This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit Ellis’s archive page.
As the Rolling Stones continue to negotiate a multi-million dollar payday – time, time, time, it’s on Israel’s side. Yes it is.
But, then, history has a funny way of twisting and turning. There are few straight roads in the human journey.
An example is the fall of Falluja, where Sunni insurgents now hoist their flag over the city center. The New York Times reports that American soldiers who fought there years ago are stunned and dismayed. As one soldier put it: “I texted a couple of friends. Everyone was in disbelief. I don’t think anyone had the grand illusion that Falluja or Ramadi was going to turn into Disneyland, but none of us thought it was going to fall back into a jihadist insurgency. It made me sick to my stomach to have that thrown into our face, everything we fought for so blatantly to be taken away.”
Such is the life of American soldiers. Shades of the Vietnam analogy that we were told didn’t apply continue to make its presence felt. Yet it isn’t just American soldiers who wonder what they gave their life and blood for. Aggressing and intervening powers around the world know this lesson well. At least the soldiers who do the grunt work do. Societies tend to move on very quickly. Why dwell on the past?
Thinking of a collapsing post-American intervention Iraq – Afghanistan is next – with Libya already way down that road, I wonder how Israel’s soldiers will tell their tale of woe and abandonment. Actually, it is already being told by soldiers in groups like Breaking the Silence.
Breaking the Silence isn’t the first. There are reams of testimonies by Israel’s soldiers going back to the 1967 war that already tell this familiar tale. Glorifying the state and its wars has a limited shelf time. It ends, more or less, when the war begins. Horror stories trickle slowly out at first and take on momentum. Did anyone think Israel would be exempt from this fact of the warrior life?
Soon the reasons for war become foggy. Ideologies that carried the day fade. Soldiers are left with their memories and trauma.
Decades of occupation produce the same results. Traumatic memories are part and parcel of occupying another people.
What about the enablers who send soldiers into harm’s way and feast off their sacrifice? Israeli soldiers are the Jewish boots on the ground. But the larger question is often deflected. Who sent them on their mission? What is the American Jewish community’s responsibility for Israel’s wars and occupation?
“It made me sick to my stomach to have thrown into our face, everything we fought for so blatantly to be taken away.” The idea of a Jewish state may qualify here. Despite the new insistence of Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, the ideology of a Jewish state has had little substance in the past. Mostly it was emotion.
The Jewish state ideology is under severe strain in the present. Not only Palestinians question Israel as a Jewish state. Most Jews can’t define the terms of what a Jewish state is or could become. Instead, it has become a rote designation. Is that why the Israeli government is asserting this designation so assiduously – because the foundational discussion of what a Jewish state means in actual practice has less and less meaning?
Soldiers initially willing to die for an ideology that can’t be defined tend to come back from war and occupation disillusioned and worse. They become active agents against the very ideology they fought for. Though hardly ever voiced, this is part of the Jewish community’s evolving disillusionment with Israel.
This disillusionment will deepen in the coming years. Like the BDS tipping point, we don’t know when it will make its presence known in a deep and abiding way. Right now it’s underground with some elements bubbling to the surface.
Time may be on Israel’s side with regard to oppressing the Palestinians but the foundational support of Jews within Israel and America for a Jewish state that has some foundational touchstone other than a Jewish majority is already razor thin.
If Israel continues on its present course, one day the very idea of a Jewish state may make us sick to our stomach.