The Yitzhak Rabin Center is a mausoleum-like museum and research center in northern Tel Aviv, with sweeping views of the city and a funereal landscape of rosemary and olive trees. It is a history of the State of Israel, using the chronology and influence of Rabin’s Life to tie Israel’s timeline together. The visionary ideals, the desperate courage of a decimated Jewish people to build a safe home for themselves, and the sheer amount of blood shed on the land since Israel’s establishment is profoundly evident in every corner of this monumental building. It is a wonderfully designed exhibit, centered on a large descending spiral of the historic timeline and inset with corridors that expand upon certain important phases of Israeli history. In absorbing the (translated) words of national leaders around the world, descriptions of historic events, and footage of crowds and wars and marches and massacres, I could distinguish what I thought were several different voices, describing the early triumphs of the Jews over Arab attacks and defenses, or lovingly narrating the shaping of Rabin’s personality in his years in the Palmach, or providing accounts of Arab citizens and property brutally destroyed by the IDF. On second thought, I believe that, although the exhibits may indeed have been written by several individuals, the museum was in general a reflection of the schizophrenic position of the modern Israeli Jewish viewpoint.
Jews here know about at least some of the atrocities committed by the IDF, and they can see Arab villages all over Israel with inferior conditions and facilities. They are also, unless they are ultra-orthodox, required to serve in the military, and nationalism, in the Israeli mainstream, is synonymous with Zionism. The view that God promised this land to the Jewish people and them alone resonates just as strongly with today’s secular Jewish culture as it did in the bleak years following the Holocaust. Israel is regionally powerful, both in its economy and in their military, but these resources are largely unavailable to its own Arab citizens, who are paid far less than what their Jewish counterparts make and who, rather than being protected by the national security the IDF is supposedly providing, suffer death, harm, property seizure, and indignity at their hands. Israel has taken drastic measures to retain control over its own Arab citizens, and the disempowered and marginalized residents of the territories are either under military occupation or, in Gaza’s case, effectively sealed off, unable to acquire freedom, security, or a working economy. Over the years, Arab communities in Israel have become even more segregated, even more invisible to the general Jewish public. Invisibility is dangerous for everybody: it is dehumanizing.
Yitzhak Rabin was a complicated, multifaceted character. He recommended violent measures against the Intifada, a view that had far-reaching consequences in military practices towards both Palestinian Israelis and the Palestinians in the territories. Yet he also, and against the furious opposition of the majority of Israeli Jews, signed the Oslo Accords, a beginning framework for Palestinian independence – an act for which he was killed by a right-wing Israeli Jew. He is considered a war hero, a humble man, a practical man, and a dreamer. The museum was full of young soldiers taking education sessions. There is a commonly accepted narrative among Jews concerning Israel’s history, and I wondered if these kids had ever questioned it. As a foreigner, if I read between the lines, if I searched for multiple perspectives, if I searched out secular Jews, soldiers, human rights activists, elderly veterans, Palestinian Israelis, Palestinians living in the territories, Knesset members, high school students, and so on, I can find a more complete understanding of Israel’s complicated, tragic history. As one of my mentors in my organization put it, "It's not a tragedy only because it isn't over yet."
Here’s what I think: I don’t think attack is the best form of defense. I think that no people will ever lie quietly
down forever under subjugation and oppression. I think that there is no such thing as a war hero. I think that systems and institutions are not worth protecting at the expense of human life. I have found that I have an aversion to all manner of nationalism. I think that the Israeli-Palestinian situation is not driven by religion, but by urges much more fundamental in human nature, which are being manipulated by those in power.
Most of all, I believe that every single terrible aspect of Israel’s history, every piece of violence committed by the Israeli government, the Israeli Jews, the Palestinians, and the Christians, is understandable. These are human beings naturally driven to strange ardors and revenge by extreme conditions. I also think that these acts of violence, especially the institutionalized discrimination, the deplorable treatment even of Israel’s own Palestinian citizens, and the insane destruction of the suicide bombers, are nevertheless inexcusable. I can understand and still not tolerate the angry mob beating the innocent, penniless Sudanese immigrants last night in south Tel Aviv. Discrimination and disempowerment of a people is the biggest threat to Israel's security.
In regards to assigning power among ourselves, none of us have a choice in this matter. We must coexist or we will die.