Thursday, January 29, 2009

Loving thy neighbour

I have been watching a slow change come over some of my friends. It has probably been happening over decades. and it's connected to the political evolution of the state of Israel.

I actually used to defend Israel, back in the 1980s before the politics of that country hardened into present-day policies that now seem to include genocide of Palestinians. While Israel was drifting towards extremism, my friends were drifting into the psychological equivalent of gated communities. Many now live behind their own version of the Wall that separates Israel from Palestine. For some, children of holocaust survivors, it's a well-earned state of peace.

Psychologically, it also can be a no man's land where if you squint, you can see barbed wire and heavy artillery. An arid landscape that does not lead to flourishing friendships. So these days few people I know ever bring up the subject of Israel.

When the war in Lebanon was raging in 2006, communication was often reduced to e-mails calling on me to "defend Israel" from rising anti-Semitism. My position by then was: Israel needs no help in destroying its image as a bastion of democracy in the Middle East. Shelling civilian populations in Lebanon and Gaza have pretty much accomplished that goal.

Some e-mails even suggested the bombing of Lebanon was really a "feminist" campaign against a medieval culture that mistreats women. Rather than inspiring me to join the clash of civilizations and defend western culture against radical Islam, these mass maiings were making me sick to my stomach, triggering unpleasant flashbacks as well as doubts about the moral IQ of the people sending them -- people I thought I had much in common with. Now I began to wonder.

Even back then, dialogue was almost extinct. When I replied to one woman, a kind and generous person (in the past), she was shocked and sent me an URL about the oppressed Jews of Iran. Nobody was bombing and shelling them at the time, none of their women and children were being buried under rubble. I had a friend who happened to be an Iraqi Jew. He also was no Zionist and told me the Iranian Jews e-mail was a propaganda hoax, discredited some months earlier. I asked my friend why she found that community's history worth sharing at a time when Israeli rockets were pounding civilian villages in the south of Lebanon?

She explained that all these dead children were nothing more than "human shields," and switched to an interrogative tack. "Do you or do you not think Israel has the right to exist?"

It was like talking to someone who is using a handbook. Were we in kindergarten? I spelled out my answer: The right to exist is not the right to wage war on innocent people. When did existence become synonymous with mass murder?

This woman was not Jewish. She was a Scottish Canadian, a former nurse and one of her great qualities is empathy. Put this woman in a Gaza hospital, and she would be racing around saving Palestinian lives. But her friends in Montreal were telling her Israel was being attacked, and that the horrific images on TV were manufactured in some Hezbollah PR office at the UN.

The discussion ended when she struck me from her "support Israel" e-mail list. The next time I saw her, she was as friendly as ever. We talked about everything but Israel. By then of course the Wall had been built. It has served a symbolic purpose in hiding unpleasant realities that don't jive with a self-image, built up since WW2, of the Jews as a suffering people with a deep sense of ethics.

This may still be true of many Jews, but it is definitely not true of the Israeli government. This disconnect between historical suffering and present-day criminal policies, really needs to be addressed for the sake of our sanity. But no one seems to know how to initiate an inquiry into how whole nations end up sleepwalking toward mass murder.

I have many Jewish friends and for the most part they are moral people, or they could not be my friends for very long. Lately, though, some of these friends have dropped me. Others have suggested I should be less vocal, mainly by quietly un-friending me on Facebook. Israel's human rights violations, which some are calling war crimes, are not a polite topic on the street where I live.

In a way, Jews are collateral victims of every new Israeli offensive, with its echoes of Second World War atrocities in European cities and villages. "Collective punishment" is something I take personally, especially when friends try to justify it by pretending it isn't happening.

It's as if they're saying: "Love thine enemy. OK, we tried that, and it doesn't work!"

Collective punishment on the other hand, works. I guess that makes it a desirable weapon when you are wishing for a world of peace. It silences resistance by destroying everyone in an area where one's enemies are thought to be operating. It makes no distinctions of gender, age or political affiliation. Anyone can become a human shield without volunteering, and be made to pay equally for the actions of a few, whose bodies need never even be identified.

A few years ago, my former neighbour told me that universal collective punishment for the holocaust is justified, even inevitable. He predicted a time was coming when all of humanity would end up paying for the crimes the Nazis committed against the Jews. It was, he said, part of a divine plan revealing the ultimate purpose of human history. God was angry about the continued suffering of his chosen people, and how world opinion was turning against Israel. So, when the time was right, He would commence revenge killings and destroy all life on the planet. In those days, there would be a great trouble, followed by victory for the chosen.

He seemed to be presenting me with a choice: you are with us or against us. Speechless, I went home to think this over. It could not be a joke, because it had the quality of religious conviction rooted in poisoned emotions. Later these kinds of statements were made by some evangelical Christians and neo-conservatives leaders. And certain Israeli politicians. And of course, extremists.

You don't debate such statements, and there is no answer for them. They come from a fenced-off zone of total negation, roamed by uniformed children with automatic weapons. They have the ring of fanatical racism, and lead to methods which have been shown to work when you are terrorizing a population and preparing the ground for mass murder.

To hear such a statement coming from a former friend is the kiss of death. If not retracted, it erodes all trust, and defeats every possibility of dialogue. Maybe some families can function without dialogue. But a friendship, no. Friendships are based on choice, unless they're friendships of convenience.

"Kill or be killed" is not a human choice but it's an increasingly popular worldview shared by the criminally insane. Like secret abuse, it punishes the innocent, turns supporters into hostages and collaborators. So almost overnight, I lost a friend. And I left town.

A criminal gang have made it clear they believe in collective punishment as the key to their own survival. No exodus is possible in this closed-in world. Inside this walled enclosure, genocide is simply a fact of life because humans by their nature are genocidal. Faced with encircling evil, what choice does a "democracy" like Israel have?

Kill or be killed.

The indiscriminate killing of Palestinians is not only inevitable, it's also insufficient. It evokes international rage and condemnation -- which only reinforces the lonely path of "self-defence" that Israel is following. And once on that path, there is no going back. You don't embark half-heartedly on war crimes. Just ask Hitler. Once unleashed, Blitzkrieg imposes the necessity of carrying on to a conclusion. So in the end, Germany was reduced to smoking rubble, along with the neighbourhood. Logically, inevitably.

The same thing could happen to Israel. If it does, it will be the working out of the same "collective punishment" doctrine that decrees we all must die for the crimes of a few.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Letter from an Israeli friend (verbatim)

I received this letter about a week ago, i.e. mid-January, at the height of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. I am putting it here, verbatim, while I think it over. What can one say? I did reply, as quietly and reasonably as possible, but my response came nowhere near dealing with the core of M's message. Clearly, she believes Israel is defending itself from terrorists, and that no one in the outside world can possibly understand what her people are experiencing. She also seems to believe that Israel's "humanitarian aid" to Gaza has gone ignored due to "human nature." Clearly, she feels herself to be living in an island of sanity in the midst of an ocean of evil.

I am reminded of how the people of Nazi Germany were conditioned to think of themselves as totally isolated, surrounded and under attack by evil enemies -- when in fact their leaders were using mass media and deception to build support for acts of extreme aggression against their neighbours.

I just don't know where to begin in trying to make sense of this, so I'm starting here.



Dear Ann

I deeply appreciate your reply and thank you for mentioning my emotional approach.

The numbers are so horrifying because the Hamas use the people and the children as a source of shelter. They shoot the rockets from homes, hospitals and know that Israeli attitude (even as hard to believe it now) is NOT to hurt civilians in any case.

I am so so so sorry for all the loss of people on both sides, but the Hamas have been sending rockets for years!!! The South of this tinny country lives in constant terror, The farmers say for years that they feel like in a "Russian rulet" every day while working in he fields, people died lost houses, what about all the walking bombs we fear constantly - is that OK?The world seems at peace with that, WHY?? is it OK to kill Israeli people? Is it Ann?!,,,and many more stories and reasons for the strong action that you and the world are seen. You know that they have the headquarters under a Hospital - How sick can people be??? Apparently very (and you know that).

I get very upset when I see that people as you only see one side of the picture.

Do you really think I feel safer or good knowing that so many people/children lost their lives? Well I don't but we can not live with so much daily fear of s bloody deadly rocket falling on you in the country (they reach most of Israel between the Hezbollah in the North and the Hamas in the South), enough the danger along the borders.

I just think that you see one side and take a side with out really understanding that it is about human nature and not Hamas/Israel/Hezbollah /Iran/Bosnia/Tibet/..... and so many other countries.

How come this was makes you so active and not other wars?

what about horrifying situations in so many other parts of the world?

Why Israel vs Palestine?

Is it sexy to take part here?

Have you heard of the idea that Gaza is entirely bomb trapped: homes (with family's inside, schools even the animal cages in the zoo!!!!!I mean come on...and you know why? well that Hamas may be a big bunch of bully's but they know that the Israelis have a human heart within, no matter what and they starved the people and animals - knowing wed fall into the trap, while giving supplies and aiding.

Of course you never hear of the help; the ceasefire so they can get water and food supplies(including the Hamas), no rape, no beating up or cruelty towards the people face to face.

Give one example of a nation who does not hurt the civilian's? rape, kill, rob.....while in face to face contact? You know that the Israeli soldiers give them food and water? the hospitals treat whom ever shows up , even at a time of war because we understand that they are lead by a bunch of Hamas bullies/

So I may send you some stuff may not- as I am so tiered of explaining ...but that may be a small part that I need to do, since I am not fighting nor sitting in a protected room, as thank God the rockets have not reached the area I live in.

So think before taking such strong sides for or against -- and of course do what ever you want to. My approach is the human weakness, how cruel humans are towards each other....

Tell me Ann: How can an armed man take a child as use him as cover?

I hope it will soon end - the war, but the Hamas and the Hezbollah are still arming and look around the world...see what is happening.

You want to help - no shortage of places and people.....why spread hatred towards any side? Do you really think that will improve any thing?

Any how

Do what ever you think is right for you.

As always

Take care and be safe and happy,

in peace