Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Leftist comments to Leftist Friend

Sent  9.June.2010

Dear Friends,

During this past week, as a result of the Marmarac Boat fiasco and tragedy, my 9th Workshop group has had a somewhat feverish interchange of mail. Much of it has been between my friend M-----, a very Active and true peace activist, and others who have cast doubt on her loyalties and intentions.

For anyone interested, I bring here M-----’s latest respond (and, afterwards, my own letter which I then forwarded to her):

(M-----'s letter to our Workshop group):
Dear -------- [9th Workshoper who wrote to M----]

I guess we have a fundamental disagreement here. And that is about who (or, more precisely, to my mind, what) our enemy is. One thing that I've come to believe, based on my experience over the years, is that the enemies that are most important to deal with are not people but systems (governments, political ideologies, militaries, and the like). I do know what side I'm on. I try to take the side against oppression (be it of Jews or Blacks or Aboriginal peoples in North America, or of Palestinians in Israel and the territories it controls; Tibetans, Fulan Gong, etc.) and for as much justice as possible. This doesn't make an enemy, for instance, of my mainland Chinese friend who tells me how right his government is in their treatment of the last two, and how stories of abuse of the FG are probably fabricated . . . Nor does it make enemies of Palestinians who may or may not have voted for Hamas (not my favourite party) or who might prefer a single democratic state to the regional confederation I favour--or, of course, of workshoppers or others who seem to me to be overly mistrustful of people whom I have mostly found to be both trusting and trust-worthy.

I too believe that the survival of the Jewish people is of fundamental importance. But I do not accept the argument that the Jewish people are in danger of being obliterated. The evolution of an ethnocentric "Jewish state" called Israel into another sort of entity, whether a distinct part of a confederation or a less distinct component of a single state does not mean the obliteration of the people of that state, which, I contend, is the important thing, and not the state in and of itself.

To me, peace is also not an end in itself. Peace without a reasonable measure of justice and equitable relations between both "sides" (in a political sense) is not, in my view, worthy of the name, nor is it sustainable--as we know from history. I apologize if my words seem to you to be venomous and hate-filled. They are not intended to be either, although I do get a bit hot under the collar when folks start calling me names for sharing reports and opinion pieces, from Israeli and first-hand witness sources, of a different view than theirs. Exasperation is my overwhelming feeling--certainly not hatred!

I don't think the "integrity and forthrightness" you speak of having admired in me has somehow morphed into "mauvais foi" (which I'm assuming translates as 'bad faith') and suspect motives. I see myself as being pretty consistent--and I hope true to the memory of my dad,who walked the picket lines of other unions that he agreed with (e.g., longshoremen and daycare teachers) when his own (municipal employees) wasn't allowed to strike and supported the IPP even when accused by a friend who worked for the FBI of being a card-carrying Communist (which he wasn't, incidentally, though many of his other friends were). I was taught, in my largely secular home, and in my Conservative sunday school, that human and civil rights were something that Jews fought for side-by-side with those to whom they were being denied. When the U.S. acted in a way he found reprehensible, he spoke out; I try to do so vis-a-vis both of my countries of citizenship, Canada and Israel--having returned my U.S. passport in 1969 along with a statement explaining my disgust, first at the VietNam war, and then (the straw that broke this particular camel's back) its going ahead with (what turned out to be only the first set) underground atomic tests in the Amchitka Islands, ignoring the predictions (thankfully eroneous) of many scientists that this could result in tidal waves along the West Coast of both Canada and the US (not sure about Mexico).

…….. I don't think I'm saying anything now very different than I was back in 1986 (Israelis and Palestinians working to end their common enemy: the occupation),………. But I realize …… what has changed is that since then, I actually lived in Jerusalem for seven years, during most of the first intifada and the first two years after the signing of the Oslo Accords, and have visited eight times since then--and I've seen Israel's "mauvais foi" in action . . . .in perpetuating and strengthening this "enemy"--the occupation, and becoming increasingly oppressive in its policies and actions. It sickens me to think about it, because, as someone pointed out, this is family. I'm an only child, but if I had brothers, I think this is how I'd feel if my brothers and sisters were mistreating my cousins. We're so close in so many ways; we need to smarten up before we destroy each other. But (and this is the bit you can't forgive me for, I suspect) I place the primary responsibility on the stronger party; the country with a recognized and governable land base and a well-equipped military . . .

So I guess we'll agree to disagree, hopefully not as "enemies."

(My letter to M----- after reading her response to a letter from another of my Workshoppers.) :

Dear M-----,

We agree on so many things, that often I find it unnecessary to add to your comments. In the larger picture, I too know which side you’re on, and am proud to stand beside you as we “take the side against oppression”. I have certainly envied you at your ability to spend so much time actively in the pursuit against oppression. My own involvement, whether in the West Bank or with Israeli Arabs or with “writing about”, have unfortunately been all too marginal to the needs of work and family. I wish I had done so much more. I shall continue to genuinely salute you even as I point out some of my disagreements with you once we descend from the “big picture” to the nitty-gritty of what we are striving for.

You are so right in stating that “the enemies that are most important to deal with are not people but systems - governments, political ideologies, militaries, and the like.” (I probably would have added religious establishments at the top of that list….). Such being the case, here in Israel we need to fight and oppose the actions and policies of our government, its political ideologies, and its cooperation with religious messianism. Likewise, we need to convince the “people” that our opposition is justified. Up to this point I think we are in complete agreement. But you seem to find it more difficult accepting the fact that Israel has enemies who are “real” and are actually intent on its demise, and that these enemies are fairly well entrenched within the Palestinian community and the Middle east community as a whole. Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran are all symbolic of that which is possible within our Middle East and which also has inroads into the Palestinian community. I try not to read too much of what my own country says that “they” say about us. I try to be attuned (in English) to what they say in the Arab and world media. Unfortunately, peace and mutual understandings are not their message. And each, to its own people, applies also a zealous system of oppression. This means that there is much need to also fight the policies and actions of these governments, political ideologies, and extremist religious regimes. And, above all, this is not a separate issue. It is closely intertwined within our Arab/Israeli conflict and to the alternatives we offer while being opposed to the policies and actions of our own government.

However, a really deep chasm separates our individual understanding of the future we seek regarding the State of Israel. You write:

“I too believe that the survival of the Jewish people is of fundamental importance. But I do not accept the argument that the Jewish people are in danger of being obliterated. The evolution of an ethnocentric "Jewish state" called Israel into another sort of entity, whether a distinct part of a confederation or a less distinct component of a single state does not mean the obliteration of the people of that state, which, I contend, is the important thing, and not the state in and of itself.”
Your ability to see us as some “less distinct component of a single state” - is notably a statement accepting the demise of Israel and placing ourselves as an (eventual) minority within a Palestinian State surrounded by the fundamentalist ideologies within the Middle East, ideologies which are slowly enveloping a greater part of the Middle East. One of our fights with the Israeli government is the fact that its policies are destroying the Two-State resolution and bringing us exactly to the future which you are offering.

In the 1920’s I may have joined the Brit-Shalom movement in Palestine, a movement seeking a one-state entity of the kind you envision. In the first half of the 1920’s the British actually tried to push the setting up of a joint government with a great Arab majority. The Palestinian powers-to-be wanted neither Brit-Shalom nor the British proposals. Since then much water has flooded and crippled the bridge. Perhaps with two separate states (or even an equal confederation of states) we will eventually learn to accept and respect each other.

Today a one state solution will be a Jewish State with a totally undemocratic approach to 40% of its population (and eventually to the majority of its population), with a continuation of violence from both sides. Down the Road it will be a country with an Arab Majority either being oppressed or taking over and oppressing. No, as you write, this “does not mean the obliteration of the people”, the Jewish people, but it will mean the obliteration of a Jewish homeland. It is amazing how quickly the generations forget that the strength and security of the Jewish people in the lands of the Diaspora are umbilically tied to the existence of Israel as a Jewish homeland. (a very imperfect homeland, but that’s why we continue our opposition to those terrible imperfections.)

A few days prior to the Marmarac fiasco and tragedy an acquaintance/friend of mine working in B’tzelem sent me mail asking what my opinion was about cooperating with other NGO’s outside of Israel who are grouped loosely as “BDS” (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions). Should we join them directly in their struggles regarding the Palestinians? My answer to her is below. It may be relevant to what we are both writing about.

I find myself in a reverse role to that which I am accustomed to. I am a constant critic of my government’s actions and policies towards the Palestinians as people, towards a political settlement thru two-States, and towards the Arab citizen’s of Israel. At times, though (like now), I need to proclaim that within the need to decide between black and white we cannot be blind to the grey between them.

I look forward to our meeting once more, next time you are in Israel.
Stay well and active,

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