Good stuff: Ah, vacation!

My family and I are headed out to Disney World tomorrow morning, and I originally had grand plans to write posts ahead of time in order to put them up while on vacation, but alas, the stuff of life conspired against me, and it was not to be. I’ll be back to posting on Monday, February 8. (And I’ll return to the Martin Luther King, Jr. project, too!)

But before I go, please accept this wee gift, a clip of one of my favorite Disney songs ever. I’m not sure why I like it so much — maybe because it’s so classically Broadway in tone and execution. And it’s funny! (Except for the annoying stereotyping about women and their sexuality, but hey, it’s hardly Disney if there isn’t a little such stereotyping). Also, and not for nothing, but I always thought that Aladdin looked a lot like a certain long-lost ex-boyfriend of mine.

Have a good week! To all who are not in sunny climes, I’ll send you a bit of Florida through the ether!

Loving your enemies.

I’m blogging about Martin Luther King’s Strength to Love. Each post can be read independently, but if you’re interested, previous installments are here. Unless otherwise noted, emphasized passages are Dr. King’s.

Chapter five – Loving your enemies

Another one of the chapters written while Dr. King sat in a Georgia jail. “Let us be practical,” he writes, “and ask the question, How do we love our enemies?”

“How,” indeed. I often say about Israelis and Palestinians (and anyone else whose relationship is controlled by hate) that the search for a kumbaya co-existence is at least occasionally wrong-headed. I don’t need to love or even like the Palestinians to recognize that they are deserving of human dignity — and I would be wise, I think, to not wait for the Palestinians to love me before trying to stop the killing.

But Dr. King is not talking about what we usually talk about when we use the word “love”:

The meaning of love is not to be confused with some sentimental outpouring. Love is something much deeper than emotional bosh….

First of all: “Emotional bosh”? I love these little moments where you can hear the humor and the intensity behind the carefully measured words. (My favorite example is in chapter three, when King ponders where the priest and Levite may have been going when they fail to stop for an injured man: “Perhaps they were on their way to an organizational meeting of a Jericho Road Improvement Association.”)

But more importantly, Dr. King now reminds us of three Greek words that translate to “love” but mean very different things: eros, philia, and agape:

[When we feel philia] we love those whom we like, and we love because we are loved…. [But agape is] understanding and creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. An overflowing love which seeks nothing in return, agape is the love of God operating in the human heart.

King often uses the word “creative,” and here I find it especially compelling. This love that we must feel for our enemies is neither passive nor detached — it’s “creative.” It not only refuses to go further down the cavernous hole of hatred, it builds up. It creates something where before the vista was “unformed and void” (Gen. 1:2).

And neither is it an act of ignorance. King’s immediate response to his own question (“how do we love our enemies?”) is clear: “First we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive.” [emphasis mine]

Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or  putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship…. It is the lifting of a burden or the cancelling of a debt.

I’m reminded of Kol Nidre, the annual ritual with which Jews open Yom Kippur: Religious vows that we might regret (the prayer dates back to a time when Jews were sometimes forced to convert to Christianity) are forgiven en masse. The debt to our faith is cancelled – gone. But we cannot go on to pray for atonement and a renewal of God’s presence in our lives until that debt has been removed.

“Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer,” though, “the command to love one’s enemy is an absolute necessity for our survival.”

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that…. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity.

“Of course,” Dr. King acknowledges from deep within the segregated American south, with its Whites Only signs and its police torture, “this is not practical.”

My friends, we have followed the so-called practical way for too long a time now, and it has led inexorably to deeper confusion and chaos.

For the salvation of our nation and the salvation of mankind, we must follow another way.

Love in action.

Or: “MLK – live blog-ish, part 5.” This project has long since ceased to be anything close to a “live” blog, so I’m moving on! From this point forward, posts considering Strength to Love will be titled after the chapter they investigate. Each can be read independently of previous installments, but if you’re interested, those can be found here.

Chapter four: Love in action

What does it say about a man that he writes a sermon entitled “Love in action” while sitting in a jail cell?

Arrested for holding a prayer vigil outside the city hall of Albany, Georgia, Dr. King and his friend and fellow organizer Ralph Abernathy were held in a “dirty, filthy” jail cell for fifteen days, during which time King began to produce what would eventually become Strength to Love. Most of the chapters were adapted from sermons he had already written, but this and two others were composed in that jail cell, in July 1962 (the final chapter, “Pilgrimage to nonviolence,” was adapted from material which had appeared elsewhere).

“Forgiveness,” King writes from his imprisonment, “is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.”

[But] we live according to the philosophy that life is a matter of getting even and saving face. We bow before the altar of revenge. Samson, eyeless at Gaza, prays fervently for his enemies — but only for their destruction.

Samson, eyeless at Gaza.

I can think only of Israel, of last year’s war, of the on-going, four-year old blockade, a blockade that has turned modern-day Gaza into an open-air prison, with neither enough food nor medical supplies, neither clean water nor regular electricity, I think of Israel, blindly flailing in furious wrath, seeking revenge again and again and again, every day, every day, every day. Samson’s hair has been shorn. Through his own folly, what was once his source of power has been taken from him, and he is left, eyeless, at Gaza, his last recourse the desperate ability to bring the edifice in which he stands crashing down around both him and his enemies, the destruction of whom has become his final, binding passion. “Those who were slain by him as he died outnumbered those who had been slain by him when he lived.” (Judges 16:30)

In casual conversation, and occasionally at the national level, Israelis often mock the international community’s desire to see them make peace with the Palestinian nation: “We’re not Christians. We can’t afford to turn the other cheek.” America, in particular, is considered naïve in this regard. The world doesn’t understand the extent of Israel’s troubles and the danger with which it lives — “forgiveness,” it is assumed, would only condemn us to a miserable end.

But we are blind, our eyes gouged out not by an enemy’s hand, but by our own, because we placed our trust in the seductive call of fear coupled with power. We stand at Gaza, unable to see what we have done, believing that we are right, that we are protecting ourselves, our heritage, and our future — blind to the fact that in the end, we will not only wreak revenge on an entire people, but kill ourselves, as well.

Nothing in the world [writes the naive Christian sitting in a Georgia jail cell, his crime found in the color of his skin] is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity…. [Humanity has] a moral responsibility to be intelligent.

…Modern man is presently having a rendezvous with chaos, not merely because of human badness, but also because of human stupidity. If Western civilization continues to degenerate until it… falls hopelessly into a bottomless void, the cause will be not only its undeniable sinfulness, but also its appalling blindness.

Blindness which is, itself, a sin — for it is self-inflicted.

******************

I’ll be honest: This chapter has, so far, proven to be the most challenging for me in terms of its frankly Christian content. Dr. King’s source here is the prayer uttered by Jesus on the cross: “Father forgive them; for they know not what they do,” and most of the chapter is spent calling on his readers and the church writ large to follow the lead of their Savior.

As a Jew — and, not only that, but a Jew who actively rejected Christ for Judaism — and not only that, but a Jew who has little patience with religious exclusionism of any form — this is a challenge for me. As I read more deeply into this book, Dr. King is taking a place in my internal life that is akin to a prophet, a prophet whose love and clear vision cracks my heart open and calls me to account and action — but what to do about the fact that my prophet was a Baptist minister?

I don’t know yet. I’ve decided that when I’m done with Strength to Love, I’ll read about Dr. King’s relationship with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a giant of American Jewish theology and Dr. King’s good friend. If the Holocaust-survivor rabbi could find a common place of commitment with a Black Baptist minister, surely I can sort out my own little discomforts.

Dr. King speaks at New York's Riverside Church with Rabbi Heschel at his side.

Your mission today.

I am told by my overlords at TPM and Balloon Juice that the House is coming around to a consensus whereby they will pass the Senate version of the health care reform bill, “once it’s clear that it will be changed through the filibuster-proof reconciliation process,” though TPM cautions: “Before they can move ahead, they need the Senate to make some real headway on their end of the bargain….”

“I thought we could get the votes in the House to pass the [Senate] bill if fixes to the Senate bill can be done,” House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) told reporters today.

“That would be a good option as far as I’m concerned,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), leader of the House progressives’ health care task force. “I could support it. Reconciliation. Majority rule.”

Apparently part of the problem is that the two halves of our legislature aren’t necessarily as warm and cozy as one would hope:

However, though the idea has begun to resonate with House members in theory, they’re not willing to hang their hopes on the Senate, an institution they increasingly distrust. They want something concrete first, before they’ll move ahead….

And of course, as Rep. John Larson (D-CT) told TPM, “a lot hangs on what the President says [in the State of the Union address].”

So here’s the drill! (And here’s some good advice about how to make these phone calls).

  1. Call your Senators! I called mine last week, leaving a message with one but never getting through to the other. I’ll call again today (until I get through…), and reference the information that I provided above. I think I’ll also ask to speak to their Health Legislative Assistants, per my success with the assistant in Rep. Danny Davis’s office the other day — but if all you feel up to is leaving a brief message, that’s really all that’s necessary. Capitol Switchboard number: 202-224-3121
  2. If you haven’t called your Representative yet to let him or her know that you want to see the Senate bill passed, please do so! This is especially important if he or she is a member of the Progressive caucus (members list here), and is, I believe, important even if he or she is a Republican. You won’t change GOP minds, but you might give them a dose of reality. (If you feel up to it, you might want to ask to speak to your Representative’s Health Legislative Assistant). Capitol Switchboard number: 202-224-3121
  3. What the heck, try the White House, too! I know that the State of the Union address is already written and President Obama already has it all but memorized, but it would still be a good idea to call the White House about this. It is not inconceivable that a word might be changed, or slightly different emphasis given, if they hear from a lot of citizens today. White House: 202-456-1111

Finally, it’s worth noting that the efforts being made at Balloon Juice and I don’t know how many other places appear to be having a real impact. Lots of people are reporting in the Balloon Juice comments that their Representatives’ staffers have been happy to hear from them, and have been very forthcoming about needing just this kind of support (that’s precisely the message I got from Danny Davis’s aide).

So please: Accept your mission!

********************

UPDATE: I left a detailed message with a Burris staffer, but their Health Legislative Assistant was in a meeting. I did, however, get to speak with the appropriate aide in Durbin’s office, and she said very clearly that he still supports the Senate bill, he wants to see the House pass it, “but we’re waiting to see what happens tonight.” I said “The State of the Union address, right?” and she said yes. A couple of minutes later, I said something like “well, I can see that he would want to see how the leader of his party is planning on leading on this issue,” and she said “that is a major part of his thinking.”

So even though it may be pointless this late in the game, I’m going to keep trying to call the White House. (I say “keep trying,” because I’ve been trying and it’s damn hard to get through. But I’m going to try again).

Also, and not incidentally: She, like the assistant in Rep. Danny Davis’s office a couple of days ago, was lovely and gracious and open and helpful. I am coming to really love the staffers in my elected officials’ offices this week!

UPDATE II: I also finally got through to the White House, where I left a brief message. For whatever that’s worth…!

MLK – live blog-ish, part 4.

Here’s the story behind this quirky project; here are the previous installments.

Chapter three – On being a good neighbor

“I should like to talk with you about a good man,” Dr. King opens, “whose exemplary life will always be a flashing light to plague the dozing conscience of mankind.”

And so, a reminder, first of all, that these chapters were originally sermons. That Dr. King may have written the words in quiet isolation (or not — he was a father, after all), but he wrote them knowing that he would speak them to people — people he knew. He could probably look out into his church and know who most needed to hear about the example of a “good man,” and who most reflected that good man’s example.

The good man, of course, was the Good Samaritan. Few people know this, but the Samaritans are not a dead community. Not entirely, at any rate. A few hundred of them still live in the hills outside of Nablus, on the West Bank, with an even smaller number living in a small community outside of Tel Aviv. I smoked nargila with some Samaritan women once, and drank tea with some Samaritan men. I watched Samaritan kids run up and down their hilly roads, and felt very welcome, indeed (occasionally, it really kind of rocks to be a reporter). As they did back in Jesus’ day, modern-day Samaritans believe that they got God’s message to Moses right, and the Jews got it wrong. And that in the fullness of time, they will be vindicated.

But when Jesus was walking the hills of Galilee, the Samaritan-to-Jew ratio was a significantly more even than it is now, and the effect was to create an enmity not unlike that experienced between Israelis and Palestinians today: mutual hatred, mutual distrust, mutual distaste, mutual demonization. The people to whom Jesus was speaking heard implications and nuance that we can only guess at, 2000 years later. (If you’re unfamiliar with the story, or want a refresher, you’ll find it here).

So when Dr. King talks about the three different kinds of altruism that the Good Samaritan displayed — universal, dangerous, and excessive — I have a feeling that it was the “dangerous” kind that was most apparent to the first hearers of the story.

The Samaritan possessed the capacity for a dangerous altruism. He risked his life to save a brother…. We so often ask, “What will happen to my job, my prestige, or my status if I take a stand on this issue? Will my home be bombed, will my life be threatened, or will I be jailed?” The good man always reverses the question…. Abraham Lincoln did not ask, “What will happen to me if I issue the Emancipation Proclamation and bring an end to chattel slavery?” but he asked “What will happen to the Union and to millions of Negro people, if I fail to do it?”

But Dr. King clarifies that the altruism of which he speaks must be more than mere pity:

An expression of pity devoid of genuine sympathy, leads to a new form of paternalism…. Dollars possess the potential for helping wounded children of God on life’s Jericho Road, but unless those dollars are distributed by compassionate fingers, they will enrich neither the giver nor the receiver….  The Peace Corps will fail if it seeks to do something for the underprivileged peoples of the world; it will succeed if it seeks creatively to do something with them.

In a later chapter (yes, this isn’t really a “live” blog in any sense at this point. I’m reading ahead…), Dr. King will say “All life is interrelated. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” True altruism, it seems, recognizes this network, and understands that altruism can only truly help — which is to say, it can only change and repair the world — if those practicing it understand that we share the garment of destiny. That none of us is free, until all of us are free.

So of course, I think of Haiti now. I think of all the helping hands today, and all the efforts that will be made in the future.

But I also think of Afghanistan and Palestine and the kids growing up in poverty not six blocks from my house. I need to keep in my mind not the question “What will happen to me if I act?”, but “what will happen to them if I don’t?”

Good Stuff: Who said it?

Who do you think said the following?

Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard, and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.

I’ll be honest — sitting in front of my intertubes the other day, when the words “but if you work really hard” hit my ears, I thought: Oh man, here we go again. “Dreams can come true.” Or “you’ll make it.” Or some such nonsense that just pisses me off these days. But no: “If you work really hard, and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

So I scribbled down what the speaker said. I’m “live”-blogging Dr. King these days, right, so I’m particularly attuned to words that are wise, words that I want to be able to reproduce should the circumstances warrant it.

So who, you ask (with bated breath, no doubt), is the source?

Conan O’Brien! No, I know! He of the rancorous battle over late-night TV! You can see him saying it here, being insanely gracious and warm and humble (scroll down to the 12:45 AM ET clip).

It’s not quite “God has two outstretched arms. One is strong enough to surround us with justice and one is gentle enough to embrace us with grace” (MLK, Strength to Love, chap 1) — but it ain’t bad. And Conan, at least, is not annoying.

If you work really hard, and are kind, amazing things can happen.

CoCo knows a thing or two.

Health Care Reform: Please call Congress.

Over at Balloon Juice, Tim F. (one of bloggers who isn’t John Cole) is doing an enormous amount of work urging people to call Congress and tell them to just Pass.The.Damn.Bill.

I am convinced that the time to get a good start on desperately need health care reform is running out — and that furthermore, if this President fails this year, we will not get another chance until another Democratic President has the courage to try. And the resulting damage to the health and well-being of both this country’s citizens and its finances would be incalculable.

I consider myself a progressive (though some would no doubt say I’m not progressive enough) and I’ll be honest: I am not wild about the Senate bill. I really do want to see single-payer, and when progressives started talking about how, hey now, no one seems to have noticed that the left side of the country had already compromised to get even this far, I absolutely agreed.

But the truth is that we desperately need something, and in this case, something is immeasurably better than nothing.

So, I called my Representative, Danny K. Davis, last week, and also called to urge my Senators to do whatever they can to help their colleagues get this thing off the ground. In all three cases, I called and left a very brief message with the staffer who answered the phone.

About an hour ago, I decided to take it a step further, and, following Tim F.’s advice, called again, spoke at greater length, mentioned a particular memo (the Benan Memo) specifically, and asked questions about where Congressman Davis stands. Following is a re-cap of that conversation (and if you’re here from Balloon Juice, you probably already read this – sorry!):

I said my piece, mentioned the memo, and asked the staffer who answered the phone what the Congressman’s thoughts are on the question, and he transferred me to Davis’s Health Legislative Assistant, who was so gracious and helpful and talked with me for, I don’t know, 15-20 minutes.

Summary version of the conversation: Davis is, after all, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and is pro-single payer himself, but he realizes that this is the best bill we have right now and is thinking of it in terms of a framework that can be filled in and built on later, much like Medicare.

I asked how folks like me (and was very clear that I think of myself as a progressive) can help, asking “phone calls like these?” And he said “Oh without question, make the phone calls.”

Personal, handwritten letters are also very powerful he said (“anytime a Congressional office gets 20 or so personal letters that are of the same opinion…”), but allowed as how the irradiation process in the Capitol slows the mails down considerably….

He said that emails are also paid attention to, but did mention that any staffer is likely to get about 100 a day on this issue—to me that is an indication that if you’re going to go with email, make sure your subject line is sharp and stands out, and that your text is brief and to-the-point. Like, 150 words, tops.

I then said “if I happen to know people who live in the districts of other members of the Progressive Caucus, should I encourage them to call?” and he said “oh, that would be excellent.” Here’s a link to a list of the members. (And we should probably all be asking to speak with our Representatives’ Health Legislative Assistants).

Please, please, please: Call your member of Congress — even if he or she is a Republican! I think it’s very important that the GOP understand that many of us have not drunk their nihilistic Kool Aid.

If you want tips and background and thoughts about the whole process, I can’t recommend Tim F.’s posts highly enough — this is a good one to start with.

If you just want to go ahead and make the call, here’s the number for the switchboard: 202-224-3121


MLK – Live blog-ish, part 3.

An explanation of this project can be found here. Part 1 is here, and part 2 is here.

Chapter two – Transformed nonconformist

I came of age when the notion of rebelling against stifling conformity was de rigueur — indeed, the arts of the 1970s were suffused with exhaustive and exhausting efforts to show just how narrow were the minds of the middle class, how limited their horizons, how miserable suburbia (aka: The American Dream). After Dr. King writes in Chapter 1 about not trusting the press blindly and the fact that the softminded person “has an almost morbid fear of the new,” sounding rather as if he had woken up just yesterday and was chiming in on our national political discourse, Chapter 2 starts off a little more firmly grounded in the past.

Success, recognition, and conformity are the bywords of the modern world where everyone seems to crave the anesthetizing security of being identified with the majority.

Well, not in my experience. Not anymore. Indeed, assuming the mantle of nonconformity is, itself, the new conformity. (If you will). We’re all individuals!

But, then, Dr. King catches up with us again:

Nonconformity in itself, however, may not necessarily be good and may at times possess neither transforming nor redemptive power. Nonconformity per se contains no saving value, and may represent in some circumstances little more than a form of exhibitionism.

…The transformed nonconformist… never yields to the passive sort of patience which is an excuse to do nothing. And this very transformation saves him from speaking irresponsible words which estrange without reconciling and from making hasty judgments which are blind to the necessity of social progress. He recognizes that social change will not come overnight, yet he works as though it is an imminent possibility.

I read these words and I just stopped cold. Read them again. And again. It felt as if Dr. King had looked into my heart and saw the path to which I have tried so hard to be true.

In the last installment of this live-blogg-y thing, I said that I’m aware that Dr. King was writing about a very specific, gross injustice, and that I “don’t want to remove him from his time and place.” I wrote that I know that “these words have a context.”

And then I immediately listened to what those words said beyond their context. As I am going to do here.

But in this case, I really can’t help it. I have tried, throughout my entire career (professional, volunteer, and just plain living my life) as an advocate for Israeli-Palestinian peace to “[refrain] from speaking irresponsible words which estrange without reconciling,” and to not make “hasty judgments which are blind to the necessity of social progress.” I am constantly telling people that if they want their opponents to hear them, they have to be careful with their words. That we cannot organize people where we want them to be — we can only organize them where they are.

But it’s hard, you know? I get so furious. People are often surprised when I say that the on-going Israeli occupation and settlement project enrage me, that I often (often) find it difficult to not just wash my hands of my entire Israeli existence. During the 08/09 Gaza War, I frequently said that I felt like sending my passport back — and while I am ultimately too level-headed to have taken such a step, I wasn’t overstating my desire. When speaking privately about the conflict, and Israeli culpability, and the egregious and unwarranted suffering constantly inflicted on the Palestinian people, I generally resort to that variety of Anglo-Saxonisms that you often see in other contexts on this blog, and allow my rage to emerge unfettered.

So I suppose I’ve tipped my hand here, a bit, but honesty is a good thing, too. As is learning that one of the greatest thinkers of the modern age would likely have counseled me to continue to avoid irresponsible words and hasty judgments when engaged in the struggle out in the world, for “social change will not come overnight, yet [we work] as though it is an imminent possibility.” I feel his hand on my shoulder, and see that smile on his face. I imagine that though I am a Jew, Dr. King might have been my pastor.

Chicago, January 21

I have lived more of my life in The Greater Chicago Metropolitan Area than any other place on earth. You would think I would be inured to the mid-winter weather.

I am not. I AM NOT INURED!

Today it rained, all day. Thirty-three fucking degrees on the thermometer, and constant rain. The only thing grayer than the sky were the filthy scraps of snow clinging to the side of the road. I spent the day longing for night, just so that the world would have good excuse for being so damn dark.

Holy crap but it was an ugly, ugly day in America’s heartland.

Isolation and its discontents.

When I first moved to Israel, even before I fully understood the implications of the occupation, I could see that, for the most part, Jews and Arabs didn’t much know each other (and if I recall, that was what Israeli Jews called the Palestinians at the time, just: Arabs). The former ran the place, and the latter cleaned the streets, bused the tables, and ran the tchotchke shops in tourist-y areas.

I lived there for 14 years, during which time there was an intifada, a round-up and mass deportation of more than 400 Palestinians (we were calling them Palestinians by then) suspected of ties with militant Islamic groups, several waves of suicide bombing, a war with Iraq, and various “disturbances” such as the opening of the tunnel under the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. With each, the inter-cultural shoulder-rubbing grew less and less — and more and more violent in nature when it did happen.

One tool for keeping Palestinians away was the “closure,” or sealing of the borders between Israel and the Palestinian territories, allowing no Palestinians out for X number of days. I remember the first time a closure was imposed, in the course of the first intifada, and I remember it as oddly frightening. We were used to the guys at the grocery store, the ones working in neighborhood gardens, and their sudden, unprecedented disappearance felt very surrealistic. I remember talking with my roommate about “Well, God, what next? What happens now?”

As is the way of things, though, the unprecedented fairly quickly became the mundane, and now you would actually be hardpressed to find a Palestinian anywhere in Tel Aviv. Palestinian-Israelis picked up some of the menial labor, but most of it appears now to be done by foreign nationals, flown in to work, and flown back out as soon as possible (not that that’s created any ethical or social issues, or anything). In the eleven years since I left the place the level of contact between the two peoples has, if anything, withered even further.

If you happen to be the kind of Israeli who actually wants to lay eyes on Palestinians, though, it’s still hard: All of Gaza is sealed off, Israelis are frequently legally prohibited (by their own government) from entering certain areas in the West Bank, and even the roads on the West Bank are segregated — Israelis can mostly drive wherever they want, but Palestinians have to keep to certain (generally substandard) roads. And if you happen to be the kind of Israeli interested in active reconciliation, even with all of your good will, it’s still hard, because Gazans can’t get out any more than you can get in, and residents of the West Bank hoping to leave one section of the West Bank for another need to procure permits — permits that can be difficult to get and are easily revoked. Not to mention the massive wall now snaking its way down between Israel and the West Bank, a behemoth that cuts Palestinians off from each other, not to mention Israelis.

All these long years, this quarter of a century in which my life has been bound up with Israel, I have known this to be folly. I have known that you cannot stop fearing people if you never actually see them, and that when they die at your hands but you don’t know what they look like? It’s a lot harder to care.

The accumulating decisions to get rid of as many Arabs as possible were pointed, but I don’t know that there was a grand plan to achieve Israeli apathy. I am wary of conspiracy theories, mainly because they tend to be too neat and to presume too much intelligence on the part of the conspirators. But whether or not someone actually sat down 20 or 30 or 40 years ago and said “let’s slowly exploit each tragedy in this ongoing war in such a way as to drive the peoples fighting ever farther apart so that we can continue to oppress the other guy without our people throwing a fit about it” — doesn’t matter. That has been the devastating effect.

And Aluf Benn at HaAretz recently ran an important article suggesting convincingly that in at least one Israeli leader’s mind, there was in fact a great deal of forethought. In “Sharon’s real legacy,” he writes:

The policy of isolation is the real legacy of Ariel Sharon, who built the fence in the West Bank, left the Gaza Strip and pushed the Palestinians out of the Israeli labor force. Sharon did not believe in peace and was not interested in links with the “Arabs.” All he wanted was to protect the Jews from attacks by their “bloodthirsty” neighbors. Keeping them out of sight lets Israelis live as if there were no conflict, with only settlers on the periphery and soldiers on the firing line.

On my visits to Israel/Palestine in recent years, I have watched people of enormous good will on both sides of the divide waste hour after hour on paperwork and phone calls and rearranged plans, just to try to get physically into the same room. I’ve seen the roads that the Palestinians have to drive on, I’ve sailed past (with my Israeli plates) the endless lines of Palestinians trying to get through Israeli road blocks. I’ve stood next to the wall and goggled at the arrogance that put it there.

There are folks who are trying their very, very best to bridge the bloody divide between their peoples, and I literally get goosebumps (as I type, in fact) just thinking about what they do. Combatants for Peace, the Bereaved Families Forum, Friends of the Earth-Middle East — they are, jointly, doing the work of our better angels, work that far too many of us can never be bothered to do.

But the simple fact is that for many Israelis, the pain, suffering, hunger, and horrific death that the occupation causes on a daily basis for millions of people is invisible — and Israelis, being like most people, aren’t really seeking it out. As Aluf Benn says:

Because of the entertainment and indifference, the government doesn’t face public pressure to pull out of the territories and establish a Palestinian state, and the opposition to the American peace initiative is being led by the extremists on the right. Most Israelis simply don’t care; they gave up on the territories a long time ago. If Mitchell succeeds in his mission, they will hear about it and change the channel.

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Note: An excellent source on the impact of these policies on the lives of ordinary Palestinians is Palestine Inside Out, by Saree Makdisi.

Earlier:

Israel/Palestine: the basics.

Israel/Palestine peace advocacy – places to start.

Israel/Palestine – a reading list.

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