The Day of Remembrance
"War is not an adventure. It is a disease. It is like typhus." -Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I arrived in Israel the day before yesterday. Tel Aviv sounds different, smells different, tastes different; all the delicious indicators that I am far away from home are all around me. I am overwhelmed by work almost immediately, but I do have an unexpected respite. Today is Israel's Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron, the day Israeli citizens honor fallen soldiers and victims of (Arab) terrorism. It is a very nationalistic day, and concentrates some of the problematic dimensions of nationalism. Israel has adopted a position that recalls in some ways, to my mind, the McCarthy era in the United States. Criticism of the government is equated with the delegitimization of the State of Israel, thus any questioning of government or military action can be seen as treason. This is not to say that Israel has become paranoid to the point of brutally silencing dissenting citizens, as in the case of Argentina's desaparecidos, but this constraint on opposition, this culture of suppression, is a feeling that circulates within the mainstream into all arenas of life in Israel. A co-worker of mine attended an event by an organization for nonviolence, "Combatants for Peace," yesterday, which memorialized both Israeli and Palestinian victims of the conflict, recognizing government and terrorist activities on both sides that killed innocent people. Israel Today's headline was: "Radical Leftists to honor Palestinian terrorists on Memorial Day."
Yesterday, we had a special presentation, in which several texts from Israeli military personnel were read and analyzed, and a discussion followed. The one that struck me the most was written in 1956, by Moshe Dayan, who first served in an early Jewish militia known as the Haganah, and who would eventually serve as Chief of Staff under David Ben Gurion, in 1953. Dayan was baldly straightforward about what needed to be done in order to secure a state of Israel for the Jewish people, and throughout his career openly expressed uncertainty about the defensibility of what he was participating in. He said that his tactics were "effective, not justified or moral but effective," and he was responsible for the deaths of many innocent and unarmed Palestinians, and instrumental in the creation of the State of Israel, and to the relative safety of two million Jews, most of whom has nowhere else to go, themselves under violent siege. Dayan wrote, at his funeral oration at the death of a young Israeli farmer at the hands of a Palestinian Arab:
"Let us not today fling accusation at the murderers. What cause have we to complain about their fierce hatred to us? For eight years now, they sit in their refugee camps in Gaza, and before their eyes we turn into our homestead the land and villages in which they and their forefathers have lived. We should demand his blood not from the [Palestinian] Arabs of Gaza but from ourselves.."
Yesterday, Dayan's words taught me the perspective of terror. When you are fighting for your life, you can either demolish the enemy and their children, or you can lay down and die with yours. This is the perspective human beings gravitate towards when they live suffused in an atmosphere of unrelenting danger, an atmosphere that Israel has never completely extricated itself from.
For all I know, this perspective is true. I come from a life within a privileged bubble where war has not yet touched. Perhaps there really is no other choice other than to kill your enemy or allow yourself to be killed. I can't really say.
Nevertheless, my feeling is that it's a lie told to us by throwback human instincts and emotions from a time of ancient tribal survival. I don't think there really is any enemy. Dayan later went on to say, "without the steel helmet and the gun barrel, we shall not be able to plant a tree or build a house," but I am increasingly sure that, whether or not a displaced people had to build their future that way, none of us today may build our future that way. That house is made of the bones and blood of all of us.
I am searching for a solution, or at least the components of one, here. The dialogue continues.