David Shulman reviewing both Sari Nusseibeh's What Is a Palestinian State Worth and Occupation of the Territories: Israeli Soldier Testimonies 2000–2010 by Breaking the Silence offers readers what might best be described as a 'Hold onto your Hat' experience at New York Review of Books.
Shulman opens with an inviting description of the Palestinian non violent movement by way of a visit to the village of al-Nabi Salih, introducing us to the eloquent Ali Abu Awwad.
The article's political trajectory picks up thru the introduction of Sari Nusseibeh, Palestinian philosopher, author and President of al-Quds University in Jerusalem. A "moral optimist" once so dedicated to forging a two state solution he joined with Ami Ayalon, former Shin Bet director, to forge a way--tho Nusseibeh no longer has certainty two states is worth the effort. Shulman journeys us thru Nusseibeh's illuminating prescience, in viewing history as an evolving “moral trajectory”.
Essentially one comes to believe this might be Shulman's own story. Initially tempered, his even pacing quickly builds as question upon question merge Israel's actions and responses. He'd earlier described the Israeli academic establishment's "stony and impassive silence." A transformation takes place as he lashes away with distress at those convinced of the inevitability of one state, but has no qualms about naming those who he feels are responsible:
I don’t agree [with those who seek one state], but I think we are rapidly approaching such a result, and I think the cause is, on one level, entirely clear. It lies in the steadfast reluctance of the Israeli establishment to make a real peace, under any circumstances. What the present government and the Israeli security services clearly want is to continue the occupation under one form or another, maintaining near-total control over the entire Palestinian population.
He scathes after Breaking the Silence's testimonials with an insistence that persists thru his infuriation:
This particular system could not continue to exist without a profound and willful blindness that we Israelis have cultivated for decades, and whose roots undoubtedly predate the existence of the State of Israel itself. I am speaking of blindness not to the existence of millions of Palestinian people—they are there for all to see—but to the full humanity of these people, their natural equality to us, and the parity (at least that, if one can measure such things) between their collective claim to the land and ours. There is also, again, a studied blindness to the cumulative trauma that we Israelis have inflicted upon the Palestinians in the course of realizing our own national goals (and later, in going far beyond any rational conception of such goals).
This is no ordinary blindness; it is a sickness of the soul that takes many forms, from a dull but superficial apathy to the silence and passivity of ordinary, decent people, to the malignant forms of racism and protofascist nationalism that are becoming more and more evident and powerful in today’s Israel, including segments of the present government. I suppose that to acknowledge these facts is too demoralizing, and too laden with potential guilt, for most of us. Often it seems that we will do anything—even risk catastrophic war—to avoid having to look our immediate neighbors in the face, to peel away the mythic mask. Palestinian violence over many years has made it easier for Israelis to make this choice, but it is important to bear in mind that it is, indeed, exactly that, a choice. There is a clear alternative—clearer today than ever before. In the history of this conflict, Israelis have by no means had a monopoly on blindness, but they are the party with by far the largest freedom of action and the greatest potential to bring about serious change.
The article culminates in a promising challenge of will, exactly what Shulman describes as Nusseibeh 's intentions. "He wants [Israelis] to step back from prejudice and an obsession with brute force and to open their eyes. He wants them to find in themselves the generosity of spirit needed in order to take a chance on peace, whether in the form of two states or a single binational entity or, perhaps, some kind of confederation." Ultimately one can't help but notice Shulman is a moral optimist himself. He's both courageous and convincing. To NYRB's Zionist readers, beware, a wave is upon you.