A year and a few days ago, my family and I arrived in Tel Aviv for a brief visit. It was our fourth trip to Israel in something like 30 months — we were going so often that it felt like we were actually keeping up with friends and loved ones, watching kids grow, finishing conversations.
In the meantime, though, we have made no plans for our next visit. This is odd.
I don’t think I’ve ever gone more than 12 months without being in Israel during our entire 11 years in America. I’m always in a state of decompressing from the last jaunt, or gearing up for the next.
At first, we knew we’d be going back permanently, in time for our first-born to start kindergarten. Then in 2002, my husband and I admitted to each other that the Israeli response to the al-Aksa intifada meant we didn’t actually want to raise our children in Israel, unless and until something changed — peace and justice were, I think, what we had in mind.
As I said in an earlier post, this was an excruciating decision for me, one I’ve mentally kicked at and picked apart ever since. I spent the next four years essentially apologizing to my Israeli friends for not being there, and reiterating, ad infinitum (probably ad nauseam), how much I loved and missed it — a thing which, while entirely true, probably did not endear me to those who lived there and could have reasonably wondered why I didn’t move back, if I living elsewhere gave me a literal, physical ache. I took to referring to the “gentle exile of American suburbia,” and remarked (again, probably too often) that though we had built a good life, I never felt fully alive except when at home. In Israel.
Cut to, where are we now, 2006? The Second War in Lebanon, and the military operation in Gaza which left hundreds dead and flattened Gaza’s one power plant along with much of the rest of the Strip’s infrastructure — all in response to the Palestinian capture of an on-duty soldier, which came in retaliation for the almost entirely unreported Israeli kidnapping of suspected Hamas members from their Gaza home the day before.
Something in me snapped. Having actively advocated for a two-state solution for years, having apparently hoped in some corner of my heart that we would one day return, I began to back away. I told people I had given up hope. (Well, I told some people. I didn’t tell my friends in Israel, but I did tell them that I would stop bending their ear about my own internal turmoil. They smiled fondly, for they are very good friends).
And then: This winter. The absolutely unnecessary, unforgiveable, full-frontal war in Gaza in which rather than try to deal rationally with the undeniable wrong of rocket attacks on its cities, Israel decided to subject an entire population — that it was already keeping in what amounted to an open-air jail — to a landscape-flattening assault that killed and maimed and destroyed and wrecked horrible havoc for three weeks. And registered an 80-90% approval rate from the Israeli people.
What I thought had snapped in me in 2006, essentially just snapped right off. Hope – gone. Dead. Buried. Faith? Nope. I no longer listen to Israeli radio all day long on my computer, I no longer subscribe to the print version of the peerless Haaretz, and I don’t have any real desire to go back. Ever. If I could fly my friends here on a monthly basis, I would never have need to go there again. Or so I feel today.
This, in the life of someone whose academic and professional pursuits have always focused on the conflict, is not a good thing. In the life of someone who moved to Israel as a young woman and discovered it to be her home in ways entirely inexplicable, it is surpassingly strange. I do not want to read, write, or talk about Israel, and yet I do so, all the time. Indeed, I will be teaching a course this fall on American involvement in the peace process, and just the notion of pulling together a reading list has me in knots.
Why do I indulge myself this way and tell you all of this? Because it seems to me that I should be writing about Israel and Palestine more. That I owe that to the Israeli peace movement, and to the Palestinian people, and to the home that — in spite of everything I just wrote — is home.
But first, I needed to get this out of my system. Get it said, and admitted to. It’s very hard to advocate for a solution (two-states) that I no longer entirely believe to be possible — especially as I believe my own people carry the lion’s share — an entire pride of lions’ share — of the blame for its receeding possibility. Every new stone laid in settlement of the West Bank, every Palestinian denied the right to leave Gaza, every drop of blood spilled, every single effort to hold on to the occupation in the face of law or common sense — each of these pushes peace and security farther away, and at a certain point, we may simply pass the point of no return. Some people believe we already have.
But I am going to try to throw my voice back into the roar. “All I have,” to quote Auden, “is a voice/To undo the folded lie… There is no such thing as the State/And no one exists alone;/ Hunger allows no choice/ To the citizen or the police; / We must love one another or die.”
Starting tomorrow, I’m going to try to start again. Sometimes though, it just hurts.