Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Swap: Not Letting Apathy Kill Us...

It hasn’t been a great week in Israel. The photos of Ron Arad, a chilling reminder of what can happen when prisoner deals don’t go through; the grieving over coffins; our Lebanese neighbors celebrating the return of their 'hero'.

Commenting on the welcome scenes for Samir Kuntar - who brutally murdered a little girl 29 years ago - Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister
Majalli Whbee said it showed to what extent the politics of hatred can rob people of human compassion.

In addition to these national security issues, the ongoing Talansky affair and investigations into the Prime Minister rumble on. The affair and finances it involves touch on the influence wealthy non – Israelis can have on our political life.

The weekend's
Jerusalem Post argued that many Israelis oppose the foreign interference of such 'armchair warriors' although it quoted Yossi Beilin as describing it as positive, even though he often completely disagreed with the political position they take.

Referring to
Irving Moskowitz, who funded settlements in East Jerusalem in the 1990s, the former Meretz leader said that anything is better than apathy and that despite his belief in the damage Moskowitz caused "I couldn't ignore the fact that he cares. I prefer someone who cares about Israel to someone who doesn't."


It may sound cruel, but I'm not sure I would have voted for the deal. It's not just the asymmetrical ratio (we've
had worse) or the fact this makes it harder to secure the release of Gilad Shalit.

It's not just the dangerous precedent of swapping bodies for live prisoners, the opposition of the security services or the failure of Hizbullah to fulfill their side of the deal on providing information on Ron Arad.

It's also that when Israel strikes deals with non - state groups wedded to terrorism, it completely undermines those more moderate entities committed to achieving their aims through non violent means…

Yet despite all of the reasons for saying no, I can't deny how proud I am to live in a country like Israel – a country that feels, that hurts, that cries, that comes to a standstill over two of its fellow citizens;

And despite my rational disagreement with the decision, I can't deny my emotional resonance with it, or the feelings on seeing the coffins being unloaded by Hizbullah…


I only wonder whether we can harness this collective identification and sympathy we feel over our 'returning sons' to other areas in society.

Because if we care this much about Udi and Eldad, think how much energy we could spend on caring about the fate of the thousands of the unnamed citizens of Sderot, the hundreds who die every year on the roads, or the victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse that escape the media spotlight.

If the politics of hatred can rob the Lebanese of their human compassion, let's see how far the politics of identification can get Israelis.

Because as Yossi Beilin said, what divides us most is not our political opinions but whether, at the end of the day, we care about the future of this country.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

A Bridge of Strings

A trip to Jerusalem last week provided an opportunity to cast my eyes on the newly completed 118 meter high bridge at the entrance to the city.

Designed by world-famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava,
reports suggest the jury is still out on the 2,600-ton contraption, dubbed the Bridge of Strings. One onlooker said he thought it was beautiful, but that it didn’t fit with its surroundings. Others variously described it as bearing a resemblance to David's harp, a spider's web and a crooked nail.

Despite costing 250m NIS, the bridge will remain unused for two years due to repeated delays in constructing Jerusalem's light railway. The opening ceremony meanwhile was hit by
controversy when the Ultra Orthodox complained about the clothing of the dance troupe of 13 year old girls due to perform.

Due to their pressure, the dancers were forced to change.

I'm surprised no one thought to mention it, but the bridge provides an apt metaphor for the Israeli experience; inefficient bureaucratic planning, unwise budgetary priorities and the spineless caving to the Charedim.

And perhaps more ironically no one can quite decide whether they love it or hate it.

But the Bridge of Strings also represents something deeper about our experience here.

I think Israel is amazing and I am thankful to be living my life on the front line of where Jewish history is being played out, where in the space of such a short time we have achieved so much. Yet despite the pride and happiness surrounding the country's continued success, there is also something hovering below the surface, something deep in the Israeli psyche; the fear that maybe this could all end one day, that our future here is not guaranteed.

If Diaspora Jews fret over whether their
grandchildren will be Jewish, here they fret over whether their grandchildren will be at all…

It’s a society which, as writer
Amnon Rubenstein states, has deep existential anxiety, that is hanging by a thread. A country that, according to David Grossman, has the "most powerful army in the region, a nuclear capability, yet has an inner feeling of absolute fragility, like we are at the edge of an abyss…"

We are a people whose fear that Israel will not exist anymore hovers above us constantly, even when we try and supress it.

I don’t know whether this anxiety causes us to be more aggressive on the roads, more belligerent to our enemies, or more ambivalent to the suffering of our neighbors.

But I do know that in many ways we are society trying to create normalcy while hanging by a thread, by walking across a bridge of strings.

And even if such bridges are generally stable, who knows if one day we may fall between the cracks into the abyss below.