Sharing the Wisdom of My Last Paragraphs on Israel

Categories: Israel and judaism

Different nations have, or are presumed to have, specific characters and characteristics.  We all “know” that the Scottish are averse to spending money, that people of Irish descent love to drink and to fight, that French are romantic, that Israelis are arrogant and so on and on.  Different nations have personified images.  We all are acquainted with the images of the American Uncle Sam, the British John Bull, the French Marianne, and the Gallic Rooster.  We all know where Europe is but not all link its name to Zeus who as a white ball abducted the Phoenician princess Europa and took her to Crete, simply because Europe is not srulicgrasped as a raped or violated woman figure.  In the first decade of Israel’s existence, (1956) an Hungarian Holocaust survivor, Dosh (a nickname), who emigrated to Israel in 1948 and fought in the War of Independence, introduced such an anthropomorphic image called  Srulic (Israelic) as manifestation of the young country.  Being, the caricaturist of the newspaper Maariv  he applied the image to numerous situations, including Srulic riding a children’s rocking chair towards a target named “Peace.“  Commonly he depicted Srulic as a youngster wearing what we called in those days, “Tembel” (sucker) hat, biblical sandals and shorts.  In short, he portrayed the young state in the image of the “1948 generation, the youngsters who grew up in a kibbutz or at the time when kibbutz members were considered the elite, and who that at the War of Independence commonly fought in the lines of the Palmah.  My good friend Poochoo (another nickname) wrote a book describing his Palmah’s outfit’s life in a kibbutz before they were sent to fight in the front, humorously describing theirs antics, manners and mannerisms.  The book became an icon of the generation that Dosh depicted as Srulic, so much so that in 2004 the state even issued a stamp commemorating it.  (A stamp commemorating Srulic was issued in 1998).  However, by then, the young heads were signified not with a Temble cap but by a disheveled crest of hair, the way they have been conceived by the population that no longer was acquainted with the kind of people whom Srulic represented.  For people who came to Israel after the War of Independence the Palmah and the nature of the pre 1948 society were, at best, a folklore.  The accent in the prevailing social values of the pre-state society was on the collective, on the communal endeavor to produce something new, a social mold thatwould procure better human beings and a different kind of Jews and Judaism.  The concepts of new and different emphasize division and alienation, a denial of the common, old and traditional.  It leads to a perpetual existence in the guise of a rebellious teenager, hence the anthropomorphic images of Israel as youngsters, both in Dosh’s Srulic and Poochoo’s Palmah members.  Actually, poochoo’s characters were our classmates who were just discharged from high school in the middle of the year in order to join the army.  Their behavior and values were emblematical to youth movements at the time and accordingly, many of whom later became kibbutz members, at least for a while. (About 60 years later, Poochoo, claiming that our high school owed us half of an academic year, secured a classroom in which our former classmates could meet once or twice annually, assumingly to enhance their education.  Some even came from abroad in order to attend these meetings which are still going on, although, sadly, with a dwindling numbers of participants).   

poochoo-stamp

Israel has matured.  It can no longer be depicted as a boisterous youngster and its ideals can no longer be characterized by collectivism, socialism and the original definition of Zionism.  It was established by people who sacrificed their inherited past and were willing to sacrifice themselves while founding a state and shaping anew a nation and its culture.  They left behind parental homes and customs, including their family names, and replaced the languages that natured them with the ancient Hebrew that was brought back to life.  They rejected their own tradition as well as salient features of Western civilization for the sake of settling in a part of a world whose language and customs were and still are alien to them.  They were a product of the Jewish identity crisis produced by the 18th century enlightenment, endeavoring to fill a culturally bare field not with features taken from traditional structures or Yiddish literature and folklore, but by the features of the hopeful Zionist vision.  This chapter in the history of Israel ended in 1948.  The human as well as the physical scene were completely transformed.  Most of the Arabs either fled or were driven out by force, leaving the land bare of the majority of its inhabitants.  The new Jewish immigrants were mainly people who were driven out of the Islamic countries in the Middle East.  Unlike the European pioneers, they belonged to this part of the world, culturally and in other respects, such as language, customs and way of life.  The bare land needed cultivation and the new comers were driven into a black hole of melting pot ideology that expected them to give up their inherent culture and reject their traditional social structure.  Through this melting pot the European virus of identity crisis contaminating also the Jewish mid Eastern “natives.”  It acted as a double edge sword – on one hand they started rejecting their own cultural inheritance and on the other hand, because of this inheritance they were rejected by the European or Ashkenazi society.  The melting pot attempt drove them to an identity crisis that also led to a sensation of becoming second class citizens.  As in other traditional societies in similar situations, their third generation started claiming back the dignity of their parents, and their inherent culture.  What’s more, the feeling of indignity turned into hostility.

After 1948 the nature of the population changed radically but the political leadership remained the same, and until 1973 it managed to maintain at least the assumption of a collective society.  The uncalled for 1973 war that was caused to a very large extent by a political behavior that resembled Srulic riding a children’s rocking chair towards a banner of peace held by the Egyptian President Sadat, caused it to lose authority and prestige.  The elections of 1977 brought to power a line of right wing governments that shifted the ideological accent from collectivism to individualism. The rocking chair remained in place but with different riders.

If I had to personify the image of Israel of today I would choose that of Chimera, the mythical creature with a lion’s head.  Looking in the mirror, scores of Israelis (possibly the majority), probably see the face of a lion breathing fire.  However, the body of this Chimera resembles an inferno of diverse shapes, cultures and traditions, huddled together largely because of fear of the outside, with hardly any other common denominator.  Gandhi had observed that fear sets ablaze and fans emotions that could lead to murder.  It murdered him and it murdered Rabin.  The German Nazis feared the cultural and economic effect of the Jews, believed that the world will be a better place without them, and set up an industry of homicide.  Israel fears the Arabs and set up an apparatus to oppress the Palestinians.  The Nazi homicide industry led to its own annihilation.  The Israeli spirit of oppression mechanism has already contaminated the body of the Chimera.  Could Israel overcome the fear and like a Phoenix bring back to life the image of Srulic?  It probably could, but first of all, the lion’s head should cease to spit fire

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 “Does Israel have a future?  Israel relies for its existence mainly on the sword; the question is what shall remain of Israel when the sword will return to its sheath?  Israel seems to lock itself up in a form resembling an East European Jewish ghettoize community, with concentration on jingoistic slogans rather than on questions concerning means and direction, the way that typified the pre state Zionist movements which led to the birth of Israel.  Slogans presume to take the place of answers and reside therefore at the end of the road.  The question is whether Israel will be able to again open itself to questions, reach the beginning of a road leading towards humanism and secure its future simply because humanism can never be fully reached and achieved.”

(Between Yesterday and Today)

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“Israeli governments like to boast that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, but at least half the population and probably much more, vote according to the dictate of rabbis or voter contractors. A good number of those voter contractors are mafia bosses who are being paid by getting fatty government and municipal contracts as well as by gaining a lasting political influence. In the 60 years of its existence Israel had many opportunities to sign a peace with Arab countries. It also could have become a spiritual center for Jews all over the world. Instead it chose to live by the sword with the result that a good many of the people in central positions are ex-generals, ambitious but not necessarily brainy. In the words ascribed to the witty humorist Amos Kennan, I also could say: “the state of Israel deprived me of my homeland and native country.”

(Why I Choose Not To Visit Israel)

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“Much before the War of Independence, all three undergrounds threw bombs and grenades into Arab houses and markets, not too often, but when they did, they purposely killed innocent people, including women and children. However, we never felt superior to the Arabs. The most macho Jews at the turn of the century, the sentinels, dressed like Arabs, learned Arab customs and were proud of their Arab horses. The “Arab” squad in the Palmah probably was the most prestigious one. Today religious people are taught by their rabbis that Jews are superior, simply because they are Jews. Many young soldiers get to believe the same when put in positions of being able to arbitrarily decree life or death sentences on Palestinian Arabs. The teenagers of today are the product of their current environment. Are they and their environment also the products of our dreams? I wonder.”

(Israeli Teenagers – Then and Now)

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It is to be expected that the controversy over the nature of the Jewish law and its implications in modern times will start in Israel. It is common to agree upon ends and divide about means. Zion, Israel, and Messiah are uniting themes when viewed as an ideal to materialize in the distant future. When imminent they are viewed differently by different people and so are the means to accommodate them. In such times some people may feel and act like small-scale redeemers and carve new paths into a world whose laws and logic differ significantly from ours. It is at such times that messianic movements fail. Such people are ready to confine the authority of the forthcoming Messiah but they fail when they do not restrain their own actions. In Jewish tradition, Paradise is depicted as a place in which the just ones study the Torah with God himself as a teacher, hinting thus that even in heaven nobody can understand the Torah in full. Even angels risk losing their place in heaven when acting as if they were God himself. The price human beings pay for such behavior is the loss of their humanity.”

(Jewish Law in Israel today: A Conundrum for Messianic Times)

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“we should be mindful of the fact that the confusion and obfuscation between sacred texts and history, which, of course is not unique to Judaism, has generated everywhere, throughout history, eruptions of hatred, carnage, mass murders, pogroms and served as pretexts for wars. Now days, at the beginning of a new millennium, it even has turned Israel into potentially one of the most dangerously sensitive places on earth. The late Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai noted in one of his poems that Jerusalem is the only city in which the dead take an active part in the political process. After visiting the Holy Land in the last century, Herman Melville remarked that the dead form the strongest guild in Jerusalem. Perhaps we should change it to the “mythical spirits of the dead”. The physicist Steven Weinberg probably summed it up well: “It was a Muslim zealot who killed Sadat, a Jewish zealot who killed Rabin, and a Hindu zealot who killed Gandhi…..With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil – that takes religion.”

(Politics and Religion in Israel Today)   

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“It’s time to recall the words of Martin Buber: Whoever talks in obsolescence phraseology about the Holy Land the way he talks about God’s Elected People, is acting in the Land of Israel same as Hitler, aspiring that we’ll worship the God of Hitler, only with a Hebrew name. “

(Israel – The End?)

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“As in the turn of the first century, there are now many sects that claim to represent Judaism.  At this stage it is impossible to say which, if any, will have the upper hand.  The state of Israel recognizes Orthodoxy as the “true” representative of Judaism.  However, most Israelis are secular and the Orthodox, especially the messianic Hassidic and other sects, seem to turn more in the direction of becoming cults rather than sectors within Judaism.  As was the case in antiquity, some sects and cults will probably break away from Judaism (see the salient case of Christianity) and form a separate religion; others may not last (as was the case with many Christian sects).  Because of the immense political power Orthodoxy holds now in Israel, such developments don’t bode well for the future of the ”Jewish” state, unless it will become part of a wide mid-eastern confederation, more “Hebrew” than “Jewish”.

(A Jewish or a Hebrew State?)

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“Israel is in risk of disappearing from the face of the earth.  In the current pace it may happen quite soon.  However, maybe it can still be saved, but this calls for drastic steps, and soon.  My proposal consists of three steps that should be done simultaneously.  First – declare Israel a Jewish state.  Second, declare all Orthodox as bogus Jews who do not belong in a Jewish state, and abolish their Israeli citizenship.  Third, expel them all from the Jewish state of Israel.  Indeed, there is a problem declaring them none or bogus Jews, as by definition, a Jew is anybody who considers himself a Jew.  Nevertheless, the cancerous cells in my prostate probably consider themselves legitimate denizens of my body, but the doctors tell me that if I want to stay alive I should get rid of them.  Of course not all Orthodox people behave like Nazis and not all deserve to be treated in such a way, but Israel is in grave danger and the time calls for drastic steps.”

(A Modest Proposal)

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“Are there Jews in Israel? Of course, and most of them are secular and live on the shoreline, in about the same area where the Philistines lived in antiquity.  Those are the new brand of Jews and they are Jews because they know that they are Jews, whatever the definition of a Jew is and with no need for an alibi, observation of frozen archaic customs, and the benefit of being born through a kosher Jewish vagina.  Nevertheless, following the Orthodox definition it seems that the state considers this last criterion as the only valid one even though it is just one of a few interpretations of certain passages in the bible.  This principle came into effect during the Crusades, when many Jewish women were raped and the question was: what should be the status of the children?  It was agreed then that the son is as his mother. (Raped women were declared virgins in spite of the assaults).  Following the ruling that “everything new is forbidden by the Torah,” a rule that is systematically suffocating the Orthodox sector by confining it in a narrow no-exit alley, this is still their criterion to the question of who is a Jew.  It took the establishment of the state of Israel to turn a humane gesture into an ugly noose. Is Israel still Jewish?  Currently there is no way to define who is a Jew, and why, at least not with the consent of all or most of those who consider themselves Jews.  Will Judaism ever get over this predicament?  Maybe Cleo, the goddess of history, knows, but we are not gods, and meanwhile, like Schrodinger’s cat, Israel is and is not Jewish.”

(Is Israel Still Jewish?)

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“Following the prevailing mood and frame of mind of the country according to the titles in the Israeli newspapers, army proclamations, and politicians declarations, it seems that they all are concerned about an impending fall of the walls because of potential pressure from the outside, be it Iranian atomic bombs, Gazan rockets, Hezbzlah’s air force or tanks assault from the West Bank.  On the other hand, the philosophers, Buber, Bergman and Leibowitz were concerned that the walls might fall because of pressure from within. The question what for [Israel] has never been a feature of the political agenda. If we try to answer it by watching Israel’s policy and actions, it seems that in the last forty six years the objective has been not only to keep the occupation over the West Bank, but also to replace its population with Jewish settlers. Israel has systematically been getting more and more extreme in its opinions, behavior and approach. The trouble is that radical extremism, in anything, be it ideas or conduct, cuts off its links with the outside and diminishes the ability to adapt and adjust to new situations. Accordingly, and judging by the criteria presented by Buber, Bergman, Goldmann, and even Ben Gurion, Israel’s existence seems to be in peril. However, bearing in mind a common Israeli expression: “What do they know?”

(Writing the Second Volume of the Bible)

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“People in the ancient kingdoms of Judea and Samaria were not necessarily better and injustice and wrong doing were as common as today, but their conduct led to the phenomenon of the biblical prophets who exposed the injustice, condemned it and set an ethical standard for all humanity at all times and all ages. To the disgrace of Israel only a few groups expose the awful things that happen daily in the West Bank and condemn it. Besides a few journalists, only one writer, David Grossman, is mindful of the message of the ancient prophets. Like in antiquity so also today – such people are called traitors by most Israeli people and leadership.  The difference between now and then, in ancient times, is that today there is no need for the wrath of God.  What happens to the character of Israel’s young generations while serving in the West Bank is enough punishment.”

(The Strange Case of Israel)

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“Will Israel last? It probably depends on whether the new awareness of social justice will revive the values at the foundation of the social systems of the country; whether the current confrontational, jingoistic and heartless atmosphere can be replaced by a spirit of compassion.  A mammoth task but I believe it’s feasible.”

(Israel 2011 – Will It Last?)

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“Israel may well be beyond peace because it has no mental or material infrastructure that can sustain peace.  The money needed for the welfare, education and health of its own people is being frittered away in the occupied territories.  The human values that could sustain a healthy secular, or even religious community, evaporated into thin air or the pockets of greedy politicians and their cronies.  Israel cannot afford peace because a whole industry, including the budget of the army, is affected by the rationale of the occupation.  Ten just people could have saved the destruction of Sodom.  There are more than ten just and beautiful people in Israel but I’m afraid that they are being strangled by cruel and corrupt policy and environment.  It is nice to remember those nice people when thinking of Israel but personally I cannot.  I keep seeing the 12 years old Palestinian girl who sat in the evening by the window doing her homework and was killed by an Israeli bullet.  There are stray bullets but this one hit her in the middle of the brow.  It must have been shot by a sharpshooter who wanted to demonstrate to his friends or girlfriend his prowess.  Maybe it was a bet that he could aim at the middle of the brow.  As far as I’m concerned, this one soldier killed not only a teenage girl but also a whole teenaged country.”

(Muddy Israel) 

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“Israel is facing the Zimbardo‘s, question: How and why do good people turn evil? His answer was that it happens when good apples are put into a bad barrel in a system of power with a narrow minded military leadership and a war focused cabinet. Considering Israel’s current conduct in the West Bank we must, again and again, repeat the question posed by Yizhar: what kind of society does Israel strive to achieve: just or evil? We must again and again consider the effects of fear and trepidation, of the feeling of victimization as well as that of hating, dreading and rejecting people because of their ethnic origin and religion. Evil is destructive and can, for a while, give the satisfaction that comes with the illusion of power, but at the end it always destroys itself. Is Israel on the path to self-destruction?”

(A Paradox Named Israel)

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“In religious terms, especially those of the Abrahamic religions, we may be on the verge of Messianic times. Christians might anticipate the Second Coming. Muslims could expect the triumph of the House of Islam and Israeli Jews presumably pave the way to the Messiah in the state they have been erecting in the West Bank. The bane of messianic movements is in the anarchic element which is part and parcel of their very nature. Assuming that the laws in the new era of The End of Days will be different; people no longer feel bounded by current laws of conduct. The end is presumed to justify the means and the efforts to hasten the processes could release hell fire that might burn the movement as such and maybe much more. That’s why the other side of millennialism is the last judgment and doomsday. In many respects the Israeli zealots of today resemble the zealots of the Second Temple that hastened its destruction while the new brands of Judaism, as it is being engendered in Israel, is reminiscent of both the paganism at the time of the First Temple and the sprouting of new brands of Judaism at the time of the Second. Will the future be similar to the situation at the time of the Second Temple when the acts of the zealots hastened the end of the era, or will it lead to the emergence of new brands of “Jewish” religion? It probably won’t take too long until we shall find out.”

(Between Ancient and Current Forms of Israeli Judaism)

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The question is – what were soldiers in civilian clothes doing there [in a Palestinian village] in the middle of the night and why did the soldiers masked their faces? It seems, to me at least, that the answer is obvious. Like the policemen in Arab garb, so also the two soldiers in civilian clothes and the masked uniformed soldiers were training to be able to provoke a situation in which the army would be able to “justly” interference and sometimes much more. Are there limits to such provocations? Not likely. By now the army controls every movement in and out of every city, village and house. A provocation may be intended to start an Intifada and be “justified“ in deporting all Palestinians, that is, all those who will still be alive, and turn the West Bank, the current kingdom of the settlers, into an “Arabs free” state. At least that may be what a loony government and fatuous generals may plan. Is it zany and demented? Of course. Is it possible? Definitely yes!

(From Keffiyeh to Keffiyeh)

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“The peculiarity of the 16th Lurianic Kabbalistic school is that, unlike the Babylonian Talmud, it was conceived in Israel. This is a universal teaching, giving a role of taking part in the redemption of the universe to each human being, in the original spirit of the Bible, rather than the racist interpretation of Israeli Orthodoxy. Again, the Diaspora is called to justify the continuation of the Jewish people and its teaching. The Prophets of ancient Israel entertain a Jewish teaching based on universal principles. They failed, together with the failure of the First Temple and the kingdom of Israel to survive. The post six century BCE Judaism had been shaped in Iraq (Babel). The next step of defining Judaism could be shaped in America.”

(Can Judaism Survive Israeli Zionism and American Liberalism?)  

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“Whatever is the rationale for the evil and loathsome behavior of the state and the settlers towards the Palestinians, nothing can justify inhuman behavior, either German or Israeli.  Can Israel survive the settlers who have been dragging it to an abysmal void?  I’m not sure; however, most Israelis are not religious and if the state would cut off its links with the Orthodoxy, the “Junkers” culture, and the jingoistic right, it might be able to follow a similar course as Germany did.  Can Judaism survive if Israel wouldn’t?  In any case it will have to find new rationale for its existence, not an impossible task considering the rich historical and cultural heritage of Judaism.  But it would have to be based on much more than “traditional” rituals.”

(Flashback: Israeli Judaism and German Nazism)  

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“In the last years Israel started resembling the Weimar Republic, not only in its weak and inefficient government but also in the tension between right and left with the growing sympathy towards the right; not only by the people, but also by the army, police and the courts, especially the military courts in the West Bank. The Weimar Republic had been followed by the rise of the Nazi party, the Krystalnacht, formation of ghettoes, concentration and extermination camps. Lately, there were many incidents reminiscence of the Krystalnacht, especially in Hebron. Not just the Gaza Strip but every Arab village and city in the West Bank already resembles a ghetto or a concentration camp. “

(Dancing To the Tune of Lynch) 

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“The fight against terrorism also needs to aim at defusing the terrorist appeal in Islamic societies. One important factor in this effort is to deal with the Israeli militancy that enables terrorists to claim that they alone are the ones ready, willing and able to overcome such crucial causes for Islamic humiliation–and by extension, other problems facing Islamic societies. Combined, the Jewish and Muslim militants represent an explosive mixture. The way to cope with the wounded pride of the Islamic people is to eliminate factors that unnecessarily fuel Islamic anger and humiliation. Jewish settlements in the West Bank form a major such factor, and it can be dealt with directly and at relatively small cost. It may also save Israel from total economic, military and moral collapse.”

(Can Israel Survive The West Bank Settlements?)

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“Israeli journalists who reported on the Palestinians suffering and on hideous acts by Israeli soldiers, have been labeled “traitors” by cabinet and Knesset members. Forty-three professors from Ben Gurion university in Be’er-Sheva signed a petition, last April, to ban Yosi Beilin, the ex Minister of Justice, from speaking on “The Image of the Jew in the 21st Century”, because he was one of the architects of the Oslo Agreement. Yafa Yarkoni, whose singing accompanied the Palmah fighters during the 1948 War of Independence, and all other soldiers and wars since then, was ostracized by the Israeli official institutions and public, because she spoke against the tattooing of numbers on the arms of Palestinians detainees. The ex-commander of the navy’s commando and seals unit was disqualified by Sharon from managing the Israeli radio, because he was not “patriotic” enough. Zionism strove to create a new kind of healthy, beautiful and just society, to be “a light unto the nations,” but the term Zionism has been arrogated by the most militant West Bank settlers, who have been steadily and consistently consuming Israel, body and soul. Today it has become synonymous with a narrow nationalistic stereotype, so narrow that it does not leave enough space even for common human values. It dehumanizes those who follow it to such an extent that it puts in question not only the right of Israel to be in the West Bank, but maybe, even to exist in the borders of Israel proper. The only way the Israeli army can win the current “war” may be through the small core of soldiers who refuse to take part in it.”

(Netiva Chats And Listens – Zionism Then And Now) 

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“In October 2000 a police force shot and killed Israeli Arabs who were demonstrating against discrimination. Lately, in their testimony before a committee nominated to investigate this affair, some policemen claimed that they thought that those Arabs were on their way to invade neighboring kibbutzim and slaughter their members. If they really believed this story, then they, or the officers that had briefed them, should not be members of Israel’s security forces but patients in a mental hospital. If Sharon indeed believes that Israel, with its atomic capability, airplanes, missiles, and tanks is in danger of being annihilated by a bunch of stone-throwing kids and some rifle-toting, suicidal youngsters and self blowing Palestinians, and that Israel now faces the same danger as it did in 1948 – he too had better lease himself a room in the same asylum. A paranoid Prime Minister and security forces might be more than what Israel (and the world) could withstand.”

(A 1948 Look at Israel Of 2002)

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“Following the directions by “patriotic” rabbis, the West Bank settlers treat the Palestinians as subhuman creatures. “Directions” because the instructions of the so called rabbis are not based upon religious arguments but on what they call “Daat Torah,” that is, authority based not on what is written in Scriptures but on being scholars of the Torah, i.e., on private opinions of such scholars. Does the inhuman treatment of the West Bank Palestinians by settlers, army, and government justify the preservation of a state of jingoistic, Hitler-like fanatics? Is it worth the sacrifice of so many Isaacs?

The late play writer Hanokh Levin gave voice to the “Isaacs” in his Queen of Bathtub:

My dear father, when you stand over my grave
Old, weary, and very lonely
And watch how they cover my body with dirt
And you stand above me, my father,

Don’t stand there so proud,
And don’t raise up your head, my father,
We now stay put, flesh to flesh
And this is the time to cry, my father,
Hence, allow your eyes to cry over mine,
And don’t stay mute in order to revere me,
Something more important than honor
Is laid under your feet, my father,

And don’t say that you sacrificed,
Because I was the one who sacrificed,
And do not speak in florid high style
Because I’m already very low down, my father.

My dear father, when you stand over my grave
Old, weary, and very lonely,
And watch how they cover my body with dirt,
Ask for forgiveness, my father.”

(The Land of Isaacs)

 

Author: Moshe Amon