in post

7 April, 2021


Israeli TV is occupied by the recent failed elections. Yesterday, the pres. having no other option, gave Netanyahu the mandate to try to form a government; but he did so very grudgingly, and refused to be there for the traditional photo shots. In parallel, Netanyahu's trial finally got under way; so for him, clinging onto power is a question not just of political survival.

On Monday we went to a West Bank village to celebrate a friend's birthday party. I hadn't really wanted to, but it was eventually a nice gesture. About 20 years ago, during the second Intifada, he was shot on his doorstep by an Israeli soldier, while trying to usher some children indoors to protect them from the violence. He was paralyzed from the waste down. (In this rare instance, Israel even awarded him compensation for the injury.)

He has fathered five charming children, but, in yet another personal tragedy, his wife died of cancer a couple of years ago, while the children are still young. In the Israeli peace camp, he's a sort of symbol, because despite his injury he has remained a peace activist; he speaks Hebrew and has many Israeli friends and contacts.

I suppose the reason I had not wanted to go is that I don't really like these symbolic friendships; when Israelis and Palestinians meet, they are so often playing the part of citizen ambassadors: everyone on both sides says the expected things and makes an effort to maintain that despite the conflict we are, at bottom, human beings and can remain friends. It's all rather strained and conditional. In our village, there are more natural cross-cultural relationships, but that's mostly between folk who, on both sides, are at least fellow citizens.

There are layers of identity. When people with different cultural, religious or national identities meet, especially when they are opposing sides of a conflict, they initially make statements about us all being "human beings". It's a superficial level that hides many issues that they are afraid to talk about. If and when they eventually manage to broach these difficult, divisive issues, they discover that they are not simply "human beings", but are divided on many levels of identity. Of course, they are, in parallel, still "human beings". If they come to know each other well, the "human" identity may actually come to the forefront, whereas the other group identities may come to be seen as secondary. Those other group identities will always remain in the background, however. One has to hope that in situations of active conflict, the human identities will win out. There are many instances, in many places in the world, in which they haven't.

People with a political agenda, such as Palestinian resistance groups, object to "normalization" in a situation wherein the occupation and the oppression continue. A related issue is the question of "reconciliation". True reconciliation, in which one is able to forgive the enemy for their crimes, can come only after a conflict is resolved, or well on the way to being resolved. One cannot absolve a criminal who does not repent his crime, and cannot become reconciled to an enemy who continues to occupy your land and perpetrate injustice against you. The question is whether one can forgive an individual member of the group of your tormentors, and the answer is, I think, only if you know that she expresses active opposition or assists you in your struggle against the crimes that are being perpetrated against you. And is the relationship that you have with that person one of friendship, or simply of alliance?

The conflict is long and ongoing. What if your ally or friend does, initially, express opposition; attend demonstrations, sign petitions, etc., and then becomes discouraged or lazy about the struggle, which you yourself, as the oppressed person, have no alternative but to continue to resist?

As I grow older, I tend, more and more, to exempt myself from these moral struggles. In my personal life I don't seek friendships or alliances at all, on any side, and continue in my own way. Whether this is a residual effect of my yoga training, a personality trait, a latent, unresolved psychological problem, or a mixture of all these, is hard to determine. Human interactions are there as a matter of course, and I am, for the most part, gentle and kind, rather than prickly, but I find that I don't reach out to people and tend to leave them alone if they themselves don't reach out to me.

The struggle against injustice must always continue; but there are different personal stages in the struggle. While it is true that one must never remain silent in the face of injustice, there are different ways of expressing one's opposition. For example, standing and shouting one's opposition at the barricades is one thing, assisting in the attempt to address the root causes of the injustice, is another. And the chosen means may shift, as life goes on.


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