Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Land of Plenty

April 13, 2009

Visiting America- New York– for a Passover trip, I am reminded of the sheer abundance, the overwhelming profusion of goods and services and lush forests, buildings and bars, people of every color, options of entertainment and amusement and food… in the city it’s even more so, if you have the money you can order literally ANYthing to your apartment at any time of day or night…

Given that so much of human struggles for the last several thousand years have dealt with simply having enough, materially, I don’t want to be too quick to dismiss this land of plenty as empty materialism.  There IS something special about the American Dream, in spite of such excess, obesity, and greed as we see today.  America and Israel are the only two nation-states on earth specifically founded on an ideal rather than mere accidents of history, ethnicity, or empire.  Individual pursuits in almost any field are encouraged, if you have initiative and stubbornness there are genuine opportunities, there is money, even a black man can become president…

The devil’s side of the bargain is a certain disconnect, an alienation from specific identity, from place, from heritage, to join in the game that’s being enacted.  As there are so little real consequences to financial irresponsibility– one can declare bankruptcy, start over, even many times– then there really is no reason not to pursue one’s dreams, to feel ‘freedom’ is something tangible, a sense of limitless possibility is still something that shines to the world.  And the super rich can lose far more money than us little people and get bailed out by the government, thus reminding all of us that these green pieces of paper are really just part of the game, none of it is real, don’t you want to play?

Yet individual fulfillment is really the ceiling, because the values of the collective culture don’t have space, don’t even have language, for other kinds of purpose.  I saw this among native Americans, this disinterest in the game… and then I drank the Zionist kool-aid and moved to Israel.  Now I’m an outsider, seeing the American dream with the eyes of someone who has a way OUT.

And more clearly than ever before, I see the danger for Jews to be in America.  I don’t think one can be both.  Not on the level of loyalty: American Jews certainly have demonstrated that they can place America’s interests over those of Israel’s when they conflict (see Kissinger, Ross, etc.) and even American Israel advocacy organizations are conscious of the need to find common causes and arguments that Israeli and American interests coincide.   Not on the level of anti-semitism: America may be the most open and welcome Jewish diaspora home ever, even including the original Babylon.  But for a Jew to be alive to being a Jew, then he is merely an individual if he lives in America– sure, with all those possibilities of personal growth and fulfillment, but cut off from the true drama of Jews in the world today, which  no matter how you cut it, is manifest and expressed in the holy land.

It’s a trite truism that one’s consciousness changes when one becomes or builds a family– not just in it for yourself anymore, the values change, the responsibilities change.  Even or especially with dysfunctional families.  Well it’s not so different with tangibly and physically joining the project of the Jewish people attempting to live in the Land of Israel.  This is not about justifying the flawed secular modern Israeli nationalism; increasingly Jewish identity in the holy land is a hybrid of ancient and modern ideologies, of religious and tribal and ethnic resonances, which cannot be reduced to any one of those.  Many Israelis, and Jews who live in Israel, wouldn’t even know how to start describing the sources or reasons for their sense of purpose in living there.  It’s not necessarily coming from a rational or logical place.

Yet right from that alleged irrationality comes the only truly rational, sustainable basis for long-term human life anywhere on earth.  Modernity, secularity, is inescapably cosmopolitan and rootless; only by believing one’s great-grandchildren will inhabit and inherit the same land, can one take the kind of responsibility for the earth that is needed.  Consumerism will cannibalize all our land, all our resources, unless a corresponding counterweight is found in the committment of a tribe to a homeland.  Jews, as the paradigmatic exiled people, as the tribe whose stories of enslavement and dispersion and persecution have been writ large for the world to see, can show the way for all the world’s alienated people to become re-grounded, in their own identities and heritages, and even to rebuild such basic human birthright where all history has been lost.

Gazans throwing a Tantrum

January 15, 2009

I have tried, since moving to Israel in 2001-2, to really listen to what Palestinians want, rather than presuming that I ‘know’ from what the standard media says (left or right, Israeli or western.)  Why did they wage and support the intifada and suicide bombings, rather than continuing with the Camp David process?  Did they really want a state peacefully side-by-side with Isarel, in 97% or 100% of the WB and Gaza?  After a lot of listening then, it seemed that far more important to them–what they really wanted– was recognition of the Right of Return as legitimate, and total control over Jerusalem, and/or a binational state dominated by Palestinians; and because that wasn’t being heard, they reacted in rage.

What I hear coming out of Gaza now is even more simple and extreme.  Israel did withdraw, but far more than the West Bank, Gazans cannot live a full economy or full life without access to the outside world.  This was articulated– by Hamas– as continuing struggle or ‘resistance’ to get right of return and an end to Israel as a Jewish state, and they won elections on this basis.  They expressed this not only in words but in raids and rockets.  This also was in effect stated, by Gazan Palestinians, by their overwhelming the border with Egypt and hundreds of thousands of them flooding Egyptian Rafiach to shop and visit and, well, breathe.  I do hear them; they cannot live like this.

Hamas refused to recognize Israel, even though the Quartet and Egypt and Jordan pushed them to; Hamas also kept shooting rockets into Israel, and/or refused to stop smaller groups from continuing to shoot rockets into Israel.  The consequence of that– the inevitable consequence of that– is Israel kept Gaza in a partial state of siege.  Hamas and Palestinians have refused to take responsibility for those choices and their consequences.

Hamas also is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, and is bitterly critical of the (semi-secular) Egyptian leadership, which fears and periodically persecutes the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.  The (inevitable) consequence of this is that Egypt keeps ITS border with Gaza closed most of the time, (legitimately) fearing Hamas will destabilize Egypt.  Hamas is openly Israel’s enemy, fine, but they could have built open trade with Egypt, as Israel does not control that border; compare to Lebanon, which fully trades with other Arab states and the world, in spite of being totally cut off from Israel.  But Egypt does not want Gazans to have freedom of movement into Egypt, and this is compounded by the enmity of Mubarak’s regime to the Muslim Brotherhood.  Again, the Palestinians refuse to accept responsibility for their role in choosing to create this dynamic.

Lastly, the Palestinians–most of all in Gaza– are utterly dependent on aid from the outside world for basic subsistence for at least half the people.  The UN umbilical cord still has not been cut.  This creates an incredibly unhealthy dependence– far worse than ‘welfare mothers’, and debilitating to self-esteem, and creating frustration and resentment on the part of Palestinians.

The Palestinian movement towards statehood is, literally, still in its infancy.  The choices they have made and are making today in Gaza are indicative of a collective emotional state comparable to a toddler’s tantrum.  An inarticulate screaming and smashing things, even self-destructive, with no hope of actually defeating the far more powerful ‘parent’.  And they are refusing to take any responsiblity for the role their own choices have played in creating their plight.

Unquestionably, the unwilling ‘parents’– Israel, Egypt, the UN whose umbilical cord still has not been cut, Europe whose aid has been siphoned off to Arafat’s Swiss bank accounts, and the US who still supplies more of the money than anyone else– have all played roles, as well, in inhibiting and limiting what Palestinians can do to build a positive, self-sufficient future.  [Keep in mind, all the US direct aid and loan guarantees to Israel don’t amount to more than 1-3% of Israel’s nearly 900 billion dollar GNP; foreign aid represents close to half of Palestinian economic activity.]

But until the Palestinians truly stand up for themselves and OWN their choices, and take responsibility for the consequences of their choices and actions, no amount of outside help or intervention will help them.  I hear their pain; but until they stop throwing a tantrum, nobody can do anything for them.

Gaza and Unfolding tragedy

December 30, 2008

Visiting Ashkelon today, within reach of Hamas’ rockets, we could see– from the Ashkelon marina–the buildings of Gaza city, and hear the explosions of the Israeli air force’s attacks.  Ashkelon is a ghost town, schools and most businesses were shut and most people who could leave have (we went to give food to many new immigrants staying, and to give a ride out to a few.)  It’s mostly Russian and Ethiopian, and fairly poor, although fairly nice with great beaches (and some atrociously ugly Bauhaus concrete architecture).

I feel– and agree with many of my militarily connected friends– that without a ground operation, this war will not accomplish anything.  No air campaign has ever succeeded in disarming or forcing an enemy to do anything.  The rockets will continue until a far more effective infantry invasion of Gaza sufficiently disrupts and disarms Hamas.  It IS doable– Gaza’s not terribly defensible, and Hamas is nowhere near as well trained or armed or disciplined as Hezbollah.  Also Israel has far better intelligence and surveillance (witness the extremely high percentage of actual Hamas fighters killed in the bombings so far– close to 90%.)

But it IS urban warfare if we go in, and there will be booby traps and the like.  And the bigger question is– then what? Whether the IDF simply damages Hamas enough to force a cease fire on our terms, or totally re-occupies, there needs to be a solid exit strategy.  Many diplomats– and Egypt, oddly– are pushing for the (allegedly moderate, but at least secular and pragmatic) Palestinian Authority and Fatah to reassert their rule there.  The PA’s weakness and lack of credibility among Gazans makes this unlikely to work, as well as the fact that circumstances would make them seem like Israeli stooges.  Indeed, even if linked with a highway or corridor with the West Bank, Gaza would always remain a crowded and impoverished corner of a semistate even in the most generous conceivable future ‘Palestine’ Israel could ever offer.

Once a heresy among Israelis, another option is starting to come up: restore Gaza to Egyptian rule.  I think this holds the most hope of a solid future– the Palestinians already have 100% of Gaza and would rather shoot rockets and kill and die than build civil society. Merging with Egypt would connect them to a more-than-viable state and citizenship and economy.   Egypt has the state structure to effectively rule (and crush jihadist Islamism), and has a history of ruling Gaza.  Rather than maintaining Gazans on the world’s dole, welfare children who can’t and won’t help themselves, UN and Arab-oil generosity could help Gazans integrate into the Egyptian economy, which as a key point of world trade (Suez, the Nile) and as the biggest Arab economy, has genuine possibility of growth.

I’d even condone Egypt invading to ‘liberate’ Gaza from Israeli occupation, if it could be coordinated.  It could still be done it a way which might salve Arab pride.

All the other options will certainly result in continuing strife, continuing dead ends for Gazans, and more dead Israelis.  This at least holds out hope of a better future.