I’ve had an abortion.

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing next in the blogosphere and I’ve been running some old posts that were particularly meaningful for me. In light of the news that Kansas has essentially managed to eliminate all abortion rights within its borders as of this Friday, I decided to slightly edit and re-up the following.

Over at Ta-Nehisi Coates’ place at the Atlantic, there is a lively discussion surrounding one simple statistic:

35 percent of all women of reproductive age will have had an abortion by the time they’re 45.

Now, one can argue with the efficacy of statistics that are dependent on the use of the future perfect tense (“…at current rates, more than one-third [35%] will have had…”), but it’s not like we’re looking at a possible reversal of the trend. If the folks behind the statistic, the highly regarded Guttmacher Institute, are off, they’re off by a matter of percentage points. So I feel entirely comfortable with the phrase “roughly one-third.”

Entirely comfortable, and entirely unsurprised. Abortion is one of the greatest open secrets in American society. We all know that it happens a lot — we just don’t talk about it. God forbid! We need to feel ashamed, horrified, and deeply guilty! Or, if those of us who have had abortions don’t feel that way, we at least know better than to raise the fact publicly. We know how thoroughly we’re judged before anyone even opens their mouth. (Aside from anything else, we’re admitting that we’ve had sex. Shhhh!)

But if we don’t start talking about it, if the roughly one-third of us who terminate a pregnancy in the course of our reproductive lives don’t get more honest and more bold, the GOP (and some anti-choice Democrats) will continue to do all they can to take away our right to this entirely legal surgical procedure. As Jeffrey Toobin wrote some time ago in the New Yorker:

…as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg observed not long ago, abortion rights “center on a woman’s autonomy to determine her life’s course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature.” Every diminishment of that right diminishes women.

Every diminishment of that right diminishes women. This matters. It really, really matters — the right to choice matters as much as health care reform, because it is health care.

We have to fight against the Scott Roeders of the world (who, by frightening doctors away from late-term abortion practices, are the very definition of “the terrorists are winning”), and we have to fight against the powerful tendency among politicians to behave as if women’s health is somehow negotiable. As if we are an interest group of some sort — and not half the country, a third of whom will need access to an important reproductive health option in the course of their lives.

Please read up all the GOP-led anti-choice efforts that have been made in recent months, please support Planned Parenthood, and while you’re at it, you might also look into Medical Students for Choice. You can also call or write to your Representative, Senators, and President and tell them how wrong-headed all of this anti-choice activity is, and why. I frankly think that this is the more important of the activism options, because our elected representatives have to understand that freedom of choice matters deeply to the people they serve, and they will hear that better in personal notes and calls than in any petition delivered by anyone.

Write to them. Tell them your story. We do not need to be ashamed. We need to have our rights defended.


In 2006, I ran the first of several pieces that I wrote for daily newspapers about the secrecy surrounding abortion. Each opened with the line “I’ve had an abortion. Have you?” Here’s the one that ran in the Chicago Tribune:

Maybe You Just Don’t Know

By Emily L. Hauser
Chicago Tribune
March 16, 2006

I’ve had an abortion. Have you?

The recent decision to ban virtually all abortions in South Dakota has generated a great deal of raucous arguing; many abortion opponents hope the new legislation will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and lead to the reversal of Roe vs. Wade. As usual, the argument suggests the existence of clear-cut opinion, the “supporting” or “opposing” of the act itself.

What is not discussed, of course, are people’s hearts.

Women readers, of course, know their own answer to my question; many of their men would be surprised by it.

Many men don’t know that their wives, sisters or mothers have, in fact, terminated a pregnancy. They don’t know because the women they love fear their response. Will he see me differently? Will he — figuratively or literally — kill me?

So, as a nation and as individuals, we largely don’t talk about it. And when we do, we’re often not honest. The shadow of perceived opinion is very long. We speak publicly as if there were two clear positions — but in private, most of us know this isn’t the truth.

My abortion is a thing of which I’m neither ashamed nor proud. I wish that I hadn’t had to do it, but I did.

The average reader will want to know why — because most of us have a sliding scale of morality.

Even some staunch opponents will agree in cases of rape; others where there is genetic defect; a larger number, if the abortion takes place early in the first trimester; many, of course, think it’s always a woman’s choice.

I believe there is a vast middle ground made up of most Americans, those who feel abortion is neither irredeemably evil, nor free of moral implication. Witness polls conducted recently by the Pew Research Center: 65 percent of respondents don’t want to see Roe vs. Wade overturned; 59 percent feel it would be better if fewer abortions were performed in this country.

At least some of our ambivalence may be cultural. Japanese society maintains a standard ritual, mizuko kuyo, to memorialize aborted or miscarried fetuses and stillborn babies. In a paper discussing the rite, Dr. Dennis Klass, a Webster University psychology of religion professor and a grief expert, writes: “The abortion experience is seen as a necessary sorrow tinged with grief, regret and fear which forces parents to apologize to the fetus and, thus, connect the fetus to the family.”

This describes my own experience well — but I’m an American. I carry a different culture, and I fear that in apologizing, I accept some notion of personhood that somehow “makes” the entire thing — murder. So, I hesitate.

I ask myself: When I aborted my first pregnancy, did I kill a baby? I honestly don’t think so. But did I stop the potential for life? Absolutely. Insofar as life itself is simultaneously the most mundane and most divine fact on our planet, this means something.

But I’m willing to say that I don’t know what that something is. I can only function in the cold reality of my own world — and as such, I alone can judge whether my abortion was a moral choice. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t happy, but it was the least-bad of two bad choices. It was moral.

I don’t know anyone for whom abortion is easy; I don’t know anyone (any woman, at least) who sees abortion as birth control. These choices are stunningly complex. When we deny that, when we talk as if we are all 100 percent clear on this issue, we deny our humanity. And we deny our grief.

And why, in the end, did I have my abortion? I’m not going to record that here. You and I don’t know each other, and my reasons are personal. I don’t need to defend them, and neither does your neighbor, the stranger at work — nor, perhaps, your girlfriend.

Oldie-but-goodie: Winnie the Pooh and Elmer the Elf.

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing next in the blogosphere (and I happen to physcially be in Israel right now) so in the meantime I’m running some old posts that I particularly enjoyed writing.

I recently read the final chapter in The House at Pooh Corner to my daughter, thus completing our sojourn in the Hundred Acre Woods.

The animals have all sensed, without knowing how, that Christopher Robin is Going Away, and they write him a note — a Poem, really, as drafted by Eeyore, which reads (in part):

I ought
To begin again
But it is easier
To stop.

Well, anyhow, we send
Our love.

The whole crowd of them — Eeyore, Owl, Piglet, Rabbit, Kanga, Roo, Tigger, and of course Pooh — deliver the Poem to Christopher Robin, but they all feel “awkward and unhappy,” because “it was a sort of good-bye they were saying, and they didn’t want to think about it.” Eventually, having all crowded around, they slowly edge away, and by the time Christopher Robin is finished reading the Poem, the only one left is Pooh.

“It’s a comforting sort of thing to have,” said Christopher Robin, folding up the paper, and putting it in his pocket. “Come on, Pooh,” and he walked off quickly.

They walk and talk, with Christopher Robin filling Pooh in on “people called Kings and Queens and something called Factors… and when Knights were Knighted, and what comes from Brazil.” Christopher Robin knights Pooh, dubbing him “Sir Pooh de Bear, most faithful of all my Knights.”

And slowly it dawns on Pooh “how muddling it would be for a Bear of Very Little Brain” to keep track of all of the exciting new information to which Christopher Robin is now privy,

“So perhaps,” he said sadly to himself, “Christopher Robin won’t tell me anymore,” and he wondered if being a Faithful Knight meant that you just went on being faithful without being told things.

We come to see, though, that Christopher Robin has his own fears. Having told Pooh that “they” don’t let you do Nothing almost ever, he finally says

“Pooh, promise you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.”

Pooh thought for a little.

“How old shall I be then?”


Pooh nodded.

“I promise,” he said.

Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh’s paw.

“Pooh,” said Christopher Robin earnestly, “if I – if I’m not quite -” he stopped and tried again – “Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won’t you?”


Once upon a time, I had an imaginary friend. Well, in truth, I had a great number of imaginary friends, designed to suit whatever need I might have at the time. I remember that one of them wore only silver, and another wore only gold.

But the one that mattered was Elmer the Elf.

Elmer was a constant in my life for many years, and in my mind’s eye, he looked rather as you might expect an elf to look (if you have not yet been introduced to the Lord of the Rings). He was tiny, and dressed largely in green, and I believe he may have even had a peaked cap.

When I was about eight — maybe I was seven? I’m not at all sure — I sat with Elmer in my Queenie’s backyard, between the swing set and the bush that, if Queenie and Grandpa weren’t looking, you could take a flower from, turn it upside down, and you’d have a little doll.

I sat on the grass, and Elmer stood before me, and I told him that it was ok — he could go back to his family. I understood that he needed them and they needed him, and I would be ok. He could go. And, well, he left, I suppose. I didn’t see him go.

The amazing thing to me about this story is that I knew — of course I knew — that Elmer wasn’t really real, and never had been. But, like Christopher Robin, I was moving beyond my ability to see past the veil, and I needed to send Elmer home.

The truth is that my childhood had been kind of rough up to that point, and would continue to be pretty rough for another two or three years — I think it would have been nice if I had been able to have Elmer around for a little longer.

But the child grows, the mind changes, and quite possibly aside from anything else, having already been through a thing or two, it’s entirely possible that I knew in a way that I couldn’t have before that Elmer could only help so much.

And yet, at the same time, I know that I did Know, in a way that I will always Know, that Elmer — like Pooh, and the Velveteen Rabbit, and the stuffed dog that I lost in one of our many, many moves — was, in fact Real, would always be Real, and like Pooh, would not forget about me, ever. And that whatever happens, he still understands.

So they went off together. But wherever they go and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.

Gilad Shalit and 5,383 Palestinians

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing next in the blogosphere (and in meat world I happen to be in Israel) so in the meantime I’m running some old posts — today I’m running an updated version of a piece I ran a year ago today. It never fails to stun me how much sturm und drang there always is in Israel/Palestine without anything ever actually getting any better….

Today is the fifth anniversary of the capture of Gilad Shalit. Shalit was serving at an Israeli military post on the border with Gaza when he and his unit were attacked by Palestinian militants. Two other Israeli soldiers were killed; Shalit was taken into Gaza.

This event came a day after Israeli forces went into the homes of two suspected Hamas members in Gaza and kidnapped them, taking them to jail in Israel. According to Israeli human rights group B’tselem, working from figures provided by the Israeli government, Israel currently holds 5,383 Palestinians in its civilian and military detention systems. Also according to B’tselem, and other Israeli human rights organizations, Palestinian prisoners are “routinely tortured” in Israeli jails.

In a joint statement released yesterday, B’tselem along with several Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights groups called for Shalit’s immediate release:

Human beings are not bargaining chips

Marking five years since the capture of Gilad Shalit, Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights organizations state:

Hamas must immediately end inhumane and illegal treatment of Gilad Shalit

Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit has been in captivity for five years. Those holding him have refused to allow him to communicate with his family, nor have they provided information on his well-being and the conditions in which he is being held. The organizations stress that this conduct is inhumane and a violation of international humanitarian law.

Hamas authorities in Gaza must immediately end the cruel and inhuman treatment of Gilad Shalit. Until he is released, they must enable him to communicate with his family and should grant him access to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Truth be told, I wept when Shalit was taken, as I wept over the loss of the soldiers he served with, Lt. Hanan Barak and Staff-Sgt. Pavel Slutzker. I spent hours before the computer, listening, reading, willing the facts to not be facts. These are my people, and as I read the stories of these young men’s lives, I felt I knew them. I cannot imagine the torment their families have lived through in the past  nearly 2,000 days

But I likewise call on Israel to recognize that the political prisoners it holds are just that.

I would call on Israel and my fellow Israelis to think of the families on the other side of the fences and walls. I would call on Israel, and my fellow Israelis, and the world at large to remember all of the many, many God-awful mistakes that Israel has made (including a series of military attacks in which hundreds upon hundreds of Palestinians were killed) in trying to force Hamas to free Shalit — to absolutely no avail.

There are two sides here, and much as I mourn my own people’s losses and pray for Shalit’s safe return home, I cannot forget the suffering that my people, in turn, have caused.

The only way to end the madness is to end it. The only way to end the madness is to build a just peace.


In December, 2010 it looked as if a deal might have been struck to swap Shalit for nearly 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. I wrote about it at the time, but as we all know, nothing came of those negotiations. I want to quote some of the facts and figures from that post here; to read the whole thing, click here.

I have compiled a short, and certainly incomplete, timeline outlining the things Israel has done since June 25, 2006 in retaliation for the capture of its soldier, in retaliation for subsequent Hamas retaliations to Israeli attacks, and/or in the name of bringing Shalit home without negotiation:

  1. June 28, 2006 – Israel launches an assault on Gaza, dubbed “Operation Summer Rains” and said to be aimed at freeing Shalit. Great damage is done to Gaza’s infrastructure in the first days, including the destruction of several bridges and the Strip’s single power plant, leaving much of Gaza without electricity or running water.
  2. June 28, 2006 – Israeli jets fly a sortieover the home of Syrian President Bashir Assad, an act of saber-rattling directed at the government Israel accuses of being one of the main sponsors of Palestinian militant organizations. The IDF simultaneously “[raises] its alert level on the northern border, mainly for fear that Hizbullah or other groups will attempt to take advantage of the situation and cause an escalation.”
  3. June 29, 2006 – The IDF kidnaps64 Palestinian legislators and officials from inside Gaza, including eight government ministers.
  4. October 10, 2006 – The UN reportsthat a total of 256 Palestinians have been killed since June 28, of whom 60 are children. 848 have been injured. Some 355 acres of agricultural land have been destroyed, and 3,000 commercial fishermen have lost their incomes because the Israeli navy will not allow them access to fishing grounds off the Gaza coast. Two Israeli soldiers have been killed and 31 Israelis injured. In response to the operation, Hamas has fired 465 Qassam rockets into Israel.
  5. November 1, 2006 – Israel launches “Operation Autumn Clouds,” focusing its attack on the Beit Hanoun neighborhood which frequently serves as a base for rocket fire into Israel. Over the course of eight days, the UN reports that at least 82 Palestinians are killed and 260 injured, and HaAretz concludesthat “the IDF wreaked havoc and terror in Beit Hanoun and left behind hundreds of wounded, as well as destroyed houses, uprooted orchards and a water system that was brought to a standstill. But despite all this, the declared aim of the operation was not achieved and the firing of Qassam rockets into Israel continues.”
  6. November 14, 2006 – The UN expressesits “shock at the horror of Israeli targeting and killing of Palestinian civilians in Beit Hanoun while they were asleep and other civilians fleeing earlier Israeli bombardment.”
  7. February 27, 2007 – Israel launches Operation Warm Winter; between Feb 27 and March 4, Israeli forces kill120 Palestinians, including 34 children, and 269 Palestinians are wounded. In the course of hostilities, 224 rockets and 49 mortars are fired into Israel; one Israeli is killed and 14 injured.
  8. December 27, 2008 – Israel launches Operation Cast Lead, now more commonly known as the Gaza War. In the first day, at least 225 Palestinians are killed and 700 wounded; B’tselem reports that in the course of the war, which lasts until January 18, 2009, Israeli forces killed 1,387 Palestinians, of whom 773 did not take part in the hostilities and 119 were under the age of 11. Three Israeli civilians were killed by Qassam rocket fire, six Israeli soldiers were killed in combat, and four were killed in a friendly fire incident. In July, the United Nations Development Program reported that it would likely take the Palestinians a year to clear the half a million tons of rubble created by Israeli bombardment and bulldozing in the course of the war. It’s widely presumed (and suggested by official Israeli statements) that the continued captivity of Gilad Shalit is at least one of the reasons for the launch of the war.

Oldie-but-goodie: A house.

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing next in the blogosphere (and I happen to physcially be in Israel right now) so in the meantime I’m running some old posts that I particularly enjoyed writing.

There’s this house.

It’s at the bottom of a hill, to the left and in a small valley, as you drive north on Wisconsin State Highway 23. If you come over the hill at night, you’ll see the lights in the windows, an amber glow under more stars than you’ll ever see in a Chicago sky.

The house is small. The kitchen floor is rough and unfinished, the wallpaper torn here and there. There’s a terrible Christmas clock hung on one wall because it met a need and now serves to amuse. The house smells of wood stove heat and cooking, and of the earth that washes off vegetables fresh in from the fields.

The fields belong to the house, and they rise and fall gently with the valley, rows neat, the order that people bring to nature so that they can feed themselves. It’s a farm that feeds many, and the house watches over the rows and the people working in them.

One of the people is a seven year old boy who was born on the farm, in the house, coming into the world with clear eyes and a smile that is like fresh water. He and his brother are growing here, they go to school inside the house (as their sister did until she went away to school), they play Legos here, their father reads Winnie the Pooh, and they eat and eat and eat. There is always a plate of something, somewhere. And if you don’t finish it, don’t worry, someone else will get around to it.

There is also, right now, today, someone dying here, the grandfather with whom the seven year old shares a name. He is 69 and after decades of housing a spirit so large it could hardly be contained, his body is all that’s left. Soon, it too will be gone. Right now the little boy and his brother play 20 feet away, and stew is made in the kitchen, and someone sits and watches and holds the grandfather’s hand, telling him, again, that he can go as soon as he needs to. That we do not want to hold him.

The house is so large, in its smallness, so blessed and full of blessing. In the middle — no, not really: In the everywhere, in all the corners and all the rooms, on the stairs, at the door, lifting a body small, or weak, spreading a blanket over a child, or a man — is a woman with long hair falling over her shoulders, her nails clipped short for they are often in the dirt, her arms spread as wide as she can get them around the world and all the everyone and the everything that she can reach.

Occasionally — not often enough — she sits with a cup of tea and lets the house shelter and bless her as much as she and it have blessed others. As one life ends, and all the others carry on.


*Brett F. Moore died the day I first posted this, at about the time that I was writing the above. I loved him, and I miss him more than I can say. I am so very grateful to have had him in my life. May his memory be for a blessing יהי זכרו ברוך

Oldie-but-goodie: Stuff I wish I knew how to do.

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing next in the blogosphere, so in the meantime I’m running some old posts that I particularly enjoyed writing.

Ah, writing! It’s a lovely profession, but honestly, what do I produce? Having never learned how to do anything that is, in fact, useful, it’s an unfortunate truth that, come the revolution, my children will likely starve. (I once said this to my mother and she glanced at me and deadpanned, “I don’t know. You’re a pretty fair cook.”)

So one often thinks of skills one wishes one had — either for post-revolution survival, or just because they’re awesome — and in fact, one continues to plan to someday learn how to do at least some of them.


Stuff I wish I knew how to do

  1. Play the electric guitar – by which I mean, slay with the electric guitar. Noodling around, not so much. But making thousands of ears bleed? Come ON, wouldn’t that be awesome?
  2. Knit – kind of an odd counterpoint to the ear bleeding thing, I’ll admit, but I am nothing if not an odd conflation of this and/or that (or, as I said over at Ta-Nehisi Coates’s place once: I contain multitudes, motherfucker!). It’s just kind of awesome that you can (as my Basement friend jemimapuddleduck recently put it) make a wearable piece of clothing out of a long piece of string. Plus which, unlike the ear bleeding thing, this is actually a productive activity, one which might be of practical use after the Tripods take over and my family and I become vagrants (The White Mountains? Anybody?).
  3. Carpentry – I love trees, I love wood, I kind of loved shop class (in spite of my teacher) and someone I love very much happens to be a cabinetmaker. He’s the father of my life-long best friend, and their house was always in some state of construction or deconstruction or reconstruction. The smell of the wood and the shavings, the beauty of the things that he could shape from what had started out pretty beautiful to begin with — it stuck with me. This and knitting? Someday, I will take a course.
  4. Turn a cartwheel – alas, I believe this one may have permanently passed me by.
  5. Time travel – ok, I know that this is not an actual skill, but man, there are dead people who I so wish I could meet, past events that I so wish I could experience first hand and — poof! Gone! Never to repeated! The circle of life sucks, what can I say.
  6. Speak Arabic – this one makes me a little testy because, in actuality, I took three years of Arabic at the University of Chicago as a graduate student. Three years! At one of best departments for Arabic study in America! But I didn’t get a chance/didn’t create a chance to use those skills, and they have withered and as far as I can tell died. A friend from those years used to say: “We know how to say ‘I am the President of Syria and that is my car’.” I can still say that.
  7. Fly a plane – just ’cause, dude! How cool are women pilots?
  8. Work in radio* – I think (stress on the word “think”) that I would love to be a DJ, or producer, at a rock n’ roll station. There’s a possibility that the stupid shit that comes with any job, and the fact that many people in the world have execrable taste, could ruin music for me (it nearly did so when I worked briefly in PR for an Israeli record company), but I think that the freedom to revel in one of the things I love most in the world would overcome the other obstacles. Anyhow, it would surely be more fun than being an Israel/Palestine expert.

If I had these skills, come the revolution, I could: make clothes for the people, fly them out of harm’s way, radio to other survivors that we were safe (in Arabic, no less!), entertain and soothe them with my musical skills (provided that the electric grid was still functioning), help build new houses — or even travel back in time to prevent the steady slide into anarchy! Not sure how the cartwheeling fits in.

*6/22/11 update: Since first writing this post, I actually tried to make this one a reality. I applied for an internship at NPR, and after a very encouraging phone conversation and one of the best interviews of my life, at which we were already talking about me meeting a particular producer and what days/hours I would be working, they never called me back. Sigh. Perhaps one is the kiss of death…?

Oldie-but-goodie: The problem.

My family and I are flying to Israel/Palestine this evening (with a brief stopover in London – yay!) and as I get ready to go, I of course find myself thinking about the conflict, the struggles, the desperate need for peace, and what stands in the way of achieving anything like peace. For today’s oldie-but-goodie (as, even if I weren’t struggling with my place in the blogosphere, I surely wouldn’t have time to write today – yikes!), I give you this — about the conflicts within families, and the fact that in many Israeli families, even on the left, the biggest stumbling block to peace can be found very close to hand.

I have family in a West Bank settlement.

Every left-wing Israeli family has its right-wing wing, and the rightists have their lefties. Thus, when I married my husband, I got not just his left-wing-through-and-through nuclear family of origin, but also the folks who parked their Uzis under the table at our wedding (next, it should be noted, to the table at which my Palestinian co-worker sat. Oh, that was a moment!). I also got the aunt and uncle who lived in a Jerusalem “neighborhood” which I, in the fullness of time, finally realized was actually a settlement in its own right, but they’ve since moved into really-Israeli-Jerusalem (their daily needs changed, not their ideology).

Everyone on that side of the family — all modern Orthodox, all parents of many children — has never been anything but kind and welcoming to me. They’ve reached out, they ask after me, after us, they want to see pictures of the children, they’re sorry we’ve moved away. One cousin in particular has the warmest, most gentle smile. She makes you feel like you’ve made her day just by walking into the room.

But the truth is that it matters not in the least that they are kind, or warm, or gentle. Because they are the problem.

They — in the broadest sense: they, and their friends, and their beautiful houses, and their armed guards, and their by-pass roads — are what stands in the way of peace and security for 7.3 million Israelis and 4 million Palestinians. I would venture that a good few Palestinians might even find them to not be particularly kind, warm, or gentle.

I know some people can compartmentalize their lives so completely that this sort of cellular-level disagreement regarding the ethics of one’s daily behavior can be overlooked for the sake of the relationship, but I am not such a person. Beyond what I’ve just said, I can’t really tell you much more about this side of the family, because I’ve worked pretty hard not to know them.

When I was once forced (it felt like I was forced) to spend the night in one of their homes, I couldn’t sleep; when celebrating family milestones together, I frequently have to leave the room, just to breathe. Whenever I see any of them, talk to any of them, hear about any of them, I want to — I don’t know, what? I guess I want to take away their homes and their land and move them bodily into Israel proper, and then shut the door and walk away, so as not to hear the stream of lies-that-they-believe that would inevitably pour from their mouths about Greater Israel and the knife I had just plunged into the nation’s back.

When the neighbors of the woman with the gentle smile were killed in a terrorist shooting, I did call. I asked how the family was doing, how the children were doing. I did it through gritted teeth, and I did it because it was the right thing to do, and, I will admit, I did it to make a point that the left often fails to make: No matter where you may live, you do not deserve to be shot to death on your way home. Terrorism — perhaps it bears repeating — is evil.

But it took terrorism for me to make any kind of effort, and that was years ago. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about their lives now.

Other than, of course, the earlier stated fact that they are the problem.

Their homes are the problem. Their decision, and the decisions made by half a million other Jewish Israelis to live on Palestinian land and slowly but surely turn the entire Jewish State into the Settlers’ Auxiliary and Bugle Corps, their decision to build and keep building and keep building and keep building — this is why, when history looks back on the Jewish State, it will see a sea of blood followed by the ultimate dismantling of the state.

When our blood is in the ground, when the Palestinians and Israelis have reached the point that the killing has utterly destroyed both societies and The State of Israel is but one more disaster on the long, long list of Jewish disasters, when, finally, this long, horrific tale is done — our blood will mingle, and no one will know which drop belonged to whom.

And the anemones will cover our graves, grow up and down the hills, heedless of battlelines or borders. Because that’s what anemones do.


For information, background, and statistics on the settlements: The Foundation for Middle East Peace

For historical documents on the occupation and settlement project: South Jerusalem (note, in particular, this legal opinion finding that settlements were contrary to international law, issued two months after the 1967 Six Day War).

For the impact of settlements on the Palestinian population of the West Bank: The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

For the history of the settler movement, read: Gershom Gorenberg’s excellent The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977 (Gorenberg is also one of the left-wing Orthodox bloggers at South Jerusalem)

For a close look at Palestinian life under occupation, read: Saree Makdisi’s heartbreaking Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation

Note: If anyone knows of a good source on Israeli perceptions of/responses to the settlements — a sociological or psychological study, something beyond polls such as these — please let me know.


Update: Coincidentally, Bradley Burston at HaAretz wrote a very similarly-themed piece in today’s paper: “Confessions of an Israeli anti-settler bigot”:

They say the first step in dealing with rage is acknowledging it. So here it is: I have become a bigot where it comes to the settlement movement.

I believe that the officials, the activists, and the Diaspora bankrollers and rooting section of this movement have ruined my life. They ruin it a little more every single day.

The extent to which they have embittered the lives of millions of Palestinians is incalculable. I won’t pretend to know what they go through or how it feels. For the moment, I just want to talk about what the settlement movement does to its fellow Israelis, and why so many of us are so fed up.

Bradley Burston is one of my favorite Israeli commenters. Please click through and read it all.

Oldie-but-goodie: Ow! My heart!

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing next in the blogosphere, so in the meantime I’m running some old posts that I particularly enjoyed writing.

I was just snuggling with my daughter in her wee bed, and she had been quiet for a minute or two when she says to me: “How many people draw perfect circles?” (Only she still says “puh-fect suh-cles”).

I say “Oh, not many.”

“Yeah, that’s probably done by machines.”

“You know what honey, you really have to settle down now….”

“Can I just -?”

“One thing,” I say, my cheek against her forehead, my arms around her.

“You know those things that you trace where you make everything just puh-fect?”


“Does a machine make those things?”

“Yeah, a machine makes them.”

“I thought so. I knew a puh-son couldn’t make it like that.”

I grin and grin and pull her even closer, kiss her forehead, and say: “You are, just, figuring out the world…!”

And without missing a beat she says: “But I’m only just at the start of it. Because I’m six years old.”

Oldie-but-goodie: Little post in the suburbs.

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing next in the blogosphere, so in the meantime I’m running some old posts that I particularly enjoyed writing.

About a year and a half ago, on a gorgeous summer day, I took the boy and the girl (then nine and five years old) to an entirely delightful historical re-enactment site not far from our home. We watched and asked questions of a working blacksmith (apparently, the software engineer of his day), visited and spoke with a re-enacter in a real log cabin, examined and sat in a real covered wagon (narrower than you might think!), so on and so forth.

And as is my wont, I came home all wound up and geeky and the next day sat on the front porch, on another gorgeous summer day, and commenced to read Little House in the Big Woods to my kids. The boy happily listened through to the end, and agreed to hear the start of Little House on the Prairie, but pretty soon, he drifted off, leaving the Ingalls family to the girl and the mom — though he did later read and enjoy Farmer Boy (and I couldn’t get over the fact that he was precisely Almanzo’s age at the time).

I found it felt as if I was giving my children a piece of my heart.

I have no idea how many times I read the Little House series as a girl, but I do remember when my mother gave me my own set. They were wrapped in butcher block paper that she had decorated with carefully cut-out pioneer figures and a log cabin. The wrapping was a clear spoiler, yet I didn’t care: I was finally getting them, and knowing it ahead of time just increased the wonder.

And to this day, my head is filled with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s world. A bottle of maple syrup feels like a direct link to the trees of the Big Woods, and Jack the Brindle Bulldog still seems the optimal pet. “No great loss without some small gain,” I often say, echoing Pa and Ma, and I wonder if, having grown up without a father, the figure of Pa might not have provided at least part of the template I had in mind when I began to look for love. A few years ago, a good friend finally got her green card, and I sent her three things: a copy of the Constitution, a can of apple pie filling, and the entire Little House set.

Tonight, the girl and I are mere pages from being done with the Ingalls family’s story. It’s something of a blessing, really, that the set now ends with the unfinished manuscript The First Four Years — it’s just not as good (being unfinished and all), and goodbye is always easier when the thrill is, if not quite gone, somewhat muted.

And yet, I know I’ll miss it. For 17 months now, the girl and I have talked about how hard the Ingalls family worked, and about how grateful they were for what seems like very little to us. We got teary-eyed over Jack’s death, and marvelled in horror at the privations of the Long Winter. More than once, as I closed whatever book we were on, my daughter smiled at me and said “That’s what’s so great about Laura’s books! When you’re reading them, you just want to keep reading them!”

Of course, we also talked about how Ma’s attitude toward Native Americans was just plain wrong, and how good it is that women are no longer expected to wear corsets, or to stop working when they get married (or, indeed, to get married). I will confess that I had entirely forgotten an embarrassing minstrel show scene in which Pa plays “a darky,” and was so caught off-guard that I just skipped over it. Time enough to talk about such awfulness when she reads the books on her own…!

The books aren’t perfect.

But they are wonderful. And the fact that when she remembers kindergarten and first grade, my daughter will hear my voice reading Laura’s words, well, that just fills me with joy.

I know that some parents have made the concious choice to put these books aside, to excise them from their children’s education. Not everything in them is to our liking anymore — indeed, the entire “settlement” enterprise is really rather dicey, especially for an Israeli family who went into exile largely because of Israel’s settlement enterprise.

But we can’t wish away that which ashames us by refusing any contact with it, and the Little House books are an inseparable piece of American cultural history. The times were different, and they tell a story that is our own.

And they are marvelously wrought. There is some small gain to be had in ignoring them, it’s true — but the loss would be so very great.

Oldie-but-goodie: Fragile

Okee dokee then! Today, both kids were home sick. So, no serious blogging, and indeed, no time even to mine the depths of YouTube or Boing Boing…!

The good news, though: It’s not (in the words of my buddy dissolver) the Hamthrax. They have colds and ear infections and all will soon be well (in an aside: You know that you’re surrounded by flu panic when a cold/ear infection diagnosis makes you happy).

In the course of worrying about them last night, though, when they we were both pretty darn miserable and asking (asking!) to go to bed, I was reminded of the following piece that I wrote back in 2007. It ran in the Dallas Morning News, and I remember crying as I wrote it. Today it’s a cold, but someday, it’ll be something much bigger — and I won’t be able to do a damn thing.


Our children, so fragile


02:49 PM CDT on Sunday, May 13, 2007

When pregnant with my first child, I had the opportunity to ask my graduate school adviser if we might discuss “my future.” With a glance at my belly, he looked me in the eye and said: “Thirty years of heartache.”

To which story my aunt later responded: “Only 30 years?”

If I’ve learned nothing else since the birth of that baby nearly eight years ago, it’s that your heart always aches. Happy or sad, there are many days when the heart feels it must surely implode from the weight of emotion, not least of course, the intense and impossible need to Keep the Babies Safe.

Right now my husband and I find our little family to be bathed in the glow of blessed days. The children – a beautiful boy and girl – are healthy, smart and funny, and in addition to delighting their parents daily, actually love and enjoy each other, too. We are the family Norman Rockwell was thinking of all those years.

It is impossible, though, not to think that this golden time will inevitably end. Human experience indicates that a day will dawn on which our idyll is at the very least tarnished. The fear, of course, is that it will be shattered.

Like everyone, I know my fair share of parents whose children have been visited by tragedy. I think of my friend whose baby died at birth and the one whose 10-year-old was shot in the head. I know a kind and patient man who lost his teenager down the hole to over-the-counter drug abuse and a warm and giving woman whose previously sunny son is now, at 22, in the grip of paralyzing depression. My grandmother buried my father when he was all of 35.

They are so fragile, these babies. So many things can go wrong, and at any moment.

Paradoxically, it is my rational self that blazes a trail for me down the road to fear. The cycle of life, human nature, acts of God – all act as constant reminders that nothing is forever, that everything, eventually, breaks, rots, dies. My children’s bones will one day lie in the earth, and there is no way for me to know that their end will not come far earlier than it should or that their days will not be filled with sorrow.

My absolute inability to keep them from harm takes my breath away. Limbs will break, hearts will break. Please God, not spirits. The maxim that joy is not complete without grief to shape it interests me not in the least – let their joy be shapeless, I think, but let it be joy.

And so it is tempting to see this time of blessing as a trick of the light, an ill-defined prelude to disaster. My siblings and I were struck by catastrophe before we could read or write, when cancer snatched our father from us as surely as it did from his mother; as I grew up, all happiness was, in fact, shaped by that grief. It is hard for me to stop.

But something about this boy and this girl who I hold so lightly, with so few tools or guards, has opened a place I couldn’t dream existed. Just as I have learned that the bittersweet ache never ends, so too have my children taught me that the heart can be quiet, and that the joy in a 3-year-old’s song and a 7-year-old’s hand is unending. That these things can never be lost, even if they are taken.

I curl around my daughter in her tiny bed and hold her warmth to my belly. I cover my son with the blanket he’s tossed aside, and watch his limbs stretch endlessly beneath it, an impossible length of boy. I pray that this time will never end. I pray for the strength to hold them when it does.


(I’m doing some serious thinking about my place in the blogosphere, but in the meantime am running oldies-but-goodies, because some posts deserve another moment in the sun!)

Oldie-but-goodie: Why two states.

UPDATE: To see me speaking on Russia Today about the Obama speech and Netanyahu reaction to same, please click here:
Israel, Palestine, Obama, Netanyahu & me – on Russian TV


A while ago, I was asked in the comments why I support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the case of Israel and Palestine, I in my role as an American citizen am asked to support the maintenance and creation of two single-identity states. I’m a both pluralist in my bones, and, despite my preference for the highly unlikely solution a federated state, quite practical.

So, my question to you: Why should a pluralist support a two-state solution, particularly when that solution explicitly rejects pluralism?

And, if the answer is about practicalities, then I also have to ask how practical is a two-state solution?

I think that this is a very legitimate, and important question, both in its specifics (why should a pluralist support an anti-pluralist political solution? is this solution even practical?), and in general: Why the hell two states?

What with the near parity in current Israeli and Palestinian population figures, and Israel’s endless building in the territories (making a contiguous Palestine a near-impossibility), doesn’t it make more sense to leapfrog over an idea whose time has past and just go straight to something else?

A fair number of people have in fact begun to openly advocate a one-state solution, and I can see why. A single state — often referred to as “a state of all its citizens,” in reference to the fact that a Jewish State cannot, by definition, genuinely be the state of its non-Jewish citizens — is far more in keeping with the values on which I was raised and am raising my children. One person-one vote, for instance, and multiculturalism. Mutual respect, liberty and justice for all. As I have said in the past, these ideas move me deeply and inform both my daily life and my political actions.

And yet for Israel/Palestine, I still passionately support a two-state solution, nationalism at its purest. WTF?

Simply put, at this point in blood-drenched history, the idea that Israelis and Palestinians would readily agree, en masse, to give up on their dreams of national statehood is utopian. At best.

First of all, and aside from anything else, a majority of Israeli Jews and Palestinians alike favor a two-state solution — 64% and 55%, respectively.

The search for a two-state agreement has become such boring conventional wisdom — and so frustratingly unachieveable — that people forget how revolutionary the idea really is. The real achievement of the Oslo Process was that it made a once crazy notion commonplace. Until the early 1990s, both sides roundly rejected the idea of sharing the land: in 1987, only 21% of Israeli Jews were willing to consider it, and Palestinians could be arrested for flying their flag, just as Israelis could be arrested for meeting with members of the very organization with which we now negotiate as a matter of course, the PLO.

Furthermore, there is vanishingly little support for any other resolution of the conflict. Only 11% of Palestinians support “either of the other alternatives under discussion, a bi-national state of Palestinians and Israelis or a confederation with neighboring Jordan and Egypt,” and while I can’t find poll numbers regarding Israeli support for a one-state solution, I feel safe in saying that the vast majority of those 36% who oppose two-states aren’t looking to live in multicultural harmony with their Palestinian neighbors. Some surely are, but the majority (like, for instance, the 25% who oppose dismantling even the “outpost” settlements, recognized as illegal even by the Israeli government) are far more likely interested in continuing to hold the Palestinians down — or just plain kicking them out.

Moreover, an enormous amount of work has already gone into laying the ground-work for the establishment of a two-state resolution. From the 2000 Clinton Parameters, to the non-official Geneva Accord (2003), to the Arab Peace Initiative (2002 and 2007) the basic framework has never been more clear. Today, quite honestly, the only thing that stands between us and lasting peace is a lack of courage and goodwill (well, and a seemingly endless Israeli building program on the West Bank — but that which is built by human hands can also be pulled down by human hands).

But beyond all of that, I believe that for the peace to be lasting, both peoples will need some time to get used to being neighbors without being at each other’s throats. I can’t provide links for this — as it is my gut sense, based in years of exposure to the story — but I just cannot believe that Israel’s Jews and the Palestinians are ready to pay taxes together, develop an educational system, and choose a new anthem. They hate and fear each other too thoroughly, and for too many good reasons. They both need time to lick their wounds, get to know each other as something other than Evil, and build (yes) confidence. It would be a waste of our little remaining energy and too-few resources to try to organize people where we want them to be — like all people, Israelis and Palestinians can only be organized where they actually are. No matter how we feel about where they are.

Ultimately, I believe that humanity will move beyond nationalism. I believe that nationalism will prove itself an important stepping stone to something better, and that, if we are very lucky (very very lucky), the people known today as “Israelis” and “Palestinians” will live in some sort of federation, which will in turn prove itself to be a stepping stone to – what? I don’t know. I can hardly imagine actually. My mind (quite literally) goes to Star Trek, and John Lennon.

But that isn’t now. And we can’t yet get there from here.

If we don’t create the context in which people can begin to heal and realize their self-expressed dreams, I fear the sheer, unmitigated pain and misery we will wind up inflicting on each other — beyond anything we have seen to date. Indeed, I fear flat-out catastrophe, yet another great disaster for both the Jewish and the Palestinian peoples. And so, I’m sticking with (am stuck with) the imperfect idea of building two separate states. To my mind, it’s the only choice that has any chance of both being realized, and doing actual good.

Related: In the meantime, I also wrote Why I still call myself a Zionist.

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