I Left Israel for Two Weeks. I Came Home to a Different Country
No chief, no plan, no security, no hope. There are times I think about resigning from the tribe.
There was a time when I used to forget things, to lose things, with damnable frequency.
At some point, it occurred to me that I always lost things exactly when I was leaving one place for another. I forced myself to imagine, just before leaving anywhere, that I would never be able to return to that place, so I’d sure as anything better take with me everything I’d need for this trip.
It worked. In fact, this month, leaving Israel to visit my family in California, it worked so well that the lie-to-myself, the conscious fiction, the part about never returning, may have come true without me even knowing it.
Two weeks ago, in the middle of the night, I again told myself that lie, in order to make sure that I wouldn’t forget anything before leaving for the airport in Lod. Now I’m on a plane headed back to Israel. Six miles above a Utah escarpment, I am handed yesterday’s Yedioth Ahronot newspaper and begin to sense, headline by headline, that a million nonstop hours from now, this airplane will land in the same Ben Gurion Airport I’d taken off from – but not in the same country.
The day I left Israel, that mountaintop we’d uneasily lived with so long, the smoking summit which, we knew, capped a mountain of hatred, shuddered and blew entirely off. The ensuing eruption has claimed new victims daily, in every direction. And, with the speed and unstoppability of a volcano, its flow of fire is changing the landscape into something no one can quite recognize.
Just in the short time I’ve been gone, Israel’s eternal, indivisible capital has been physically divided. Palestinians have slashed, hacked, shot or run over dozens of Israelis, killing many of them. Israelis have shot hundreds of Palestinians, scores of them fatally, some for having attacked Israelis, some not.
Within Israel, street mobs have severely assaulted Arabs for being Arabs, and have mistaken Mizrachi Jews and an Eritrean man for terrorists, with tragic and even fatal results.
“You’re right,” social activist Ronny Douek wrote in an open letter to the prime minister in thatMonday edition of Yedioth, “that in the past we’ve seen terrorist attacks more severe, and that we’ve known more dangerous periods of time.
“But do you not see that this time, in fact, something has opened a crack inside us? That, in contrast to other periods of crisis, in which we knew how to come together and look forward, this time the horizon looks dark.”
I have lived in Israel for many years, decades in fact. But I know enough about this place – and the fear and the despair in which my loved ones there are now living – to know that I am coming back to a place about which I know nothing.
I have been a member of this tribe we call the Jews for my whole life. I have been schooled in the mechanics and the horrific if periodic works of pogrom and bloodthirst and genocidal persecution from the time I heard my first fairy tales.
But this, I fear, is something different. Something somehow more permanent.
In the past, when confronted with people who wanted Israel to cease to exist, people who believed Israel was doomed, fragile, unsustainable, and/or indefensibly, immorally evil, deserving of a death sentence, I would react with a faith-based defiance grounded in optimism for a better, more just, more humane future.
I won’t lie about this: For the present, my focus is elsewhere. I want my loved ones to live.
For the future though, I am left to wonder: How is my tribe to live like this? Lost. No chief. No security. No plan. No hope.
There have been times when I thought, Why not just resign from the tribe?
Truth be told, I get letters all the time from people – fellow members of the tribe – who recommend that I do just that, in one form or another. They inform me that my name’s not Jewish enough, my politics not Zionist enough, my complaints about Israel such that I should leave the country, my complaints about Israel such that I should die.
Maybe it’s time I listened to them. Maybe it’s time to resign from the tribe that these people belong to, and to realize, at long last, that all this time I’ve been a member of a different tribe. Not a rival, exactly. Just different.
Maybe it’s time I realized that the tribes of the Holy Land are not simply the mortal enemies we call Jews and Arabs. Maybe all the deafening, implacable, violence-espousing extremists, both disgusting sides of them, are actually in one tribe, together.
And, yes, that first tribe is winning. At this point, any kid with a cleaver, any meathead yelling for death, is a chief on his own.
But maybe there’s another tribe which loves this land so deeply, that it’s still willing to seek a way to share it among the people who live here. This is a tribe which wants to see human rights defeat hatred, democracy vanquish deity-based dictatorship. The tribe of humans.
If that second tribe is paralyzed, demoralized, delegitimized by the current reality, small wonder. But sometimes, under great pressures, things which you’re sure are lost forever, can reappear. Like love itself. So here’s my letter of resignation from that first tribe, a letter which I’m submitting here, because my tribe lacks a chief I could hand it to:
I hereby resign from the tribe that says killing unarmed people is a form of self defense, whose practitioners are heroes.
I hereby resign from the tribe that says: We deserve everything, all the land, and we’ve got the Book that says so.
I resign from the tribe which says the other guys are monsters, animals, out only for our blood and our land, undeserving and disqualified from having a country of their own.
I resign from the tribe that says settlers are not civilians and are fair game for murder. I resign from the tribe that says any Jew, because they’re Jewish, deserves to be stabbed.
I resign from the tribe that says Palestinian kids suspected of throwing rocks should be put to death on the spot.
I resign from the tribe that says “We’ll knock flat the homes of the relatives of suspected terrorists – but only the Palestinian ones, never the Jews.” I resign from this tribe not only because this ritual is wrong and immoral and collective punishment. I resign also because it doesn’t work, only making a vicious circle that much broader and that much deeper and that much more vicious.
Maybe you have to leave a place in order to know what’s been lost there. But sometimes, as well, you have to come back, to appreciate what’s still there, what can improbably reappear.
Yes, I’m resigning. But I still I haven’t given up on all this.
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