Loyal Opposition 

As an American Jew, I'm ashamed of my own government's lack of action.

But now Israel has crossed a line, and I — and many, many American Jews like me — will not be able to cross it with them.

I have always loved Israel as much as my own country, and I always believed I would move there one day, even if it was two days before I died. The desire to "return" to Israel is a current of longing that runs, I think, through the blood of many American Jews. And I am no exception. Yet these days it strikes me as ridiculous that while the "law of return" allows me to go to Israel and live there as a Jewish citizen, no questions asked, people who are born there — Palestinians — don't have the rights I would enjoy if I moved there. What's wrong with that picture?

Israel's defensive politics reminds me of basketball, of all things. Some players are defensive players — that's what they do and that's what they're good at. But when called upon to play offense, they go too far because they're afraid of not doing enough. Those players are the dangerous ones, because you never know when they'll elbow you in the ribs to make a play.

Israel has been on the defensive since 1948, and there's no question that for the most part, that was the only way to play the game. But over the years, that defense has looked more and more like a hostile and brutal offense. How many lives need to be destroyed before Israel's immunization from harm is ensured?

I'm frankly embarrassed that Israel, in the name of preventing further oppression of the Jews, has now become the oppressor. The hypocrisy is enraging. And as an American Jew, I'm ashamed of my own government's lack of action.

Are Palestinians less deserving of freedom and independence than, say, Bosnians or South Africans? Why was it a terrible thing to intern Japanese during World War II but acceptable to intern generations of Palestinians in the same kinds of camps? I can't take the double standard anymore.

And though people don't want to talk about it, this is also about race. Here in the United States, the rhetoric of racism was fashioned by slavery, by World War II, by Ezra Pound — the list goes on. That's why it's shocking to hear Jews talk about Arabs using similar terminology, including lampooning physical characteristics and religious beliefs.

A couple of days ago, I was surfing MSNBC.com and found a photo that represents the physical and racial divide between Israelis and Palestinians. Two Israeli soldiers stand above a bloody dead body as another Israeli soldier takes their picture. One soldier stands proudly, hand on gun. The other is looking down at the body and smiling. It's the most disturbing photo. It reminds you of those corny snapshots of a guy holding a big fish aloft, proud of his catch. Only this time it's a Palestinian, not a fish.

At this point, neither side can see the other as human beings. Suicide bombers and their terrorist brethren don't think about the lives of the individuals they kill. They think of them only in terms of death: How many did we get this time?

Now I'm worried about what we won't see on TV. In online reports from international observers, I read about two ambulances stopped by Israeli forces in Ramallah. One belonged to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society and the other to the Ministry of Health. In both cases the crews, including paramedics, were arrested. Later on, even the injured were arrested. Denying medical aid is something UN peacekeeping forces would never allow — nor is it something the United States would condone in any context but this one.

For those of us who have been too afraid to question events — not wanting to be disloyal and ever afraid that such doubts would consign Israel to a bleak fate — we must ask ourselves now what purpose our silence has served. Has our passivity played a role in securing a place for Ariel Sharon, who every day gets closer to the kind of military despotism Jews have feared for years? On the other hand, if we are willing to speak, what can we say about a man, a government, that is utterly without humanity?

Don't get me wrong: I am equally — and to be honest, sometimes more — devastated by the injuries on the Israeli side. I have cousins and friends living in Israel and I fear for their safety. I also fear for Israel itself. More than anything, I want it to prosper. But for now — and for a change —I'm going to concern myself with justice, not sentimentality. I may be called a traitor, but I won't be silent anymore. S

Liz Spikol is managing editor of the Philadelphia Weekly. 2002 Philadelphia Weekly.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.


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