September 29, 2003

Toward a Meaningful Yom Kippur
The Militarism of the Israeli State Threatens the Israeli Nation
by Matthew Barganier

"I want more prominent Jews – people with a profile higher than mine – to at least come out and say publicly that Israel has a right to exist. I feel like the silence tacitly endorses the opinion that somehow Israel is the bully and the Palestinians are the underdog."

Josh Malina, actor on "The West Wing," Forward

We hear a lot about Israel's "right to exist," but the issue is settled. The state of Israel exists and will continue to as long as the planet has trees and the U.S. Treasury has ink. Roll over Osama (soon, I hope) and tell Khomeini the news.

Israel is here to stay, but what does "Israel" even mean? I imagine that the 577 Palestinians and 237 Israelis who died over this question between this Rosh Hashanah and the last would like to know. I also suspect that American Zionists, whether born-again, neoconservative, or Hollywood, would rather not.

"Ahmed Abu Latifi is the fifth child to be killed here in recent months – in the same place, in the same circumstances. IDF soldiers versus kids from the Qalandiyah refugee camp, and the score is 5:0 at the half. A live bullet for every stone, a burst of gunfire for every attempt to vandalize the fence that surrounds the now-defunct airport. In the killing fields of Qalandiyah, there are no other ways to disperse children: no hoses or teargas, no megaphones, no plastic shields, not even rubber bullets. Just live fire from a short range and to hell with the rules of engagement and with basic justice, which should tell the soldiers: You don't shoot at children. Period. Ever. No ifs, ands or buts."

– Gideon Levy, "No Apology," Ha'aretz

My fingers tremble to type such virulent anti-Semitism, but there it is in an Israeli paper. Wait, there's more. Last week, 27 Israeli pilots signed a letter to the commander of the air force. It read, in part: "We, who were taught to love Israel and contribute to the Zionist enterprise, refuse to take part in attacks on civilian population centers." Ezer Weitzman, Israel's former president and ex-air force commander, said that he "would ground them immediately. It's like… cancer – it will spread if it isn't cut out."

Nice choice of words there. As the dread Susan Sontag wrote in Illness as Metaphor (1977),

"The standard metaphor of Arab polemics – heard by Israelis on the radio every day for the last twenty years – is that Israel is 'a cancer in the heart of the Arab world' or 'the cancer of the Middle East'…"

The cosmopolitan Theodore Herzl must be spinning in the hereafter as he watches Israel become what it hates. Is the existence of a nominally Jewish state worth the destruction of Jewish civilization? I wish that this were none of my business, but I'm paying for those bullets fired at Abraham's lesser sons, those who only glimpse that blooming desert through razor wire. I have the right, nay, the duty to make some observations. Ariel Sharon can quit taking my money if he doesn't like it.

Next Monday is Yom Kippur, the time to atone for one's sins against God. Surely Israel's treatment of the Palestinians counts as a sin against the God who made them both. What will Israel do? Will one real settlement come down? Will one family behind the wall be given restitution for lost property? Will Sharon take responsibility for his butchery at Sabra and Shatila? If the Israeli government stood for anything more than brute strength or mere tribalism, then we might expect such acts of atonement. What we will see instead is more violence from Likud, more vitriol from Norman Podhoretz, more apocalyptic gibberish from Pat Robertson, and more whining from the likes of Josh Malina.

What Israel needs, in addition to better friends and leaders, is something to brake its slide into barbarism. I humbly suggest the Jewish tradition. Its spirit of introspection, justice, and mercy lives on in the refuseniks and in those civilians who resist what Batya Gur calls "the glittering edge of the boot." They can save the nation of Israel because they know what really threatens it – the militarism of the Israeli state.

~ Matthew Barganier

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Matthew Barganier works for an educational philanthropy in Baton Rouge, LA. A late bloomer in his mid-twenties, he has only recently joined the ranks of web punditry. He is an alumnus of Louisiana State University and the University of Alabama.

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