Wednesday, November 25, 2009

silence is neither golden, nor silvery

Palestinian boy lives in the remains of his house in Jabaliya, northern Gaza.(AP Photo/ Hatem Moussa)

Once witness to brutality, seen or heard, we become accountable.” Terry Tempest Williams

Interventions inside one's community are often some of the more difficult, but absolutely necessary, work that we must do if we are committed to justice and really believe in putting our principles into practice. In other words, one does not stay silent in the face of racist, sexist, homophobic or other oppressive language and comments that regularly surface in the everyday practice of life amongst one's family, neighbours, friends, co-workers, and colleagues.

Palestinian children, whose house was destroyed during Israel's January offensive in Gaza, wait in front of their tent in in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Friday, Nov. 13, 2009. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

"Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly." Mahatma Gandhi

Today, I read a blog post by an American Jewish man, Aaron Levitt, who had recently gone to Israel/Palestine. In his post, he discusses the conversation that emerged whilst sitting together at Sabbat dinner with a group of Jewish Israelis and diaspora Jews, which included Israeli soldiers and volunteer snipers from America. Below is an excerpt, but I highly recommend reading his entire post so that his comments to his fellow dinner guests can be put into proper context. Truly, it is a principled act of making oneself accountable and speaking out when occasion demands speaking the truth, despite discomfort and tension that may materialize. This is not always an easy thing to do.

Aaron Levitt's writes about his dinner invitation:

"Most of us were already seated and chatting when the soldiers arrived, carrying their automatic weapons. One of the Australians almost immediately asked a soldier, "Hey, can I use your gun to kill an Arab? After Shabbat, of course." I don't remember the exact response, but the soldier certainly didn't chastise him, and neither did anyone else. A few minutes later, I turned to the speaker and told him that I didn't find his joke remotely funny. His only response was to say, "I wasn't joking", at which point I told him that the joke wouldn't have been funny coming from an Arab who was speaking about a Jew, it would be even less funny if the Arab were serious, and so it was in his case. I think the speaker looked at least a little abashed, though that might be wishful thinking on my part. {Slightly off-topic, I've noticed that pro-settler Australians visiting Hebron seem to be particularly racist and aggressive, even relative to the high pro-settler norms in those areas. I've wondered whether this is due to Australian anti-aboriginal racism that translates easily to Palestinians, which theory came up in a discussion with a Kiwi couple a couple of nights ago. They thought my theory seemed pretty plausible, and told me that Australian aborigines were still classified under the Flora and Fauna Act(!), and could be legally hunted(!!), until passage of a 1967 Referendum(!!!).} A bit later, our host asked the soldiers to set their guns aside during dinner; while deciding where to put them, the American sniper joked that maybe we shouldn't trust the Australian with them, which drew a hearty laugh from the assembled diners (myself excluded, as you might imagine); apparently, race-based murder was seen as a risible subject.
A bit later, my original companion asks me privately to explain something I mentioned to him about mapping work I was doing in the the village of Lifta. At this point, I am fervently wishing that I had never come, swearing to myself that I never will again, and the last thing in the world I want is to be subjected to a gang-bang on the supposed evils of Palestinians. Hoping I can still salvage some small positive from the dinner, however, I present my case: Basically, I say, I have come to perceive Israeli Jews/Zionists as seeing no inherent human value in 'the other' (in this case, non-Jews, and primarily Palestinians), but viewing them basically as a contaminant of the Zionist ideal, a 'demographic time-bomb', or what have you. They are hated and persecuted by some, 'tolerated' by others, but viewed as a vital and desirable piece of the tapestry by almost no one. This kind of world view led to the ethnic cleansing of Lifta, a large Palestinian village west of Jerusalem, in 1948. It is also, in my mind, the same thinking that lay at the core of Nazi atrocities against the Jews, and all the other persecutions of our people over the centuries. My hope is to show the beauty and history of the village, its life and its people, and use that beauty to remind Israelis/Jews of the humanity and inherent value of its inhabitants. This is largely because I find it intolerable that the mindset of our persecutors has so thoroughly infiltrated Jewish life, not only because these things were done to our people, this point, I pause to search for words, and my interlocutor actually finishes my sentence for me: "it's just not a good way to be!". He then tells me that he completely agrees with everything I've said, and he thinks what I'm doing in Lifta is amazing and important work. I'm absolutely delighted, of course, but also utterly amazed, and ask this guy how in the world he wound up volunteering for the IDF. He tells me it was due to "first year in Israel-itis"; he was super idealistic and caught up in the romance of the 'Jewish state'. Now, he says, he's still idealistic, but his experience in the Army has shifted his views and the nature of his idealism 180 degrees. He's obviously about to go into more detail when he visibly stops himself with an upward hand gesture, which I take to mean that he is worried about violating the Shabbat, or starting a firestorm with the other diners, or both, but I can't be sure. I give him a brief description of Zochrot, and urge him to seek out the group before he leaves Israel, and that's pretty much the end of my evening."

Kerem Shalom border crossing. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov) I wonder, does 'kerem' mean beautiful, and 'shalom' peace? Does this militarized border crossing into Gaza actually have the name Beautiful Peace?

Aaron Levitt has also written a thought provoking poem about what happens when we turn people into numbers, which I found on a link at the Jews san frontieres blog under his post on the dinner, to which Lawrence of Cyberia has added photos. His poem is called "One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic." (Nakba day 2007

A Palestinian woman carries bottles filled with water from a public tap in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip October 27, 2009. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa


Merche Pallarés said...

Very interesting post. I'll have to come back with more time and read all the links. Hugs, M.

Vleeptron Dude said...

Hiya northshorewoman

i filched your AP foto of the Kerem Shalom border crossing to illustrate this very interesting and passionate narrative from a reporter for Haaretz (big Israeli newspaper):

"The Other" is the ball that bounces around from ethnicity to ethnicity in the game of 20th century history. Each episode of dehumanizing state cruelty has been the teacher of the next episode; only the identities of "The Other" and their oppressors change from decade to decade or from generation to generation.

I've done a gorgeous late Autumn bus driveby of Superior's North Shore. I envy you your vista.

Also -- somewhat by accident -- I had the pleasure of visiting Suomi. (I'm a particular fan of the Helsinki train station by Saarinen.)

Here's a very odd factoid that no one seems to know. Of the nations which allied themselves with the Nazis during World War 2, only Finland's and Albania's Jewish populations GREW rather than shrank or vanished.

So even in the darkest and most oppressive moments of history's game, there can be humanity and vision and leadership. The menu may offer few choices, but there are still remarkable recipes available if a people has will and vision.

Do read the Haaretz article. It's quite remarkable.

Massachusetts USA