Exile and the Prophetic: Square one

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This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

With the breaking news all around us, we can’t forget the fundamentals or the real issue, what needs to be done? Is there a long term scenario that moves Israel/Palestine beyond where it is now? Are Jews and Palestinians condemned to a cycle of violence and atrocity forever?

The cease-fire only brings us back to Square One. Or whatever square occupation, expansion, controlled borders, lock-down, is.

Does anyone in the region or beyond really want Palestinians on a different square?

For years now everyone has said there isn’t much time. They’re right. Has time actually already run out?

Any state with power does what it wants to do and defines itself as decent. This includes Israel. The Jewish citizens of Israel define their state as decent, too. After all their daily lives are dependent on whatever comes their way.

The state’s responsibility is to make sure that what comes their citizen’s way continues to come their way. Otherwise there are problems. The states that can’t produce what their citizens’ desire are defined as ‘failed’ states. Again, Israel – and Palestine – is no exception.

Hard work and natural resources are part of what comes our way on the material level. Theft is huge. You don’t have to be a Marxist to believe that profit is exploitation institutionalized. War is institutionalized exploitation’s enforcer.

Like most states somewhere down the historical line, Israel thrives by creating institutions that exploit. First the ground had to be cleared. Ethnic cleansing was the method. Then with exploitation in full gear, further land was cleared of Palestinians for settlement.

In its origins and expansion, Israel built from the ground up. ‘Open’ land is good for business. Israel’s military plays hardball. Open land is good for their business, too.

Institutionalized exploitation can’t be discussed openly. It has to be disguised. With Israel that disguise is complicated. Though some look at Israel as a colonial state – only – this is too simple. Israel was born out of a certain history. Though one can argue where that history should or shouldn’t have led, the idea that Israel is in its birth – only – a form of institutionalized exploitation, is wrong. Israel is a colonial endeavor, yes, but it was also a response to a people’s vulnerability, dislocation and murder.

Nonetheless, what Israel has become over the years is less and less complicated. Institutional exploitation and theft are becoming Israel’s main characteristic. In the long run, Jewish history cannot support such endeavor. Israel’s claim to Jewishness is more and more in name only.

For Palestinians, Israel was always wrong. For Jews, Israel is becoming less complicated.

We don’t have to simplify history to make the obvious point about the oppression of Palestinians. Nor do we have to simplify Israel to make the obvious point about its increasingly contested Jewishness.

The issue isn’t about the United States and Egypt negotiating the fate of Gaza. I, for one, wouldn’t want either state leadership deciding my fate. Palestinians in Gaza are pawns in their game. Then, again, maybe Israel is too.

The options presented to Gaza for the immediate future are limited. The choice: ratcheting back the high intensity of violence over the last week to the normal lower, though crushing intensity of the week before Israel’s bombing. The possibilities being presented Gaza are worse or bad.

Even if we come to that conclusion that the complicated part of Israel’s reason for being has been lost in decades of expansion, settlements, occupation and war, there are still millions of Jews living in Israel. What is to become of them?

Even rogue states are peopled by everyday human beings.

We are cursed with the knowledge that, when assuming power, even the abused abuse others. Our justified outrage is humbled.

The lesson about the once powerless in power isn’t an experience we glean from Palestinians. Since Palestinians haven’t wielded power over Jews, such an analysis would be pure conjecture. No, we learn this lesson from Jewish history. Jews have become a prime historical example that the lessons of being oppressed are lost on the newly empowered.

Perhaps the lessons of being oppressed are learned in a different way than we would imagine. The real lesson could be that when you’re on top do anything to stay there.

That’s the lesson mainstream Jewry has learned. It is the lesson that Israel carries out daily. It is the reason Israeli soldiers stand by ready to invade Gaza, cease-fire or not.

Experiences in life shape our reality. People – and nations – do what they think is in their self-interest. Love is like that. Have you ever noticed that the beloved can become distant simply because she has discerned her self-interest in a different direction? The same is true for communities and nations.

What lessons self-interest and exploitation provides is for us to decide. I certainly can’t argue with a Palestinian who tells me his sole ambition is to achieve power at the expense of Israel. If a Palestinian also confides to me that this would, if necessary, include oppressing those who oppressed him, in this case, Israelis, I can’t argue with him either.

Personally, I think such thinking is a dead end. Nonetheless, as a Jew, I have lost the ability to voice another opinion.

Dead ends bring us back to where we began. Square One squared?

Having lived on a dead end street as a child I know that once you reach the dead end there is only one way out. You have to turn around, retreat and begin again.

Retreat – turn around – to begin again. Is this the path forward for Jews and Palestinians?

About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is retired Director and Professor of Jewish Studies at Baylor University and author of The Heartbeat of the Prophetic which can be found at Amazon and www.newdiasporabooks.com

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2 Responses

  1. seafoid
    November 25, 2012, 4:00 am

    ‘the real lesson could be that when you are on top you do anything to stay there’.. Perhaps another lesson is that violence can become the raison d’etre but that there is no way to stop its remorseless logic taking over the institutions.

    Human nature is of course flawed. This is why we need priests and rabbis to guide us but but even in a very special state of a very special people corruption may develop. No amount of kashrut may be enough to balance the scales.

    Pounding Gaza is a sign of a people who are lost and consumed by feelings of inadequacy, who have lost trust in their own values and in the world. Trust is the basis of businesse and diplomacy. Jews need to rediscover trust. Harden not your hearts o Israel.

  2. seafoid
    November 25, 2012, 4:06 am

    Israeli oligarchy is the fact that is mostly .unspoken. Beyond the devoutedness of the religious and the nihilism of the soldiers 16 families are actually running the show and the system is working as it should. Another blind spot in institutional judaism but this is war so everybody stfu.

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