It’s that time again, folks, when the Facebookosphere is chock-full of news, opinions, rants and other flotsam and jetsam related to the Israel/Palestine situation (I’m assuming things are getting equally heated in the Twitterverse, Tumblrena, and Pinterest-zone). I’ve been holding back from espousing my own opinions (and mercilessly shooting down the opinions of others), but now I suppose it’s time to throw my kippah into the ring and tell it like it is—because I totally know the whole story on everything related to Israel and you should trust my opinions, nay, facts, above all others. I wasn’t going to do this, but a very dear friend encouraged me to, and when a very dear friend encourages me to do something, I usually do it, especially if it involves me getting to be self-righteous and publicly share how I’m right and everybody else in the world (literally) is wrong.
I’ve written a lot about Israel, and my relationship with the country (or “the land,” as they call it over there) on various occasions on my different blogs through the years, and I want this post to provide a perspective different from that portrayed in my previous writings on the subject. So let’s begin by talking about Israel as if the whole “conflict” thing didn’t exist.
In the wintertime in Israel, you can get these things called “krembos”. They’re kind of like mallomars, but I’m assuming they’re kosher. You buy them in these huge boxes—I think there are 40 to a box, and then you pass them out to everybody you know, or even to complete strangers.
The main beer served in Israel is called Goldstar. Not Beer Maccabi—that shit is for Americans only; no self-respecting ‘Raeli would ever put that to his or her lips. Goldstar is delicious and a 500-mL bottle of the stuff is the perfect remedy for the hot Mediterranean sun.
Most Israelis are Jewish, but when you think of the people of Israel you really should clear the traditional images you have of Jews out of your mind. When you think “Jewish male,” you typically think of a neurotic, whiney, balding hairy guy with thick glasses and asthma. Leave that mental image behind at the airport, ladies, because Israelis, despite their religion, are REAL FUCKIN’ MEN. Here is your average Israeli man:
And the WOMEN! Oh my freakin G-d! Remember that chick you met in college who you thought was kind of cute but she was from Lon-gai-land (pronounced with a really obnoxious accent) and really JAP-py? And when I say “JAP-py,” I don’t mean Japanese, you racist. Well every single Israeli woman is 12 times hotter than her, and is into drinking Goldstar, eating steak, and giving BJs. Not to mention the fact that she doesn’t mind crawling through mud and could legitimately kill you with her bare hands. This is a run-of-the-mill Israeli woman:
And that’s all Israel is, really. Just a lot of that stuff, and really really good falafel.
Sigh, if only. The reality is that the Israel/Palestine conflict is a lot like herpes: it’s always there, it doesn’t go away, and those affected never forget that its there because it won’t be too long before the next flare-up comes, and that really, really sucks. Let me qualify that statement: the Israel/Palestine conflict is a lot like herpes from what I understand. In any event, we’re now in the middle of another pretty intense flare-up, and, as happens during every spat of violence in that neck of the woods, the worldwide blame game has begun. Don’t get me wrong—if there’s ever a time to play the blame game, it’s during war. Each side is intentionally killing people. Whether you call the attacks “random” or “surgical,” the Israelis and Palestinians are each using violence as a means to some ends, whatever they may be. Violence is very difficult to justify (to some of us, virtually impossible), so when your team is using violence, you need to pull out all of the stops when it comes to rationalization.
Looking at Facebook, it’s safe to say that I have far more friends in the “Team Israel” machane than in the “Team Palestine” refuge camp. What can I say—I have a lot of Jewish friends. Nearly all of them are liberals, so I was kind of surprised to see that just one week after my friends were posting about how Fox News was full of shit, this oldie-but-goodie was popping up everywhere and being treated as if it remotely represented legitimate journalism:
The same nice liberal mensches who blasted right-wing pundits for being close-minded and one-sided were posting this clip and claiming it to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth:
Truth be told, I’m not sure I entirely disagree with this second video. For those of you too lazy/not interested in watching, the thesis is that the reason the Israel/Palestine conflict exists is because the Palestinians want to kill Jews. The piece ends by saying that if Israelis laid down all of their weapons, they would be slaughtered in a day, whereas if the Arabs and Iranians laid down their weapons, there would be peace. Given the rhetoric I’ve heard from political leaders in the region and political professors back in my college days, I do not disbelieve (yes, that’s an intentional double-negative) that many, if not all, of Israel’s neighbors would wipe Israel off the map given the chance. If Iran gets a nuclear missile on Monday, it would not surprise me if there was an explosion in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. Maybe even Monday evening, depending on when the nuke was received and how long it takes to fire off. Israel’s actions, therefore, are in self-defense. If Israel doesn’t strike first and strike hard, with no mercy (sir!), it will be annihilated.
It’s difficult to write a serious blog post about Israel without including at least one clip involving Ralph Macchio.
But I digress. The clip above (the Prager University one, not the Cobra Kai one) provides a justification for Israel’s use of violence, but takes the position that Palestine has no reason for attacking Israel other than the fact that Arabs hate Jews. I do think it’s safe to say that Palestine’s attacks on Israel are not “self defense,” in that they are not meant to protect the Gaza strip from annihilation. If Israel wanted to complete annihilate Gaza and slaughter all of its inhabitants, Israel has more than enough firepower to do so in a week (or a minute, if you recognize that Israel has nuclear weapons). I think the Palestinians would put up a valiant fight and receive little, if any, support from their neighbors, but the result would be ugly. This is all a moot point—for whatever reasons (world public opinion, basic morality, etc.), Israel is not all-out destroying Gaza. Fucking it up a little for sure, but not destroying it.
So why is Gaza firing rockets on Israel, if not out of self-defense or hatred? It’s pretty simple—life in Gaza is complete and utter shit, and this is due largely in part (can I say that—“due largely in part”?) to the actions of Israel. Pro-Israel supporters will deny this fact, but believe me when I say that Israel’s hands are anything but clean. Are the rocket attacks on civilians justified? No way, certainly not to me. But does it make sense that somebody living in complete shit would try to attack the force causing such shit-living? I think so.
What it all comes down to is that Israel is in an unfortunate position where, in order to maintain its safety, it needs to take away the civil/human rights of others. It’s a vicious cycle—Israel attacks the Palestinians and takes aware their rights in order to increase its security, the Palestinians retaliate with more violence, which incites Israel to attack more, and so on and so forth for all of eternity. Literally.
I hung out with an old friend today. She’s been avoiding Facebook these days because she simply does not want to get involved in the conversation. Although this friend and I constantly debate on issues of economics, education, and politics in general—we’re both extremely left-leaning, but in very different ways—I think our opinions on Israel are somewhat aligned, although we’re both kind of optimistically/pessimistically (yes, that’s possible) agnostic about the whole thing. I’m serious about the agnosticism—I hope you didn’t click on the link to read this looking for any answers. Then you’ll be really disappointed—even more than you usually are when you read my blog.
The general concept in which my friend and I both believe is that that part of the world has been ensconced in war pretty much forever, and that hasn’t been working all too well, so now it’s time to try peace. In our conversation, my friend even dropped one of my favorite quotes of all time, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” (said by a famous Jew, keep in mind). Here’s a video that aptly sums up the “war pretty much forever” part:
But “trying peace” (or “giving peace a chance,” as it is sometimes called) is not exactly easy. Both sides will need to swallow a lot of pride and be willing to make sacrifices. My friend pointed out that David Foster Wallace once said that in order for there to be peace in the region, Israel will need to accept that there will be some terrorism, period. It may take a long time for the terrorism to go away—perhaps a generation or two—but it will go away eventually if Israel stops reacting to a little terror with a lot of retribution. By the way, dear friend, I googled a bit and couldn’t find the exact DFW quote on this—can you please point me to it? Is it buried deep in Infinite Jest? I admit that I never finished that book.
Let’s say that again: in order to have peace, Israel will have to accept that there will be some terrorism. It’s inevitable. Will this terrorism be worse than the current situation? Will more Israelis die if Israel steps down from its attacks on Gaza and its day-to-day sanctions and siege? The answer is probably yes…and that’s going to make it a pretty damn hard sell for Israelis. “Hey guys, here’s the deal. Your kids, or more likely your grandkids, will experience peace—a beautiful state of existence that you have simply never known and can’t comprehend. Unfortunately, in order to achieve that, we’re going to have to randomly kill tens, hundreds, maybe even up to a thousand or more of you every year for the next 5, 10, 20, 40 years. How does that sound?” It’s easy to say “come on, take the damn deal!” from my sofa in America. Take the deal, but first, can all of my cousins and friends and other loved ones in Israel please move here first?
And we all know what happened to David Foster Wallace.
I didn’t watch the third Obama/Romney debate, but apparently there was one moment where the two candidates were basically arguing over who loved Israel more. There is a (probably true) notion that in order to secure the Jewish vote, a candidate needs to kiss Israel’s ass. Obama obviously didn’t need to worry about the Muslim vote (because he’s a Muslim, duh). The conventional wisdom is that, if you’re Jewish, you automatically unconditionally love Israel. A lot of people, including myself, don’t quite understand why.
I can try to explain, but first an anecdote (don’t worry—I’ll try to make it into a segue). When I was teaching English in Japan, a fellow English teacher (who was also a friend from college) introduced me to a friend of hers who was a New Yorker of Colombian descent. I was explaining how I had just gotten back from visiting my grandmother in Israel, and the friend asked, “so wait a minute—do you consider yourself to be Jewish, American, or Israeli?” I asked him if he considered himself to be Colombian or American. “I’m American, but my family is Colombian. It’s different, isn’t it?”
It is different, in several ways. First of all, “Jewish” and “American” are not mutually exclusive. I wouldn’t ever say I’m a “Jewish-American”—I don’t think one says that. I’m Jewish. I’m American. Judaism is my religion, and also to some extent (or even to a greater extent) my culture. It’s not my nationality—that’s where “American” comes in. “Israeli” doesn’t even fit into the equation. As I explained to the friend, although my grandmother was currently living in Israel, my ancestors are not from there. I can’t rightfully say that Israel is my “homeland”—as many people with Palestinian roots often say, the Israeli “right of return” is a misnomer.
That notwithstanding, there is a bizarre, cosmic, magical feeling that I and many other Jews get when in Israel. I didn’t go on birthright (living in Israel for a year when I was 18 made me ineligible…and I always get annoyed when I tell people I’ve been in Israel and they say, “oh, on birthright?”), but I always hear stories from kids who went on those trips that begin, “I stepped off the plane, and I knew I was home.” Quotes like that are unbearably cheesy and, honestly, a discredit to our people. When Woody Allen stepped off the plane in Ben Gurion for the first time, did he say that he was home? No—he complained about his back, made a joke about how he got an awkward erection during his security pat-down and asked where he could get some Chinese food. Now that’s how a real Jew reacts to Israel.
And yet…I think I felt that same syrupy cheesiness the first time I went to Israel (well, not the very first time—my first time there I was 5 years old and apparently complained for the entire trip) and I still get that feeling when I go back. When the airplane lands, everybody claps! The weather is constantly beautiful and the people are so loving. It always confuses the hell out of me when people talk about Israelis as these horrible war-mongers, because I can honestly say that, once you get past their rude exteriors, Israelis are the warmest people on earth. And it’s genuine warmth, in no way superficial. I always feel welcome and loved when I go to Israel (and not just because I lost my virginity there).
I “lived” in Israel for a year, but honestly, I was on tour the whole time, bouncing around from one volunteer program to the other, “working” in a factory in a kibbutz, “studying” Hebrew and history in Jerusalem, “researching” migratory birds in Eilat, and “farming” on a Jewish settlement in the West Bank (this was before a lot of violent shit went down—a year after I left the settlement was attacked and several people were killed). I was 18 at the time, so most Israelis my age were in the army. It was one of the non-flare-up times and I barely thought about any sort of violence. I just explored the country—it’s small and in the course of a year I covered most of it.
In contrast to 18 year-old me, there’s now a relatively strong movement of Jews against Israel. It’s part of the larger “BDS” movement—“boycott, divest, sanctions,” typically considered to be three peaceful weapons outsiders can use against Israel. The general idea is that just because you’re Jewish, that doesn’t mean you need to support Israel unconditionally…or at all. Here’s a clip from “Young, Jewish and Proud,” one of the more “hip” BDS off-shoots:
Groups like this really used to piss me off, because I truly felt, based on my own life experiences, that there was some intrinsic connection between Judaism and Israel. “If you are Jewish, you have to support Israel, period”—that’s what I was taught, and it’s what I taught myself.
However, in my later years I’ve learned to question the intrinsic connection between Judaism and Israel, but not entirely. I still support Israel and feel connected to the land (whether I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid or there’s something genuine to that notion I’ll never know), but not enough to condone every one of its actions, many of which I find heinous. I disagree with nearly every opinion I’ve heard from any of my friends and family—from my New Jersey summer camp friends to my spiritual aunt to my Muslim cousins, no matter who I’m talking with, I’m tempted to argue (and admittedly, the result is that I’ve spoken to nobody on the subject of Israel in the past week except for that one friend). If only somebody would make a movie for Jews who feel similarly to me! Oh wait, my aunt and her husband did. And it rules [SHAMELESS PLUG!!!]:
Okay, admittedly, I’m probably a bit more on the pro-Israel side than the film, but it’s close enough.
More than anything, the Israel situation tests the limits of human optimism. How can anybody possibly maintain hope for any sort of resolution? It’s really hard, but on the other hand, what else can we do?
There’s only one thing left to say: Shalom. Salaam. Peace.
If you read this entire post, I love you.