Friday, October 28, 2011

One American Jewish Response to Maikel’s call for Israel to recognize a Palestinian state

As an American Jewish Zionist, I first experienced Maikel’s call for Israel to recognize a Palestinian state as a sign that he had switched sides from the Israeli side to the Palestinian side. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of inner terror when I read this article, and I reacted with an incredible sense of fear in my heart, mind, body, and soul.

The following week, a fellow American Jewish Zionist friend of mine challenged me about my profound anti-Palestinian bias and my refusal to see the humanity of the Palestinian side. He introduced me to his Palestinian friend Jey A.Z, who amazed me with his humanity, courage, and compassion for the Jewish side. Jey AZ was incredibly accepting of the Jewish side. He condemned the Iran regime completely for its call to destroy the Jews. He made clear his intense moral revulsion against suicide bombing and his refusal to associate with anyone who supported suicide bombing. His friend also told me that he rejected the Palestinian refugees’ false claim to the ‘right of return’ and that he accepted the Israeli ‘security fence.’

I began to internalize and accept the idea that calling for a Palestinian state was not the same as calling for the destruction of the Jews. I myself still don’t accept the idea of a Palestinian state because I feel it is a threat to Jewish survival, but I do recognize the humanity and dignity of the Palestinian side. I no longer see every Palestinian Arab as a potential suicide bomber or an enemy of the Jews. And I now understand that anyone who calls for a Palestinian state does not necessarily want to wipe the Jews off the map.

So then last night I was talking to Kefaya Punk, and he told me that maybe I misinterpreted Maikel’s article because I do not understand or accept his pacifist views. I was thinking last night that Maikel does not want to destroy us Jews because he is a pacifist. Hence his call to us to accept a Palestinian state is not a call for us to be destroyed.

I told Kefaya Punk that yes I really strongly disagree with Maikel’s pacifism, and he said he wasn’t surprised because all the Israeli Jewish supporters of Maikel also rejected Maikel’s pacifist views. I felt very heartened when he said this because it reinforced for me the fact that from a Jewish perspective Maikel’s pacifism does not make logical, strategic, or emotional sense. It is very obvious from Jewish history that when we didn’t have an army and were trapped in hostile exile environments, we ended up getting slaughtered by Nazis or Russian czarist thugs.

And it is very clear from the Arab side’s relentless determination to destroy Israel and the Jews and its numerous wars that the only thing standing between Israel and its Arab enemies is our military superiority. AsI write this article, I am wearing a T-shirt of the Israel Defense Forces (Tzva L’Haganah L’Yisrael) that my parents bought for me on their trip to Israel in 2005. I feel safer as a Jew knowing we have a Jewish army that can smash Hamas and Assad and Iran and all our other enemies, and I am immensely proud of this army.

But when I reread Maikel’s article, all of a sudden I felt less threatened and frightened. I disagree with the whole premise of the article, namely the idea that Israel is safer with a Palestinian state. And calling on Israel to give the Palestinians a state without guarantees of our borders, security, Jerusalem, and Arab refugees is patently absurd and insensitive to our security concerns. Also saying that our actions to defend ourselves against Palestinian Arab terrorism were contributing to anti-Israel bias was absurd because our Arab enemies do not object to any particular policies of ours: they object to the survival of the Jews as a nation in any form. I practically laughed out loud at his initial support for a one-state solution because quite obviously a one-state solution is a formula for the Arab side to take control of not only the West Bank and Gaza but also Israel as well.

But I noticed something else that was familiar from all his articles: a strong undercurrent of compassion and concern for the suffering of Israel and the Jews under militarism. I liked it when he said that maybe we should consider that if we weren’t at war all the time, we wouldn’t need this huge defense budget. And maybe we could spend our defense budget on housing, health care, and education. Personally, I think the fact that Israel is forced to spend 25% of its GDP on defense to be an unavoidable tragedy. It is a tragedy because of the way it distorts Israeli spending and dramatically reduces the funds available for the poor and thus contributes to the horrendously high poverty rate in Israel. Israel has about a 1/3 poverty rate due to its defense budget in large measure.

At the same time I consider it unavoidable because it is clear that the only reason the Arab side is willing to consider peace for the most part is that they know they can’t destroy us. If Israel gave up its arms, it is obvious that we would be exterminated within ten seconds or less. To me the willingness of Sadat and King Abdullah I of Jordan to accept Israel is based upon something I understand very well and admire: political pragmatism.

He talked about how we suffer from 6 decades of living in war, and I can’t agree more about this. The emotional cost to Israeli Jews of living in a war zone for 3 generations now is incalculable. The way that Jewish children in Sderot suffer from PTSD because of being bombed by Palestinian terrorists day after day, month, after month, year after year, for 8 years or more now is horrific. Israel has lived from its first day in the state of siege, and Israel is suffering from the relentless tension and cost of warfare.

I want to mention another horrendous cost to Israel from the war zone atmosphere which is close to my heart. Israel has more than five times the rate of domestic twice the rate of physical domestic violence as the United States. In the U.S., 1.3 million women or nearly 0.8% of all women are beaten by their intimate partners every year. In Israel every year 200,000 women or 5% of all women are beaten by their male partners every year. I am personally a survivor of horrendously severe emotional abuse at the hands of both parents and my grandmother and particularly at the hands of my father. My mother has been a victim of relentless emotional abuse from my dad throughout her 38 year marriage. And I have no doubt that the war zone atmosphere and the militarization of Israeli society is the reason why Israel has such a horrendously high level of domestic violence when compared with the United States. When I mentioned to my mother many years ago that Israel has a much higher rate of domestic violence than the U.S, she was profoundly saddened because she and I are both ardent Zionists.  My intense sadness about this reality does not change my feeling of unconditional solidarity and pride with Israel and the Jews and with the Israeli army.

In accordance with his pacifist beliefs, he also mentioned once again his objection to conscription in the Israeli army. He expressed genuine concern about the safety of the many IDF recruits who are injured in combat. I would add as well that we Jews have suffered enormously from the deaths of thousands of our men in combat in all the wars we have been forced to fight for our own survival. I support conscription in the Israeli Jewish context because it is needed for Jewish survival and because it doesn’t include the many horrendous abuses which occur in authoritarian contexts like the Egyptian and Russian armies.

I understand Maikel’s intense moral revulsion against conscription in the Egyptian army because I am thoroughly familiar with the horrific abuses of human rights that go on in the Russian army. Russian army commanders are known to regularly murder the conscripts under their command, and for many years every single day a Russian conscript was beaten to death by his commanders. And also Russian army commanders are notorious for the horrific physical and emotional terror that they subject the conscripts under their command to. The late Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist who was murdered by Putin in 2006, told the stories of whole units of men and individual soldiers who have fled for their lives from their vicious commanders are nothing less than terrifying and heart-rending.

To make matters even worse, since Russia resumed its genocidal war on Chechnya in 1994, Russian soldiers have been forced to murder Chechen women, children, old people, and families. I have read horrifying Russian language accounts of 2 year old Chechen children being murdered along with whole families being wiped out deliberately.

So I strongly support an end to conscription in the Russian context for the sake of the safety and survival of the young men who are forced to serve under these barbaric conditions. And for the same reason I support an end to conscription in Egypt as well. I thought that Maikel had gotten an exemption from the army service because he is a pacifist. He had made such a protest about being a pacifist and conscientious objector, and he got an army service exemption. So I thought he was the first Egyptian to get a conscientious objector exemption based on his pacifist views.

But last night Kefaya Punk explained to me that actually Maikel was granted a medical exemption from army service since he was medically unfit to serve due to his heart condition. I was amazed that even though Maikel is not even subject to army service because of his medical condition, he would speak out so forcefully against conscription anyway. He could have easily just as well accepted his medical exemption and remained silent about his pacifist beliefs. But his point is he didn’t want to be recruited because of his pacifist beliefs. So actually he wasn’t speaking out for an exemption for himself. Rather he is advocating for the right of other Egyptian men to claim a conscientious objector status for themselves for their pacifist beliefs. So Egypt, like Turkey, Russia, and Armenia, has no military service exemption for pacifists. And Maikel wants to change that for the sake of other Egyptian men who may share his pacifist beliefs but are afraid to express them. His courageous and unselfish attitude shines through completely, and it really touches my heart.

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