Wednesday, September 15, 2004

A New Year's Resolution

There is a common saying in American culture: "friends don't let friends drive drunk." That is, if you're a good friend, you're not afraid to criticize your friend when he/she errs, and you'll even go out of your way to stop him/her from doing something destructive.

So when a nation allows another nation that it calls "friend" to sit idly by as its soldiers shoot innocent children for sport, one might say that this nation isn't doing its job as a friend.

But as journalist Chris Hedges reported in his book "War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning," Israeli soldiers have been guilty of just that. Soldiers outside this one refugee camp have shouted insults and invective at Palestinian refugees, inciting the younger ones to come out and throw rocks over the fence at the soldiers. When the children do this, the soldiers open fire, wounding and occasionally killing the children. It apparently happens so often that the refugee camp has an ambulance anticipating the whole event. To my knowledge, Israeli army officials have done nothing regarding these brutal attacks.

Israel has been drunk behind the wheel more often than that. An exhibition staged by former Israeli soldiers in Tel Aviv has documented, sometimes graphically, the atrocities committed by some Israeli soldiers against Palestinians. An Israeli journalist wrote a Post column recently about a development plan that threatens to forever separate Palestinians from East Jerusalem. And yet, the voices in the government that speak out are muffled. We hear condemnations of Palestinian atrocities almost daily, but by their silence, they all but endorse the extreme actions of the few bad apples in the Israeli Defense Forces.

Some of my more skittish co-religionists often equate criticism against Israel with anti-Semitism. I say that right now, I cannot consider Israel under its current government a Jewish state. No Jewish state would sit idly by as members of its own forces kill innocents. No Jewish state forsakes the holy pursuit of justice and righteousness for paths of revenge and hatred. The extremist wing of Israeli society has hijacked the government, and as a result, the Israeli government has forsaken the commandments of God and the Jewish religion.

And yet America, and the American Jewish community in particular, has been woefully silent in the face of injustice. This is not the Jewish way, and I say: no more.

For I am not ready yet to give up on Israel, to say that "this is just the way things are over there," to dismiss the killings to a "cycle of violence" that can never be broken. It can be broken, and Israelis have it in them to break the cycle. I believe that the majority of Israelis want to live peacefully alongside their Palestinian brethren. There is, despite all evidence to the contrary, hope.

But for peace to happen I believe that as Americans, we must be good friends. We must wrest the keys from the drunk drivers behind the wheel of the Israeli government. We must tell our Israeli friends that we understand the pain and suffering that Palestinian terror attacks have caused, but revenge and retaliation is not the solution. We must remind the Israelis of their sacred duty as Jews to create a land where justice rolls down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream. Our blind support for whatever the Israeli government is doing right now is not helping - it is only hurting.

Today is Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish year. In ten days it will be Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. This is a time for all Jews to reflect upon the past, upon their sins against God and against others, and to pray for a good year and for the strength to follow God's laws in the upcoming year. It is the perfect time of year to ask ourselves: shall we continue to commit the sin of silence in the face of atrocity and injustice? Shall we watch as our friends take the path of least resistance into the darkness of revenge? Or shall we, by speaking out, give our Israeli friends the strength to make an improbable stance for justice and righteousness?


Anonymous said...

True as that may be, it's a difficult stance for America to take when we ourselve seem to have shown no problem killing terrorists. Indeed, Clinton has been criticized for NOT bombing the living fuck out of an alleged Al Qaeda base in Afghanistan where there was intelligence that Bin Laden was there.

How different is our situation from Israel's? Surely we, like Israel, are somewhat responsible for creating the situations...perpetuating the injustices....that breed terrorism. Yet, like Israel, we can argue that this doesn't give terrorists the right to kill our civilians. So then it becomes a matter of what actions may be taken to guard against terrorists.

Now some things are clearly over the line. Like encouraging children to throw rocks at you so you can kill them. Like torturing common criminals and POWs at Abu Ghraib. But what about bombing buildings "known" to be terrorist HQs? What about forming alliances with governments that are military dictatorships (COUGH..pakistan...COUGH). Many distasteful acts seem necessary for protection.

Is the difference that Israel and Palestine are neighbors who have no choice but to co-exist while we are (hopefully) an ocean away from Al Qaeda?

Just my rambling thoughts. Good article, though.

- Ben

Mike said...

That's funny, Ben, that's exactly what I was thinking. Our recent national history has displayed that, in fact, "revenge and retaliation" is not our chosen solution - unilateral pre-emptive attack is. Perhaps that's what these Israeli soldiers feel they are doing - killing children before they can become Palestinian terrorists. At the same time, of course, they are making sure that the hatred of the children who survive will grow exponentially. Oy vey.

Jeff, I'm glad you brought up the issue of criticizing Israel as being anti-Semitic. In my opinion, the United States has too long adopted a pro-Israel stance as opposed to a pro-peace stance. When Israel is being the more belligerent nation, we need to take a hardline stance against their warlike actions.

However, it has been my long-held belief that other than being cheerleaders for the nation pushing for peace on any given week, the United States has little to no chance of changing things between Israel and Palestine. One of the two needs a leader who will take a step back, realize how ridiculous the whole thing is, and publicly decry any terrorist or warlike activity by his country's citizens. Including retaliatory attacks.

Hey, it worked for Martin Luther King. And Gandhi. That's a Christian and a Hindu. Time to bring the Jews and Muslims in to join the party.