Thursday, September 4, 2014

Beautiful dream of Israel has become a nightmare.

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People's Climate March: September 21 2014 NYC.
People's Climate March     350 Toronto: Bus & Lodging In NYC

First Mile:
Recently referenced here:
        Gaza violence suits both Israeli leadership and Hamas, Gwynne Dyer, 14-07-17; and,
        Nobody wins the Gaza War, Gwynne Dyer, 14-07-20.

I noticed Gabor Maté's essay at the time but got distracted and forgot about it. Then a friend sent it to me in an email and I went back and read it (at least) several times (see below).

Beautiful dream of Israel has become a nightmare, Gabor Maté, Tuesday July 22 2014.

Everyone ought to be sad at what the beautiful old dream of Jewish redemption has come to. Everyone ought to grieve the death of innocents.

Smoke and fire from the explosion of an Israeli strike rise over Gaza City, Tuesday July 22. Hatem Moussa.

As a Jewish youngster growing up in Budapest, an infant survivor of the Nazi genocide, I was for years haunted by a question resounding in my brain with such force that sometimes my head would spin: “How was it possible? How could the world have let such horrors happen?”

It was a naïve question, that of a child. I know better now: such is reality. Whether in Vietnam or Rwanda or Syria, humanity stands by either complicitly or unconsciously or helplessly, as it always does. In Gaza today we find ways of justifying the bombing of hospitals, the annihilation of families at dinner, the killing of pre-adolescents playing soccer on a beach.

In Israel-Palestine the powerful party has succeeded in painting itself as the victim, while the ones being killed and maimed become the perpetrators. “They don’t care about life,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, abetted by the Obamas and Harpers of this world, “we do.” Netanyahu, you who with surgical precision slaughter innocents, the young and the old, you who have cruelly blockaded Gaza for years, starving it of necessities, you who deprive Palestinians of more and more of their land, their water, their crops, their trees — you care about life?

There is no understanding Gaza out of context — Hamas rockets or unjustifiable terrorist attacks on civilians — and that context is the longest ongoing ethnic cleansing operation in the recent and present centuries, the ongoing attempt to destroy Palestinian nationhood.

The Palestinians use tunnels? So did my heroes, the poorly armed fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto. Unlike Israel, Palestinians lack Apache helicopters, guided drones, jet fighters with bombs, laser-guided artillery. Out of impotent defiance, they fire inept rockets, causing terror for innocent Israelis but rarely physical harm. With such a gross imbalance of power, there is no equivalence of culpability.

Israel wants peace? Perhaps, but as the veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has pointed out, it does not want a just peace. Occupation and creeping annexation, an inhumane blockade, the destruction of olive groves, the arbitrary imprisonment of thousands, torture, daily humiliation of civilians, house demolitions: these are not policies compatible with any desire for a just peace. In Tel Aviv Gideon Levy now moves around with a bodyguard, the price of speaking the truth.

I have visited Gaza and the West Bank. I saw multi-generational Palestinian families weeping in hospitals around the bedsides of their wounded, at the graves of their dead. These are not people who do not care about life. They are like us — Canadians, Jews, like anyone: they celebrate life, family, work, education, food, peace, joy. And they are capable of hatred, they can harbour vengeance in the hearts, just like we can.

One could debate details, historical and current, back and forth. Since my days as a young Zionist and, later, as a member of Jews for a Just Peace, I have often done so. I used to believe that if people knew the facts, they would open to the truth. That, too, was naïve. This issue is far too charged with emotion. As the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle has pointed out, the accumulated mutual pain in the Middle East is so acute, “a significant part of the population finds itself forced to act it out in an endless cycle of perpetration and retribution.”

“People’s leaders have been misleaders, so they that are led have been confused,” in the words of the prophet Jeremiah. The voices of justice and sanity are not heeded. Netanyahu has his reasons. Harper and Obama have theirs.

And what shall we do, we ordinary people? I pray we can listen to our hearts. My heart tells me that “never again” is not a tribal slogan, that the murder of my grandparents in Auschwitz does not justify the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians, that justice, truth, peace are not tribal prerogatives. That Israel’s “right to defend itself,” unarguable in principle, does not validate mass killing.

A few days ago I met with one of my dearest friends, a comrade from Zionist days and now professor emeritus at an Israeli university. We spoke of everything but the daily savagery depicted on our TV screens. We both feared the rancour that would arise.

But, I want to say to my friend, can we not be sad together at what that beautiful old dream of Jewish redemption has come to? Can we not grieve the death of innocents? I am sad these days. Can we not at least mourn together?
(from the Toronto Star)

Gabor Maté is a very clever guy, smart and quick. Compassionate but manages not to pull his punches. I know this; I've seen him in action from up close (see this encounter in 2009). And too, I'm a sucker for emotional arguments, so his (powerful) "Can we not at least mourn together?" takes me back to Rod Steiger at the end of 'The Pawnbroker' and I'm all Yes-Yes-Yes and breathless.

'Cept, something catches ... it takes a while to curdle & float up to the top through the plaques ...

An 'ought' in each of the first two sentences? Uh oh. M-m-must be a Canadian eh?

And is it really naïve and childish to ask, "How was it possible?" I don't think so, and I find this answer - "I know better now: such is reality. Humanity stands by either complicitly or unconsciously or helplessly, as it always does." - to be unsatisfactory, a defence reaction (as he might say), complacent even, smug and too simple by far.

OK. I'm not jewish and I neither have Gabor Maté's first-hand familiarity with the situation on the ground nor a dearest friend who is an old Zionist buddy. I did visit Israel for a few months on business in the 70s. Terrorist bombs, grenades, whatever, were going off audibly in Tel Aviv, that's about it - I was young and invincible so it didn't scare me much, didn't go to Palestine yadda yadda, don't know sheeit!

[There was a graceful little hand-made tensegrity windmill spinning in the yard of the architecture school at the Technion - blew my mind, the head offered me a place there ... could already count to ten in Hebrew ... but didn't take it ... Oh my!]

Sure, simple is good. But it's not only Netanyahu, Harper and Obama (and the neighbouring Arab leaders) who have been misled and confused and who mislead and confuse in turn. What about whoever was leading Mariam Farhat aka Um Nidal when she sent three of her sons off as suicide bombers? What about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Shiraz Dossa notwithstanding) and his stand-up-comic plan to nuke Israel off the map?

[So. ... Let's back it up a bit ... ... long pause ... ... it's 2AM, the stragglers from the local pub are in the lane out back looking for their car keys ...]

Two clues from W.H. Auden:

1) "I and the public know what all schoolchildren learn, those to whom evil is done do evil in return." The abused abuse: many of those who escaped the Holocaust and made it to Israel included; many of those who were herded into Gaza (and farther) also included; and,

2) "We must love one another or die." As well as mourning the innocents we can perhaps get our teaspoons out (see Amos Oz 'How to cure a Fanatic').

First reading of this essay was in quick-email-scan mode, always a mistake, got it totally wrong, upside down, inside out. A little better now though still not all the way there.

Why does what Gabor Maté writes merit close attention?

This is my opinion: He is one of the few human fiddler crabs (I've seen or heard of) who comes out of his (borrowed) 'soi distant' little shell and makes and tries to make statements as a whole being. And this of mine is no more nor less than an attempt - lame as it may be - to respond in kind.

[I'll tack on the People's Climate March banner and maybe shove in a few protagonist pictures a bit later on ...]

Second Mile:
So what've we got so far? Couple'a old guys of varying qualities wringing their hands. All very k-k-k-Canadian eh?

Children on a beach in Gaza, July 16 2014.Children on a beach in Gaza, July 16 2014.

More than a few years ago I went out one evening to a church in St. John's with my sister to meet Desmond Parsons. He's one of the architects of the United Church of Canada's boycott on Israel - which is their way of working out that difficult bit in Matthew: "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete ... &c."

I've never understood it either. Closest I get is that it's Launcelot Andrewes' early 1600s slang for 'what goes around comes around' - but of course, that can't be it.

Anyway, Desmond Parsons is less than clear that evening and when pressed (very gently indeed) he excuses himself with jet lag - just back from Palestine and all - and that's that.

[There was a girl, a brown skinned Sephardic jew come to Israel as a refugee of the return only to find a subtle but pervasive colour bar (she told me). I wanted the Technion and, she may have wanted Canada.]

Mariam Farhat, Um Nidal.And I did find this picture of Um Nidal.

Don't make no difference. Go the second mile ... go the tenth, go the thousandth and still nothing is accomplished.

Desmond Tutu is now calling for a boycott too: My plea to the people of Israel: Liberate yourselves by liberating Palestine I'm sure he's got another plan somewhere to liberate the miners of Marikana.

This febrile mind of mine soon wanders away - to remembering a video of Tutu dancing around on some stage in Copenhagen in 2009. I am not yet such a bigot that I immediately discard everything said by anyone who indicates they think God has got anything to do with it - but I'm getting there.

And then it's a short hop to Lula's speech at the COP-15 plenary - the high point (for me) of a very low time: Part One (10 minutes) and Part Two (7 minutes) - both with good English subtitles, you can find the text in Portuguese and English here.

I like this speech because watching and listening to it I am able to weep. Of course he reaffirms his faith in God and all, but he says so much else in such a clear and believable way. It doesn't wash, no, but ... for a moment ...

And after all this long go-round it's 2AM again and I come back to Gabor Maté and his concluding sentence with a new appreciation: "Can we not at least mourn together?"

We can, yes. And yes, it's a comfort. Thanks to my friend Gord and thanks to Gabor.

Third Mile: (September 14)
There is a morality that excuses Mariam Farhat/Um Nidal. There are understandings that see some human behaviour as inevitable fugal overload. It is one thing to understand, say, Bach's organ fugue, and another to let, say, Lorena Bobbit completely off the hook (with the emphasis on 'completely').

I went back and watched 'The Pawnbroker' again; couldn't find the scene in which Sol Nazerman says to Tessie that it is time for them to go and mourn together. Maybe there are two cuts of this movie? Or maybe it is my failing memory circuits - but I have such a clear memory of it, sitting in some Montreal theatre with my friend Vince (?). So it goes.
Be well gentle reader.

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