This post is a response to an article by Israeli writer Etgar Keret that appeared in both Ha’aretz and the Los Angeles Times. This piece was originally submitted to the LA Times and they declined to run it.
Between the lines of Etgar Keret’s recent LA Times article on the Middle East conflict, one can hear the swan song of the Israeli-Jewish left.
On the surface, Keret’s thesis seems innovative: He argues that the left, instead of simply yearning for peace, should have the Will to Compromise; instead of its messianic tendencies, the left should resort to realpolitik. But since when is the Israeli peace camp messianic? Throughout its existence, it was extremely Mapainiki (the dominant, opportunist labor party in Israel). Historically, the peace camp’s narrative was a performance of shooting and then crying.
The basic catchphrase that has captured the essence of the post-1967 Zionist Israeli left is “territorial compromise.” Not “reconciliation of historical injustice” nor “fighting for justice,” not “asking for forgiveness” nor “granting the right of return.” No compensation for the Nakba and no coexistence or equality among the nations. No sincere offer of a communal, shared life based on equality between the two peoples. Instead, territorial compromise.
It was with these very words, “territorial compromise,” that the left laid the foundations for the right’s fundamentalist theology: “This land is ours, and ours only.” That is to say: the Zionist left also believes that God gave this land to us, the Jews. The difference is that the Zionist left is willing to return small plots of land to the “natives” — but, ironically enough, only to prevent them from complaining or fighting back. And in that way, as we remain baffled by the enigma of our own secular theology, we are facing political rivals who are burning with ideology. Unfortunately, these rivals are people of principle and vision, people who drag behind them an entire nation on a messianic quest to the heights of a “steadfast precipice” (direct translation of Israel’s current operation in Gaza), just to take one giant suicidal leap. The left, on the other hand, never had an inner truth that could stop this horrific stampede. All we’ve ever had is theological compromise.
But Keret writes that we need to compromise. Who is his addressee? Is it the peace camp that has already compromised itself? Or is he addressing “the uncompromised”: the Israeli-Jewish right, those euphoric fascists running amok and burning a Palestinian boy alive?
Although Keret’s talent is respectable, his symptoms are the same as those suffered by most of the Israeli-Jewish left: They don’t see Palestinians as subjects in the struggle, they only see themselves.
Academic Eva Illouz — who, unlike Keret, believes in the struggle for peace — is also caught in this syndrome. She draws an analogy between the Middle East conflict and the American civil war for the emancipation of slaves, as if the struggle in our region could be reduced to a struggle between left-wing and right-wing Israeli Jews, between white racists and white humanists. As if the Palestinians were only passive objects in an ideological war among Israelis. But for God’s sake, here in Israel-Palestine, there is no real struggle between right-wing and left-wing Jews; the right is in complete control. Right now, all we actually have is a struggle between Israeli-Jewish oppressors and oppressed Palestinians. It’s time for the left, no matter how broken or fragmented, to pick ourselves up and invent ourselves anew.
Whether we like it or not, we are the fragmented left, and we’re part of an occupying nation. That’s why, when I first heard about Keret’s article, I hoped that he would use his talents to inspire the remainder of the left with a new flame — to transform the fragments of despair into sparks of life. To remind us of our responsibility as Jews, both to the Palestinians and to ourselves. I hoped that he would give us strength, because it’s quite possible that in the very near future, we’ll need to hide Arabs in our homes as the militias of hawkish right-wing politicians Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and Avigdor Lieberman come to drag them out and round them up in the city square.
The violence of the oppressed is sometimes justified, but it’s not always necessary. Our job is to help create a radical space where the oppressed don’t need to resort to violence. We should stand in solidarity with the oppressed and propose an alternative in which the love of Israel and the love of Palestine can merge into one. I hoped Keret would dissuade the Israeli left from taking part in the assault on Gaza; I hoped he would suggest that we use our bodies to prevent the demolition of Arab houses in the mixed cities of Israel. I hoped that as a privileged Jew, he would stand beside the Palestinian citizens of Israel at this difficult time — even if he did not completely agree with them — and that he would risk his own celebrity for the sake of the truth.
A compromise is what is offered to those who dream of peace; even Hamas has proposed a long-term truce. The problem is that among us Israelis, nobody dreams of peace anymore, and nobody dreams of justice. Those who still dream dream of ethnic cleansing, and there is nobody out there to wake us up from this nightmare.
It is therefore not compromise I seek, but sanctity – the holiness of life. And the left, particularly because of its weakness, needs a messianic flame now more than ever.
Eight years ago, I made the film Forgiveness. The title in Hebrew, Mechilot, has a double meaning: “forgiveness” and “underground tunnels.” I cannot think of a better way to share how I experience the current reality in Israel-Palestine. It’s a reality that is a result of a long-term self-manipulation of the psycho-national trauma of the Israeli Jews, a trauma that repeats itself time and again since 1948 — like a spiral that accelerates its movements towards ethical and mental destruction of the Israeli-Jewish soul. Now when we push the Palestinian people from their land into underground tunnels, forcing them into the position of the living dead, I decided to put Forgiveness on your film shelf for free for a month. I hope you will share it, think with it, and feel with it.