If you’re interested in my commentary on cultural and political subjects, please click here to subscribe. Your support makes this newsletter possible.
Earlier this week, I wrote an essay recounting my experiences in Hebron, the largest Palestinian city on the West Bank, and the horrors it holds.
I talked about “the rhetorical fog” that descends on every discussion of this subject, and sure enough: in the form of the comments, the fog descended. If you have any experience whatsoever of the Jewish/Zionist/Israeli side of things, you can anticipate exactly what these comments will be, and I am sure it is the same in the other direction. For every tit there is a tat. For every massacre in 1929 there is a massacre in 1994. It’s an endless cycle, and it’s very hard to break out of.
It follows depressingly predictible patterns. I wasn’t sure that someone would say that the Palestinians don’t really exist, but sure enough: someone did. I was, however, sure that someone would say that “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” and sure enough: someone did.
For certain people, there is nothing one can say, no experience one can describe, that will not be dismissed as propaganda, as one-sided, as “the media.” They’ll call you what they call me: an “Arab lover.” This term has an unprintable synonym in the American South where I grew up.
I hardly ever speak about this subject because I know all of this. I know the unique vitriol it elicits. To describe it as unpleasant and divisive is to make the barest of gestures in the direction of how horrid it actually is. I saw this when an old friend, who must be nearly ninety, dispatched a series of extremely insulting emails in response to my essay. The upshot was that I was too stupid to understand the “complexities”—complexities which, as usual, result in the absolution of any Jewish responsibility for the occupation. The tone was so obnoxious that I won’t be communicating with this person again.
This is sad. Because I grew up Jewish, differences of opinion on this issue are by no means a deal-breaker for me. I know too many good people who disagree, and I myself have not always held the opinions I do now: as I said before, it was a slow evolution over many years. Israel-Palestine is, to me, like vegetarianism. If I were to “unfriend” everyone who disagreed with me on this, I would be left with a remarkably few friends. I understand all too well the traumas and the fears of the Jews.
In any case, I am not someone who needs friends to subscribe to every one of my opinions. Like any intellectual, I enjoy debate. I have always prided myself on having friends with a broad range of political opinions, just as I pride myself on having friends from nearly every corner of the world.
But I am absolutely convinced that if people of good faith—and particularly Jews who have any respect for the moral and ethical traditions of the Jews—really knew the stunning, cruel, appalling treatment of the Palestinian people that happens every day in the name of the Jews and the Jewish state, they wouldn’t stand for it.
Certain people won’t listen. It doesn’t matter how authoritative a scholar you are, how distinguished a rabbi, how close a friend or relative: the narrative of Israeli blamelessness is too deeply rooted to be touched. But for those who are honestly trying to see and understand the situation, I recommend this tour of Hebron. A friend sent it to me, and watching it I felt once again the sheer unspeakable horror of the Occupation.
It’s long. But in it you’ll see former Israeli soldiers describing how hard it is to see what is happening—even for many Israelis.
If it’s hard for people in Tel Aviv, just imagine how hard it is from Houston or Paris or São Paulo.
It’s easy not to see it.
That’s why it’s so important to try.