Dahlia Lithwick, the Gaza War, and the Need to Listen

Nov 22

My friend, Micah Schwartzman, recently posted what I thought to be a great piece by Dahlia Lithwick. Another friend, Pascale Ghazaleh, asked me why I thought it was great. Its greatness comes from her sincere call — which I read as being directed largely to the North American Jewish community — that it is time to listen. As she put it, “bombing people to oblivion” is not a solution. But it is a very hard task. Today, on my CBC appearance about Gaza, I was asked whether the cease fire was good for Israel, and I stated that this depends on what one means by “good”, and whether one can think wholesale domination of another people can be “good”. I then pointed out that Gaza’s population density — 9,300 persons per square mile while Israel’s is 800 per square mile — was a result of ethnic cleansing, and peace cannot be achieved without dealing squarely with these realities. Listening is not very easy, because it can be painful. For example, some of my Jewish neighbors e-mailed me privately with reactions that displayed a complete inability to think objectively about the past, and its relationship to our present. And these are completely sweet, reasonable people, not Likudniks in the least.
So too, some Arabs are completely incapable of empathizing with the plight and vulnerability of the Jewish community, not only because of the raw memory of the Holocaust, but more generally because of modernity, and the intense pressures it places on minorities. Understandably, they look at the Jewish community through the violence of 20th (and 21st) century political Zionism.
The pursuit of peace certainly requires a courageous willingness to confront the past, but it also requires a generosity of spirit, and navigating between them is dangerous business. But what is clear is that peace cannot be achieved so long as both of our communities remain exclusively within the bounds of its own narrative: this does not mean that peace requires abandoning one’s own history, but rather expanding it to become more inclusive. So, while I cannot accept the legitimacy of the Zionist project as currently articulated, I do understand the motivations behind it, and I think it is crucial that we be more than anti-Zionist: our resistance to Zionism must be coupled with a positive project that can solve the problems which Zionism in theory was designed to solve, but could not, at least without engendering perpetual war. For this reason, I consider the BDS movement to be the most hopeful development in the Palestine-Israel conflict, is it genuinely represents a multi-religious, multi-ethnic coalition for peace that seeks an inclusive future for all.
So too, I think serious Zionists need to move beyond this notion that Arab opposition to Zionism is based on irrational hatred and move toward a Zionism that recognizes that Palestine/Israel cannot be a state that is exclusively Jewish: the only kind of Zionism worth defending would be one that recognizes that all people are attached to their homeland, and that violently uprooting them from it was a grave act of injustice that must be remedied in good faith.

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