Sometimes it just hurts.

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.

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  1. I always find it intensely interesting to see what lights a fire in someone (if they have such fire at all; most don’t). It is obvious where your fire comes from; as this issue is part of your heart and mind. I can’t honestly say I have such intensity about anything in my life, although the abuse/suffering of innocent animals sometimes comes close.

    I imagine, even predict, that your desire to care about this issue will come back in time. Your fire has not gone out; it is merely hot embers ready to light new fuel when it becomes available.

  2. Better to get it out, than hold it in. And we all need time off, especially from subjects that dismay, anger, confuse, and befuddle us. I suspect your passion will lie dormant until the conditions are right and the soil fertile enough. Then they shall sprout anew.

    In the meantime, might I suggest good wine, a sunset, and a little Dark Side of the Moon?

  3. Sputnik_Sweetheart

     /  July 17, 2009

    Thank you so much for writing this. I am an American Jew, yet I have never been to Israel and I don’t plan to, at least not in the near future. I made the decision years ago, when I was talking to a friend who had done Birthright (which don’t get me wrong, is a great program). While my friend had enjoyed the trip, she was extremely frustrated by the blinders many on her trip seemed to put on when it came to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was then I knew in my heart that I could not go to Israel until there was some peace between the two sides. It just didn’t feel right to me. I hang out in mostly progressive activist Jewish circles, so they understand my decision, but when I go outside of that circle, I have a hard time trying to explain my reasoning. People generally assume that I am scared about getting hurt in a terrorist attack (which admittedly, I kinda am, but I have been in other dangerous places in the world, so it is not really a deal breaker). It is frustrating, so I generally try to avoid the subject all together (I actually had someone walk away from me in the middle of conversation while I was trying to explain my stance on Israel).

  4. Uli Zumsande

     /  July 18, 2009

    I can so relate. My story is quite different, I’m German and not Jewish. The history of Germany, not understanding, made me go to Israel after school. First a rather funny, fortunate Odyssey on my own to a Kibbutz, returning for traveling another half year a bit later. I loved Israel, the people, the sites, the beauty, the energy, the incredible mix of so many and so much. I was saddened and touched by the stories people told me of the suffering in the country, Palestinian and Jewish friends I made. I had no answers, only hoped so for peace for all of them. I carry the love for Israel in my heart but couldn’t return for many, many years now as since my stay there, everything took a very bad turn, 2 Intifadas, now the war end of the year. With my German background it’s difficult to speak out against Israeli politics, still have a hard time doing so but I do as I can not be silent and ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people. I can’t stop hoping for things to take a good turn as Israel will always be in my heart and even if I long lost touch with friends there, I would love to return one day, after things changed… Thanks for throwing your voice back into the roar, though sometimes it hurts.

  5. kelisep

     /  July 18, 2009

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

    Your words brought tears to my eyes. I respect and admire you for the courage to stand up against something that is so close to your heart in order to stand up for what is right.

    Please don’t stop speaking and rallying for peace; you are such an important voice!

  6. Ihsan Hamid

     /  July 20, 2009

    I think you should go to Israel. Go and visit your friends and family. If you have any deceased friends or relatives there, visit their graves and say a prayer for them. In Islam (I’m Muslim by the way) we are taught that there is great reward in that – as the original Abrahamic faith, I’m sure Judaism must teach the same.

    What has become of Israel is no fault of yours. But ignoring a problem does not make it go away. The best you could hope to do is to educate as many Israelis as you can whilst you’re out there, because from what I gather of the various Jewish blogs, the majority of Israelis are unaware of the bigger picture – the fault for that lies with the media and the education system.

    On a different note, I’ve always thought of Israel as the apple that tempted Eve. The apple was there for Adam and Eve to look at and admire, but the cost of touching it would be far too great for either of them to bare. Similarly, the return to Israel was a thing Jews once imagined and admired – until that faitful day when Zionism reached out and touched it and continues to pay the price to this very day.

    In my view, you should not draw the line at visiting Israel. The line should be drawn at going out there to settle on land that you know to be confiscated from Palestinians that are facing hardship and oppression.

    Anyway, forgive my ramblings. I followed a link to this blog from Mondowiess and felt the urge to have my say. Good luck with the future.

  7. annie

     /  July 22, 2009

    thank you so much for your incredible honesty, both with yourself and us. i know what it is like because i too am completely obsessed with the resolution of this conflict. i traveled for the first time to gaza, israel and the west bank in june.

    it breaks my heart really. we must must find a way.


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