When I was seven, the six-day war was raging in the Middle East. We were one of the first Jewish families in a primarily Arab neighborhood in Brooklyn. The Syrian Ambassador came to Atlantic Avenue and gave an incendiary speech. The only reason I remember it is because it terrified my mother.
Our next door neighbors, whose Americanized name was Kirshy, were Syrian. On the last night of the war, there was a knock on the door. When my mother opened it, the entire Kirshy clan, from young boys to the ancient matriarch, Nina, came in. They carried platters of food, including homemade stuffed grape leaves, made with leaves from our very own backyard grape arbor.
“Let Them Fight over there”, Nina’s eldest son Mike thundered, “here, let’s have a party.” And so we did.
This all seems so naïve now, because the ratio of suffering in the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is so one-sided. One cannot simply smile and break bread here, when so many are dying there; Israel’s response to rocket attacks is so disproportionate that it seems a Goliath towering over David.
I saw Fiddler on the Roof a few years ago and was struck by the ending, where the Jews flee the pogroms and the land seizures, to go to the bright new land of Palestine. To do what, I thought? To seize land from others? To rule with an iron fist? To replicate their own suffering, with only the roles reversed?
I sometimes equate Israel to a battered child, which grows into a big, strong man, who batters his own small children. The Jewish preoccupation with the Holocaust – something that is not unique to Jews in intent, as any Rwandan or Armenian can tell you – has become a sort of moral carte blanche. We were nearly destroyed by the most highly industrialized genocide in history, and somehow, that gives us an excuse to do the inexcusable. And so, the Jewish state steals land and resources, tortures people, and practices collective punishment.
During the last 40 years, throughout every peace negotiation, Israel has continued a feverish process of land grabs and settlement building, which, to my mind, is untenable to true peace. America has made public noises about the need for this to end, but has privately winked and nodded.
But you cannot plow under a man’s house, his olive groves, where his family has farmed for 500 years, over and over, and not engender outrage.
This outrage has become darkly perverted: sweets are handed out after suicide bombings, so-called art exhibits, which are simulacra of Jewish limbs and blood flying out from explosions, are exhibited in the universities of the Arab world. The Palestinian Authority teaches school children that Jews are subhuman, and the preachers preach the same. And of course, the Muslim world as a whole finds the death of one Palestinian at the hands of the Jewish state to be far more distressing than thousands of Muslim deaths at the hands of the Islamic state of Sudan. There is no moral equivalency being practiced by anyone, and there are no clean hands in the Middle East.
So, what can we do to stop a runaway chain reaction that is inbreeding hate? Can we, as Jews, really abide the graffiti in Israel that exhorts ‘Send the Palestinians to the Crematoria’? Or do we, the American Jewish community, need to take a stand. You cannot really change the other in a relationship, only yourself. We need to change ourselves, alter our relationship to the Arab world by reasserting our relationship to our own ethical tradition of justice that stretches back over two millennia.
We should lobby our politicians to cease all financial support of Israel if one more house is planted on other people’s land. They must move back to the borders of 1967. Leave the towns and cities they’ve created intact, gifts to the Palestinians, or forfeit our support.
There is a perception that the American Jewish electorate is monolithic. It isn’t. There are many like myself who think that America’s one-sided support for Israel endangers America, Israel, and, ultimately, the Jewish people themselves. It is time we spoke up.
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