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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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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Paris

Today could be a historic day if world leaders and civil society will continue to stand united against religious extremism in general and radical political Islam in particular, the branch of Islam that has been responsible for many terrorist attacks in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and the United States.

That the French have finally awakened to the curse of global terrorism because their values have been attacked may raise cynicism, perhaps rightfully so. So does the overrated participation of both the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas in the Paris rally: The first was surely motivated by the brutal terrorist attacks in Paris, particularly the murder of fellow Jews in a Kosher market, as likely as he was by the upcoming elections in Israel; the latter needs international support for his attempt to create the Palestinian state through unilateral means.

But that Muslim leaders gathered with Christians, Jews and followers of other religions to reject radical Islam is encouraging – as a first step in the war against global terrorism – if this is in fact what we are seeing in Paris today.

The images emerging today from TV screens are indeed powerful. They bring hope that perhaps the world, or at least parts of it, has finally got it. That it suddenly understands the scourge of extremism, providing that the hype from Paris will not subside tomorrow or the day after, and that the root causes of terrorism will also be addressed.

Lost in the hype is a piece of news in today’s papers of a 10 year old girl who was used by Nigerian insurgents as a suicide bomber, killing herself alongside 20 others, and wounding many more.  

The use of children as potential suicide bomber is not new. Hamas hat tried that before. And there are other means by which terrorist groups use children: Most of the 200 Nigerian schoolgirls who had been abducted last year by Boko Haram are still in the hand of their kidnappers. That too has been missing from the voices in Paris, not to mention last week’s possible killing of 2,000 Nigerians by the group. But the rally is not over yet at the time of this writing, and may be these atrocities will be mentioned too.    

The phrase “not in my name” uttered by many Muslims, whether ordinary citizens or leaders from Arab and non-Arab Muslim societies, sounds good. But unless it becomes a movement, it will remain an empty slogan. The movement needs to include not only civilian and military leaders, but also, most importantly, Imams from the Middle East, Africa and the West.


Till that happens, today’s rally in Paris, impressive and moving as it is, will be a fleeting episode in the “fight” against the latest wave of fascism the world is facing.


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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

9/11 memorial and Museum

Earlier today  (Wednesday) I visited for the first time the 9/11 Memorial and the Memorial Museum. Its awesomeness overwhelmed me.
     I went there with my cousin and his friend who are visiting from Israel, where the culture of memorializing the Holocaust, fallen soldiers and terror victims, is prevalent. Though used to this ethos they too were overawed.
     As we stood by the South Pool of the memorial the friend was visibly upset about the ease with which visitors can lean on the black marble that contains the names of the 9/11 victims. He thought that doing so was tantamount to desecrating the victims.
    “Don’t you feel that way?” he wanted to know.
I didn’t. On the contrary. I felt that whenever a visitor touches the marble, whenever he or she rubs an engraved name however randomly, they create an instant connection to that name. Touching those engraved letters that forms the name of a person whose life was lost so abruptly in that terrorist attack affects one emotionally in an instant.
      “What do you feel when you look at the pool?” he wanted to know.
    “Continuity, triumph” I said. The movement and sound of the circulating water made me feel that way. Life goes on.  The human spirit cannot be defeated in spite of the enormity of the tragedy.
    “Interesting though,” he said. “I don’t feel that way. I feel hopelessness.” The smaller inner pool in the center of the larger body of water reminded him of people jumping to their death. Plunging to an abyss from where there is no way out.
            Either way, the memorial’s architects accomplishment was immense.
     Inside the museum my cousin was disturbed by its enormous size. He felt it was too impersonal. What moved him most was a small item on display: the wristwatch of one of the victims. Or the photo of the people walking downs the survivors’ staircase. I explained that the size of the museum was equivalent to the area where the building stood. It was built over their foundations. He understood but he wasn’t convinced. He needed a small quiet corner to reflect on what happened that day. To meditate. To feel the heartbreak in a more intimate setting.
     That was before he saw the heart of the exhibit. The artifacts. After two hours in the museum I had to leave without visiting that section where he went and to where I’ll return. I haven’t spoken with my cousin yet to hear his impression of that part. I’m sure we’ll both find it hard to sleep tonight.


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