Monday, February 16, 2009

1300 Palestinians, 13 Israelis

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 na├»ve 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.

Audio Version Here


  1. A lovely story and a commentary to match. When I was young I visited Maidanek concentration camp in Poland and read the currently fashionable history of the Nazi genocide - Lucy Davidowicz. I've been corresponding with Norman Finkelstein and have greatly moderated my views on the Middle East, which previously were aligned with those of the Israeli Far Left organisation Matzpen. Finkelstein's now into Gandhi - his Maastricht lecture on Gandhi and the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict was mind expanding for me. You'll find it on video google. I've written a nationalist poem on Palestine - I shall visit Israel. You'll find it on the web. I see now that the Jewish state is here to stay. It just has to be severely disciplined by the international community, and made to respect International Humanitarian Law and human rights in the OTs. Same goes for Hamas, of course. I have great respect for Israeli organisations like Yesh Gvul and Seruv. No blame for what's past, the ethnic cleansing of '48 and '67. Forgive, stop the arms coming, discipline this abused child Israel with tough love, and move on,

    Paul Grenville (

    "I see my life come shining from the West down to the East
    Any day now, any day now, I shall be released."

    Don't know why these lines popped into my head from America's
    greatest living poet. They may have some bearing on the double bind of Israel/Palestine.

  2. And a few more thoughts:

    Respect of International Humanitarian Law and human rights is all one would ask of any state, including America and the UK, as we also abuse human rights in the countries our armies have invaded. It would help if we put our own houses in order. Same goes for Palestinian Hamas, of course. They have to respect the human rights of the Israeli Jews not to have rocket attacks.

    I have great respect for Israeli organisations like Yesh Gvul and Seruv. The Jewish Israeli pacifists are the real heroes in my book - refusing to kill and standing up for what's right and moral. And the pacifists of the ISM. Gandhi lay down his life for Indian independence. But he would not take a life. The ISM do the same in Israel/Palestine. None of these people would take a life.

    So no, let’s not blame Israel for what's past, the ethnic cleansing of '48 and '67, the wars and massacres in Israel's name. Forgive all that, Americans stand up and say no to the arms and the $3 billion a year coming from your country, discipline this abused child Israel with tough love, and move on. The International Community created Israel in '47 with the Partition Resolution and the International Community has a moral responsibility to intervene and end the conflict. The international community is us. The tools are to hand, too, boycott, disvestment and sanctions linked to a demand for the respect of International Humanitarian Law. Without a stick Israel will not move. It has had nothing but carrots, and It has ignored UN resolutions for sixty one years, The international consensus and the legal framework for resolution of the conflict is already in place. Jews and Arabs both win at the rendez-vous of victory. They stop dying. Better a cold peace than a hot war. Paul Grenville (

    PS "I see my life come shining from the West down to the East
    Any day now, any day now, I shall be released."

    I don't know why these lines from America's greatest living poet popped into my head. They may have some bearing on the double bind of Israel/Palestine. We live in the West, and Israel is in the East, and violence is a prison house of trauma where nothing's learned and everything repeats like a nightmare version of Groundhog Day.

    We shall be released. Any day now, any day now.