A lot of people are passing this interview around today, and they should be. It will bring tears to your eyes: the US novelist Michael Chabon speaking sincerely and eloquently about the horrors of the occupation, which he has just toured with Breaking the Silence. Chabon is preparing a book of essays by novelists about the occupation. He was interviewed by Naomi Zeveloff of the Forward. Key excerpts:
Once you see for yourself it is pretty obvious I think to any human being with a heart and a mind, it is pretty clear what to feel about it. It is the most grievous injustice I have ever seen in my life. I have seen bad things in my own country in America. There is plenty of horrifying injustice in the U.S. prison system, the “second Jim Crow” it is often called. Our drug laws in the United States are grotesquely unjust. I know to some degree what I am talking about. This is the worst thing I have ever seen, just purely in terms of injustice. If saying that is going to lose me readers, I don’t want those readers. They can go away and never come back.
What a beautiful statement, let’s honor Chabon for it. He is bearing witness, he is being in the moment. Yes we can criticize him for showing up late; this horror show was evident many many years ago, behind the wall, decades ago to Palestinians. But he went and he saw and he is surely going to take action.
Chabon makes the excellent point that it was Harriet Beecher Stowe who brought on the civil war with her observations of slavery that animated a nation. So storytellers have an important role to play. (And the occupation is as grievous as slavery, because it is ours, in our time, and involves over 4 million people without rights.)
Then he says this about his own culpability:
The first day we were here they took us to Silwan, in the shadow of City of David [a national archaeological park managed by the Elad organization, which helps settlers move into Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem]. I’m hearing and seeing [Jewish settlers] illegally taking over houses and these [Palestinian] people are fighting for their neighborhood. Who does it turn out is one of the major sources of [support] for this whole City of David enterprise? The little blue boxes I put my pocket change in at Hebrew school every week growing up, the Jewish National Fund. That was in 1973 and the pennies I was putting in the boxes weren’t literally going to support the takeover of Silwan. It’s just I have that in my own personal history, not the history of my people, but in my own life I have a connection to something that does make me culpable. Not just through omission, not just through a lack of having taken any action or spoken up or said anything but actually through support of things that I didn’t know were being used in that way. It has given me a whole different viewpoint on the entire enterprise going all the way back to 1967 at least.
Chabon has done the wonderful thing of not exculpating himself because of the Jewish role in the civil rights movement. This is the dodge employed by countless US Jewish progressives, including Jewish World Service. We are engaged in progressive causes; we already gave at the office. Yes, well this is in our own house. Again, maybe it took Chabon too long to show up at the scene of his/our crimes, but there he is and the man’s heart is full and I bet he will do something about it. That is the only course that can follow from his JNF epiphany; and it was always the problem with Peter Beinart. He also was horrified when he saw this video in 2010 of a Palestinian boy crying as his farmer father was brutally arrested for “stealing” water from settlers on lands that had been in his family for centuries. Well that was in 2010, and how much more do you need to see to take action? You don’t need anything more, my friends. I sense that Chabon will never be the same and he will take action and happily alienate Jewish readers and that he will even support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) because it is the only real movement for change that is fighting the occupation every day and every hour.
Now not to be cynical, but– is it possible that Chabon has an eye to the main chance and that he knows young Jews are changing and older ones are sickofitall and he will write a book against the occupation that gets a wide Jewish audience and he will declare that Zionism went badly wrong and its racist strain became the dominant strain and the New York Times will celebrate him for it and he will get a bestseller? I sure hope so.