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The Revolution Has Started

Five years ago I published a post here titled, “Halle Berry & the Jewish Problem.” It saw daylight also on ‘The Times of Israel’ and generated many shares and comments, mostly (not to my surprise) unfavorable. In it, I coined the phrase ‘The Halle Berry Syndrome,’ result of a radio interview the actress had given on the NPR program ‘All Things Considered,’ in which (among other things) she’d said that: “… being a mother myself, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my daughter, whether it be legal or illegal.” And: “I can tell you, as sure as I’m sitting in this chair, if she killed somebody, I would help her bury the body.”

Hearing that, aghast, I immediately made the analogy to many American Jews I knew back then, especially in religious congregations, who would behave—and were behaving—in a similar fashion regarding Israel. They were afflicted, I’d made the point with the same symptoms and attitude. No matter whether they were Democrats or Republicans; Reforms or Conservatives; Liberals or Illiberals; Religious or Secular; there was no distinction when it came to Israel: they would all help bury the body.

Israel, you see, could do no wrong. Could be guilty of no crime. Could be accused of no misdeed. It was AIPAC’s way or the highway: defend Israel at all costs; defend Netanyahu at all costs (even while attacking and working against a sitting American president); defend the occupation and settlements at all costs. If you think otherwise, keep it to yourself. But we, individuals and groups, refused to stay quiet. We continued to talk and raise our voices in opposition to the doctrine of ‘Israel could do no wrong,’ which was declared often from the pulpit by the rabbis.

But now, at long last, the chickens have come home to roost, and the full scope of years of ignorance and blindness manifested in the current threat of annexation, is in clear view while a major shift in public opinion among American Jews—even among conservatives—is in full swing. So much so that the ‘sacred cow’ of ‘Israel can do no wrong’ is being questioned frequently, and being challenged in the open on social media in all its platforms. Bibi is no longer king, and like so many in Israel, they’re dying to see him go away for good. The occupation stinks, and the settlements—build in the West bank with their hard-earned dollars—are beginning to be viewed as problematic, as taking the wrong path.

Because the Jews who escaped Europe and survived the Holocaust, who fought so hard against the South African Apartheid and American racism, they—or mostly their children—now see Israel headed in the same direction. The direction of endless war. Endless conflict. And if not Apartheid, then a binational, one-state solution de facto with both peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, sharing the land. Which soon won’t be a Jewish state anymore. Of course, some Jews are still afflicted with the ‘Halle Berry Syndrome,’ but many others see the light and react with a cry of subdued ‘mea culpa:’ What happened to our beloved country? Are we at fault, too?

Others, though, are shying away from it all. We have enough problems of our own, they say, here in America. Existential problems. Let us deal with them first. We have our own dictator-in-the-making to fight against. You there fight your own fight. Eat what you’ve been cooking all these years since the Six-day war. We now have the coronavirus pandemic to deal with. Which, make no mistake about it, would influence American Jewry relations with Israel too. It’s a matter of personal survival, nowadays, of our own and our families’ health and economic survival. Religious congregations are shut, (going virtual on ZOOM and YouTube). Jews who all their lives went to shul every week at least once, on Shabbat, are no longer doing so. Coming this fall, High Holidays would also be conducted via virtual reality.

How would they collect the Jewish High Holiday tithe going to support Israel? Who would they listen to, now that the rabbis would no longer be hammering into them how to think, how to support, how to talk about Israel every Shabbat from the Bimah? Tell you how: they now learn for themselves everything online. Gone are the days when they only received their info about Israeli politics from the overly supportive TV Networks and the ‘Jewish Forward.’ They read Haaretz and The Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post online. Some other outlets too. And while this terrible pandemic is unexpected (some experts would argue otherwise), this turn of how Jewish American view Israel is not. It’s been long in the making.

Which brings me to Israel. Back home. Don’t count on American Jews to save you this time, I say, it’s your rotten apple to eat, as here in America we’re left eating our own rotten apple of growing anti-Semitism. And not only because of the imbecilic president who currently resides in the White House, but because of the corona pandemic too. It brings out the best, and the worst in people. Among them, in certain quarters, are those who now loudly call: ’Blame the Jews!’ Last year I went down to the American River, as I do every weekend, and on the paved path leading to it, there was a swastika painted in black. In 30-some years here in America I never encountered such a thing before (I called the Park Rangers and they cleaned it up).

So be aware of this too: The revolution has started. Not only among blacks and browns, the poor and the desolate, but among American Jews too. Just as it has started in Israel by Israelis, mostly the young, who are fighting for their lives and livelihood, and are fed up with the old guard. But be sure of this, too: American Jews still love Israel dearly. It’s in their DNA, after all. Alas, they are in the process of liberating themselves from the shackles of slavery to a country that’s no longer representing the ideal of its own Declaration of Independence. Gone, baby Israel, gone. You’re a grown-up now, get used to it. So “fasten your seatbelt” (in the immortal words of another Hollywood film star), as when it comes to the continuation of the occupation and the possibility of annexation, “it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

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Friendship in Time of Conflict

goldsborobooks.com

Let me tell you a story. A story about friendship, a story about war and peace, a story about a book. I’ll start with the friendship: When I arrived here in Sacramento almost twenty-four years ago, right away I got involved with a small group of people from different backgrounds (but mostly Jews), who called their group ‘The Middle East Peace Project,’ and who were dedicated on educating the public at large about all aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and more so even, on spreading the word that peace was possible to achieve.

Among the group activists was a Palestinian named Akef Shihabi, who was a mild-mannered, middle-aged man, educated and very pleasant to be around. We struck friendship soon after I joined the group, I visited his house and he mine, and though his family was expelled from East-Jerusalem in 1948; and though my parents arrived to then the British Mandate of Palestine in 1946, refugees and survivals of the Holocaust, we not only fast became friends, but on behalf of our group we began appearing together around the city and county, universities, congregations, Jewish and Christians and Muslims, where we shared our different experiences but common belief in the possibility of peace.

At some point we drifted apart, due to life’s other obligations, necessities, and misfortunes. Also, due to my realization that at some point we were just treading water, and had exhausted all the open venues in this area. Still, on occasions I would think of him. None more so than nowadays, when for the last three weeks I was consumed by a new book—’Apeirogon,’ by Colum McCann—which was published last month to great acclaim and much interest. So much so that one book reviewer I’ve read, in ‘The Guardian’ of London, concluded by saying that if ever a book can bring peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this is the book.

I was immediately intrigued: Can a book bring peace? Not only that: At the center of the book—the author is calling it a novel, yet it’s really a novel in name only since it’s mostly a nonfiction, biographical, historical book using real people, real names, and real incidents—are an Israeli and a Palestinian, from Jerusalem and Jericho, who both lost young daughters to the conflict. They form an everlasting friendship, first through an organization called ‘The Parents Circle,’ and then through an organization called ’Combatants for Peace.’ Both organizations are also real and active presently.

At the core of the book is the story of these two men. How their daughters were killed—the Palestinian man, Bassam, ten-year old daughter, Abir, was shot in the back of her head by a rubber bullet from an Israeli soldier riding in a Jeep, just as she came out of a small shop on a break from school, a candy in her hand; the Israeli man, Rami, his daughter Smadar, only fourteen, was walking with her two best friends on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem when three suicide bombers exploded themselves one afternoon. The book tells their stories, their families’ and daughters’ stories, how they deal with the constant grief and loss, how they became friends and active in peace and reconciliation efforts, appearing and lecturing together not only in Israel-Palestine, but in Europe and America.

This ancient conflict, they believe, won’t end until we talk. (A side bumper-sticker on Rami’s motorbike says just that in Hebrew : (זה לא ייגמר עד שנדבר. And the book indeed talk. And talk for long about them and about other things. It’s all those other things, unrelated to their friendship, peace activities and personal stories that obscure and dull the effect of the book somewhat. They hold our attention, the two men; their stories original and painful enough for the book to sustain interest and emotional resonance throughout. The author though, it seems, wanted to write the “ultimate” book about the Middle East at large, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular. Which takes away from the impact at the core of his book.

Nonetheless, it’s an admirable effort. But can it bring peace? No, it cannot. Still, it’s an important book. And it’s important not only because it shows the historical depth, and current magnitude of the conflict—as other books had done already (not to mention the Bible)—but also because it gives voice to the possibility of friendship in time of conflict. The possibility of shared experiences and shared humanity and efforts working, united, for the common good. And it makes clear that peace is possible to attain.

Therefore, in conclusion, I suggest that anyone who’s connected to this conflict in any way, to the ‘land of milk and honey’ and to its people, whether closely or remotely, would surely find this book of great interest. As Rami thinks to himself when he first joins ‘The Parents Circle’—an organization of bereaved parents from both sides—“It is not a decree of faith that we should live forever with a sword in our hands.” And equally so Bassam (who experienced seven years of humiliation and torture in an Israeli prison) thinks that “The only revenge is making peace.” So ultimately, and persuasively, their story renews the hope that someday in the future, sooner rather than later, driven by the people more than by their leaders, a peaceful resolution to this endless war would be found.

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

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