Thursday, September 22, 2011

Trying to put together thoughts on the U.N. vote

First of all, here are two interesting/relevant texts to further blur/clarify/blur your opinions...

Poll: 70% of Israelis say Israel should accept U.N. decision

Obama's speech at the U.N.; Full Video plus text re Palestinian vote

Those are just two randoms (that are not so random) from today that added to my thoughts, that are only somewhat coherent.  Furthermore, you can find plenty of articles fleshing out all of these points and more better than I did just now; I doubt I am saying anything new, but since several people have asked me for my opinion here goes...

1) I want to see a two state solution become a reality.  I certainly do not think that the current Israeli government has done a good job showing that it is interested in a two state solution.

2) I do not want a failed Palestinian State.

3) A U.N.G.A. vote will not bring about a Palestinian state in reality. Any/every Palestinian who does not already know this will realize it the next morning when s/he wakes up and there are still checkpoints.

4) Think to yourself what you would want in a successful, recognized state in the international arena (functioning government, functioning economy, economy that is not almost totally dependent on foreign aid, the ability to have order within borders aka a functioning police/security force, and basic provisions for things like health and education, and whatever else might come to your mind), and then research whether the Palestinian Authority can/does provide these things for its people.  I can honestly say that I only believe they have accomplished a functional security force (trained by U.S. General Dayton, and cooperative with the IDF), as well as a 9% GDP growth it can boast as a legitimate sign of economic growth.  With the caveat that at this point everything still hinges on aid; and should U.S. or Israeli or other foreign aid cease, the PA would collapse rather quickly, a bad thing!

5) Tangible questions: Where will Palestine's capital be? More generally, what does a Palestinian state look like? Only the West Bank?  Where does the Gaza Strip fit in to this picture?  Where is Hamas?

6) Is the Palestinian Authority (or the Palestinian people for that matter) willing to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state?  All statements thus far have been resolutely no.

7) Finally, most importantly, where is the detailed plan of what an actual Palestine will look like post the vote? Something that answers all of the above questions?  I've seen nothing specific.

What does this mean to me?  It means that I am absolutely empathetic to Palestinian nationalist aspirations.  As a Zionist (that is to say, a Jewish nationalist), I appreciate other peoples' wills to have a country of their own -- so long as it does not seek to delegitimize my right to exist (in words) or physically try to remove my place in this world (through terror and war).  Hence, I want nothing more than to have an end to all fighting and bloodshed and live peacefully next to my Palestinian neighbors.  BUT, I know very well that going to the U.N. this week does not help accomplish anything short term in terms of palpable changes on the ground for the Palestinian people.  And here is where I am really conflicted. 

On the one hand, I truly believe that the only way to solve this is through direct negotiations between the two countries (possibly with an agreed upon 3rd party mediator), complete with set rules of conduct that go along with negotiations.  This is the best way to solve the final status issues (Jerusalem, Right of Return, Water, Borders) that have prevented peace to this point.  Going to the United Nations and applying for statehood without solving these issues through negotiations with Israel means that in reality there will still be no Palestinian state because none of the questions posed above will be able to be satisfactorily answered and solved.  If the U.N.G.A. does vote a symbolic state into being, should Israel accept the voice of the world?  Yes, sure, but nothing changes without negotiations...  On the other hand, the current government in Israel has done a pretty deplorable job at showing interest in a negotiated two state solution.  In my opinion there is simply no reason to be building in land that will be part of a Palestinian state and no excuse to not have every settlement deemed illegal by Israeli law dismantled.  In other words, the government has either been cowed by a zealous minority that has no regard for Israeli law or civility or actually tacitly condones settlement extremism.  Either option is scary.  [An argument can thus be made that the PA has no faith in the current Israeli government to negotiate and is seeking an alternate path instead.  And an argument can be made that there are intractable differences between the Israeli and Palestinian governments as long as the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as the undisputed homeland of all Jews and thus Israel sees no reason to make any moves.]

So in a nutshell, I believe that there must be a change in the Israeli government, with the new one reflecting the fact that 70% of Israelis do want to see that Palestinian state.  If we're being honest, Bibi and Lierberman have spent two years fighting with each other to prove who can be more hawkish.  They have not helped bring peace.  In the meantime, it would be well worth the Palestinian Authority's time to continue on its path of statebuilding by continuing to build the infrastructure of a functional country.  It should actually model itself after the Zionist Yishuv model of the Turkish and then British Mandate era, where the Jewish pre-state government spent some 40+ years building up its state infrastructure (hospitals, universities, courts, etc.) in preparation for independence and sovereignty.  It should continue to work on economic development independent of foreign aid.  It should focus on how it can convince its enemies in Gaza (read: Hamas) to put down their weapons and learn to accept Israel as a reality.  And finally and quite importantly, it should think deeply and carefully about the concept of Israel as a Jewish state and internalize that it is a reality that will not change.  Either way one looks at it, this must be a two sided street.

Unfortunately for all parties involved, going to the U.N. this week in no way helps bring about an end to this conflict. 

Ok.  Questions? Comments? Thoughts? Disagreements? Please post!
My opinions are also quite malleable and I am always learning from your input!

Getting up in 5 hours for advanced Hebrew,


Monday, September 19, 2011

לילה שקט עובר ברגבה

This is a poem I wrote for my Garin 'newspaper' a couple of weeks ago.  It details a middle-of-the-night-screaming-wake-up our two חיילות (we have two lady soldiers -- chayalim are males and chayalot are females, that are in charge of our garin) treated us to.  Such events in the army are called הקפצות/hakpatzot, and entail running half asleep soldiers around for any given amount of time, and our חיילות, both 21 year olds and both named Sharon (thus, henceforth, the Sharoniot), thought it would be a cute idea for us to 'experience' this during our period of absorption here on Regba. 

The poem is in limerick style (AAbbA, CCddC, etc.), or חמשיר in Hebrew.


לילה שקט עובר ברגבה

לילה שקט עובר ברגבה
צברים חדשים נהנים בזולה
לא חוששים, לא דואגים
כי מחר יש שמש ובריכה...

קומו! צועקות המפקדות
צאו! מהמיטות הנוחות
זמן לסיים את החלומות שלכם
תהיו בחוץ תוך שתי דקות

מה קרה? שואל בחור עם סכין
פיגוע! צעק צעיר הגרעין
כמה פוחדים, אחרים מתעצבנים
ואחד ישן כתינוק עדין

הקפצה! צורחות המפקדות
לריצפה! לפעמים בלי סיבות
עומדים באיזה ח', חצי לילה-- יו בט
עד שמגיע כבר זמן לשחות

לילה שקט עובר ברגבה
צברים חדשים נהנים בזולה
לא חוששים, לא דואגים
כי מחר יש שמש ובריכה...

יונה ליבן

P.S. Bonus points to anyone who gets the homage in the title

Saturday, September 17, 2011

First Post as a Citizen, Ben Gurion style

Shabbat Shalom l'kulam,

I hope everyone is having a restful weekend.

First of all I have to apologize; I have been in Israel now for exactly one month and a NEW IMMIGRANT (woo!), and only now am I starting to find time to write a bit. I imagine that as per previous posts, I won't really be giving day by day updates of what I'm up to, but more snippets, poems, and relevant opinions that will hopefully, when taken as a whole, shed light onto what I'm up to over here.

That said, I wanted to devote my first post to a letter from David Ben Gurion dated on 5.5.53/כ' אייר תשי"ג sent to his Minister of Finance (who, in Israel's 4th government, happened to be Levi Eshkol). The letter -- or more appropriately, the memo, was shown to me in an excellent class I took in my final semester at the Seminary called Revival of the Hebrew Language, and for multiple reasons I simply love it.

First, allow me to quote the letter in entirety, and I'll follow with comments.

לשר האוצר,

חתמתי היום על "הצהרת העובר(ה) לצורך קביעת נכויי המס".

בהצהרה, כסעיף 4 נאמר שם בעלי/אשתי. לדעתי יש להגיד: אישי/אשתי.

במלה בעל יש משמעות של אדנות ועבודה זרה, שאינה הולמת כבוד האשה, השווה לגמרי בזכויותיה לאיש.

תעשו כדברי הושע הנביא: "והיה ביום ההוא - תקראי אישי ולא תקראי לי עוד בעלי (הושע ב' 15).

בכבוד רב,
ד. בן-גוריון

I just Google Translated that and it completely botches the meaning, so follow my explanation instead. Basically, Prime Minister Ben Gurion is writing to his MOF to scold him. On a tax form that DBG had been filling out earlier that day, he had the option of circling either "בעלי" or "אשתי." Traditionally (and still very much the status quo today), a wife calls her husband her בעל, which can be translated as husband, master, lord, owner, and Baal (a Biblical era idol) among other things. אשתי, on the other hand, is simply translated as "wife." So the husband circles "wife" and the wife circles "husband/master/Baal." DBG immediately calls this out and says the options instead should be "אשתי" or "אישי" which immediately give a more egalitarian parallel. After all, he explains, "בעל" has the meanings of mastery and idolatry [whereas "אישי" simply means husband]. And here comes the kicker. Ben Gurion finishes his memo to Eshkol by telling Eshkol to act in the ways of Hosea, and ending with a quote from the ever humanistic and social justice oriented prophet. 'And it will be in this day, you shall call me husband/man ["אישי"] and you shall not call me master ["בעלי"] anymore' [Hosea 2:15, my translation].

So here's why I love this memo so much. It is 1953 and David Ben Gurion is nearly 5 years post Independence. He is desperately trying to absorb over a million immigrants (primarily Jews of the Middle East and N.Africa who fled/were kicked out of their homes in the aftermath of the creation of Israel, but also Holocaust survivors from Europe), many of whom spend several years in transitional tent camps in the fledgling state. His budget is by all means tiny. He is trying to feed a country (food stamps were the norm; everything was rationed) that is growing rapidly. He is trying to keep the country defended in a region that actively seeks its destruction -- dealing both with bellicose cries in the media from neighboring countries as well as actual terrorist attacks (sound familiar?). And on and on. The point is DBG was literally building a nation. And yet, he finds time to do his taxes, and while doing them, take note that something is remiss in his vision of a progressive social democracy in the Jewish homeland. In one minute's worth of a memo, Ben Gurion is seeking to change something fundamental about how his government functions, and how it portrays itself. And he does so by quoting the Jewish canon.

David Ben Gurion, the self proclaimed Atheist, could quote the Jewish Bible at will, as well as much of the Talmud. Judaism, though not necessarily important to him in a religious sense, permeated all aspects of Ben Gurion's life. On the international and national scales, Ben Gurion was able to do things that we should all dream to be able to do. And incredibly, Judaism was infused in the macro and micro levels of all of his actions. I think that the conversation surrounding DBG's personal educational upbringing/history and how that history affected his personal and national Zionisms which thus affected his choices on how education in the new country should look like (he was a staunch believer in the separation of church and state) deserve an entire thesis worth of discussion (I'll also try to tackle it one of these days in a post). However, what I can conclusively say right now is that it is letters like these that give me confidence in what I am doing here in Israel today.

I am a proud Zionist with tons of questions and doubts about Judaism. I naively thought that after four years at JTS (and I guess at Columbia, too) I would be comfortable with my Judaism and ready to move to Israel as a man comfortable with his faith and level of observance. Instead I came out of there with more doubts about religion than ever. But, at the same time, my doubts have never once deterred my involvement with Judaism, my constant intermingling with Jewish history, literature, philosophy, and language. What is beautiful about Judaism is that even if we have our crises of faith and questions that remain unanswered, we can still look to it as a wellspring of ideals and values to make the world a better place.

Ben Gurion was here to make Israel a viable place for Jews to live, for whenever they wanted to and for whatever reason. His vision was social, democratic, and Jewish. He is an obvious inspiration in my life, and so in my own small ways, I too am here to make this country a better place.

I'm off to the beach now with my garin, but more posts to come soon!

With love,