I get nauseous when I see pictures of Jews in German ghettoes. Each Nazi, I imagine, is a monster.
Yet more disturbing are my second thoughts: they are, in fact, not monstrous, but human. They represent the capacity we all have for evil. I look down and whisper to myself that famous promise, “never again.” But then I look at Israel and remember that the line between victim and victimizer is razor thin.
That same nausea came back last Tuesday when I heard Noa Baum speak about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Baum’s one-woman show, “A Land Twice Promised,” is centered on the true stories of two Israeli and two Palestinian women.
The first was of a Palestinian living under Israeli occupation in the 1980s, the second and third were accounts of the Six-Day War in 1967, told from the dual perspectives of an Israeli child and a young Palestinian mother.
Finally, Baum shared her own mother’s memory of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, a conflict in which she lost her brother. She finished with a flurry of character transitions between Baum and her Palestinian friend Jumana. In the finale Baum held her hand to her ear and feigned an Arab accent to mimic their phone conversations. Each inquired about the safety of the other’s family. Each shift another headline, one of Israeli suffering, one of Palestinian suffering – as if Israel and Palestine fight evenly like two quarrelsome brothers.
On a campus where political discourse is as common as low-income students, most will see nothing wrong with this – and therein lies the problem.
While I appreciate Ms. Baum’s efforts to form friendships across the Israeli-Palestinian divide, I hesitate to call her presentation “peace-building.” In America, she is more of a hindrance than a help to the Palestinian liberation struggle.
Baum represents the American tendency to imagine balance in a conflict where none exists.
Hamas’s short-range Qassam rockets are not equivalent to Israeli Defense Force (IDF) airstrikes and raids. Israel’s ruthless assaults on Gaza are more akin to gang rape. Though the victim spits, scratches and bites his assailants, the wounds he inflicts are woefully disproportionate. Yet Baum insists on equating the suffering of the victim with that of the rapists. This reinforces the myth of Zionist victimhood – a facade that masks a frighteningly skewed power dynamic.
The diaries of David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, help crack this veneer:
“The compulsory transfer of the Arab [population] from the valleys of the proposed Jewish state could give us something which we never had, even when we stood on our own during the days of the first and second Temples … I support compulsory [population] transfer. I do not see anything immoral in it. We are given an opportunity which we never dared to dream of in our wildest imaginings. This is more than a state, government and sovereignty – this is national consolidation in a free homeland.”
Does Ben-Gurion’s vision of racial purity echo in contemporary Israeli policy? I ask you to judge for yourself.
Today Palestinians are imprisoned in ghettos, prohibited from leaving without permit.
In Gaza, 70 percent survive on one dollar per day, 80 percent of Gazans depend on food aid and 11 percent of children experience hunger to the point of stunted growth. The last Israeli invasion of Gaza left 1,413 Palestinians dead – 500 of whom were women and children – and destroyed vital infrastructure like sewage treatment and water purification facilities. Thirteen Israelis were killed.
Three years later Gaza remains decimated. The Israeli government’s blockade of the strip prevents critical building materials like 2×4’s, cement, iron and plaster from entering.
According to Israeli Prime Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman, the siege is meant to put Palestinians on a “diet.” Maybe that’s why chocolate, cattle, chicks, cumin, jam, ginger, sage, vinegar, nutmeg, fruit preserves, potato chips, gas for soft drinks, dried fruit, fresh meat, coriander and fishing rods are among the banned goods.
The first boat carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza in May of last year, the Mavi Marmara, was attacked by Israel in international waters. Nine unarmed peace activists were slaughtered. The last attempt to break the siege was led by two Jewish friends of mine, Glen Secker and Yonatan Shapira. Glen was beaten and Yonatan shot at close range with a taser gun (he was hit in the heart, which in America is attempted murder).
However, Gazans aren’t the only suffering Palestinians. Those in the West Bank are also ghettoized, forced to pass through dehumanizing checkpoints each day on their way to work. They too suffer through IDF raids, political assassinations and government abductions (most recently of activists’ children).
Palestinians throughout Israel/Palestine, including ones in East Jerusalem, are forced out of their homes by Zionist building projects and racist residential laws. These policies push Palestinian families to join their four million compatriots in Syrian and Jordanian refugee camps. They are the continuation of a sixty-year process of ethnic cleansing.
There is gross imbalance in this conflict.
According to a Time article published in September 2010, only 8 percent of Israelis believe the conflict is their country’s “most urgent concern.” Education, crime, national security and poverty supersede the need for peace. Ninety-five percent of Jewish Israelis are “happy” and one-third “very happy.”
Why shouldn’t they be? Israelis live a life of privilege and – minus the country’s 20 percent Arab population – enjoy a democratic government that responds to their concerns.
Israel has Palestinians right where it wants them: crushed beneath its boot.
But Noa Baum’s performance does nothing to address these issues. She raises no difficult questions. She doesn’t ask why millions of Palestinians remain in exile, barred from return to their homes. She doesn’t tell stories of Jewish settler violence or barbaric IDF raids. She doesn’t talk about murdered peace activists, or Palestinian children beaten and stolen from their homes, or nonviolent Palestinian and Jewish protests dispersed with tear gas, rubber bullets, clubs and tasers. Instead, Baum normalizes the conflict. She implies it affects both people evenly.
Baum’s goal is to inspire “mutual compassion,” yet the last thing the United States needs is more sympathy for Zionism. Our blind support is Israel’s enabler.
America is the patron of Palestinian oppression. We fund home demolitions, abductions and political assassinations to the tune of three billion tax dollars a year. Our government vetoes U.N. resolutions that illegalize occupation and expansion of Jewish Settlements into Arab lands. This is our money and these are our politicians. The blood of Palestinian children stains our fingers.
Can you feel them scratching at the soles of your feet?
In America the “Palestinian” has no identity.
He’s a headline on the evening news, the irrational terrorist in movies and T.V. shows, the disfigured face in a body bag. He’s the enemy, a familiar nightmare, all that we define ourselves against … but where is he?
The Palestinian is neither heard from nor seen in America and yet she pervades our culture.
We constantly speak for the Palestinian and about the Palestinian, but do you ever hear her voice?
Peace activists place themselves in solidarity with the downtrodden, not the tormenters. They hold the ugly face of the oppressor before the world.
Baum should have raised the Palestinian voice, not the Israeli. She should have “weaved together” tales from life in the Berlin ghetto with those from the Palestinian ghettos. She should have refused to compromise with an Israel still afraid of what lies beneath its heel. Had she done this you might have seen the imbalance. You might have been inspired to act. You might have been encouraged to keep your promise … “never again.”