Aug 24, 2003
I just now looked at my previous message, and I
was embarrassed by the superficial irony in the title ("Good
times for an Israel news junkie"). I think it was inappropriate
when I wrote it (July 1, Hamas cease fire just signed), but it
sounds stupid today.
The bus bombing in Jerusalem last week. I think
it was in Elana's neighborhood, where we walked. I haven't gotten
to the video yet, but I may have street scenes from the very spot.
I read the names, in the LA Times, of the Americans who
had been killed, hoping not to recognize one.
Many -- maybe most -- Israeli Jews have lost a friend
or relative to a terrorist attack. Some innocent person going
about his or her business, taking the bus to school, waiting to
get into a club or restaurant, just in the wrong place at the
wrong time. You were going to have lunch with her tomorrow. You
just spoke to him last week. Now, gone. For nothing. Of course
security and the need to combat terrorism dominate Israeli politics.
Do we have to do this? In his
guestbook entry and in our conversation, my brother Bob argues
that we do, that when population outstrips resources it is our
nature to choose up sides and slit each other's throats. Religion,
art, philosophy are just a thin veneer. When there are twenty
of us and enough water for ten, well let's just see who gets to
drink. That's who we are.
Looking at history and current events, not to mention
anthropology, it's hard to argue with the premise that we are
an ingenious but violent species, and that as we have "advanced"
we traded in our clubs for arrows, then for guns, then for bombs.
But we are still the same animal, so what can we expect but escalating
When I think about all those "ologies"
and "ographies," and the long dismal expanse of human
history, this pessimistic view of human nature makes sense. When
I think about walking in Jerusalem with Elana, going to Ramallah
with Talal, sitting in a Tel Aviv cafe with Sergiu or walking
around the kibbutz with Srul, it doesn't. I don't see these people
killing each other for water, any more than I see myself doing
it. I know, I know...we aren't really thirsty yet. But we have
the capacity to plan, to conserve, to share. We have compassion
for each other. We have the power and ability to live in peace
I don't think it's a stretch to say that the quest
for a world in which reason, justice and compassion trump the
baser elements of man's nature is what brought my next interviewee,
Srul Alexander, to Israel in 1972. Kibbutz socialism must have
seemed like the most dynamic social experiment around. Thirty
years have passed; he has raised a family and been active in kibbutz
leadership. He says that the system had positive aspects as well
"Twenty-five years ago," he told me, "I
would get up in the morning and milk cows, and I would think I'm
bettering the situation of the kibbutz and the whole country.
Now my focus is closer to home."
We discussed this and more in our first interview,
which is now up on the site.
July 1, 2003
Good times for an Israel
For the Israel junkie, I've become, these are good times. Not a
day goes by without some good meaty stories on NPR, in the LA
Times, and in my email inbox, my primary news sources.
After the Aquaba meeting last month, I began to wonder if peace
would break out before I got to finish my project and Make a Difference.
Especially because I have just been so busy with other work and
family and such that I haven't been able to move this project forward.
Then there were some bombings and assassinations and such, and it
looked like I didn't have to worry about Voices of Israel and
Palestine becoming irrelevant.
Today the headlines are about the Hamas cease-fire and the Israeli
withdrawal from Gaza. That's great. Those are good things. Maybe
George Bush, in his drive toward empire, can actually impose peace
in the Mideast. I really hope so. I remember that David
Rubin and others told me they didn't see a hope for peace without
outside intervention, which at this time almost certainly means
the US. So be it.
I don't think it will happen. I don't think Bush has the integrity
or determination to do what has to be done, which in my opinion
is largely to hold Israel's feet to the fire and make it come to
terms with the real facts of the occupation, and to take steps to
end the oppression of three million Palestinians. I know a lot of
people will disagree with this view, but that's how it seems to
me. I was very pleased to hear Sharon use the word "occupation,"
and even more pleased when he said recently that the Palestinians
have a right to a contiguous state. That's
a very important word. But it will take more than words to end this
conflict. I hope I'm wrong, and that the end will be soon.
Meanwhile, I'm pleased to announce the next interview in this series
has gone on line. I think it's an extremely interesting and important
one, but I'm awfully close to this material. You will have to judge.
The interview is with author, educator and Catholic parish priest
Elias Chacour. I think Fr. Chacour is the biggest "celebrity" I
interviewed for this project. (Not to slight you other big celebrities
whom I interviewed!) I certainly have met a number of people here
who know of his work. I was surprised that no one I met in Israel
seemed to know who he was.
If you know of Fr. Chacour's work, I know you will want to check
out this interview. If you don't, perhaps this would be a good opportunity
to meet him.
April 2, 2003
When I was in Israel, I learned that "Goodbye Friend,"
Clinton's eulogy for Rabin, is something of a dirge for the Israeli
peace process, which seems to have also suffered an untimely death.
I wonder, could "hello friends" be a benediction of sorts
for a new peace process lurking in the hearts of the people?
I have just finished editing the first set of interviews, recorded
in the first three days of our trip in Tel Aviv. It is a good place
to stop and review. But first I want to express my gratitude to
the people who consented to be interviewed for this project. And
also to the friends here who "gave" them to me. Thank
you all. Each of you has enlarged my understanding. I hope that
by you here, others will have the opportunity to see things with
your eyes for a little while.
Just look over the list of interviewees at right. The more I study
it and live with it, the more amazing it seems to me because it
is such a diverse group, so inclusive, and yet they (we) are all
connected in a web of friendships and relationships. That's how
they got on the list. A friend gave me their names, or a friend
of a friend. I don't mean to belabor this, but I read the paper
every day, I listen to the radio...it doesn't seem good to me. It
seems to me that war is escalating and even becoming permanent,
and of course I'm thinking about the US in Iraq, but for Israel
and Palestine as well. And there seems to be no way out of this
cycle of violence and war.
Or maybe there is a way; unlikely, remote, improbable, like
the capillary oozing of water. Maybe the spreading web
of friendship can tame the dogs of war.
I just read an interesting monologue by David
Hare, VIA DOLOROSA. At one point he says: "We're all blind.
We all see only what we want to. Don't we blank out the rest?"
How else to describe the different Israelis - the different worlds
even - described by, for example, Sergiu
Samuel ("No Arab village was touched, no Arab land
was taken" in the West Bank) and Ran
HaCohen ("Among the illegal things the settlers do
is grabbing the hills and taking land illegally").
They can't both be right, can they? And yet I am absolutely sure
from meeting them that they are both thoughtful, good-hearted men
telling me truthfully how they see things. "Everyone has his
truth," Abraham Huli told us.
Perhaps it's like the blind men and the elephant: each feels a
different part of the beast and describes it differently. But I
also think that Ran is right when he says most Israelis really don't
know how terrible the occupation is. And don't want to know.
They do know about bus bombings, and they feel that they are under
attack. "It's a war. It's not a picnic," Ronen
Zadoc said. Abuses happen, but we have to defend ourselves.
A couple of weeks have passed since I wrote the
preceding paragraphs, and I keep meaning to get back and "finish"
this, but I guess it's not going to happen. Have to move on. I'm
anxious to start editing the next batch of interviews.
For now, I'd like to leave you with a quote from POT PLANET by
Brian Preston, who traveled to 12 countries to compare culture,
law and practices regarding marijuana:
In the last chapter I urged people to get more international,
to get up off their asses and see the world. I meant it, and I
still do. Everywhere in the world, and that includes Muslim countries,
when strangers meet face-to-face, they put aside larger disputes
and judge one another as individuals.
Why is the international
community so critical of Israel?
I remember one evening at Kibbutz Shumrat, Srul's 24-year-old son
Tamir asked me this probing question, and I've been thinking about
it ever since.
We were watching TV coverage of the ambush in Hebron in which 12
Israeli soldiers were killed, and I think Tamir, like so many Israelis,
was feeling under siege. Look what they are doing to us. They hate
us. We have to defend ourselves.
Tamir asked rhetorically: "Why is it that when Israeli tanks
go into the West Bank, the whole world gets indignant, but many
worse things happen elsewhere, and no one notices?"
I thought of that the other morning (Mar. 3, 2003) as I was reading
the LA Times. In general, I think the Times' coverage
of mideast affairs is excellent. Comprehensive and objective. I
know some will disagree with me about this. But I maintain that
if you read Page 3 of the LA Times every day, you will
have plenty of good, current information about the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict. If you think that Israel is under siege from its hostile
neighbors and needs to take extraordinary security measures, you
will find plenty on Page 3 to support that view. If you believe
that the Israeli occupation is onerous and oppressive, you'll find
plenty to support that view as well.
Here's what Page 3 looked like on Mar. 3:
I don't have a problem with this coverage. It's news. It's a conflict.
Shit happens, and we should know about it. Next week a bus will
be blown up in Tel Aviv or something, and the Times will cover it
just as vigorously. Good for them.
when I got to Page 5, I remembered my conversation with Tamir. There
were a couple of paragraphs under "In Brief" about the
massacre of hundreds of civilians by pro government forces in the
Congo. "In brief" is right!
And you just have to wonder why the slaying of nine Palestinians
by Israel gets half of Page 3, with a picture, while the slaying
of 467 Congolese gets two paragraphs on Page 5. Is this what Tamir
was talking about?
I'll have more to say here as I go along, but
for now I want to recall a small item I came across in the Nov.
14 Jerusalem Post. A "kippa" is kind of "yarmulke,"
a head covering for religious Jews. Arad is in the desert (I think),
not far from Masada, south of the West Bank.
I'm back from Israel, and it was a wonderful trip. I interviewed
more than 30 people in Tel Aviv, the Western Galilee, Jerusalem
and Ramallah. I came back with 44 hours of videotape and a head
full of contradictions! Now comes the big job of reviewing the tapes
and reporting on the interviews. My plan is to go through them in
order and put up clips and articles as I process them. I'll hot
up the list below as I go along. Please come back frequently to
read my reports. I think you will find much of interest here...I
know I did, and I am looking forward to sharing my conversations.
The voices presented here represent a broad range of experiences,
impressions and view points. It is my goal to let them have their
say, and as much as possible to leave my own conclusions out of
the picture. But as it probably says somewhere in the Talmud, "A
zebra can't leave his stripes at the door."
So, although I have tried to leave my opinions out of it, and to
approach every interview with an open mind and heart, I have only
been partially successful. And before I go any further, I want to
thank all of you who consented to be interviewed, who gave me your
time and attention. Especially those with whom I am inclined to
disagree. Your perspectives, especially, have added to my understanding
and feeling for this wonderful, terrible perpetual troublespot.
I wish you all peace and happiness.
Voices of Israel and Palestine