Yesterday we reported that a leader in the U.S. arm of the settler movement was going to trial in Teaneck today for allegedly tailgating/harassing another New Jersey man who sported pro-Palestinian bumper stickers on his car. Well Bernie Thau, the settler-supporter, and Rich Siegel, the complainant, met in the parking lot outside the courthouse today. Siegel tells the story.
Bernie apologized to me rather profusely. He agreed to write my wife and me a note of apology and share it with the board of the Hevron Fund. He agreed to read a book- yet unnamed- that I am going to give him, and give me his reaction afterwards. (I will send him "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine" by Ilan Pappe
.) And he offered– I did not ask– to make a donation to Deir Yassin Remembered
[Siegel sits on the advisory board]. That all satisfied me, so I agreed to ask that the charge be dropped. (I can’t drop the charge myself; after probable cause is found it becomes the state’s charge. I can only make the request.)
The two men went into the courthouse and learned that through a misunderstanding owing to the religious investment of both men in the issue, as Jews,Thau had been charged with "bias intimidation" and the case referred to Bergen County court.
At this point my goal was to get Bernie untangled. I went to Hackensack with him, and we were sent around to three different offices and accomplished nothing. I’ve subsequently called the police sergeant whose garbage pail should have been the destination of the unsigned charge. And Bernie and I chatted about this and that, coming to realize that we’re both human beings and decent guys.
I tell you what, I think Bernie and I both learned a lesson today, and although I can’t speak definitively for him, I really think it was the same lesson.
I’m so used to being angry about Israel, angry at my own background– angry at being lied to and being put in harm’s way with the lies, and in particular being especially angry at the people Bernie hangs out with- the Hevron Fund and the rest of the Gush Emunim settler movement. And obviously from Bernie’s actions, he’s pretty used to being angry at what he probably perceives are anti-Semites. But we saw each other as human beings today. I saw him as a guy who acted impulsively and regrets it, who was genuinely apologetic and willing to do some very out-of-character things to make it up to me. He saw me as a guy who was willing to back off from revenge and accept an apology, basically willing to forgive- him personally, definitely not the movement he represents. I just wonder if, after he reads the Ilan Pappe book he’s committed to reading, will he also be able to see the Palestinians as human beings.
Later Bernie called me to tell me that the bias intimidation mess had been resolved, and he reminded me that he had agreed to read a book, asked me the title, because he wanted to buy it. I told him I’d already ordered it and was going to send it to him. So, could it be the world is changing and starting here? (I can dream, can’t I?)
By the way- about the "put in harm’s way" thing I wrote above. There’s a really lovely statue in front of the library here in Teaneck, right next to the town hall where the municipal court is located, of a young woman bending over flowers. It’s dedicated to a young woman who, like me, went to Israel to be there for a while, to live and work, whatever she did. I also went to Israel to live and work, as a young man, with a head full of Zionist myths I’d been taught all my life. I was there for awhile, and came back home, still a Zionist. She came back in a box. She got on the wrong bus. That could have been me. I often wonder about her- what she thought, how much she knew, how much she didn’t know, if she had any idea, in the final moments of her life, about why someone wanted to kill her.
How many of us have gone to an early grave supporting Zionism without understanding a damn thing about it?!
While the bias charge has been dropped, the harassment case that Siegel pushed is still on the books.
There will be another court date. If I don’t show up, the charge will be dropped. I think I will write a letter to the prosecutor in advance of the court date to make sure that happens, copied to Bernie so he can carry a copy with him.