Why doesn't Israel work for peace?
Holocaust victims would decry the slaughter of innocent children
during attacks on Hezbollah
By Silva Tennenbaum
08/05/06 "Newsday" -- -- As a Jew who escaped the Holocaust by
moving with my family to America in 1938, I turn on the BBC at
night. And what I see are clouds of black smoke, explosions; the
dead and the dying - children crying bitterly, cities in ruins. Only
yesterday, these piles of rubble in Lebanon were home to thousands.
Now, the cars roll out onto the highways, white flags attached to
the windshields and doors. More than half a million are homeless.
The Israelis told them to leave, but then strafed one convoy from a
helicopter. The military people exert their force without pity. They
win their wars proudly. They are the masters of force.
Using the most modern weapons the United States can supply to search
out the Hezbollah guerrillas, the Israeli soldiers destroy Lebanon.
They wreck all of Gaza, seeking to murder the leaders of Hamas.
Many American Jews gather proudly to cheer them on. The face of the
American president remains blank. A patter of platitudes issues from
his lips. He is not interested in peace. He is happy to see Israel
do the dirty war for him. Diplomacy is a word not in his dictionary.
But lo and behold - even as the destruction builds and the war
continues through its third week - it seems suddenly no longer such
a lark. Success is hard to come by; Israel is no longer the
perennial victor. But will it know what to do when faced with the
need to talk with the enemy? It has always felt so invincible that
discussion seemed the weapon of fools and weaklings, much like the
way the earnest work of its principled and dedicated peace camp -
Jewish to the core, in an "old-fashioned" way - seemed pathetic and
But the peace camp knew that each and every Israeli atrocity
nurtured another enemy, a potential terrorist, while every
Palestinian home that the Israeli Committee Against House
Demolitions helped to rebuild, every olive tree it planted tenderly
in occupied soil, brought another possible friend, another partner
Meanwhile, back at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee,
deep in the heart of the Jewish Lobby, the call to action is, as
always, a call for solidarity, for good public relations. Denounce
terrorism, suicide bombers and anti-Semitism in all its endless
variations, which includes the "self-hatred" of the misguided Jew
who asks us to give some thought to where we - obsessed with brutal
retaliation - may have gone wrong.
And, it goes without saying, loyal Jews must talk about the
Holocaust. Ignore the images of today's dead and dying, and focus on
the grainy black-and-white pictures showing the death of Jews in the
villages of Poland, at Auschwitz and Sobibor and Bergen-Belsen. We
are the first, the only true victims, the champions of helplessness
for all eternity.
No matter what great accomplishments were ours in the diaspora, no
matter that we produced Maimonides and Spinoza, Moses Mendelssohn
and hundreds of others of mankind's benefactors - not a warrior
among them! - look at the world of our long exile always in the dark
light of the Shoah. But this, in itself, is an obscene distortion:
Would the author of "Survival in Auschwitz," Primo Levi, or the poet
Paul Celan demand that we slaughter the innocents in a land far from
the snow-clad forests of Poland? Is it a heroic act to murder a
child, even the child of an enemy? Are my brethren glad of it and
I am heartsick, and still I see a glimmer of hope (there must be
that glimmer, to go on at 78 years).
The American peace camp reports a sudden massive increase in
membership. All over the country, Jews whose consciences have not
been crippled are writing in, speaking up, gathering, to raise their
voices. Is this not what we have always done? What we were brought
up to do? What - since the days of the Bible and the prophets - our
forefathers taught us? If Israel had worked for peace as hard as it
has worked for war, might it not all be settled now?
Three hundred British Jews took out an ad in the Times of London to
ask the question, "What is Israel doing?" This question has now been
taken up by Jewish Voice for Peace, and by Alan Sokal and Bruce
Robbins who, some years back, placed an ad in The New York Times,
that read, "Not in Our Name."
The time is long overdue for Jews to return to their role as the
world's conscience, who come to the aid of the dispossessed, the
wretched of the earth. Once again, we must join those who demand the
end to unjust wars - in Iraq as well as Lebanon - and an unjust
occupation in Gaza. We must honor the example of American civil
rights workers Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, not that of the
mass murderer Baruch Goldstein or Yigal Amir, killer of Yitzhak
And perhaps the day will come that we will be counted - by Jew and
Arab alike - as among the Just, perhaps even given a place at Yad
Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, for the lives we helped
to save in a lawless, savage time.
Silvia Tennenbaum, a writer in East Hampton,
is author of the novels "Yesterday's Streets" and "Rachel, the
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