Galilee Diary: What I Did This Summer
All Israel are responsible for [the sins of] each other.
– Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 27b
Spending a month in the US on an academic project, which began just as the latest flare-up between Israel and Hamas started, has given me a lot to think about.
Drinking latte on the Upper West Side and seeing Shakespeare in the Park between reading headlines from Israel creates a weird dissonance of guilt and worry, anger and… relief. Letters from home speak more of depression than worry, even though the worry never recedes from consciousness because I know that family and friends are at risk to some degree or other. There is a sense of lightness, of relief, in going on about my daily life without having to worry about being hit by a not-quite-random missile, focusing on my research, meeting with colleagues, taking a walk in the park… until the next glance at the news on the internet. And of course guilt for that very lightness, for not being there with them, where I belong.
In terms of the news, I just read the dry updates, as I cannot watch without nausea the stern-faced generals solemnly assuring us “we will stop at nothing to bring the boys home” (when they already knew they were dead), or that “we will teach Hamas a lesson they will never forget” (when, based on all our past efforts at such pedagogy, it is clear that Hamas is learning-disabled, or we are poor teachers). Anger – at leaders on both sides who have failed all of us, whose calculations of what is best for their people are too esoteric, I guess, for us ordinary citizens to understand; I certainly don’t get it. At the same time, I am frustrated by the fact that if I were in their place, I’m not sure what I would do; the rights and wrongs are tangled and blurry; the challenge of presenting a positive vision that would harmonize all needs and interests is huge. On the other hand, to present no positive vision at all seems to me to be a failure of leadership.
I avoid as much as possible reading the dialogue of the deaf that apparently fills the cybersphere, both in Israel and in America, because its participants insist on wallowing in the discourse of competitive victimhood which has gotten us to the mess we’re in. The other side is the great satan and we are innocent victims who are obviously in no way responsible for any of the terrible things that are happening to us. So we can do nothing. “He made me do it” was the way my eighth grade students used to put it.
And I can’t help wondering to what extent both of the polar positions among American Jews represent genuine moral commitments – and to what extent they are a form of self-protection (what will the gentiles say – or even, what will we say about ourselves?): On the one hand the need blindly to defend anything Israel does, and to depict the Arabs as heirs of the Nazis – inexplicable evil, evil for its own sake – for Israel represents us willy-nilly, so if it is responsible in any way for the violence, then so are we. On the other hand, those whose voice takes on a certain nasty tone when speaking of Israeli propaganda and Israeli atrocities and Palestinian suffering – as if to prove that Israel indeed does not represent us. I understand both tendencies (and the widespread tendency to just walk away), and sometimes feel them both myself, and mostly, feel a relief that I am not an American Jew, having to pray every day that Israel won’t be mentioned on the front page.
Looking forward to going home. Praying for peace, but believing it is not really up to God - it’s up to us.