My Bittersweet Reflections on Israel at 60
by Dr. David ALBERT
Treasurer, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
May 9, 2008
I suppose the best way to describe Israel's 60th birthday for me is bittersweet. I remember the same feeling 10 years ago on Israel's 50th birthday. On the 50th birthday, Texas Hillel held a big birthday celebration on UT's West Mall while the PSC held a counter-protest recalling Nakba a few feet away. I remember walking back in forth between the two groups trying to get a few people to talk to each other and to understand that each narrative had some truth and some blind spots. The Palestinians only saw that the Jews were celebrating their suffering. The Jews could only see the Palestinian were decrying the rebirth and achievements of the Jewish state. The Palestinians could only mourn their own people's suffering. The Jews could only celebrate what they had achieved. Sadly, there was little room for dialogue and I have spent the much of the last 10 years walking back forth between the two opposing camps.
Perhaps, even more sadly, I don't think much has changed in the last 10 years. This time remains bittersweet. There is so much for us to celebrate. The Shoah destroyed most of the Eastern European Yiddish culture that had been at the center of World Jewry before the War. American Jewry was still taking shape and establishing itself within a society in which anti-Semitism was still widespread.
In 1945, the image of the Jew seen around was of the wretched survivors of the Nazi Concentration camp. Over 60 years, Israel has been central to the process of rebuilding Jewish identity and dignity. Israel has provided hope and opportunity to millions of Jews from Europe, the Middle East and later Russia and Ethiopia. It has provided a central focus of pride and identity for many American Jews. I do believe that much of what American Jewry has accomplished is deeply tied to the achievements of Israel. Israel has revived ancient language and built a modern culture (music, film, literature, poetry, etc.) around a language that was barely spoken a century ago. Israel has built the institutions of a relatively stable, albeit flawed, political democracy and an industrialized economy from the ashes of the Shoah. These are no small achievements and I hope they are ones we can take pride in as we reflect on 60 years.
However, the bittersweetness remains. Beyond the imperfections of the Israeli political system and the inequities of Israeli economic life, the shadow of the Occupation hangs over Israel today. The failure to achieve peace remains a haunting ghostly presence. Israel's role as an Occupier remains a destructive and often unacknowledged cancer growing on Israel body politic and Israeli society. Each new settlement home remains an act of both oppression and self-destruction. The insecurities and trauma of the Shoah have been passed down through the generations. The inability of Israelis to make peace with the Palestinians (and the inability of the vast majority of American Jews to actively support of the peace process) is the legacy of our collective trauma during the past century.
I know many Palestinians have come to see the Occupation as a product of malice, racism, and greed. Of course, those elements are all present. But by and large, I believe that it is the irrational fears produced by the traumas of our past that ensnares us at every turn. Every bombing and every missile attack echoes with the gas chambers of Auschwitz. September 11th and the "War on Terror" have reawakened some of those ugly demons for American Jews as well. Until we make peace with our own demons, I'm not sure we will ever be able to make peace with the Palestinians.
I believe the mission of the peace seekers in our community is to change the mindset of American Jews so that we can play a constructive political role in helping America and Israel get beyond the fears of the Shoah and work towards building an even better Israel.
Our tradition is one that recognizes the bittersweet. At Passover we mix the bitter and the sweet and remember the Egyptians who drowned as we fled slavery and began our journey to the Land of Milk and Honey. At a wedding, we break a glass in order to remember the destruction of the Temple and the great suffering that caused our people. Israel's 60th birthday is a time for us to remember to celebrate what Israel has achieved, but also to rededicate ourselves to working towards peace and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians. To me, that can only mean two states for two peoples. Let us sing Happy Birthday with joy for what Israel has achieved, a touch a sadness for what it has not, and a breath of hope for a more peaceful, more just future.
Salaam v' Shalom,
Dr. David Albert, PhD (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Treasurer, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom (http://www.btvshalom.org)