was standing at the counter of Northeastern Fine Jewelry trading
in my diamond ring when I saw the Israeli forces bombing Yasir
There was a flat-screen TV hung high above the meticulous
cases of jewelry, and the volume was on just loud enough to
hear machine-gun fire over the quiet conversation of shoppers
Shopping for consolation-prize jewelry while gunfire lit the
screen like a strobe light seemed beyond surreal.
I started whispering to Madeleine things about Yasir Arafat.
About how he was too moderate for some Palestinians, but vilified
by Israelis. We seemed to be the only people taking note of
the television or talking about anything other than jewelry.
Besides, Maddie wasn’t listening. Maybe she was embarrassed
to have a mother so obviously distracted by something as mundane
as a television.
So we did what we had come to do and then left.
Where do Americans stand on the frightening escalation in
the Middle East? Well, we stand in many different places.
But mostly, we stand silently.
For one thing, most people don’t know much or care about the
Middle East. It’s easiest to see the situation in terms of
crazed Palestinians and victimized Israelis.
Certainly that is our government’s tack. And in the media,
especially the television, the destruction and heartache created
by suicide bombings always overshadows any serious consideration
of what kind of desperation would mobilize an army of suicides.
And there is really no kind of analysis in the popular media
that addresses itself to the question of whose claims to what
lands are most valid.
If, as citizens, we default our personal positions to that
of our government, then we are pro-Israeli, pro-Zionist and
largely anti-Palestinian—that is, unless Palestinians can
create a viable economy and democratic form of governance
out of whole cloth.
(Which is what occasioned George Bush’s gentle chiding of
the Israeli demolition of Arafat’s compound: It’s not good
for the potential of the Palestinian infrastructure. This
from a man whose stance toward Iraq has been to press for
the further demolition of any infrastructure there.)
On the other hand, if we don’t support U.S. policies toward
Israel, if we do question what seems an Israeli version of
manifest destiny, it is hard to speak out. Misunderstanding
and accusations of anti- Semitism hamstring the free exchange
of ideas. That leads to this double bind:
Must the rejection of anti-Semitism also include an uncritically
pro-Zionist political stance? The question is not rhetorical
and the answer is not clear.
For some Jewish and Christian theologians, the answer is clear:
To be anti-Zionist is to reject the core of Jewishness.
Certainly this is true of conservative evangelical Christians
whose fierce support for Israel serves their own ends: According
to some, expanded Israeli statehood is the precursor to the
end times, when they believe Jesus will return. That’s why
Jerry Falwell can declare that every evangelical “Christian
must continue their undying support for the state of Israel.”
For some post-Holocaust Jewish theologians, support for the
state of Israel and committing oneself to Jewish survival
are one and the same thing. Emil Fackenheim writes, “The heart
of every authentic response to the Holocaust—religious and
secularist, Jewish and non-Jewish—is a commitment to the autonomy
and security of the state of Israel.”
This pro-Zionist point of view, defended either because it
is believed the state of Israel will herald the reign of God
or because it will symbolize the renewal of the Jewish people,
implicitly endorses an uncritical stance toward Israeli aggression
and U.S. support of it.
But there is a problem: Ideological versus humanitarian concerns.
Since the six-day war of 1967, more than 850,000 Palestinians
have been expelled from the Occupied Territories of the Gaza
Strip and the West Bank, while Israeli settlers have moved
in and are governed by Israeli law. Most of the water supply
and almost all of the electrical grid in the West Bank is
controlled by Israel. New roads built linking large cities
and Jewish settlements are not open to Palestinians.
Those Palestinians remaining in these areas are governed by
military law, must carry an identification card, must have
special license plates on their cars, and must not spend the
night in Israel. ID cards are the property of Israel and can
be confiscated at any time, making any movement illegal. And
anyone arrested in these Occupied Territories can be held—and
mistreated—without legal representation for 18 days.
And since Sept. 11, 2001, the branding of Palestinians as
terrorists akin to those who bombed the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon has given weight to Israel’s objections to
Arafat as a negotiating partner—making it more and more difficult
to raise hard questions about Israel’s actions.
But they must be raised.
Because neither all Jews nor all Christians can support either
the Israeli treatment of Palestinians nor the U.S. policy
of unwavering support for Israel’s actions.
Michael Lerner, rabbi and editor of Tikkun, writes,
“We do not mean merely a demographically Jewish state, but
a state that lives up to the highest Jewish values of ‘love
thy neighbor,’ ‘love the stranger,’ and ‘justice, justice
thou shalt pursue.’ ”
For Lerner, and for many others, this has come increasingly
to mean two states, with Palestinian sovereignty over pre-1967
But for this solution, or any just solution, to come about
will require more than political sleight of hand.
Herman and Rosemary Radford Reuther, in The Wrath of Jonah,
their book on religious nationalism in the Israeli- Palestinian
conflict, describe the change as one more of consciousness
deep ethnicity of Jewish-Israeli identity means that this
change of consciousness can perhaps come about only when as
many Israeli and diaspora Jews also come to recognize Palestinians
as extended family, as ‘cousins’ and not just ‘generic’ fellow
humans, much less as subhumans, as they are presently viewed
by many Israelis.”
That change of consciousness also depends on our willingness
to engage the hard questions that risk misunderstanding as
we question the absolute right-to-power of any nation. That
change of consciousness depends on our willingness to watch
a war with eyes of horror rather simply as the backdrop to
business as usual.
can contact Jo Page at