Thank God, I’ve somehow got the American Task Force on Palestine’s daily news bulletin to work via its RSS feed. Though they ostensibly have a direct e mail subscription, mine stopped working long ago and I couldn’t get anyone there to help figure out what was wrong. ATFP’s daily bulletin is a tremendous resource that covers the globe finding the best media material about the Israeli-Arab conflict.
The bulletin informed me about a rich meditation by playwright David Hare on Israel’s Separation Wall. Hare also wrote a play about the conflict, Via Dolorosa. Unlike another distinguished British playwright, Harold Pinter, Hare’s analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is balanced enough to acknowledge the tragedy posed by the Occupation for both peoples. He is willing to criticize both sides and appreciate that moral weakness and bad judgment is not a monopoly owned solely by Israel or Palestine.
As I found myself highlighting and saving a few choice passages for future use, I realized I had a post in the making. So here are some of the choice bits.
I can’t begin to tell you how many pro-Israel apologists have argued here that the Separation Wall has reduced terror. Hare quotes Sari Nusseibeh making one of the shrewdest and and most acute observations I’ve ever heard on the subject:
It’s like sticking someone in a cage and then when he starts screaming, as any normal person would, using his violent temper as justification for putting him in the cage in the first place. The wall is the perfect crime because it creates the violence it was ostensibly built to prevent.
Hare also quotes another famous, but unnamed Israeli writer opining on the odd sense of self-doubt that afflicts Israelis:
Israel, he says, has no real confidence in its own survival. “Israelis have a very fragile sense of the future,” he says.
“It’s incredible but the country itself still feels provisional. Of what other state can this be said? I notice when I am in Britain that you plan for 2038, you say there will be this railway or that airport. But no Israeli plans so far ahead without feeling a pang in his heart which asks whether we shall be here at all. We look so strong from the outside, we have such a large army, so many nuclear weapons, we’re so certain in our expansion, and yet from the inside it doesn’t feel like that. We feel our being is not guaranteed. You might say we have imported from the Diaspora the Jewish disease—a sense of rootlessness, an ability to adapt and make do, but not to settle. After sixty years, Israel is not yet a home.”
The Israeli describes a phenomenon I’ve often portrayed here in this blog–not just a belief system of Israelis but of Diaspora Jews as well. It is a notion borne largely of the Shoah and historic Jewish suffering, which anticipates disaster just around the corner. And of course, the person who expects the worst not only will find it–but will inadvertently cause the worst to happen in a cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy.
I thoroughly reject the writer’s notion that this is a Diaspora “Jewish disease.” In fact, if Israel developed some of the survival skills and sense of humility learned by Diaspora Jewish communities it might find more success in acclimating itself within the Middle East.
It’s important to note as I said above, that Hare doesn’t shrink from portraying the ways in which the Occupation has twisted the Palestinians as well. In a West Bank cafe, he turns and sees a poster of Saddam Hussein and has one of those out of body experiences:
On the wall, in this decaying spot, the only new thing: a bright gleaming poster of Saddam Hussein.
It’s one of those moments. I know as soon as I look I’m never going to forget. How do you react to that? If you were going to choose a hero, could you choose a worse? If you were going to choose a future, could you so completely misconceive it? If you were going to choose a leader to take you precisely nowhere, could you do better than Saddam Hussein?…You choose as your poster boy someone who has done the world, and the Arab world above all, nothing but harm. The master of mass graves and untold massacres.
I turn to my companion. “What is this?” I ask…He shrugs, embarrassed. “Well, Saddam stood up to the Americans didn’t he?” And is that the only reason? He shrugs again. “We hated Saddam Hussein. Like everyone else. We despised him. We couldn’t stand him. Until he stood up to the Americans.”
“But he didn’t believe anything you believe.”
…At least now I know why the wall’s gone up. The Israelis want to separate themselves from people who display posters of Saddam Hussein. Who can blame them? Or—hold on, the old conundrum—do they display posters of Saddam Hussein because somebody just put up a wall?
In the final sentence you read a writer who has fully mastered the strangeness and duality that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He can write something that lambastes the delusions of the Palestinians, while at the same time acknowledging that the crimes of the Israelis may be the cause of the delusion. This is the work of a master observer.
Hare notes more delicious ironies in his conversation with Raja Shehadeh, author of Palestine Walks:
Coming into Ramallah now. Raja Shehadeh, a lawyer who lives here, says that it is Ramallah’s greatest good fortune not to be mentioned in the Bible. For that reason Ramallah is left alone, of no interest to fanatics, because its religious significance is precisely nothing. Nothing divine happened in Ramallah. What a stroke of luck for any town that wants to survive! Not to be named in any Holy Book!
Hare once again understands the tragic irony of these world religions fighting over sacred ground. Jewish history in land of Israel and our relationship with God as it played out here is supposed to infuse us with a spark of the divine. It is supposed to make us better, more humble human beings. It should make us love God, our fellow Jews and our fellow human beings. Instead, it turns us into animals, into haters.
And in this sentence, the English playwright captures my own sense of Israeli governments going back at least to 1967, if not earlier. Here he quotes Benjamin Disraeli, whom he provocatively calls England’s “only Jewish prime minister” (though I believe Disraeli did not consider himself Jewish):
“You can tell a weak government by its eagerness to resort to strong measures.”
Israeli governments seems always weak and on the verge of disintegrating, and always resort to bellicosity and wars to make whatever political point needs making. Yet the weak government never seems to find success in its strong measures. On the contrary.