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‘They are us and we are them’ (Jewish universalism lives)

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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Beautiful beautiful piece by Deb Reich in the Baltimore Chronicle, about her 50 years in Israel. Gosh I wish I could write with this much openness and grace and maturity and understanding. Guess you had to be there, huh?

while I am more or less the same person I was when I first got here, except older: still clinging stubbornly to the basic worldview I acquired as a child in the public schools of suburban Westchester County, New York. One person, one vote; equality under the law for all; due process; habeas corpus; no taxation without representation—all that good old revolutionary stuff, however imperfectly implemented. Meanwhile, too many Jews who immigrated here from Western democracies, subsequently traumatized by the seeming intractability of “the situation,” have been pushed or pulled in the Israeli context away from that worldview, toward a hard-edged Jewish supremacist mentality that to me feels—I can’t help it—completely un-American. Few of them, I would guess, stop to ponder how far they have strayed from the pluralist credo they once lived by…

Back in my college years in Manhattan circa 1970, the progressives’ push for “one secular democratic state in all of Palestine” struck me as a cynical strategy dreamed up by “the Arabs” to take back, from the brave pioneering embattled Jews of Israel, the new homeland they’d won for themselves at such great cost. The post-1948 “Arab boycott” of Israel seemed viciously unfair and prejudiced and cruel. How dare they try to steal back what we won fair and square in a good old-fashioned war? Today all that looks very different to me. Astonishingly different….

Unlike most of my old friends here or abroad, I found ways to get to know ordinary Palestinians personally, face to face: by living among Palestinian folks in Palestinian towns in Israel, first as a community service volunteer on assignment, and more recently as just an ordinary tenant renting an apartment in a Muslim village; by engaging socially with Palestinian friends and neighbors and inviting them to my home and being welcomed into their homes, where I have played with their children and watched TV with them and cooked and baked with them and broken bread with them; by working with Palestinian professionals as equals, in joint Jewish-Palestinian social-change organizations and in Palestinian Arab civic organizations; by exchanging jokes and book reviews and birthday cards with Palestinian friends by email; by informally “adopting” a few forty-something Palestinian friends from the West Bank and Gaza who are the age my biological children would be today if I hadn’t waited so long to have kids; by listening as my Palestinian friends share their hopes and dreams and troubles and aspirations and frustrations. That’s the difference. I learned soon enough that Palestinians are not the faceless, anonymous, scary “Arabs” I was led to fear in my youth. I know they are not the enemy. I know they are not dispensable. They are us, and we are them. I will go to jail, if necessary, rather than sit here passively while their lives are further blighted and more generations of children are cheated, on both sides. I know that our basic civic, economic and environmental burdens must be shared and that there is no way to shoulder them alone. We will prosper together or we will sink together—not driven by philosophy or ideology, but because nothing else works.

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Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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