Sunday, November 18, 2012

It's Complicated: The Current Situation in the Middle East

It's hard to get ready for Shabbat--for a day of peace, of rest and meditation--while reading about Israel shelling Gaza in response to Gaza shelling Israel in response to Israel assassinating the Head of Hamas in response to the Head of Hamas ordering shelling of Israel, after months of saying that they couldn't control the smaller groups who were regularly shelling Israel.

Still, on Friday, I drove my children to get a challah, the braided bread that is traditional for the Jewish Sabbath. The idea was that  we would find the dining room table underneath the clutter, set a pretty tablecloth, dig out the grape-juice and the Challah cover, and have a peaceful shabbat.

In fact, when we got to the parking lot, I had to wait and listen to the rest of the NPR report on all the missile attacks, and then I had to haul out the IPAD I use in lieu of a computer to show my children maps of Gaza and its population, of Israel and it's environs and try to sketch in the political situation in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia. I gave a hint of the differences in the governments of Gaza and the West Bank, the fact that Iran is arming Hamas while Egypt is allowing missiles and launchers  to cross over their borders, the new Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, the upcoming elections in Israel and how all of this might be affecting things. Inside, as they munched on their half of a babka (a rich cake laced with cinnamon and chocolate) I showed them pictures of the eleven-month-old who was killed in Gaza, the tiny body wrapped in gauze, and of the eleven-month old who was injured in Israel, the tiny face blurred for safety. Over and over, I kept saying to my children, "It's complicated. We can't 'just go kill them.' They can't just come kill us. It's not simple. It's so complicated."

We got back in the car and hit the main corner in our city, and there, we were confronted with crowds carrying banners that read, basically, "It's Simple." "Support Palestine," "Israel Human Rights Violator." I felt so angry and so sad.

Those crowds looked, to my eye, to be mostly white people, red-heads and blonds. In my experience, they are often well-to-do Protestant liberals who have been working to divest our state of Israeli bonds for the last twenty-years. I am not mocking Protestants. I know many, and respect a tradition of political engagement. I am not mocking liberals. I am one myself. What saddened me was the reduction of this complicated situation to "Israel, evil occupier; Palestinians, pathetic victims."

I thought of a recent visit to the theatre with a friend whose ancestry is Mdewakantan Sioux. Finally, we were able to get together, to see a theatre piece by a member of our local Jewish community, a one-woman play. The play, advertised as a personal journey, turned out to be a horrified declaration of the betrayal the playwright felt toward her father (who had died when she was young) and how she has now learned that the trees for which he had encouraged her to send money, trees for the new state of Israel, had been planted on the ashes of Palestinian homes, stolen by evil Israel.

Afterwards, we were invited to participate in a question and comment with the playwright. Theatrically, I had been very disappointed in the piece, which had seemed to me an exercise in navel-gazing rather than a piece of theater. Yes, her father died when she was twelve years old, and the woman I saw was still twelve years old, still thinking with that adolescent brain that he had abandoned her, spreading that horrified sense of betrayal onto the entire world. I approached my comments theatrically, speaking of metaphor--the play began with an old trunk holding a Hebrew lesson, which the playwright used to as a trunk carried by the kicked-out Palestinians.

But that trunk could have been used by the desperate remnants of the Jewish people, fleeing from not just one of the most horrendous and over-arching attacks on a people ever, but continued persecution after the end of the Holocaust, vowing, "Never again will we be at the mercy of other countries to let us escape the enemy. Now we will have a country of our own."

It could also have represented refugees within the countries--Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia--which refused to accept Palestinian refugees, kept them caged like animals for decades, still does not allow some of them citizenship or even to be legally employed. It could have been held by the many Jews who have had to flee those same Arab countries over the last sixty years. It could have been packed by Jews moving to Israel to reclaim Biblical territory in settlements while adamantly refusing to accept that people lived there first, or represented those Palestinians worldwide who have developed their own diaspora stories, their own next-year-in Jerusalem legend. It could have held the remains of Jewish soldiers sent home in pieces to their families, the remains of Palestinians assassinated by their own people because they were suspected of being soft on Israel. It could have stood for the coffins from the cult of the martyr that is part of Palestinian culture now, the idea that you want to tell your three-year-old to grow up to blow himself up for good of the people.

It could have been used to tell us all: It's complicated.

When I said as much to the artist, she looked startled. Her response was, over and over, "But this is my personal journey," as if a personal journey removed her from an artist's responsibility to strive for clarity or wisdom in this world of complications.

And yet, there is hope. We few Jews sat among a crowd of Muslims, many from countries at that time involved in the Arab Spring rebellions. And yet, when an Iraqi Jew told the artist of his family's rescued from the Iraqis by Israel, when he said, emotionally, what that had meant for his family, to have a safe place to go, to automatically granted safety when they had to flee, to even be assisted to that safety, I could feel the crowd listening, (though one woman insisted that the Iraqi Jews were chased out by synagogue bombings created by Israeli intelligence, a widely held legend in Iraq, despite a virulently anti-semitic police officer who was found with bomb-making materials in his home and blood on his hands.) But the majority I felt really heard this Iraqi speak, until he asked the facilitator, (a pale, well-dressed red-head, maybe twenty-three and reeking of money,) "Why this cause? Why not China's treatment of Tibet? Why not Burma? Why not Zimbabwe? Why you? Why is Israel the villain?"

His questions were valid, and I think worthy of pursuit, but they were also off target. I could feel the audience shut down. It gave the young woman the chance to invalidate his comments, turn them into personal attacks. And thus, the topic was changed, the ears closed up, and the Iraqi Jew and his family left, wordless, helpless, filled with fear and rage.

And yet, his questions ring in my ear. Why these people? Why this cause? Why can't these people see the complications? We are coming out of a state made more unified, more neighborly, because of a series of conversations with one another about gay marriage. How can we create a conversation within this state to allow people like that wealthy young redhead to see the complications? If we can't see the complications, we can never figure out how to heal the situation.

It occurred to me to bring hot cocoa to those narrow-minded people standing at the corner with their signs. To invite them to our synagogue to try to understand what leads them to harshly judge only one side. But I'm not sure if that would work. Like everything else, I suppose, it's complicated. 
Share this post via:

No comments:

Post a Comment