By William T. Hathaway
(From the Book Radical Peace: People Refusing War, by William T. Hathaway. Published by Trine Day)
Stan and Hannah Cooper are friends of mine from college days. Both are Jewish, but they have diametrically opposed views about Israel, and their differences have become so bitter that they’ve decided to divorce. As the three of us talked about this, it became clear that their dispute is a microcosm of the conflict that is tearing the Jewish community apart and also destroying lives in an increasingly large part of the world.
William: Your differences must have become quite serious if you’ve decided to end your marriage after all these years.
Stan: Well, these are very serious issues. If you take the Holocaust seriously, you have to support Israel. And Hannah doesn’t. If she has her way, if the people she supports come to power in Israel and the USA, they’ll stop resisting the terrorists and become holier than thou pacifists while the Arabs push the Jews into the sea and blow up half the USA. Then the pacifists will cry about what a tragedy it all is.
Well, I’m not going through another tragedy. I’m not going to see America and Israel destroyed because we didn’t have the courage to stand up to fanatics. I’m not going to have our generation go through something like our grandparent’s went through. Once is enough, once was way too many, and now we finally have to defend ourselves.
Hannah: No way am I in favor of pushing the Jews into the sea. Whenever we talk about this, you exaggerate my position. You get very thin skinned and go into your attack mode.
Stan: Yeah, I admit, I and lots of other Jews are thin skinned about this issue. But when you think about how many Jewish skins got stretched over lampshades not so long ago, it’s understandable that we might feel a tad oversensitive. My grandmother’s brother, my great uncle, got gassed in Auschwitz. And her cousin got shot in the neck in Sachsenhausen.
Hannah: You know I lost family too. They didn’t even make it to the concentration camps. They were murdered in the Kiev ghetto by the German SS. I’m not playing this down. I’ve got relatives in Israel just like you do, and I don’t want them killed. But the Zionists have tunnel vision about this issue. They focus just on one part of it — preventing another Holocaust, no matter what. But I’m convinced that what the Zionists are doing now is making another Shoah more likely. Their moral compass has got thrown off by the trauma they went through. It’s making them do things that violate the basic principles of Jewish ethics. The moral sensitivity, the qualities that make me most proud to be a Jew are getting destroyed by these Israeli militarists.
Stan: Self defense isn’t unethical. The Torah never said lie down and let people kill you. We have to survive. If we’re attacked, we have to fight back. Hannah pooh-poohs anti-Semitism, says it’s not so bad anymore, don’t be paranoid. But the fact is it’s getting much stronger, and that’s world-wide.
I’ll give you an example of something that happened to me just last year. I walked into my high school classroom one morning, and someone had written "Jews are dog shit" on the board. Some students were already in the room, and they all said it was there when they got there. I erased it, but next day it was there again, "Jews are dog shit." Nobody saw who did it, or so they claimed. It kept happening, couple of times a week. The students still played dumb. I thought they really knew who was doing it, but I couldn’t prove it. I’d get there early, trying to catch them at it, but never could. I asked the janitors to check the room, but I don’t think they actually did. They didn’t really care.
One night about ten o’clock the doorbell rang at home. I opened the door, and a fire was burning on the front porch, a brown paper bag going up in flames. The porch is wood. I was afraid the whole house would catch fire. When I stomped out the blaze, I found out the bag was filled with dog shit, got it all over my shoes.
Next morning I go into the classroom, and on the board is "Jews house burn like dog shit." Students just sitting there. And of course whoever did it didn’t even make it grammatical, and it was an English class.
I asked the police to watch the house, but they said they didn’t have the manpower for that. All I could do was get new smoke alarms, install motion detectors, leave lights burning all night in the yard, and increase the fire insurance on the house. Do you know what it’s like trying to fall asleep in a house that might burn down any night? I was afraid to take sleeping pills because I might not hear the smoke alarm. I was a wreck, and nobody gave a damn. Not even you, Hannah. You said it was just a prank.
Hannah: I said it was a vicious prank. But no, I didn’t think they’d actually burn down the house. They’d already achieved what they were after — they’d made your life miserable.
Stan: Well, Jews are tired of having their lives made miserable. Far worse anti-Semitic attacks than this are happening all over the world. The neo-Nazis are on the rise in Germany. Jews get beaten up in Russia. Synagogues in Paris and Rome have to be guarded by the police. All this proves that the Jews need a secure homeland, a place they can go where they’ll be safe.
And seeing how most of the world doesn’t give a damn if Israel lives or dies, that changed me. I stopped being a left-winger when I saw how they fawn over the Palestinians. They make excuses for al-Qaeda. They defend Iran. And they oppose the only progressive, democratic country in the Mideast. Left-wingers have lost whatever meaning they ever had, so I’m not one of them anymore. Their policies will destroy our freedoms.
Hannah: Our freedoms are being destroyed now under capitalism. They don’t apply to everyone anymore, only to those who don’t rock the boat. You remember what happened to that client of mine?
Stan: Right. The Arab again.
William: What happened?
Hannah: He was an agricultural science student from Morocco and spoke at an anti-war demonstration here on campus, everything legal and peaceful. The police photographed him and got the university to let them examine their file photos of foreign students. The cops identified him and searched his dormitory room, where they found a Koran, prayer rug, some ammonium fertilizer, and several Arabic language magazines, one of which had a picture of Osama bin Laden. They confiscated his computer and found he had the al-Jazeera website bookmarked and had written e-mails to people in Morocco with insulting comments about the American president. They searched his car and found a timer from a clothes dryer. And with that they arrested him for violating the Patriot Act. Front page story in the paper: "Terror Suspect Arrested, Bomb Materials Found."
It turned out the fertilizer was for a research project he was doing, measuring plant growth rates with different types of ammonium. He had just a small amount, not enough to make a real bomb even if he’d wanted to. He took me to the greenhouse and showed me the project — twenty little pots of plants and charts for how much they’re growing.
He was working in a coin laundry near the campus, doing everything from cleaning up to simple repairs. The timer on one of the dryers was broken, so he’d taken it out. He couldn’t fix it, so he called the main office, and they told him to bring it in and they’d give him a new one. He put it in his car, where the cops found it.
They had no case at all, and it wasn’t hard to convince the district attorney of that. The university confirmed his research project, an explosives expert confirmed that the amount of fertilizer was too small, and the laundry company confirmed they’d told him to bring in the broken timer.
The DA told the cops he was going to drop the charges, but they said they had an additional lead and needed another search warrant. They got it, and when they searched his room this time, they "found" cocaine.
This student was a devout Muslim, not the cocaine type at all, very traditional and old fashioned, like yeshiva school boys used to be. I’m one hundred percent certain the cops planted the drugs. They were determined to get him on something. He was an Arab speaking out against the war and saying unflattering things about the president. That meant he was an enemy and had to be got rid of.
The DA didn’t want to believe the city’s finest would set someone up, but he did offer that if the student turned in his visa and left the country in two weeks, he’d drop the charges.
I hated to go along with this deal, but I knew the kid didn’t have a chance of getting a fair trial. He agreed and told me terrible stories about how other students had treated him. He left the USA bitter at having his education snatched away from him because of ignorant prejudice.
Stan: Like I said at the time, I’m glad you helped the guy. You saved him from jail. And all pro bono.
I think it’s terrible when innocent people get swept up in all this. But what about all the innocent Israelis who are dying and the three thousand innocent Americans in 9-11? You don’t seem to care about them.
Hannah: This idea that Israelis and Americans are innocent victims of terrorists is a myth. It’s created to justify our aggression. Just like the belief that Islamic fundamentalists are the main terrorists in the world. It’s Orwell’s Big Lie. The USA and Israel started this battle. We’ve been abusing the Arabs in all sorts of ways for decades. We’re the main terrorists. For every American killed in 9-11, we’ve already killed a hundred Muslims, and more every day. It’s the same in Israel.
The targets of 9-11 were soldiers in the Pentagon and financial managers in the World Trade Center. Both those groups are terrorists, just a subtler kind of terror. We don’t see it that way here, we just reap the benefits. We’re conditioned to think of that as normal. But what the global poor suffer under our corporations and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank is economic terror. And what they suffer under military dictatorships supported by the Pentagon is physical terror.
Even things that seem harmless to us like missionaries, pop music and movies become a form of cultural terrorism in a traditional society. The garbage that Hollywood is pouring into those countries is debasing their culture, just like it has ours. We’re used to it, but they don’t want to get used to it.
When Muslims fight back against us, we label them terrorists. But terrorism means intentionally killing innocent civilians, and the financial manipulators and Pentagon officers aren’t innocent.
But no one deserves to be killed, innocent or not. Bombing anybody is barbaric and abhorrent. The USA and Israel are dropping bombs all the time, though, and the civilians they kill are just collateral damage to them. If we do it, we have to expect that people will do it to us. Violence creates counter-violence.
From the Arab point of view, the Israelis are invaders, millions of Europeans who are pushing them off their land. It’s like what happened in America. Millions of Europeans poured in and pushed out the people who were living here. The natives defended themselves by attacking white wagon trains and settlements, killing everyone they could — men, women and children. The whites called them terrorists, savages.
Now the Arabs are fighting back. But like the Indians, their weapons aren’t nearly as powerful as the Europeans’. What was it Mike Davis said? "The car bomb is the poor man’s air force." The rich have Stealth bombers, the poor have Toyota Corollas, both filled with explosives. The bombers are a lot bigger and kill many more people.
One of the reasons the Western powers supported the formation of Israel was that they thought the Arabs were passive, they wouldn’t defend themselves. But they’ve surprised us. They may win.
Stan: William, as a Gentile, you can’t imagine how offensive it is to me to hear drivel like this, especially from a fellow Jew … and one I’m married to.
William: You’re right, I probably can’t.
Hannah: I’m not singling out the Jews with this. They’re no worse than any other European group. Western civilization has produced more violence than any other. Our history is a chronicle of atrocities. From the Romans on, it’s been ghastly. We make Genghis Khan look like a pacifist. That’s why I think our day is passing — we’ve harmed too many other peoples, and now we deserve to go under.
But what breaks my heart is that before this the Jews hadn’t been cruel and militaristic. We were peaceful. But we’ve became just as vicious as the goyim. What a loss! Now it’s obvious that the diaspora was a blessing. We were freed of the disease of nationalism. Now we’re dying of it.
I admit that after what they’d been through, it was understandable that the Zionists would feel they needed their own country and it should be around Jerusalem. They grew up reading in the Torah that God personally gave them that land. They’re convinced it’s theirs forever. And every Passover they vow, ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’ They’re fixated on this area, even though it hasn’t been theirs for two thousand years.
But the fact that it’s understandable doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t justify what they’ve done to the Arabs to get the land. Their own suffering has blinded them to the suffering they’re causing others. That’s what makes it so tragic.
There are hundreds of ethnic groups in the world that don’t have their own country. But if we needed our own, the land should have been taken from the Germans. That would’ve been fair. The Arabs didn’t have anything to do with the Holocaust or with the expulsion by the Romans.
For the Zionists, Israel was a wonderful dream — a place where Jews could be safe and our culture could flourish. But it’s a terrible reality — war and the oppression of another people.
William: Do you see any way out?
Hannah: Well, I do. But this could be just wishful thinking, trying to see a glimmer of good in all this grief. It seems to me that this horrible insoluble dilemma is generating a crux of pressure, a desperate energy that may be able to spring humanity into its next stage.
Stan: And what might that be? Pray tell.
Hannah: I know this sounds grandiose and impossible, but so have a lot of major shifts in human development right before they happened. I’m hoping this is the start of our species finally outgrowing its need for group identities. Having all these groups — familial, tribal, ethnic, national — leads to battles. But now we may be getting ready to view humanity as one unified group. We could be going through the birth pains of a new era in which we realize the whole world is our family.
This terrible knot of problems in Israel/Palestine comes from group identities — religion, ethnicity, nationalism. It seems to be a knot that can’t be untangled, so we’ll have to cut through it. We’ll have to start cutting loose from these identities, leaving them behind, dismantling the structures, stop thinking of ourselves as Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, get beyond the whole deadly game of separation. This might be a long, slow process, but now is the time to start. Every step we can make in that direction will help. There’s no other way out.
The problems around Jerusalem are really a microcosm of the problems of the world. Since they’re most intense there, that’s where the breakthrough can happen. Whatever we can do to reduce the separating identities — tear down national boundaries, dissolve ethnicity, eliminate the gap between rich and poor — will bring us closer to being a human family. I’m not saying do away with differences, just divisions.
The separations have developed out of fear, because primitive life was such a struggle and humans felt so weak and vulnerable. They needed groups to survive. But now we’re at another level, and the groups have become a threat to our survival. We need to leave them behind before we can have world peace. The horrors of the Mideast could be forcing us all to this new evolutionary step.
Stan: Hosanna, Hannah! Praise the Lord! Very convincing. You’re good at arguments. That’s why you’re a good attorney. Too bad you’re not a divorce lawyer — we could save a bundle.
But the end result of all this idealism is that Israel goes down the tubes.
Hannah: Maybe so, as the first of many obsolete nations to fall apart and evolve into something more humane — a world family.
("The Split" is a chapter from RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War, which presents the experiences of war resisters, deserters, and peace activists in the USA, Europe, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Other chapters are posted on a page of the publisher’s website at http://media.trineday.com/radicalpeace.)
– William T. Hathaway is an adjunct professor of American studies at the University of Oldenburg in Germany. His previous book, SUMMER SNOW, tells of an American warrior in Central Asia who falls in love with a Sufi Muslim and learns from her an alternative to the military mentality. His other books include A WORLD OF HURT (Rinehart Foundation Award) and CD-RING. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: www.peacewriter.org.