Friday, January 19, 2007


David Grossman addressed a crowd that had gathered on November 4, 2006. November 4 is the date that Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. It is important to note, if you read through the entire speech (and please, please do so), that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was in the crowd.

And these are some of the reasons that, in an amazingly short time, Israel has degenerated into heartlessness, real cruelty toward the weak, the poor, and the suffering. Israel displays indifference to the hungry, the elderly, the sick, and the handicapped, equanimity in the face of, for example, trafficking in women, or the exploitation of foreign workers in conditions of slave labor, and in the face of profound, institutionalized racism toward its Arab minority. When all this happens as if it were perfectly natural, without outrage and without protest, I begin to fear that even if peace comes tomorrow, even if we eventually return to some sort of normality, it may be too late to heal us completely.

This diary is not intended as a criticism of Israel. It is intended as an appreciation of a beautiful speech that is itself a reflection of what happens to a country, to a people, who are continually at war.

In that respect, I read it as an opportunity to ask what will become of us, of Americans, if we continue on this path that we have set out upon, or, if you prefer, that has been laid out for us by this administration.

But, in the past 100 years, I wonder how many armed conflicts we have engaged in. (Anyone? I know there's an historian out there who can give me that exact figure.) And I'm not just talking about our official wars. I mean the unofficial ones, too. The "police actions" in the Dominican Republic; the interference in elections in Chile; the intervention in the former Yugoslavia.

Our need to take up arms, to have an enemy, to step into the perceived "fray," regardless of whether it, in fact, exists.

How much of our refusal to deal with our own racism, with poverty, with the suffering of our own people is a direct result of the constant distraction of war? Do we not care that immigrants toil in our cities for close to nothing? That our toys and knick-knacks are made by slave labour? That women in this country slide ever closer to their former status as chattel? That our elderly choose whether to pay for prescriptions or food?

One of the harsh things that this last war sharpened for us was the feeling that in these times there is no king in Israel. That our leadership is hollow, both our political and military leadership. I am not speaking now of the obvious fiascos in the conduct of the war, or of the way the rear echelon of the army was left to its own devices. Nor am I speaking of our current corruption scandals, great and small. My intention is to make it clear that the people who today lead Israel are unable to connect Israelis with their identity, and certainly not with the healthy, sustaining, inspiring parts of Jewish identity. I mean those parts of identity and memory and values that can give us strength and hope, that can serve as antidotes to the attenuation of mutual responsibility and of our connection to the land, that can grant meaning to our exhausting, desperate struggle for survival.

Today, Israel's leadership fills the husk of its regime primarily with fears and intimidations, with the allure of power and the winks of the backroom deal, with haggling over all that is dear to us. In this sense, our leaders are not real leaders. They are certainly not the leaders that a people in such a complicated, disoriented state need. Sometimes, it seems that the public expression of their thinking, of their historical memory, of their vision, of what really is important to them fills only the tiny space between two newspaper headlines. Or between two police investigations

Can one lead if one's leadership comprises the constant refrain of "Be afraid. Be very afraid." Can one lead if one's finger is constantly pointing at some other and emphasizing the differences rather than the commonalities? Can one lead if one asks others to do what one is not willing to do oneself?

We have no leadership. We have corruption. And fear. We have no history. We have no vision. We have only the blaring of headlines that distract us; we look away from the bloodshed and the suffering of others in order to participate in the pornography of celebrity, of the news of the fantastical, the marvelous, the grotesque.

Just as there is unavoidable war, there is also unavoidable peace. Because we no longer have any choice. We have no choice, and they have no choice. And we need to set out toward this unavoidable peace with the same determination and creativity with which we set out to an unavoidable war. Anyone who thinks there is an alternative, that time is on our side, does not grasp the profound, dangerous process that is now well underway.

Peace is possible. Our administration tells us that it is not. That we must be ever vigilant against those who would destroy us. But it is that constant vigilance that does destroy us. We lose a part of our souls each time we stand in line at a security checkpoint. What must we do to make peace a reality? If war is the not the answer, what then must be done to find another solution?

From where I stand at this moment, I request, call out to all those listening —to young people who came back from the war, who know that they are the ones who will have to pay the price of the next war; to Jewish and Arab citizens; to the people of the right and the people of the left: stop for a moment. Look over the edge of the abyss, and consider how close we are to losing what we have created here. Ask yourselves if the time has not arrived for us to come to our senses, to break out of our paralysis, to demand for ourselves, finally, the lives that we deserve to live.



Chad Smith said...

Thing is, though, and you have to pardon me for playing the Devil's Advocate, perhaps we should be afraid.

Chad Smith said...

Thing is, though—and you have to forgive me for playing Devil's Advocate—perhaps we should be afraid. No matter how open-minded, how peace loving or idealistic we claim to be, we must admit that September 11 changed the status quo. Peace, at this very moment, may not be possible.

Granted, our administration is doing a horrid job of navigating our country through this epoch, and its arguments for going to war, such as, “It could happen again” or “It’s better we fight them on their soil than ours,” are deafening, trite and maddening. But they may not be empty. Don’t you think a bit of credence exists within those lines?

Shouldn’t the US, then, do everything in its power, short of torture, to eliminate a threat not only to us, but to modern civilization? You say we “lose a part of our souls each time we stand in line at a security checkpoint.” But a checkpoint can save lives. I don’t know about you, but I’d wait at one, even have my phone records and internet history checked, if it could save a life or two. Admittedly, living in such a tightly controlled state would sadden me, but it wouldn’t lead me to believe that our country had descended into an Orwellian-style nightmare, no matter how seductive that refrain may be.

In your post you also wonder how well a leader can lead if his “finger is constantly pointing at some other and emphasizing the differences rather than the commonalities.”

True, a lot of rhetoric is floating around; and rhetoric sucks. But how can we find common ground with people who want to destroy us? Terrorists and their sympathizers, then, are perhaps beyond the pale.

Still, that’s not to say that there aren’t beautiful similarities running through Arabic and Western cultures. There are. But, in many cases, the minute we start to celebrate them, the boulder of our political and historical differences crashes down upon our heads. For example, Judaism and Islam share like tenets. But how can you ask—how can you truly ask—an Israeli to appreciate how similar his religion is to a Hamas sympathizer’s, when that sympathizer is hell bent on destroying the Israeli state? And it cuts both ways. How can a Hamas sympathizer appreciate the fact that he and many Israelis have similar eating preferences, even taboos, if an Israeli soldier shot his son dead?

Yes, it’s easy to criticize our government; we’re not perfect. But I’m arguing that perhaps we’re doing the best we can in a world full of so many evils.

Winston Churchill said democracy is the least bad form of government. Maybe the current state of conflict is the least bad form of war.

Chad Smith said...

P.S. I still love you, Lorraine. Really, I was just bored at work and wanted to write.

Heartland1 said...

I don't know where to start with this. It will sound anti-isreal, and maybe it is. Zionism was the worst idea of the last century, but as long as the US stayed mainly out of these issues, there was something of a self-regulatory aspect to it. Isreal was not in the headlines everyday prior to 1967. When they captured all that land, isreali exceptionalism kicked into high gear, colonizing captured land. What the israelis are doing is NO DIFFERENT than what milosovic tried to do Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo--yet we intervened, mecifully, to stop it. In isreal, we facilitate it.

If we had vision, if we had a sense of justice we'd admit to ourselves that isreal is undertaking ethnic cleansing on territory that is not theirs. We'd realize that they are doing it with dollars that have our faces on them, with weapons and bombs made in the USA. Your tax dollars at work. With that kind of backup, why should isreal make the slightest concession to the reality of their situation? Why seek accomodation with their neighbors? Why make arabs and palestinians citizens with equal rights? If isreal is an example of democracy in the middle east, no wonder they want to kill us! Democracy as a 40' concrete wall winding through what once was your orchard--how would you feel? You want to see the face of isreali democracy? Google Rachel Corrie. You can see what an american who gets in the way of zionism looks like after being run over by an isreali bulldozer. Our congress looks little better, metaphorically, after the isreali lobby is done with them. The Arab world sees us as the bulldozer, with an isreali soldier at the controls.
There's all sorts of names for what's happening right now--blowback, whatever. We get so righteous about Iraq ignoring UN resolutions, and now, Iran. How many resolutions has isreal ignored? How pompous, how arrogant, how unjust of us! Is there no way that we can assure isreal's existence without perpetrating the monstrous injustice taking place on palestine? Is there no way we couldn't do this cooperatively with the world? There is, but one country would object--and that country, even with the guarantee of peace and security, would be isreal. So, where does the real threat to "shrivelization" lie? It lies in our dishonesty.

I heard Rabin speak once--on the car radio, going to a job interview. It brought tears to my eyes. The hope, the desperation, the futility in his voice, "Enough of Blood...

1138 said...

Chad, I'm going to make a slightly risk guess based on your writing style that you probably were not even around or aware of what the daily headlines were in 1967.

Am I wrong?

What changed America's involvement with the middle east more than anything else was L.B.J.
Prior to Lyndon the U.S. did not consider Israel a matter of our own national security, but when LBJ decided to make it so, it set us on a course that culminated in September 11th.

Chad Smith said...

1138, you say that once we once we adopted Israel, so to speak, we set ourselves up for the calamity of Sept 11. Perhaps this is true, perhaps not.

That wasn’t really my point. My point was this: Sept. 11 happened. Hate happens. Violence happens. Exploitation? That happens too. Therefore, foreign policy, however deft, isn't, and never will be, a panacea. The US, I further argued, may just be reacting to this upside down, turned around and chaotic world the best way it can.

And, 1138, yes, you're right about the age thing, even though I don't think that it's germane.

Convince me it is.

Heartland1 said...

Chad, I'm disappointed! Hate happens? Violence happens? Sure, if you look at the world free of context, if you look at it very close-up, each of these events is just a little dot on the historic tapestry, but take a step back, and the pointilism begins to make sense, and in the middle east, we're looking at a great big bloody Serat. The anger isn't random. When the USS Missouri sat off the coast of Lebanon, just over the horizon and fired volkswagon sized love notes into the Lebanese shiite villages, people suffered and died, someone took note, painted a dot, and hate happened, and for a damn good reason. You seem to be an apologist for chaos--that reacting to chaos by inflicting chaos is the best we can do. At some pont, before there can be reconciliation, there has to be truth.

Chad Smith said...

Can't say I fully agree, Heartland. I do like the whole Serat thing, though.