I have just seen a production of the play "My name is Rachel Corrie".
The production of that play was suppressed or postponed back in 2006 in Florida and New York...you will be able to guess why. It went on stage without delays in Britain. It was one of the more disturbing dramas I have ever attended...and it was nothing more than one woman on a stage providing just enough prop and action to set scene for the reading of a diary and some emails. It was not just a true story, it was the sort of truth that must be denied. I knew how it was to end before I went to the theater. Due to my own daughter's fledgling activism to find a just peace in Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I knew many of the facts that stick out of the play like so many spikes driven through flesh. And yet, it still left me somewhat stunned.
If nothing else, and whatever your biases, such tours through the "other side" of a conflict make you think. At dinner with the couple who invited us to see the play, they recounted the remarks of an HaAretz editor on Charlie Rose saying "US does not have a foreign policy on Israel: it has a domestic policy not to antagonize the Jewish vote". This I sadly admit is a well founded insight. And I am sad about it because my vote is presumed to be conditioned by my religious affiliation...I am not just taken for granted, I am mistaken for granted. As fellow protesters say: "Not in my name".
There were many lines in the play that wrenched and singed consciousness and belief about the nature of the Israeli state's occupation and the way it has betrayed the deepest hope and calling of any believing Jew: we were to have been a light unto the nations. Israel's cruel and sloppy overkill in uprooting families from the occupied territories has been so under-reported in the US that we Americans are understandably puzzled at our pariah status as the dominant financial and military support for the state of Israel.
You will have to settle for a paraphrase of the line that hit me hardest.
"Privilege protects us from the consequences of our poorest choices"The exact wording I cannot recall but the meanings are abundant. That sentence is the most important because it applies not just to the character who said it and not just to Israelis but to all who cannot distinguish...because they do not know or want to know...between the feel-good [or at least feel-less-guilty] vagueness of "you must support a Jewish homeland" and the instances of institutionalized barbarity that are among the many tools to meet the oh-so-reasonable goal of "security". The person who is far from this fray and votes or sends money to "make sure that Israel does not perish", i.e. Americans of either Jewish or Christian faith, should look into how Israelis treat Palestinians who get in the way of expanding west bank settlements or whose homes or farms complicate efforts to pacify Gaza. It is we supporters and enablers who are the most privileged in this affair.
If you but scratch the topic you quickly hear there are more provocations for such atrocious takings of land, dwellings and livelihoods than most of you will know. For instance the thousands of Iraqi Jews scattered over the planet could tell you family histories of the death and humiliation used to displace their ancient community from Baghdad. Nothing the Baathists did to 200 thousand Jews who once lived and had lived since biblical times in Baghdad , nothing the Nazis did to the Jews constitute a defensible reason for the Jews to repay in kind. If you win by becoming as coldly destructive as your enemies, who won? There simply is not justice in the west bank settlement policies or the acts committed by Jews against Arabs in occupied territory.
Provocation is not justification. Being hurt by one party in one era and place and then milking that grievance to support striking back at another party in a different place and generation banishes any chance of peace. The weary majorities on both sides of the rising wall cannot out shout or out shoot the self righteous anger of the bellicose minorities among them. That would seem to be human nature at its worst, its typical and dominant worst. The main difference between the Ted Belman's of the world and ostensibly liberal people who try to support Israel without becoming informed about the range of actions taken by the Israelis is only this: the one is honest in saying "we seek annihilation or permanent war" and the other an ignorant assenter to the same policy.
Were it not for the fact that the bravest voices decrying the village by village ethnic cleansing of the west bank are those of Jews, many of them members or ex members of the Israeli military, I would turn my back on the whole stinking mess and support nothing except the cessation of the constant flow of dollars and arms to ANY country in the middle east.
As it is, we have a screaming example, the worst I know, of a failure to imagine what it is like for the other guy. [which failure I see as precisely the most critical difference between the liberal and the conservative mindset]. In one measure or another, that failure is at the root of most organized violence in human history. But claiming you are the good guy, and reading in your weekly Torah portion that "you shall not oppress the stranger" means that for a Jew the failure is far more culpable than a mere weakness of human nature. It seems almost willful or terribly cynical. If you pretend to be a light unto the nations because you have been given the rules by which to survive, surmount and stave off what is flawed in human nature but systematically destroy communities, histories and lives then either you or your rules are a crock. By betraying the hope and idealism that nursed Israel from an idea to shaky new nation, the fierce, reactionary country that has arisen has deeply angered not just its old enemies but many Jews who know the idealism is the more precious legacy than the dirt.
The reviews quoted in the Wikipedia article about the play write it off as propaganda. But to tell any story you must have a point of view. To insist that only one point of view of a multi-national and multi-cultural conflict is valid or tolerable or even publishable is ridiculous. Only holocaust deniers called Schindler's List "anti-German propaganda". When the subject of inhumane actions by Israel against Palestinian noncombatants is raised in even the most liberal Jewish circles the responses are mostly defensive and emotional. The commonest tactic I have seen is to immediately change the subject to atrocious things other Arab groups or nations have done to Jews. That is irrational. But I guess it is the nature of the beast. After all the millennia of learning the hard way what it is like to be on the wrong end of the gun, the Jews are the same as other people and being on the right end of the gun has transformed many of them into the sort of creatures that have lost all the compassionate insights their own faith once gave the world.
It is possible to be emotionally wrought up and still think rationally...but damn uncommon. It is so uncommon that assuming an emotional tone that you detect in some speech belies any reason you may hear is understandable. But our obligation is to know that whomever we face is human and will not have been dealt with fairly until we have gotten past their and our own feelings by listening long enough and deliberately enough to pick up their facts and imagine ourselves in their shoes. That is how I will try to approach the damaging diatribes of Ted Belman or of Abbas. We have a bumper crop of psychically damaged people on both sides and unfortunately the dealings with the situation at the state level simply damage yet more as time goes on.
In confrontations with fellow Jews over the Israeli program of settlement in occupied territories, the conversation often ends with the rhetorical question: "So what is your solution, Mr Pacifist!?" How can I tell you? You can't frame solutions if you don't listen carefully enough to know what the problem is.
Such a strange term humanity: as a noun its encompassing collectiveness is comforting and enlightened. But as an adjective, so rarely deserved, it is the most distant of goals for us.