Thursday, April 30, 2009

Yom Haatzmaut 2009

I can't deny my Zionism, which is why I feel so uneasy about Israel. I fundamentally believe that no ethnic or religious group is superior to another, and that esentially, human is human. I know that human beings are not the only intelligent, sentient beings in the universe, and not the pinnacle of creation. I also know that the universe is far greater and more mysterious than any religious tradition, including my own, could possibly hint at in their cosmologies. I know that all that exists has an origin, that the universe has a Soul, that all is ultimately one; multiplicity of things, matter and energy, time and space, are all transient in their forms, and as created things, their existence depends on God. As a human being, this awareness obligates me to an ethical life, and to a life of reverence and love.

I also have a very deep-seated sense of personal identity as a Jew, and the tradition for spiritual growth and expression that I try to better myself and the world through is Judaism. I know that ethnicity is not the essence of a person's self, but Jewishness is so deeply inculcated in me that it has come to define me, at least ba'olam hazeh. I have lived in Israel, I love the Hebrew language, I talk to my son exclusively in Hebrew, and will always feel that the State of Israel is, at some level, my country, even though I was born and lived most of my life in America.

Still, I have a hard time celebrating wholeheartedly today. I see so many things wrong with Israel, not so much in terms of how Israeli society is run, but in terms of basic aspects of its working nature that I fear will have disastrous consequences for the future.

Israel has never defined its borders or its relationship to the Palestinians. In 1967, they had two ethically sound and strategically sound choices available to them: they could have either sent the West Bankers across the river to Jordan, since they were already Jordanian citizens, and the Gazans to Egypt, since they were already Egyptian citizens, and help to establish a resettlement fund to compensate them for the loss of their property and homes. It is hard to defend evicting thousands of people from their homes, but in the immediate aftermath of the Six Day War, annexing territories newly conquered from countries that attacked them so as to have a defensible amount of land was a valid choice for a country that needed to defend itself. lthough uprooted, the Arabs living in Gaza and the West Bank could have been resettled and started new lives.

The other option would have been granting them citizenship. The disadvantage in that is that once the Arabs came to outnumber the Jews, Israel would have ceased to be a Jewish state. If that alone were the concern, then there could be no ethical justification for leaving them under military occupation and without a country for 43 years. I believe that what is behind that concern, when it is raised, is that Israel needs to be a safe haven for Jews, and that is impossible to ensure when the majority, or a great number, of the country's citizens are sworn enemies of the Jewish state and its people.

I don't see a solution to this problem. At this point, expulsion of the Palestinians is not an ethically supportable option, and granting them citizenship, for the reasons I mentioned, is not an option either. Simply withdrawing Israeli troops from the territories will open Israelis up to a flood of terror attacks, as we have seen from the Hamas rockets on the South and the Hizbullah rockets from the North. Neither, of course, is maintaining the status quo; 43 years is too long for a people to remain under military occupation. The cruelty of it, the rage it evokes, the death, humiliation, and poverty it causes, is too great to allow. It has gone on for 43 years of Israel's 61 years of existence. It has become an essential aspect of the identities of Israel as a state, and even more so, for the Palestinians as a people. While this state of affairs endures, I cannot fully celebrate, or take pride in, Israel as a state. At the same time, as a Jew, I cannot help but identify with Israel, and I cannot help but feel sorrow for the situation.

That said, I can only react with rage and sadness at the world's condemnation of Israel and the rising anti-Semitism that comes with it. Israel is in legitimate need of self-defense. I challenge all the kefiah-wearing college students here and in Europe and Asia who love to demonize my country to find a solution. Can the Berkeley activists find a way to relieve the Palestinians of the burden of occupation while still protecting the Israelis from bombings and rockets? I don't know the answer, and doubt that anyone else does. Any attempt to simplify matters by seeing this as black-and-white can only stir up hatred, and make self-righteous activists feel good about themselves.

I'm also worried about the lack of a constitution and a lack of legal separation between religion and state. Yes, it's a Jewish country, but look at the rabbinic leadership in Israel! They're a bunch of right-wing fanatics who have no regard for human happiness! Their job, as they've defined it, is to give people a hard time when they try to marry, keep agunot chained to their absent husbands, invalidate thousands of conversions, call into question people's Jewishness, and refuse to bury soldiers who've given their lives fighting Hizbullah and Hamas in Jewish cemetaries. They need to be stripped of political power. Religion cannot survive as a spiritual path as long as it is wrapped up in the political mechanisms of the state. As Hillel Hazaken said, "D'ishtamash bataga chalaf." One who uses the crown of Torah for personal gain and power shall pass away. If things keep going as they're going, the taga itself shall pass away; Torah shall, God forbid, cease to be a crown. Mixing religion and government corrupts both.

I look forward to the day when the Palestinians and the Israelis end their war and their enmity. I look forward to the day when right-wing fanatacism is not the only, or even the ascendent, version of Torah in Eretz Yisrael, and the Jewish state can endure as a democracy. I see no tangible reason for hope in either of these regards, but I try to have faith. Af al pi sheyitmahmeha, im kol zeh ani maamin.

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