I’ve been in Israel for a week and my emotions are, as always when I’m here, a complete mess — a samatocha, if you will, and even if you won’t. I’m up, I’m down, I hate it, I love it, a whirlpool, constantly returning to wherever I was just a few minutes before, the very act of trying to keep up and keep steady serving to suck new flotsam and jetsam into the gyre.
And by the way, when I say “hate,” I mean it. I have had moments of such fury, such disgust, that I have burst into tears before I could even give words to the emotions. The dehumanization, the willed blindness to the suffering of millions of people, caused not by hurricane or earthquake or plague or locusts but by the decisions made, every day, by the people who are my people — it gives rise to a violence within me that I hardly recognize. A repulsion, a revulsion.
Side by side, cheek and jowl, living neither in peace nor in security, with a love, a longing, an ache in the bones, a burning desire to come home. To be a Jew among the Jews, to watch the Bougainvillea spill over fences and across lawns, to be surrounded and filled with Hebrew and the sight of hills rolling into and out of valleys and the scent of flowers I cannot even name.
I don’t know how to talk to anyone anymore.
There are words I can no longer use, conventions I can no longer pretend to subscribe to (I once subscribed, unthinking, unknowing, not realizing, to particular ways of seeing the conflict and the role that Israel has played in it and the role of individuals, whether the young soldiers or the entire social network — from parents to teachers to editors to musicians to people on the street to assumptions that lay buried between words and within whispers — that socializes children to become young soldiers. But now I don’t and once I stopped, I couldn’t pretend, either). I felt a chill fall over a conversation I had tonight when I referred to Palestinian “fighters” rather than “terrorists.” I suddenly froze myself. Any Palestinian who fights any Israeli is a terrorist, had I forgotten? Of course, of course, right. “Terrorist.”
Except: No. Some are terrorists, surely. But those who fight our soldiers? Those who act in defense of their own homes from an invading military force? These are not terrorists. I cannot lump them with the others, with the old lady killers and suicide bombers. “Fighters” — they are fighters! They deserve at least that from me. At least the right word.
I tell my children the West Bank is Palestine — when we drive through a check point, for instance, on our way out of Jerusalem, I say “now we’re entering Palestine.” When I tell them about the settlements, I say that these communities are stealing Palestinian land. I tell them that the Netanyahu government is working to undo any chance for peace. I tell them — God help me, I tell them — that Yigal Amir won.
I cannot lie to my children.
And yet, I also think about us, we Israelis, we Jews. About our right to be here.
If I believe that the Palestinian people has a right to sovereignty in their home, a nation to call their own, a share in the very Jerusalem that has served as their cultural capital for generations upon generations — well then, surely I believe in our right as well. I read my Twitter feed, I peek at the left wing blogs, and I want to kick and fight and bite and cry. Why must I hate my people, disdain our accomplishments, mentally undo our equal right to this land, in order to be a good-enough supporter of Palestinian rights? They’re right, the people who say there are those on the left who would deny Israel the right to exist. They are right, and those who would do the denying are wrong.
I tell my children: You see those wrecked old trucks on the side of the road on the way into Jerusalem? There were convoys, people trying to get food and medicine and doctors and machine parts to the isolated Jewish community in Jerusalem, and the convoys were attacked. The Jews inside them were killed. The trucks are there to remind us of that cost, of their sacrifice.
The Palestinian Arabs, I say, acted like normal people and said “Who are all these people who want to move in and take over? We won’t allow it! We’ll fight them off!” And they did, and have done, terrible things to the Jews, to the Israelis.
And the Jews-who-became-Israelis acted like normal people and said “This has always been our home and we are going to fight to make it ours again.” And they did and have done terrible things to the Palestinian Arabs. More terrible things — more bombs, more deaths, more blood. We won the war, so we’re in power, and we have, if you add it up, just look at the numbers, the sheer statistics tell you: We have done far more terrible things to them than they have done to us.
But they have done terrible things to us, too. People are scared and angry and sad and full of hate for good reason. That’s why war is such a bad idea, I tell my children: Because it makes people behave like animals to each other. It makes people forget to treat each other as humans.
I cannot lie to my children.
I cannot. I will not. I will not use the words and the conventions and the assumptions and presumptions that either side would have me use. I will tell them the truth, all of it, with all of its nuances and all of its ugliness and the tiny bit of beauty and wonder that occasionally shines through.
And — and this is it, the truth, the deepest truth, the thing that keeps the gyre spinning faster and faster, creating a literal nausea that can leave me gasping — it matters not at all. It will never matter.
I can tell my children all the truth I want. I can risk the wrath of friends, the disdain of partners-in-struggle, the language and thought police that surround me and try to bind me to them — and it won’t matter.
Because if I have learned nothing else in this week in Israel, I have learned, again — I have been reminded, again, of that thing that I try to hide from myself with all my sorrow and all my advocacy and all my heart and soul and strength — that there is no hope.
This government and this people — this people for whom it is more important to cling to the word “terrorist” than to consider the possibility that armed Palestinians are fighting for their home just as we once did (just as we once did, with all the ignobility and howling anger and animal instinct) — will not make peace. They will not.
I don’t know what the end will be (as the Hebrew goes), and I shudder to try to consider the possibilities. Much blood, many deaths, and the continued and constant erosion of the humanity of Israelis, Palestinians, and everyone in between.
But it will not lead to peace, nor to justice.
The words matter — personal integrity matters, parental integrity matters — but it won’t matter enough. This country is determined to march itself over the abyss, and the words I use cannot stop it.