031: Land of Feta & Dates: Wrestling with Issues in Israel as a soon-to-be-Jew
I’ve never been to Israel but I’ve felt drawn there a long time, even before I decided to explore Judaism. The history and culture fascinates me and brings to mind images from bible study growing up: Prehistory, including Noah and giants and Babel, and Jesus walking around doing his thing (but that’s another post).
Drafting this post is complicated and I’ve definitely put it off. A few things have helped me formulate my thoughts along the way:
- Recognizing that I don’t have to have any answers, and that’s OK
- Realizing that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t a land conflict
- Drawing a firm distinction between Israel (the land) and Israel (the government)
- Drawing the same distinction between Israel the people and the other Israels (government, land)
- Knowing that people change as their circumstances change, and as someone more wise than me put it very well: Occupying a land changes you
- My belief that no matter what our individual thoughts are on Israel right now, without its existence, millions of more Jews would be dead. We were truly without a home for 2,000 years, occasional guests in host countries, but never fully citizens or truly safe
- Recognition of the anti-semitism that is the “good Jew” test: Are you loyal to Israel, or your home country? You’re considered a bad Jew either way, and Jews in America and across the world are not responsible for what the government of Israel does.
Before my journey I’d firmly landed in one camp: that the Israeli regime was corrupt, violent, and on the wrong side of history. I firmly feel Israel should exist. You’ll meet lots of Jews, especially in America, who disagree with Zionism, though.
Prior to 2019 I thought the only way for the crisis to budge would be for massive perception shifts on the part of the Israelis, but I recognize that is improbable.
On one hand, there are real human rights violations and I in particular recall reading some time back—5, 10 years, maybe—of a flotilla of unarmed protesters being boarded by IDF and all executed, including Americans.
Terrible. Horrific. Unimaginable and indefensible.
I’ve also read the long history of genocides against the Jews, including the Arab invasions in 1948 after the formation of the state of Israel. The stated goal was to drive all the Jews into the sea and it still is. Iran would love it destroyed and Egypt and other nations at the time tried.
That’s precisely why this isn’t a land war and hasn’t been since the destruction of the second temple. The Romans decimated the Jews not just to quell a rebellion, but to break Jewish sprit. The spoils and slaves they took from Jerusalem were used to build the coliseum in Rome and they may have even taken (and the Vatican may still hide) the menorah from the temple. From that moment on, dispersing or dispensing of Jews hasn’t been about taking property, it’s been about eradication.
Prior, of course, it was property. The Levant—the larger region of which Israel has long been considered the heart—is the bridge between Europe, Africa, and the east. Israel was a necessary piece to hold to control that route in the common era for first the Romans, then ultimately the Ottomans and the British.
The Jewish diaspora began with the Romans and you may know much of that history. Flourishing in Spain in Egypt for a time, the Jews were pushed out from 1492 to WWII and after. Then the British, hating playing cop between fighting Jews and Arabs in Palestine, finally pulled out in a hurry. The rush for a plan and a government meant all power went to the Jews out of a real need for a safe destination for refugees. A two-state solution was possible out of the gate if the international community had taken the time (and British stayed longer), but they didn’t.
And that’s changed those who’ve lived there and emigrated there since. Constant attacks, threat of annihilation, and reminders of what had just happened under the Nazis meant pushing back or being driven into the sea. After just even a generation of that, you’re changed.
Were Canada constantly killing Americans, I definitely would have been raised to distrust or outright hate Canadians. Israel pushing back, initially in defense, turned into offense, then occupation, then a wall.
I’ve twice watched the amazing PBS series The Story of the Jews with Simon Schama. It’s a fascinating, rapid dive into the the entire span of Jewish culture and movement. Near the end he stands at the wall at the west bank and marvels at something that I find deeply true after a year of immersion in Jewish thought: You can’t be Jewish and build walls like this. We need to be secure, sure. But erecting concrete changes us and definitely harms others. It’s antithetical to what we believe in. (Schama gives a good interview).
Again I don’t know what the solution is here and don’t have to offer one. Not a single Jew is required to offer a solution and we’re not responsible for what happens over there. I would truly have to be Jewish, live there my whole life, have my parents or grandparents have lived there or emigrated there after telling me stories of how they and their parents and ancestors were targeted and locked up or massacred, and then—only then—might I grasp what it means to have a barrage of rockets constantly launched overhead from Gaza and kids in markets with suicide vests and entire other regimes calling for my extinction. Not just taking my home, but my heritage and life. Then perhaps I can understand why a grifting fascist like Netanyahu, Israel’s Trump, stumbles into and maintains power over and over despite breaking laws and flaunting the reality the Palestinians face. To me, were my life and my family’s lives the sum of the things I just outlined, conceding even a square mile may feel like certain death, the death my ancestors stared down in literally every European and Arab country, ingrained in my DNA as inherited trauma.
The Palestinians truly are suffering and something must be done, but the far left here and abroad is holding Israel to a standard no other country faces. BDS – the boycott, divest, sanctions movement – often talks in terms of erasing Israel itself, turning it over to the Palestinians who never held total control to begin with. No one suggests giving 100% of American land to native tribes or descendants of slaves and abolishing the American government, yet we are responsible for far more death and occupation than Israel, and native Americans were actually here first. Should things change in America and in Israel? Yes. But the far, far left proposals mean more Jewish deaths and returning control of most of Israel to Muslims, a religion that originated some 2,000 years after Jewish settlement in the area.
Somewhere, someday, there is a solution that doesn’t involve genocide. My fear is that given the history of Jerusalem, it will take something drastic again for that to happen.
What comes next
For me, more study. I can’t wait to explore Israel and see the sights I’ve heard so much about, see how it feels to stand at the western wall, to see where my newfound identity and heritage formed. There’s a lot going on in the world right now and in my life, so it may be a bit. If you’re interested, you can hop onto my registry to sponsor an experience on my journey.
Land of Feta & Dates: Wrestling with Issues in Israel
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