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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Four Stories

In Saturday’s New York Times, there were four stories that affected me more than others. The first was the coverage of the latest attempt of Israel’s nationalist camp to strangulate the country’s democracy by silencing the voices of those who do not agree with its ideology. This time it was the far right group Im Tirtzu (If You Will) attack on cultural Israeli icons in the fields of literature, theatre, music, and more. In a true form of McCarthyism, the group accused their targets of being “moles in culture.” Though the organization has since apologized amid criticism from leaders who belong to both the left and right camps of the political spectrum, the group has no intention to cease its attacks on the Israeli left, or what is left of it. I have always praised Israel’s democracy – however imperfect  - proud of, among other things, the country’s free elections, its merciless free press, and its active civil society. But decades of continued occupation, the radicalization of a religious minority, and an atmosphere that was created by the current government – the most right wing ideological cabinet the country has had – seriously threaten the survival of that democracy.

The second story, albeit short, is about France’s recent announcement that it intends to organize an international peace conference in an attempt to solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict. I wish France much luck. In the past similar attempts, even during more favorable regional conditions that exist today, had failed. It looks as if France will sooner than later recognize the Palestinian Authority as a state, conforming to Paris’s threat in case the conference would fail.   

The third piece reported the abuse by United Nations peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. According to the report, soldiers of a European Union peacekeeping contingent had raped two teenage girls and paid a 7-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl for sex.  This was only the latest report of such abuses. Rape and sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers have created an endemic problem, which Secretary General Ban Ki-moon must confront with more serious steps than appointing an independent panel investigation these cases.

Lastly, there was a piece of Philippine sex slaves (known as “comfort women”). Along with Chines and Korean women, the Japanese army used them as sex slaves during World War II. Their story touched me most, as that subject always does. The effect of war and its aftermath on women is an issue that is closest to my heart, perhaps because of my own personal experiences, which I tell in my memoir No Laughter in Winter. Its English version is currently being edited.

According to the Times, there are 80,000-200,000 estimated “comfort women,” some of whom are still alive. After years of their activism, Japan has recently extended an apology and monetary compensation to Korean sex slaves. But it did not offer the same to other groups. It is heartening that the elderly victims who are still alive got the courage to tell their stories after decades of shame and silence. Let the Japanese government learn from these women and get the same courage to admit to their war crimes against women and do the right thing by them.


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Sunday, November 29, 2015

On Giving Thanks

“When was the last time you wrote a blog?” my ten-year-old granddaughter asked me lately.
“A long time ago,” I told her.
“You can’t do that, your followers will forget you!” she said, and I explained to her how busy I have been, after I returned to teaching following my sabbatical year and finishing up the last version of my manuscript, sending it to an editor to get it ready for literary agents. Besides, I run out of subjects, I told her, which is the furthest think from the truth.

I could write about ISIS bombing the Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 in Sinai on November 7, killing 224 victims. Or the Paris attack by ISIS two weeks ago. I could write about the steps the international community, if there is one, needs to take to minimize the danger of that pseudo state.

I could write of the immigration issue and the way it is dealt by some of the Republican candidates - particularly after the Paris attack - from Jed Bush’s proposal that the US would only allow Syrian refugees that can prove they’re Christian, to the idea that Muslims should be required to carry special identification cards or badges, attributed to Donald Trump, but denied in some media outlets that he has said that.

I could write about the deteriorating conditions in the Middle East, with Turkey’s downing the Russian fighter jet over Turkish or Syrian airspace. And I could try to refute that the coalition’s war against ISIS is a war between the Western and the Islamic civilizations, as Samuel Huntington theorized in the early 1990s.

Of course, I could write about the wave of stabbings in Israel and the West Bank, carried out against Israelis by Palestinian individuals, mostly young, who are either desperate, or are poisoned by incitement on social media, taught how to kill efficiently; and I could scream, that no, incitement to kill is not free speech, not by any standards, ethics or law.  

But there’s nothing new I could add to the analyses that are widely available on these issues. Besides, I deal with these subjects in my classrooms repeatedly.

Surely I could write of the terrorist attack this past Friday on the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, shouting that this too is the result of incitement – part of the politization of abortion rights by those reactionists who want to do away with Roe V. Wade.

 Instead, I want to write about the things I am thankful for in this holiday of giving thanks.

I our traditional Thanksgiving dinner, we do not go around the table for everyone to state what they are thankful for. It doesn’t suite my personal taste. Only my two young grandchildren did.

My tragic life when I was young taught me to take nothing for granted and feel fortunate every day: For being able to see and breathe and touch, to smell and taste. For having the capacity to speak out and teach. To give and accept. To love and to abhor. To do the best I can.


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Saturday, August 1, 2015

Beit El, Jerusalem and Kefar Duma

I am waiting for an Israeli Charles de Gaulle. A leader who’ll have the courage to tell his or her countrymen that the enemies from within – the Jewish extremists - are more dangerous to the stability of their country and to its democracy than their external enemies.

I am waiting for an Israeli Charles de Gaulle, who’ll have the courage to declare outright that he or she are going to lead their country to a territorial compromise because it’s good for Israel. Like de Gaulle did when he decided to swiftly take France out of Algeria, responding to his own generals’ putsch in 1961 and to the French right-wing opposition to an independent Algeria.

Nearly twenty-five years ago I researched in depth the reasons for the stubborn rejection of successive Likud governments to an international peace conference under UN auspices. When I began to investigate whether the UN could serve as an acceptable framework for an Arab-Israeli peace, I found out that it was the power of the settlement movement and that of the Israeli political right that prevented peace negotiations, not the UN framework. That influence has only strengthened since my research, and Jewish extremists who have taken matters in their own hand to torment the lives of ordinary Palestinians have been let off the hook too easily.

Since the process of religionization that began in Israel in the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War, many Israeli observers have voiced their concerns that the cavalier way in which their governments treat crimes against Palestinians committed by Israelis, would erode the state of law in Israel. Their concerns fell on deaf ears. Until today.  When thousands of Israelis across the country protested the heinous crimes committed at the end of the week by Israeli terrorists.

It didn’t start this week: First came their arson attack on a church in northern Israel, on June 18. On July 29 they violently resistance the demolition of two houses in Beit El, Jerusalem, that had been built illegally. The demolition was an implementation of a ruling made by Israel’s High Court of Justice, the bastion of Israel’s democracy. That same day, an Israeli right-wing MP called for the bulldozing of the hight court, while other right-wingers threatened its justices.

On July 30 an ultra orthodox Jew stabbed 6 participants in a gay pride parade in Jerusalem. One of his victims, a 16 year old girl died. The attacker was released from jail only three weeks ago, after serving a ten-year sentence for committing the same crime. The next day Jewish settlers torched a house in Kefar Duma in the West Bank, killing a toddler and gravely injuring his parents and brother. Israel’s security organizations are now examining whether there is a connection between the demolition in Beit El and the arson attack in Kefar Duma.     

True, Arab terrorists commit horrific acts against Israelis, and Imams call openly for the slaughtering of Israelis and other Jews. And we have yet to see Arabs demonstrate against these acts, as do Israelis in similar situations . But Israel prides itself for being a state ruled by law, and rule of law must guide it. Equal for all.  That cannot happen under nearly 50 years of occupation.  Will an Israeli de Gaulle arrive any time soon? 


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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Nurit

On Tuesday I posted a shorter version of this story on Facebook. In addition to the many satisfying responses I have received, I was urged to turn the piece into a blog, because “this is blog material.”

A day earlier I called an unfamiliar Israeli number from where someone tried to reach me twice during the weekend. To my surprise, the person on the other end was a 75-year-old woman name Nurit, whose first husband fell in an Israeli military action in 1964. She read my new book and called the publisher for my telephone number. She had to talk to me she said, because suddenly, after all those years, someone wrote her story. She too was a 23-year-old military widow. Unlike me, she wasn’t taken to see her husband, though she wanted to. She was better off, I told her. It’s bad enough to be told that your husband is dead. It’s much worse to see his destroyed face and body and hear his last choking breaths; to scream from the bottom of your lungs that the person you were looking at and couldn’t recognize was not your husband; to be haunted by that horrible sight for the rest of your life.

Like me, she has built a new life for herself. She is blessed with a loving husband, four children and eight grand children. She had borrowed the book from the library and then ran to buy it as a gift to her husband, so he'll understand what she could never put in words. And he did.

In spite of the painful subject matter, it was an elating long conversation. It reminded me of the many phone calls I received in 1968 from Israeli war widows of all ages, when I fought the government's decision at the time to end monthly death compensations to childless war widows. None of the women was interested in joining the fight. Instead they sought my emotional support after they had read in a woman’s magazine an article about my fight. Nurit was not one of the women who called me. Emotionally spent she did what the government suggested childless war widows do: She moved back with her parents and siblings. 

Our conversation reminded me too of the heartrending stories I heard in 1995-6, when I interviewed 33 Israeli woman bereaved by war and terrorism. As my post doctorate project, unfortunately, it was published only as an article and a book chapter, so their evocative tales were not yet heard. I hope they find voice in mine. And I hope that like Nurit, they too call. I'm still listening.


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Thursday, April 9, 2015

On Tel Aviv's Promenade this Passover


It’s Thursday morning and I’m taking my brisk walk on Tel Aviv’s promenade, internalizing my journey to Israel with my family – my husband, daughter, son-in-law and my two grandchildren, who had flown back home to New York early this morning. Aside from the trips to Jerusalem - the new and the ancient, the Dead Sea and Masada, two personal events characterized this trip. The first was the launching of my book No Laughter in Winter, which I just published here in Hebrew; the second was celebrating Passover with my large extended family. Both were awesome.

More than sixty guests attended the book launching in a small hall in a beautiful historic building near Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard. They were childhood friends and friends from latter periods of my life, and lots of family. There was a moderator, three speakers, and much love and warmth in the room. But for me, the highlight of the evening was when my seven year old grandson, who had been seating quietly in the audience, suddenly asked if I could mention his name. Not speaking Hebrew, the language that dominated the evening, he recognized his mother’s and sister’s names, and wanted to be mentioned too. When I invited him and his sister to the stage I felt utterly fulfilled. Both by my side, it was a rare moment for me in the city of my birth, me talking about a book that describes not just my life, but the life of an ordinary Israeli family that tell the story of the country.

Then came the Passover Seder at my cousin’s house. We were close to forty people, like we had been at my grandparents home. Though my last time at a Passover Seder with my family in Israel was almost thirty years ago, it felt as if time stood still, except for the younger faces: the third, fourth and fifth generations of my elders. And it felt warm and natural to be there, like in years past. And like in years past, my daughter asked me how I could leave all that love and warmth and move to another country. And like years past I told her that sometimes life takes us to places we had not planned to be, and force upon us decisions we never thought we would have to make.

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