David Bloom tells me that Richard Witty challenged me to say something nice about Israel. I can't get on my site for some reason, but it's a fair question.
I've only been to Israel 10 days in my life. (Want to get back, need to make some money.) But here are the things I loved in Israel:
I spent most of my time in Jerusalem, and there is nothing like walking around Jerusalem. I love my mother's friend who moved out there in '68. I stepped in a pile of dogshit walking to her place on the Sabbath and she just laughed at me and pointed me to the hose in the garden. She is a very salt of the earth person. It was Sabbath, the door was open. I love the way the place shuts down on the Sabbath, it's a good feeling. What is there to say about Jerusalem (which is partly in Israel)? There are great shocks of cultural recognition running thru the place. Melville was there, I stayed in the rooming house he'd stayed in; and this really out-there black guy in purple robes was working at the desk, with an American accent. That's Jerusalem: it calls to the seekers of the world, including that black guy and Muriel Spark, and Melville (then gay, lost, and not doing his laundry), and yours truly. I loved the pageant of Jerusalem, the Hasidic guys in long silvery white gowns and of course the Arabs and their carts in the Arab quarter. The light and stone in Jerusalem.
I spent a lot of time in Jewish houses with neurotic cerebral Jews like the ones I'm familiar with from my family. One guy was a little disturbed. I had great compassion for him. He had bombed out of the army. I would have been in the same spot. He spent a lot of time in his room and was mistrustful. In those little Jerusalem neighborhoods I recognize the Ashkenazi neurotic Jews I grew up with, too smart, too thoughtful, too self-involved, not ready to run a country, maybe, but very comfortable to me. Hannah Arendt knew them too, luftmenschen, crackpots.
I liked the toughness of the kids on the buses and in the bus stations. I liked the lack of bullshit, I liked that There are No Philip Rothian Brenda Patimkin Jewish American Princesses. The chick who's doing her nails has an Uzi hanging off her shoulder. I don't like the militarism, but I like the toughness a lot. I like that people aren't rich, I like that people are all trying to get rich and there's creativity. The air in the bus station is very unpretentious. The air throughout Israel is unpretentious, people aren't putting on airs. I really enjoyed that. The soldiers wearing Crocs. I enjoyed the orange juice sellers in Tel Aviv, and walking down Dizengoff Street and thinking, a Prime Minister lived here, I think Begin, in a humble place. The beach at Tel Aviv is great. I didn't know about the ethnic cleansing of Jaffa then, so I could enjoy it. The girls are pretty great on the beach. The beach culture is cool. I love that Israel has an outdoors culture, a physical culture. Much more than Jewish American culture which yes strikes me as a little effete. Israel isn't effete, I love that feeling of Jews not being effete, I'm as bad as any Revisionist Zionist on that score.
I love Jerusalem at night, I loved East Jerusalem. Yes it's Arab but I was "in Israel." I loved the good feeling in the cafes of East Jerusalem, with the concerned people of the world mingling, Christians and Muslims and Jews. The Arab kid who was supposed to give me a Wall Tour said he didn't have enough people to go, and so it was the neurotic kid who bombed out of the army who hooked me up with Breaking the Silence. I loved going on the Breaking the Silence tour of Hebron, it changed my life. I could feel Jewish and also dislike Zionism with those people. I loved the fact that Yehuda Shaul who led the trip speaks really good English but he spoke in Hebrew the whole time and a grad student from University of Chicago who's writing her dissertation on the settlement culture had to translate for me. Shaul wasn't going to kowtow to the American journo in any way. I loved him for that.
No doubt there's a lot to love in Israel. The difficulty is that I am the sort of person who would have loved the American South back in the day, too. I actually did love Syria, too, though I gather it has police state aspects. And that returns me to the issue of pogroms. Israel is a place that I found beautiful to be in, that I found kindred types, and yet Ghassan Khaled, whom I wrote about a few weeks back, a Palestinian instructor who has done nothing wrong that anyone has shown in court, has been in detention for 8 months now for some trumped up reason having to do with a Hamas student group in his school. David Bloom sent me the following yesterday:
will be subjected to 6 additional months of jailing ("administrative
detention"), so ruled Big Brother Shabak [Shin Bet; sure sounds like Savak or Stasi]. We will continue to walk
hand in hand with the brave Khaled family, that shall continue to
bear the consequences malicious decision of the evil occupation
his loved ones and his life of creativity and givingness since January 2008.
Let's be clear: Khaled's detention is the measure of Israel right now, notwithstanding anyone's pride in the place. That country is oppressing Palestinians and permitting pogroms to go on. The settler violence is Hauntingly Similar to the pogroms (and I am not even talking about the discrimination) that my great-grandfathers experienced in Russia and Poland and wanted to escape. Rich German-American Jews helped my ancestors to escape by pressuring the U.S. government at the turn of the century. Segregation was the measure of the American south, too, and my generation changed that–including a lot of idealistic Jews working with other idealists, as Obama reminded us in his speech at AIPAC invoking Cheney and Schwerner and Goodman, who were "willing to die," he said, to change this country. This spirit will also come to Israel and Palestine, just you watch, and then maybe other people can love it too.