Israeli Sins and Jewish Redemption
How is it that the experience of death and desolation in the Holocaust, the great Jewish redemptive tradition of justice, has not propelled more, far more, Israelis to speak up on the treatment of the Palestinians?
By Issa Khalaf
Clearing House) At the ripe old age of nineteen, in the summer
preceding my junior year at university, I had a mission.
Driven by youthful idealism, I read all I could on the
Holocaust with the intention of writing a book.
I needed to understand this event, if for no other reason than
to glimpse the possibilities for Palestinian-Israeli coexistence.
At summer’s end, some twenty books and articles later, I
wrote my “book,” titled “Man’s Inhumanity to Man,” one
hundred pages of synthesis and summary really, of the Holocaust.
It was my brief encounter with a part of Jewish history.
years ago, my wife, two children in their early teens, and myself
watched on video Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List.”
At film’s end, my son and daughter were outraged and
horrified, wondering why and how this could be allowed to happen.
are a Palestinian-American family, I having left my native Ramallah
for the US at the age of eight. Our
reactions to injustice and barbarity were visceral, a characteristic
of all humans whose ultimate wellspring, I believe, is a universal
divine source. We can’t
understand others’ suffering; we can only feel it.
Here I am, numb at the unfolding calamity of the Palestinian
people, my children wondering how and why the Palestinians’ torment
and dispossession could be allowed to happen, writing with forlorn
hope that Israelis would hear and listen.
know, striking at our innermost vulnerability, there is nothing more
primeval than terror in stirring a frenzied reaction of existential
fear, hate and violence, of profound personal loss, perpetuating
Israelis’ deep-rooted sense of siege and suffocation, silencing all
but the most intrepid voices of reason.
I know, too, the humiliation and degradation, the organized
physical, cultural, economic, and psychological violence and terror,
the massive violations of human rights, committed by the Israeli state
against the Palestinian civil population, giving rise to the nihilist
despair that is the suicide bomber.
is the silence in Israel, the apparent lack of self-awareness, of a
chronic Jewish incapacity to emerge from self-absorption.
How is it that the experience of death and desolation in the
Holocaust, the great Jewish redemptive tradition of justice, has not
propelled more, far more, Israelis to speak up on the treatment of the
Palestinians? Do Israelis
even know, or care, about the full extent of the outrage?
Perhaps there is something deeper with historic lineage here,
that of the dark side of the Zionist encounter with the indigenous
Palestinians, the one that refused to acknowledge their existence or
treat them with anything but cruelty and disdain.
the self-image of an Israel forever pursuing peace while its enemies
wished only to destroy it is comforting.
But this is not true, not in its absolute formulation.
Israeli leaders have also used war for territorial
aggrandizement even when their neighbors were not a threat and
actually pursued peace. From
Ben-Gurion onwards such leaders have been clever in manipulating the
existential fears of an unquestioning Israeli population.
Surely militarism and war, accompanied by dehumanization of the
Palestinians and degradation of Jewish values, and certainly of the
soldier, have become deeply embedded in Israeli culture and society,
finding their ultimate logic in Mr. Sharon’s solution: absolute
have gotten their state, their flag, their army, their national
anthem, and their nuclear weapons.
Where is Sharon going at such a frenetic pace, expropriating
land, constructing a Wall, not along the green line but at many points
deep inside the West Bank? Will
Zionism forever remain in a state of ideological creation, its raison
d’etre, thus existing in a continual state of expansionist
justifications? Will this
momentum not come to rest until all of Palestine is annexed and
Palestinians expelled? If
not genuine independence and sovereignty for the Palestinians in the
occupied territories, what? Expulsions
into Jordan—an “option” openly talked about throughout
Israel—and decades of more war with Palestinians, Arabs, and
solution’s essentials are easy: evacuation of the territories with
minor territorial adjustments and guarantees of Israeli and
Palestinian security, including an unarmed Palestine, and the sharing
of Jerusalem. Getting
there is impossible, however, for I, as a Palestinian, see what most
Israelis do not: the state’s ideological momentum has not yet
arrived at inertia, its appetite for all of historic Palestine not yet
this is the heart of the matter.
Israel has remained in a stagnant territorially and ethnically
voracious nationalism, rejecting the more humanistic and liberal
voices of Jewish national renaissance represented by historic figures
such as Ahad Ha’am, Nahum Goldmann, or Judah Magnus.
Wars of subjugation, of extirpating the voices of those
intruded upon, is not the answer.
Acknowledgment of historic sins, releasing oneself from the
burden of having done wrong, embracing the Palestinians as genuine
partners in peace and coexistence, allowing the Palestinians to live
and plan their lives, these are the guarantors of Israel’s long term
security, its embrace in the region, and elimination of terrorism.
This is the context Abu Mazen needs to take on extremists.
Otherwise, it’s just a civil war that Mr. Sharon so wishes to
sit back and watch.
is no innocence lost here, on either side, only the differential
levels of mutual violence and pain dictated by the awesome asymmetry
of power between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israel has this final chance to pursue wise policies that will
lead to what Jewish Israelis and Palestinians deserve: to live and
breathe life fully. If
the current Sharonian vision succeeds, from which no viable Palestine
can materialize, the eventual alternative is bleak: no state, no
society, can forever exist by the sword.
political science professor at Loras College (Dubuque, Iowa), is
author of Politics in Palestine
2003 Issa Khalaf
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