Friday, September 17, 2010

Does Living With Myths Help Get Us Through The Day ??

An acquaintance sent me the following comments after reading one or another of my blog-letters. I include those comments here with what is probably only a partial answer. A full one would evidently mean relating to every line in the comment.
This is the letter I received:

"Dear Aaron,
It would have been nice to have you and your friends around with their cameras when thousands of Jews were being evicted from their ancient homes for hundreds of years in Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon following the creation of the State of Israel and the various Wars which followed.
Thank G-d Israel showed concern for her evicted brethren, in sharp contrast to all of the Arab states especially Jordan (which was legally created for the displaced Palestinians by the U.N.) who instead pursued a political agenda of purposefully not resettling these refugees, in order to maintain their own political stability and agitate for the destabilization and eventual destruction of Israel as the Jewish homeland. Ben Gurion in his speeches to the Arabs in 1947 pleaded with them not to flee but stay and build a new country together. Why aren't the free Israeli Arabs, who remained in Israel and are quite comfortable right now attending Hebrew Universities and being represented in Parliament with the full freedoms of all Israeli citizens, taking up this cause? Why should the Jews fight their opponent's battles in the name of democracy when there is a democratic mechanism in place for the Arabs to fight their own battles? How many Arabs are fighting for Jewish causes around the World? Or are they instead poisoning the mind and hearts of our young Jewish children with their plight, with the hope of eventually destroying the very people who will come to their aid? What are the Arab youth learning about Jews and how tolerant is their education?
Where were the international conscientious objectors when Jerusalem was being besieged and starved out by the Palestinians in 1947? Where were these international humanitarian objectors when Jews were being sent to the ovens? And most of all "where was the liberal atheistic Marxist Jewish establishment?" They were out to lunch, my dear Aaron.
How did every country on this Earth get their secure borders? By Wars and by legal agreements (called treaties) recognizing their rights to the land they won in these wars and their rights to exist within these boundaries. Why should Israel be any different and be exempt from these universal laws?
May Allah grant you a Shanna Tova.
Fran Zynstein Oz"

This is the responce I sent:

Dear Fran,

I am not exactly sure what item in any of my letters brought on your very emotional response, but I appreciate your deep concern for Israel and our Jewish people while being totally unconcerned with the plight of others, whether they are Palestinians in the West bank or Arab Israeli citizens. My very Jewish upbringing included the realization that centuries of suffering have taught us the need for a strong and secure home, but have also increased our human sensitivity to the plight of others. Your words lead me to question your agreement with the latter half of the previous sentence.

I am also concerned with the possibility that in your closing paragraph you glorify, or at least justify, war as a proper means of gaining "land they won in these wars". Obviously you must conclude that "winning" a war makes everything all right and just. I have always thought that war may be "right and just" as a last means of defending ourselves, rather than as a way of gaining possessions. But here too, our paths evidently don't converge.

Perhaps the most frustrating parts of your letter are the unfortunate misuses of historical occurrences to back up whatever you are trying to say to us. Every paragraph and at times every sentence contains historical inaccuracies, historical omissions, or just plain naïve ignorance of the facts on the ground.

I don't intend in one letter to point out all of the unfortunate historical inaccuracies in your letter. That would become a thesis. One or two examples will suffice in order to have you (maybe) do a bit more research in history rather than in myths. You write, for example:

"………in sharp contrast to all of the Arab states especially Jordan ( which was legally created for the displaced Palestinians by the U.N.) who instead pursued a political agenda of purposefully not resettling these refugees, in order to maintain their own political stabilty and agitate for the destabilization and eventual destruction of Israel as the Jewish homeland."
Jordan was created by England and the League of Nations in the early 1920's after the First World War in an attempt to keep a promise made during the war to part of the Hussein family's Bedouin people. Its creation had nothing to do with displaced Palestinians nor the United Nations. In 1948 the great majority of displaced Palestinians ended up in the West Bank and Jordan. Jordan was the only Arab country to give complete citizenship and equal rights to all Palestinians. Most Palestinians under Jordanian rule managed to leave the refugee camps. Jordan held the refugee camps for 19 years. Afterwards, we – Israel –have been holding the majority of all Palestinian refugee camps for 43 years. Much more was done to "replace the displaced" during the 19 years, than in the 43 years when they are our total responsibility. But let's go back to pre-1967…… While Syria was now actively aiding the fledgling Palestinian resistance movements, and Egypt was aiding them organizationally, Jordan was the one Arab country not interested in conquering back and creating a Palestinian State. It was the one country which tried (often with success) to tone down and stop incursions of terrorist activities from the West Bank into Israel. Its political agenda was to hold on to the West Bank as part of Jordan. To do so meant not fighting for a Palestinian State. Things didn't work out well. Jordan has greatly and often bemoaned being drawn into the war in 1967. Life and history are complicated and can be told from a number of angles. The story you chose to write, has no resemblance to history.

Your use of Ben-Gurion's call to the Arabs to stay (something specific to the conflict in Haifa) completely ignores the historical progression of our War of Independence. Some such calls could be found at the beginning of the war. Progress in the war, political and strategic realities, opportunities to create a new demography…. all resulted in a change of policies. No more such calls. Rather a change which encouraged the displacement or destruction of about 500 villages……some by fear, others by force and coercion. Perhaps it all needed to be done for our own preservation. Perhaps it was one of those unavoidable traumas of war. But that is what characterized the war so much more than your use of Ben-Gurion's early call. (By the way, Ben-Gurion was one of those "liberal atheistic Marxist Jewish establishment" who you so accuse of doing nothing for the Jewish people.

Your knowledge about the good life of the Israeli Arab and of his non-participation in the Palestinian struggle is beyond my desire to expand on in this letter. Evidently you have no knowledge whatsoever about the inequalities of second-class citizenship here in my country, nor about the active identification of Israeli Arabs as Palestinians, something all the more accentuated by second-class citizenship. You are also not the first to use the same excuses which I remember used by some in the U.S. regarding the black population during the 50's: "After all, they have it much better off than the blacks in Africa. If they don't like it, let them go back." Allow me to say that you have strayed from reality, though you have built a reality that helps you survive those grey areas in our national existence.

Your complete misuse of historical facts reminds me somewhat of those who refuse to recognize the historicity of the Holocaust because they have a different agenda in mind. This is normal in fundamentalists who have an agenda that reformats the truths of history and reality. It is doubtful whether we can use history to help solve today's conflicts. But it is almost certain that the misuse of yesterday's history is a sure hindrance to dealing today with those conflicts.

I am most surprised by your emotional outburst asking:

" and most of all where was the liberal atheistic Marxist Jewish establishment?"  ….."when Jews were being sent to the ovens"…or "when Jerusalem was being besieged and starved out by the Palestinians in 1947"…. "They were out to lunch, my dear Aron"....….
Well, my dear Fran, there weren't that many of them, and of those, many were actually here in the country doing their best to smuggle boatloads of Jews onto our shores, including my father, while the country you chose to live in was stubbornly turning away boats. (Nor do I remember many a Chana Senesh coming from America.) Oh, and by the way, during the siege of Jerusalem (which you ask about), many of them were the ones breaking the siege and bringing food and supplies. That's where "they were out to lunch, my dear" Fran. And of course another small but important historical inaccuracy of yours: the siege was in 1948, not 1947….. An important year to remember in our Jewish history. The country you chose to live in enforced a total embargo on supplies that would have helped raise that siege earlier, and openly encouraged other nations to do the same. Those "liberal atheistic Marxist Jews " were there also to evacuate the bulk of those non-liberal, non-atheistic, non-Zionist orthodox Jews who were trapped in the Old City. Of course, before doing all that, they spent a few decades at building settlements, smuggling in more Jews, and preparing for a Jewish State. And yes, every once in a while they also, as you said, had "lunch" . That's where many of them were, my dear Fran.

Of course, I was a bit taken aback with the tone of your letter… some extent accusing "me and my friends" of being negative to the security of our country. Well, while you are emotionally writing your words from afar, "I and my friends with our cameras" have actually gone through a few wars here, have withstood countless rains of katyushas together with our children and grandchildren, have been to funerals of those whom we dined with the day or the week before, and who weren't as lucky as we, and have remained the backbone of Jewish survival by continuing to build this State and working for what we still proudly call the Zionist Ideal.

Thank you for invoking Al-ah in your wishes.
May God, by any name, grant you too a Shana Tova.

Monday, September 13, 2010

My problems with Ella's First Grade

My grand-daughter Ella entered first grade this month. It was a big deal. 97 new first-graders entered our regional grade school. 43 are from our community. Ella's first grade class is filled by 32 new little students.

I have a few misgivings about all this. For one: a single teacher with a bunch of 32 juvenile munchkins….How does she handle so many? For another: how can those miniature minors sit for hours (with a few very short breaks), in those typical rows of classroom desks after just recently leaving a kindergarten where knowledge and mores were taught through play and fun (Ella can read and write) without desks facing that unexciting blackboard. Ella was bored during her first week. I heard that another little girl complained to her mother "My tush is round, not square". How clever. I am also concerned that we have no alternative schooling available in our area without spending lots of road-time getting our little ones back and forth. Anyways, if we had an alternative close by, it would probably cost something far beyond the reasonable abilities of Ella's parents (or grand-parental aid). So we rely on Ella's innate ability to hold her own, overcome boring obstacles, and somehow learn how to continue enjoying to learn.

We are slipping. Every study shows it. Every comparative testing by international standards shows it. Our Ministry of Education knows it. Our own eyes can see it. The People of the Book are slipping. The level of our children's education is falling behind, plummeting at a rapid pace. Need an example ? O.K…. Recently each of 97 countries sent a group of their brightest high-school math students to an international test of abilities. Israel ranked below the mid-range. Turkey and Iran were some of those 50 odd countries who ranked ahead of us. Ten and more years ago we were somewhere so very much higher. Every year has seen another slippage. Should I worry………..?

My grand-daughter Ella is in a regular, normal (perhaps even better than many other), State-sponsored, non-religious first grade. An interesting newspaper item caught my eye and informed me that Ella's type of State-sponsored first grade is now an Israeli minority. It seems that 52% of all Jewish first-graders entering our school system this year, are enrolled in ultra-orthodox or (State-sponsored) orthodox first-grade classes. This too is a percentage that has grown with each new Rosh-Hashana. Today's first grade is tomorrow's second grade and so forth up the educational ladder.

So, yes, I'm worried. My entire schooling in New York, Washington and Baltimore, till my high-school graduation, was spent in orthodox Yeshivot. Were I offered a second chance, I would probably choose to do so again. I remained a secular Jew, but not one ignorant of our religious, cultural and historical roots. Here in Israel, though, for so many years I am in total conflict with the character of our exclusively solitary and powerful orthodox-religious establishment. I worry about the direction our education will follow under the influence of our multi-faceted (ultra, part ultra, nationalist) orthodox infiltration.

The (religious) Chief Science Advisor in the Education Ministry is ambiguous regarding the creation of our universe and insists that (in non-religious classes, of course) we should give equal prominence to the scientific and the biblical theories of creation. The (religious) Pedagogic Administrator in the Ministry wants more "Jewish" studies at the expense of "unnecessary" studies of civics, good citizenship and the meaning of democracy (this, in our troubled country where 50% of high school students already think Arab citizens should have fewer rights). The same Pedagogic Administrator instructed a revision of history schoolbooks that mentioned the Palestinian "Nakba", for fear of damaging the student's patriotism to his country. (The same Pedagogic Administration rejected an 8th grade history book as being too difficult. The unfortunate book demanded of students to "think" rather than memorize. But perhaps there were other more legitimate reasons.) The orthodox education system for those 52% of first graders is already influenced by the fundamentalist visions of either the anti-Israeli-Zionism of the ultra-orthodox or the Messianic All-is-Mine Zionism of the nationalist orthodox. Our religious establishment could find no need of "defrocking" well connected community rabbis ("teachers!) who wrote and applauded a book containing legal orthodox justification for killing Gentile (especially Arab) children. After all, "Thou shalt not Murder !" pertains (according to them) only to the killing(murder) of Jews, while those Arab children may one day grow up to be enemies. Our religious establishment (for that matter, also our government) meekly rose to the issue only after a great public (mainly leftist) outcry forced them to relate. These are only some of those writings on the wall warning of the influence seeping into our system.

My grand-daughter Ella entered first grade this month. All the above worries me. I know.....on the one hand it's all about budgets which have other priorities (Well then, change priorities!), and on the other it's about a creaping fundemantalism which is certainly getting budgets (again, a matter of priorities).  About six years from now, the ninth and tenth of my grandchildren (twins) will be entering first grade. Will I still be worried, by then?.... Or will I, by then, be utterly frustrated with the falling level of education (through priorities), and also tormented by the demise(again, because of priorities) of Jewish traditional/liberal secularism within my grandchildren's State-sponsored educational system…??

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Boycotts are problematic

Ever since the Oslo agreements we had blamed the Palestinian Authority for not taking a firm stand against terrorism. After all, there are peaceful means to voice dissent and resistance to the occupation. Terrorism by small organized resistance groups or by individual frustration gave us the "legitimate" foundation for continuing a harsh occupation. Well, something happened. Arafat went away. Hamas got imprisoned mostly in Gaza, and the PA has been doing a pretty good job of cooperating in the battle against terrorist activities in the West Bank. (The latest Hamas attacks are in Israeli Army controlled areas, not in PA's police grounds.) Abbas's government has, for some years now, taken a strategic decision to fight the occupation through peaceful dissent and resistance.

The latest show of resistance came as the PA announced a boycott of goods produced by settlers in the occupied territories and a gradual stoppage of all Palestinian employment by Jewish settlements and businesses within the occupied territories………civil dissent and resistance at its purest…….hurt the occupation forces in our wallets, peacefully, where it really hurts. Well……not so peacefully. There are loud voices all around us, going all the way up to our Knesset and to ministers in our government, demanding to pronounce such a boycott as terrorist activity to be put down with brute force like any other terrorist activity. Wow…..I wonder what these strong voices do consider legitimate, peacefull, civil resistence? Nevertheless, these demanding voices, hysterical and angry as they sound, show how well peaceful resistance can replace the shedding of blood. I hope the boycott takes shape and is actually implemented across the board within the West Bank. Blessed are they who replace blood with Economics.

On my side of the Green Line, I readily join the boycott of goods produced by our Jewish settlers in the West Bank. I have a list, and though things aren't always clear-cut, I'll do my best to be aware and to boycott. But that's not the point. The point is that those same loud voices want also to criminalize me, to criminalize and legally punish any Israeli citizen who openly and politically boycotts goods coming from the West Bank. I know……it won't happen…….even if those voices have reached the very supportive ears and cravings of many Knesset members and ministers. After all, we are still a democratic country where peaceful political dissent is legitimate…………..I think………..??.......or what??