Israel: Buffeted by fate? Or a character in its own play? (Re-up)

I’m pleased and proud to say that as of today, I’ll be posting regular book recommendations at Americans for Peace Now. I’ll be away from my desk for most of the day though (until just before Shabbat, and this blog and I don’t roll on Shabbos) and won’t have a chance to post anything particularly pertinent for any new readers. So I’ve decided to re-up something pertinent from a few months back. If you’re a new reader, please poke around the place! I don’t only write about Israel/Palestine, and I’m even funny on occasion. I swear!

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There is something very curious to the right-wing Israeli/Israeli apologist insistence that, say, settlement building isn’t what will wreck the peace process — if the Palestinians walk away over settlement expansion, it’ll just be another example of (as the Foreign Ministry took it upon itself to tweet me the other day) the Palestinians “once again miss[ing] an historic opportunity for peace.”

Or: The fact that there is no peace today doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that Israel ignored the peace offer made by all 22 members of the Arab League in 2002 (and repeated in 2006) — it’s that the Arab countries rejected the division of Palestine in 1948, or attacked in 1967, or supported Lebanon in 1982, or call today for an end to Israel’s violent control of Palestinian lives.

Or: Anti-Israeli violence, from suicide bombings to Qassam rockets, has nothing to do with Israel’s occupation, its bombing runs over Gaza, its road blocks in the West Bank, its constant building on Palestinian lands, the human desire for freedom and dignity — no, Palestinian violence is an expression of hatred, pure and simple. Anti-Semitism.

Or – well, or any number of other examples.

And when people like me suggest that Israel has some responsibility for its current state of affairs, the right calls us revisionists. Because, if I understand this attitude correctly, suggesting that Israel has some responsibility for its current state of affairs is an act of going into history books and re-writing what reasonable people know to be true.

But here’s the thing: What underlies this approach is an essential infantilization, a disenfranchisement, of Israel as a state and the Israelis as a people.

Our behavior has no real-world implications, our behavior can do nothing to change our fate, our behavior plays no role in our relationship with the Arab world, beyond a base-level preservation of the state. Like the baby who can’t get the food he wants from the cupboard, but can at least clamp his mouth shut. Like the toddler who can’t make Daddy play, but can at least get his attention by breaking a lamp.

I prefer to believe that my country and I (both of my countries and I, come to that) have agency. We actually play a role in the way things are turning out — which, in turn, means that we can play a different role, if we choose.

I am aware, of course, that the right-wing approach is not predicated on a flat, cardboard cut-out reading of Israel and the Israelis, but rather on a flat, cardboard cut-out reading of “the Arabs.”

But there is always a flip-side to these things. If “the Arabs” aren’t fully-rounded characters, with all that humanity entails, from the lovely to the debased — well then, we aren’t really either. As an Israeli friend once said about the “Security Barrier” that now runs up and down the West Bank: “We forget that walls have two sides.”

In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as in any human relationship, when we’re able to claim responsibility for our actions, we can also claim a new kind of power. Rather than being buffeted by fate, we can influence the direction that fate takes.

Or is it easier to believe that Israelis are babies — and the rest of the world animals?

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  1. dmf

     /  April 1, 2011

    God Has Pity On Kindergarten Children
    Yehuda Amichai

    God has pity on kindergarten children,
    He pities school children — less.
    But adults he pities not at all.

    He abandons them,
    And sometimes they have to crawl on all fours
    In the scorching sand
    To reach the dressing station,
    Streaming with blood.

    But perhaps
    He will have pity on those who love truly
    And take care of them
    And shade them
    Like a tree over the sleeper on the public bench.

    Perhaps even we will spend on them
    Our last pennies of kindness
    Inherited from mother,

    So that their own happiness will protect us
    Now and on other days.

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