The war in Gaza has caused wars on this website which seem to have opened up old wounds now becoming gangrenous. And it all reminds me of something that happened to me once. So I thought I’d tell you a story.
But first a little background.
* * *
I grew up in the sixties and seventies in a mostly Ashkenaz (Eastern European) Jewish neighborhood in a borough of New York City. It is impossible to describe how memories of the Nazis and fear of extermination permeated every aspect of our lives. My mother would have dreams about the Nazis and often tell us, don’t think for a moment it couldn’t happen here. On top of that there was survivors’ guilt. One thing interesting about the Ashkenaz is that we feel both very persecuted and very guilty.
My parents were liberals like many Ashkenaz and were also true humanitarians. Civil rights activists, great givers to charity on a very modest income, and so o. And they managed to blind themselves to the Palestinian situation in an almost schizophrenic way, the way folks will do. It was because for them Israel symbolized life itself, our right to exist on this earth. We didn’t want to live there but for us it was our air and we breathed it, and actually you might find this surprising but we never used the word Zionist to refer to ourselves. That was what our enemies called us. We had nothing against Arabs, Omar Sharif was such a handsome man—but the Arab people had something against us and could any day destroy us.
All this fear and guilt and humanity I carried with me to an Ivy League graduate school were I did a Masters in Spanish on a teaching fellowship. My first and best friend there was Faiza, an Egyptian woman from the French side of the department. I was twenty-one, she was thirty-five. Her uncle had been a member of the Egyptian royal family and absconded, she said, with the royal treasury to finance the Socialist revolution. She was beautiful and elegant and looked like the actress Anook Aimee and almost every day she wore a Palestinian scarf draped over an old green oversize sweater as though it were a Dior. She proceded with my indoctrination and all went at its own pace.
Until one day there was an emergency.
* * *
It was the beginning of the semester of Fall, ’82. The militia of the Lebanese Christian Phalange had entered the refugee cmps of Sabra and Shatilla which were under the charge of the Israeli army in Lebanon,and massacred about a thousand unarmed Palestinian civilians to the light of Israeli flares. And they were Fascists, these Phalange, and I knew very well what a Fascist was.. I was stunned. I was numb. Until Faiza took me to my very first political meeting where I began to weep convulsively, uncontrollably and could not stop the whole time. Faiza told me afterward that my crying had been more effective than all the speeches combines.
I cried for the children, I cried for the blood on the hands of my people and the blood from which they had survived which I now knew to be one blood. But I also cried for my own lost morrings and I cried for my parents. Because from the moment I had heard about those massacres, I was no longer a Zionist. And I was killing everything that was my parents’ hopes, everything that was their air. I was killing my own family.
But I had a new family now. We worked quickly. We organized a table in the center of the campus to give out literature to the students, most of whom were Jewish, and the faculty, most of whom supported Israel. Few people at that time here questioned anything Israel did plus Penn was the most conservative of the Ivys, so it was risky because it could cause friction in the department, especially among our own students.
So there we were waiting at the table for Salama and Arbas to bring the banner they had made the night before, an enormous banner which no one else had seen. They came a little late, and I remember how radiant Salama’s face was, how proud she looked, hhow she glowod, as they carried that banner up the walk while I waited breathlessly. I was so afraid and yet so excited. That banner would announce to the world and to me the new life I had chosen, my own life, with all its challenges and triumphs ahead.. So we waited til they unfurled the banner and held it up in the sunlight for the world to see, and behold, there were these words boldly emblazoned, about the Israeli prime minsister:
1 MENACHEM BEGIN = 1 MILLION HITLERS
No, we did not use the banner.
* * *
I do not understand how Israeli soldiers could aid and abet the militia of a Christian Fascis party founded in the 1940’s in the slaughter of an entire civilian population. And. I do not understand how a person like Salama, a graduate student at an Ivy League university who planned to work for the United Nations ,could paint such a banner for a Jewish campus, especially knowing I’d be there. And from the telescope's perspective on Alpha Centauri both these things seem equally tragic and absurd, differing in degree but not in substance. Same. .No, I do not understand these things but the people who do them don’t understand them either. That much I understand.
And I don’t understand how my parents, who were both intelligent people, could simultaneously carry with them this picture of a vast, formerly virtually uninhabited desert with a Bedouin here and there on camel along with reports of refugee camps and a Jerusalem full of Arabs. Those good Germans who said they did not know, do you understand that they both knew and truly did not know? .
I think what I learned most that day Salama and Arbas rolled out that banner is that we are all one great big human family, one great human family of fools. And since that day I have never felt any particular family relationship with any political group I have worked with or even sometimes with the Cause . And on that awful sweltering day in Summer ’06 when I marched in a small fairly intimate demonstration with some college Muslim students organizations and ANSWER I did not chant “We are all Hezbollah” either.
The chant was led by an Ashkenaz Jew.
Post Title: Israelis are proving that they are worse than Hitler
by Israeli Lover (not verified) on Mon Jan 12, 2009 03:09 PM PST
Text: Israelis today are making Hitler look like such a decent guy! They are really asking for it now. Do they have no faith? Is there no judgment?
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