Tuesday, June 28, 2011

a Jew and a Palestinian speak

This last weekend, I attended a presentation at the local library titled "Israel and Palestine: Where do we go from here?"

Rabbi Brant Rosen of a local synagogue, and Columbia College Professor Iymen Chehade, son of Palestinian parents, spoke to a full room.

Rosen, who has a blog, Shalom Rav is sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. While some might have come expecting each man to give a formal presentation, the program consisted of Chehade giving a talk about the past and present situation of the Palestinians followed by Rosen presenting common Jewish views of it and asking for Chehade's response.

This made a great deal of sense to me because the basic facts of history are undeniable; the Palestinians were robbed of their land and the process continues today. Shout-fests over Israel, which this certainly was not, are always over who has superior rights, not the facts. It is purely a result of propaganda for Israel in the U.S. that so many Americans have the false belief that there are two parties equally responsible for the ongoing problems. The Palestinians are the innocent party and owe nothing to Israel. Israel owes very much to the Palestinians but will never acknowledge it.

Chehade spoke eloquently and covered a wide range of issues in a short time without going into the kind of detail that would lose an audience. It seemed to me that, but for a few, he had the sympathy of his listeners, certainly he had mine, having learned what I have about the issues in the past few years. He did not exaggerate. There was no need because the tragic facts are persuasive. The only time I thought that he went beyond reasonable expectation for the future was his comment that he thought the destroyed Arab towns within what is now Israel, could be rebuilt. The best to hope for is that Palestinians would have the same right as any Israel to live on the site of any of those erased towns.

I had composed a question (we submitted them written on cards) before the program began. I asked how anyone could believe a two-state solution is still possible. Surely the only solution to the problem is one Israel that is not a Jewish state but a true democracy open to the Palestinians on an equal basis with Jews. I didn't submit my question because Chehade clearly agreed.

Rabbi Rosen was there to allow Chehade full expression by throwing him questions, he was not there to promote Zionism.

Rosen made a comment that for Jews, the connection with Israel is more than just one of religion. I can't tell you what his thinking was behind this statement, but as I sat there I wondered if he meant there is some kind of innate spiritual connection.

If so, I can't buy it as any kind of rationale for keeping all but Jews out of the land that Israel sits on. I don't think he believes it either, hence his activism for change, though he did not specifically rule out two states.

Here is my reasoning. There is no connection of any people to any land anywhere on the planet that is not purely the result of the upbringing that plants this idea of a connection in the mind alone or along with the effect of living in a familiar place over a period of years. When people speak of thousands of generations conferring some kind of legitimacy to land that is not where a person was actually raised, it means nothing beyond this continual re-planting in innocent and immature minds of the same indoctrinating story. No child of Jews has an innate connection with Israel unless he/she is born and raised there. If not, it is purely the result of learning. There is nothing, absolutely nothing innate in any human being connecting him/her with any land from birth, no matter how many generations have been there before.

Rosen hinted at this problem when he expressed disquiet at the right of American born Jews to go to Israel and immediately claim Palestinian land. But, really, this has been the problem of Zionism since the first advocates left Europe for Palestine.

This to me is the ultimate injustice of Israel - that it was Europeans who had been born and raised (and tragically rejected) in Europe who had the idea that they had some inherited connection to Zion other than that they had been taught so - who believed this mythological connection took priority over the real, born in the land residents of their imagined home. I may be wrong, but I believe the driving group behind Zionism did not believe in any spiritual link, they only wanted a place for Jews to live securely and thought that the mythological link would sell their plan to many Jews but mostly to third parties heavily invested with Bible stories. It worked.

Certainly anyone can take a liking to anywhere on earth for any reason whatsoever and have a wish to move there. Jews had been going to Palestine, to Jerusalem in particular, long before Zionism without problem, as they should have been able to do. The problem came with the assumption that Palestine was exclusively for Jews. It leaves me astounded that anyone could think this just, either as recompense for the Holocaust or simply because a book of mythology is cited.

The Zionist idea has become a monster that can't stop itself, not surprisingly for any scheme based on privilege for one group and rigid exclusion of others. How can anyone believe this madness has a future? Was it well intentioned? How could that be possible when the suffering of others was not only expected but pursued with vigor?

I see an increasingly extremist Israel running the whole project onto the rocks on its own terms, with religious fanatics coming to challenge each other on who is truly Jewish. This has been slowly coming to a boil for some time.

That so little attention by Israel's leaders is paid to this while so much is paid to what to do about the all but impotent HAMAS along with sabre rattling at Iran staggers me. What do you do when a friend shows ever greater signs of mental illness? If you are the US Congress under the control of the Israel lobby you wildly cheer and support each ever more outrageous act.

It will not end well.

I was encouraged that so many people showed up to hear the professor and the rabbi, but I firmly believe the U.S. is out of the picture and will never exert any pressure to save Israel from itself. I hope for action from other countries and the continued courageous non-violent actions of the Palestinians themselves. I think Israel at some point is going to commit an atrocity that the world will find so repulsive that Jews outside of Israel will gag and the Zionist program will collapse, thoroughly discredited.

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