that, asks the frightened, terrorized Shepherd. My kind of peace, replies the Colonel. Take it or leave it.

I rather die, says the Shepherd.

Boom!

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The End of Israel as We Know It

politico.com

In the last few weeks—following our ‘Days of Awe,’ as it were—two major developments occurred in Israel-Palestine that might shape the reality of the place and its people for years to come. Now, while these two developments, in and of themselves, are not so earth-shattering—though nonetheless, historic—it is quite possible that they would seal the deal on the outcome, the trends, the events that have been brewing in the Holy Land for quite some time.

The first of these two developments is the unification deal between Fatah and Hamas, which was signed in Cairo on October 12, and which received the proper attention and media coverage in Israel, the world at large, and America. This deal of course is not a ‘done deal;’ in other words: thorny issues remain to be further ironed out, to be put into place and practice, until things will materialize into a sustainable reality. Until then, doubts will persist. However, there can be no doubt that if successful, this will be regarded as a momentous event, which will bring about a unified—fractured though it may still remain—Palestinian entity and force.

This development, which has been welcomed generally by the Palestinian people, the Arab Middle East leaders, the European countries; in short, anybody who for long believed that this is a major, required step towards solving the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Predictably, however, it has been rejected by Israel (strongly), and America (weakly). As far the latter is concerned, since it has no coherent policy of its own, or anybody in the State Department or the White House who has a clear understanding of the conflict, it has simply followed Israel’s dictate on the matter. Netanyahu—again, predictably—rejected the deal outright with all kinds of accusations and demands. The reason for that is simple: Anything that can bring closer a reconciliation between the two sides, with the possibility of peace and the creation of a Palestinian state, living side-by-side with Israel, is a nightmare for him.

The reasons for that, and for why this deal might in fact widen the chasm between the two sides—Israel and Palestine, that is, Jews and Arabs—and might push further away the chances of peace, are numerous. Meanwhile, it’s time for me to let you know about the second development, which came shortly after this first one, and that unlike it, received hardly any mention here in the American media, and in particular the Jewish American press. This development, coupled with the Palestinian unification deal, might signal, and solidify, the end of Israel as we know and love it. Or, to be more precise and honest: the Israel that we ‘knew’ and ‘loved.’

I am talking about, generally, the fate of the Labor Party in Israel, and specifically, the man who infiltrated it—indeed, like a fifth-column—‘kidnaped’ its leadership (albeit democratically) and now threatens to dismantle it once and for all. His name is Avi Gabbay. He is relatively a young man, 50, a successful business man—not without blemish, especially from the point of view of the ‘party of the working people’—who three months ago or so, after being a rightwing Likudnik most of his political life, including being a minister in Netanyahu’s government, switched allegiance, became a Labor Party card-carrying member, threw his hat into the ring, and—surprising everybody—had won the election, and became party chairman.

For those of you who don’t know, or remember, the Labor Party was formed in 1968, and comprised of the three main parties that ruled Israel—led mostly by David Ben-Guroin—for twenty years since independence. This union produced five Prime Ministers, and ruled Israel on and off until the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Thereafter, though not immediately, Netanyahu and the right-center Likud came into power, and never let go. Now to those of you who say, not without some justification, that the Labor Party—representing the center-left side of the Israeli people and politics—has been dead for many years, I say this: The Labor Party and its chairman, Isaac Herzog, lost by only six Knesset members to Netanyahu’s Likud in the last elections. If not for some late-hour shenanigans by Mr. Netanyahu—a la Mr. Trump—he might as well had won the election. A man of principals, Mr. Herzog refused the many attempts by Mr. Netanyahu to join his government, and be its Foreign Minister, unless there were real commitment to solve the conflict with the Palestinians, along the lines of the Two-State solution. But of course, there was no such commitment.

And so, in the last two weeks, the new leader Mr. Gabbay came out of the closet as what he truly is: A rightwing Likudnic. He declared, exactly as Mr. Netanyahu has done a few days earlier, that Israel will never dismantle any settlements. He declared the West bank settlers as the truly brave, new pioneers of Israel. Israel would never relinquish its s hold on the Jordan Valley, he’d further said, echoing Netanyahu. Latest rumors in Israel has it that he intends on changing the name of the party, where he already has power to appoint cronies to future ministerial positions all by himself, regardless of party affiliation. Furthermore, he declared his wish and intention to go into a national unity government with the Likud and Netanyahu. You see the similarities with the first development?

Why the Labor Party members—among them my 90-year-old-mother—have chosen him for their leader is a topic for another article. Though obviously, they are very keen on reclaiming governmental power, apparently at all costs. What is clear, however, is that while the first development signifies a compromise between the two Palestinian camps, and a wish—not without objectors, of course—to bring about peace based upon the principle of the a Two-State solution, the second development is exactly of the opposite kind: it signifies the enlargement, and hardening of the rightwing side of the Israeli people and politics. This side rejects any compromise, including the above mentioned Two-State solution. Essentially—it rejects peace.

Therefore, it closes the coffin on Israel as we know it: Jewish and democratic. What will come instead, only years will tell.

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