Four years, huh?
Kayla and I just landed last night, back in Jerusalem, after two and a half weeks in the Bay Area, mostly spending time with my 93 year-old Grandma, and my younger brother, Jesse, and his partner, and my dear friend, Andrew, and my aunt and other dear friends and people we love a lot. And kale. And redwoods. And relative political stability.
It feels like a good time to reflect, on everything. From the distance of 8,000 miles and 10 hours of time-zone gap, things back here seemed as grim and awful as they ever had, with the exception of during the Gaza War in 2014. During the Gaza War, though, everything felt temporary, like after it was done, perhaps there would be space to rebuild, a phoenix of decency, of protest. And it felt like that, for a bit, like there was new energy, new urgency, new ”chippings away at the wall,” and then came last Fall, in 2014, the last Jerusalem Fall, which seems now like a precursor to 2015’s Jerusalem Fall. And now it all seems “normal”: There is no “war” to “end.” This is the new routine – violence on the streets, incitement in the halls of the Knesset and on walls of the Facebook, fear, despair, heaviness.
Perhaps its not that new. It’s often hard to distinguish between my “analysis” of the reality that I live in, and my subjective feelings about the reality that I live in. What I do know is that I feel a new level of heaviness.
A few days after we left for California, I found out that a McCarthyist “mole” had accompanied All That’s Left to Susiya in order to spy. This was nauseating and unsettling, but not shocking, given all that has been going on. I felt particularly put over the edge by the news of Nasser Nawaja’s arrest. Nasser has since been released, but something about the thought of this man, one of the most decent people I have had the pleasure to get to know over the past four and a half years here in Israel-Palestine, being trucked off to jail, at the eyes of his children, felt particularly shattering. Not that, objectively, this is the most outrageous thing that has ever happened here – It’s just that I know Nasser and his kids better than I do in the myriad other cases in which Palestinians are carted off into Israeli Jails, without due process, in order to maintain an occupation which seems pretty clearly to be going nowhere.
I am back here – we are back here – not just by default. We are back here because we don’t want to give up on this place.
Which is not to say that departure would necessarily constitute giving up – one can argue, compellingly, that there is more to be done from abroad than on the ground, here – but rather just that right now, for us, to leave wouldn’t feel right. Kayla is doing incredibly important legal work with African Asylum Seekers; I am doing what it is I generally do (writing, organizing, meandering about). So we are here.
And in that we are here, there is no choice but to choose to believe that things will change.
Michael Sfard wrote a beautiful piece in Haaretz last week, called “The Israeli Occupation will end suddenly.” It was one of the most important pieces of writing I have read in a long time. I will quote it at length, here, but it should also be read, in full.
”The defeatist sarcasm we often hear among members of the anti-occupation camp is unjustified. The tremendous baleful and violent force that is being unleashed against us shows something good about us. Given that in the meantime the hard-core right, the center right and their allies in the pitiful center are not collapsing in the polls – what is the source of this fear and, concomitantly, what is the secret of our strength?
The answer is simple. The world is driven by diverse forces. We vividly see and feel the political, economic and military forces daily. But there are also less visible forces, whose mode of operation is less overt. One of them is actually an idea: that all human beings are equal and that all deserve rights because they are human beings. That idea is responsible for the greatest and most important revolutions in history. It’s an idea that operates like dark matter in the universe – in silence. And it, together with those who oppose the occupation, is pushing us to end the occupation and to bring about a substantive change in the way Israeli society functions. It vests these ostensibly small and weak organizations with inexplicable might. And it will bring about the end of the occupation.”
The other week, a friend of mine quoted back to me a quote that I summarized early in 2015:
“I’ve heard attributed to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel the teaching that “despair is the most selfish state a person can be in.” When you despair, you think primarily in terms of yourself (This is so hard for me; I’ve analyzed the situation and I don’t see any reason to hope). In doing this, Heschel teaches, we render ourselves unable to do what he calls God’s work, but what could also be framed in secular/humanistic language: Working with and for others. I’d also add to Heschel’s teaching one from Martin Buber: “At every moment, we are able to do something that will change the face of the next hour.” So not only is despair selfish and paralyzing: it’s false.” (Source).
She was right. And the version of me that summarized that quote was right. The version of me that feels like a wispy tree swaying in despair-winds isn’t wrong, per se, but he’s not the version of me that I choose to lift up.
It’s not simple. It never is.
On the plane ride back, I read almost an entire book, a novel, My Revolutions, by Hari Kunzru. I couldn’t put it down. In addition to being stunningly written, this book follows the story of a young radical in the late 1960s UK. It is a story of activistic fervor and idealistic rage, and principles, whatever those are. Jail time and protests and free love and pamphlets. It is a story of confusion. Or at least that’s how I read it. It felt disconcertingly familiar. There are so many contextual differences, of course: the 1960s versus the 2010s, Britain versus Israel. And toward the end of the book, the activists veered from realms that I’ve experienced (protests, public actions, nonviolent civil disobedience, short jail sentences, privileged people seeking to use their privilege to change a system that feels unbearable) to realms that I have never been close to, thank God (building bombs, armed robberies, hard drugs).
But there was a spark in the characters which I recognized, and which I’d wager that most people who have been involved in [privileged] leftist activism would. It’s strange, what we do, and the “why” we do it is never as simple as we make it out to be when chatting with the media or writing Op Eds. (In writing my own novel, which I am working on these days, I tried to dig deeper into the “why” than the sound bites of “fighting for justice” which is certainly part of it, but isn’t the whole picture). It’s also strange what we don’t do, most of the time. That we are all so complacent, well-fed and well-behaved. Like some of the characters in the Kunzru’s book, I draw my line at violence – I will not kill or hurt another human being in order to advance my principles.
But the world of nonviolent action is vast, and it seems like now is more or less the right time to do more, do better, to not stop acting as if a better future were possible, while avoiding the delusions of purity or superiority that I’ve encountered in others on the Left, and in myself.
Anyhow. I digress. In short, I’ve written 78 posts over this past “blob-year,” (these five were the most-read), and am working on a writing project that certainly intersects with The Leftern Wall, and is also certainly wildly different. I plan to keep going, with both.
In the meantime, here’s to better days, to community, to bravery, to decency.