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Exile and the Prophetic: Rachel Corrie rising

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This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. It was written before today’s verdict in the Corrie family’s civil suit. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Stormy weather continues.  More rain and wind today.  This morning the beach was deserted.  Even the regulars stayed home.  A sight to behold as I looked out over the ocean, rain blowing in my eyes, a huge cruise ship, lights on, steaming into Port Canaveral.  An omen about my future cruise lecture life?

The Rachel Corrie case is coming to a head.  Adam Horowitz, a delightfully bothersome Jew of Conscience, is keeping his eye on the Israeli justice system.  I never met Rachel but I have spoken at her alma mater, Evergreen College, on a number of occasions.  What an education the Evergreen faculty provides and their arguments about having (or not having) Jewish Studies are legendary.  Since – can you believe how far we have come – introducing a real live Jewish scholar in Jewish Studies would probably function as a break on their radical outlook on the Two-Thirds world.  And American empire.  Let alone Israel’s empire.

I’ve met parts of the Corrie family.  How delightful and committed they are.  On the Jewish side, I think of her as I do Edward Said. Part of the Jewish future, if there is one.  Or part of a future without declared Jewishness, if it has to be.  In my mystical eye I see Oscar Romero, Edward Said and Rachel Corrie rising together

Thoughts about “strategic depth”, what Jews of Conscience need to survive the corruption and the slime that surrounds us.  Years ago my teacher, Richard Rubenstein, spoke about my need for “drop-dead” money. Security when the knives came out.   Obviously I couldn’t go the money route but what he was really talking about is the ability to survive the onslaughts that come your way if you practice conscience in the Golden Age of Constantinian Judaism. 

Strategic depth – a place in the material and spiritual realms that can sustain you when you’re on the ropes.  I’m not a dualist – a strategic depth has to be material and spiritual.

The empty suits we have become.  It doesn’t matter that Alan Dershowitz has more personality– and a deeper voice – than the squeaky Ken Starr.  Or that one is a Harvard Law prof and the other, having lost his standing in the national legal community, is building a football stadium on the backs of the offspring of slaves. 

Yes, empty suits look alike on the injustice rack.  You find them in a long row, one after another, their price reduced when the buyers are few.  They’re hoping for another payday.  That’s who they serve.

Empty suits talk civilization when the check is in the mail.

Carrying the white and Jewish burden is (now) hand in hand.  Into the teeming (un)White world.   Such a difficult and demanding job isn’t for everyone.  Knowing that they’re backed by every conceivable weapons system known to man, they stand tall.  How courageous conservatives are!

“Heil,” the derivation of which an Austrian student of mine started to research.  In her village the greeting is still used, hence the curiosity.  At her first glance it seems that heil is more or less a shalom word, meaning hail fellow, all’s well, but no doubt it needs further research.  Somewhat like Goethe, whose personal relations with Jews seems not bad at all for the time, though he opposed certain public liberalization regarding Jews. 

Mixed messages from history. The norm.

Returning to Jeff Halper’s comments on the olive trees that line the settlement boulevards via my Fiji student whose people were conquered by the Bible or more specifically by the Gospels. Even if the Christian violence that overcame her people was hidden or “clean” as Richard Rubenstein asserts the Nazis preferred, clean violence being the type of violence that is regulated and logical, once the Christian missionary-industrial complex entered the scene it was more or less over. So what does she have in common with Jeff Halper whose people were never conquered by the Gospels?

Crimes of passion give way to crimes of logic. Albert Camus described this as the peculiar transposition of our time. Are both my Fiji student and Halper victims of those crimes of logic, where Christianity reigns without firing a shot and massive olive trees are uprooted so efficiently that the their replanting takes place as if the tree had always been where it is(n’t) supposed to be?

The question here is to whether my Fiji student and Halper are now on both sides of the empire divide or the same side turned upside down and around.  Her being conquered by the Gospels and he being an agent of conquering the Palestinians, both carry a colonial and imperial identity, the outward shell of which were imposed on both of them.  Or in Halper’s case, initially he didn’t understand what he was volunteering for when he left America to live in Israel. Now he recognizes the situation and is opposing his colonized position.  Does that excuse and align him with victims of colonialization?

Argued another way, is Halper in his dissident yet still empowered position in solidarity with my Fiji student? Or, because of his position and regardless of his personal choice, is Halper unable to return to a time when Jews were in an embodied solidarity with the colonized?

I ask, then, is there a way back for Jews?  Halper, who remains in Israel as a Jew of Conscience, is a Still/Former.  Is that enough?  Or is there a decolonized place where Jews cannot go regardless of their personal intentions? 

Clearly, you can’t ask of someone what he or she can’t do.  You can’t become someone you aren’t.  The defining moment of solidarity is only partly up to us.  This means that we do with that solidarity moment what is possible for us to do.

Back on the Romero Road for a comparison.  Romero did not and could not become a peasant.  In this way he could not become one with his own people.  However, I have no doubt that he did rise in the history of the Salvadoran people – as an Archbishop.  He couldn’t rise any other way.  I doubt, too, whether the people who have wanted him to rise in any other way.

We rise where we can.  Even when we rise in another people’s history, especially when we aren’t even supposed to be there, we rise as who we are.  There are Jews – Halper may be one of them – who will rise in the history of the Palestinian people.  Will Halper’s fate, like Ezekiel’s, taste sweet just like honey?

Rabbi Lynn and Jeff Halper – rising with Edward Said and Rachel Corrie? New Diaspora risings?

Rising where you aren’t at home. Rising in the history of another people.  That’s another element of exile and the prophetic.  Another (un)known territory that Jews and Palestinians are beginning to explore together.   For when Palestinians oppose certain forms of Palestinian power and are exiled, where do they rise? 

It isn’t only the fact that Israel created a Palestinian Diaspora.  Within the Palestinian Diaspora is another displacement, one that comes from within. 

I still have memories of the Oslo Accords and the return of many Palestinians to work for the new Palestine in the offing.  The frustration with Israel’s interpretation of Oslo is well documented but, as well, many Palestinians returned from their return.   They couldn’t abide the maneuverings, compromises and corruption within the Palestinian Authority.  Though unstated, once outside of Palestine, many could not return to the cultural and religious restrictions of their native homeland.  Though laid at the feet of the PA, I always thought it was more complicated.   Exile always is more complicated, isn’t it?

Once outside, forever outside, even when your people needs your energy and talent.  So when I told my Israeli student that her intellect and passion was needed to think through the situation we are in, I might have been advising her to dedicate herself to a cause she couldn’t win and probably couldn’t abide. After all, her leaving Israel wasn’t only about politics.  Nor is her inability to return only political.  Once outside Israel, she experienced the peculiar and complicated freedom of exile.  Adjusted for very different circumstances, is may not be so different for Palestinians who have the freedom to leave and remain outside Palestine.

Once out, never to return, more or less.  Statistically. Psychologically. Thus, traveling Jewish/traveling Palestine.  At some point, we have to be honest enough to say what’s in our hearts and minds.  But how can a truly honest exchange occur – even within ourselves – when the oppression continues without missing a beat?  The fact is that most Jews and Palestinians who live among others want to – live among others.  They don’t want to be compressed back into a Jewish – or Palestinian -culture/life – only.  Jews and Palestinians want to have their freedom and eat it too.

Cosmopolitan Jew. Cosmopolitan Palestinian. The Jewish/Palestinian Diaspora(s).  But first, let’s admit it, before the cosmopolitan streak, Jews and Palestinians had to cut their collective teeth on a history of violence and atrocity that came from without and from within.  If we ditch the rhetorical pride of place and tradition, within the disparity of experience, the common place we meet is outside, among others.

So, then, at a moment when everything is on hold, with the toll that continues to mount, what lessons do privileged Jews and privileged Palestinians have to offer themselves, each other and the world?

Since we may be rising together in this the evolving history of the Jewish/Palestinian Diaspora, we might as well spend a little time being honest with ourselves and each other.

Before the violence, at least on a massive scale, begins again.  Or, as importantly, within the violence that never ends.

On the Jewish side, think Shabbat, as the eschatological sign that within an unredeemed world, one day, here on earth, justice and peace will reign.  We can do it without the candle lighting or the prayers and on any day of the week.  We don’t have to mention the Jewish holy day or other holy days of any religion or nation. 

Call it Lessons Learned Day – where Jews and Palestinians ponder our collective fate.  Of exile. And the New Diaspora.

The message of Lessons Learned Days is for ourselves and each other.  Perhaps, then, a joint communique to the world?

Such a communique might begin this way:  This message from the Jewish/Palestinian Diaspora emanates from (un)Jerusalem, the (un)united (un)capital of (un)Israel, (un)Palestine.  The Jewish/Palestinian Diaspora in the making would like to communicate the following to all parties, including ourselves, on what we are learning in our individual and collective lives….

Or we could call it Lessons (un)Learned Day.  More accurate?

Rachel Corrie rising.  Her day in the court of (empire) Jewish justice has arrived.

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Marc, We are only having this discussion because Arab students have been silenced. They fear that if they speak publicly to oppose Israel, boycott Israel, abolish Israel, they will not be greeted as human rights activists, the way Dr. Martin Luther King is greeted today. They fear that they will… Read more »

OK. Let’s accept the premise that there are “many Arab students who speak out and do it quite well”. I don’t see them in any public sphere demanding the boycott of Israel. This is proof that they have resigned themselves to read nice blogs like Mondoweiss, attend nice conferences, meet… Read more »

Professor Ellis, I am not sure it’s correct to say that your Fiji student’s “people were conquered by the Bible.” In my mind, conquest means a military force use violence or the threat of it to gain political control over another group. The Bible, however, was spread nonviolently by missionaries… Read more »

See that, I missed the part where Ellis defined “rise”. I knew I should have paid closer attention when he defined what he means by “rise”. Now, I know that was one of (per Bugliosi) Charley Manson’s favorite words, but he got it from the Beatlers “Blackbird” : “You are… Read more »

mooser and woody, i don’t want to spoil the special moment of your agnostic/atheistic brothers-in-arms camaraderie, but the history of christianity and conquest is a bit more complicated than that. the debate in the catholic church over the treatment of natives/pagans in the spanish new world, and a great many… Read more »