Day 3 –
The student portion of the conference had ended. A long line of respected Christians and men wearing a kippah, a long beard and carrying massive shofars who I assumed were Jewish (but weren’t necessarily) started coming to the breakout sessions. The apparently fairly moderate rhetoric had turned instantaneously into a more inflammatory and inciting one. We started all over again as the same narrative was laid out to us, grown up style. There was no need for “education” any more. The people who had paid 250$ just to get into the conference didn’t need that. The choir had arrived to be preached at, and they didn’t miss the chance for a standing ovation every time, on cue.
At his point I had given up. I wasn’t a leader and no revolution would start here. There was nothing to add, and no questions to ask. Every time I thought I might have the courage to stand up and challenge the speaker in front of this fierce crowd, I gave up and walked out of the session. There was no point to it. I would instead go and sit in front of my computer on the floor of the convention center, as if in silent protest, to try to write down my thoughts, but I couldn’t. Nothing came out. For the first time in a while I was without words.
I knew that I was a moderate; and I fought to stay within the outlines of my convictions, to stick to realpolitik and remember that these people could be allies. They were supporting a cause I objectively agreed with, to support Israel. But I also intimately knew the details, and couldn’t keep hearing such crass justifications without recognizing the suffering my country was causing. I would silently pull out my “Breaking the Silence” booklet of testimonies of IDF soldiers from the west bank in Hebrew. I would read another testimony of looting, of senseless aggression, and of abuse. I thought about these young 19 years old kids who were me not too long ago. They all reminded me of my older brother who went silent for three years while serving in Hebron, because he couldn’t share his experiences with anyone. Whether it was due to shame or just a lack of coping mechanisms to this day I don’t know. But I also couldn’t help but to go back to the presentation that showed what the support for Israel is dealing with on campuses in the US. Among other things it showed a video of a young female college student yelling at the top of her lungs “Go back to Auschwitz! Jews are committing another holocaust! He (Hitler I assume) should have completed the job!” It was beyond hate, it was blind rage inspired by actions I felt the need to take responsibility for. But what could I do with senseless loathing in a video, a reality I could not agree with that people were confronting. I was reminded of the stories I had heard from so many friends about incidents from their IDF service in Hebron. The settlers would instigate Palestinians by splashing water or throwing rocks and it immediately turned into an incident in front of their eyes. Within seconds rocks would start flying from side to side enraged with hate, detest and mouthful of curses in mixed Arabic and Hebrew. My friends were caught in the middle of a raging fight, helpless to calm each side down. They weren’t allowed to shoot at the instigating settlers, and according to their orders they could open fire only if their lives were threatened, and that would mean towards the Palestinians only. Of course they were reluctant to open fire on anyone, but all they had to try to calm a storm of rocks above their heads were their M-16’s, which were useless in this battle.
There was no room for moderates in this conversation anymore. The discourse had been hijacked. It had been hijacked by messianic settlers who believed that the death of their children was a price to pay for the lord’s work. It had been hijacked by Palestinians who refused to settle with a reality that had changed in the past 64 years of Israel’s existence. It had been hijacked by Israel’s mainstream that had given up on hoping for peace and settling for the “harsh reality” that there would never be a peaceful solution. It had been hijacked by Palestinians who had given up on the idea of peace and concluded that the only language Israel understands is violence. Justice stopped meaning attaining a situation that could benefit everyone; it just means that each side was right. Period.
The rocks of propaganda were flying above my head, but the tools at my disposal were irrelevant. All I had to offer was a dialogue, a true discourse of people with the will to resolve an issue. I wanted to bestow upon the people surrounding me the understanding that there’s more to it than selling stories to a biased, blood thirsty crowd. That there was more to it than angry mobs, fighting like children for their right to exist. That justice could be made only by recognizing your faults and your error. But this was neither the time nor the place for it. Ironically, we weren’t even in Israel, but rather Washington DC, and the time for reconciliation had not arrived yet.
The question I found myself asking was I am really naïve? Was there any room left for someone like me who desired to overcome the fear and hesitation, and actually sit down and talk. It’s a slippery slope once you choose a side, down the path of extremism and a lack of recognition of “the other side”. I started to doubt, not whether there was room for me at this conference, but if the me’s out there still existed, or whether we had been vanquished and exhausted by an intifada and two wars in one short decade. I wondered whether my eternal hope was still of relevance or whether it was simply naiveté, a remnant of my deeply ideological past.
As I left another session in the middle, not able to bear another outburst of shofars and suits applauding for an eternal unified Jerusalem, I realized that hope should not be vanquished by despair. That it is a belief, not based on reality but rather on a desire and a call for action. I realized that it was the closest to Jesus, yahwe, and Jah I would ever get. It is a belief that people can change from the power of a discussion, from sitting in front of a person and conversing. I may not be have been able to do that at this conference, but I know that it is a way of life I have chosen, and I will not despair because of the fanatics.
David Brog, the Executive Director I had put on the spot on the first day, had asked me what I thought about the 5 Two-State solutions that had failed. He implied that it was the Palestinians fault they didn’t have a nation of their own, and that we “lefties” should stop blaming Israel. I answered that we could play the “blame game” all day, and I could probably prove how at least 4 out of five of these so-called offers were bogus, but that it didn’t matter. What matters is that for there to be a home for me to go back to, there had to be a sixth offer, and if necessary a seventh and an eighth.