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Monday, July 04, 2005

It's the names that hurt me!

What the hell has gotten into people that would make them think for one moment that just because they are condemning inexcusable actions it is somehow OK to use inexcusable words?!

I'm not talking about inarticulate dolts who have no choice but to express their rage in its rawest form... without regard to the potential consequences.  No, I'm referring to some of the best educated and most well-spoken/written members of our society.

Up until recently I have been fairly impressed with the media in general, and bloggers in particular, for their collective restraint in conveying their political agendas (yes, even the media has a carefully-crafted political agenda) without crossing the line into libel and incitement.

But I get the sense that all bets are now off... and no quarter is being asked or offered now that the disengagement is upon us.

Perhaps the blame rests with the heat of the Israeli summer as the showdown over disengagement begins in earnest... or perhaps we simply tend to be at our worst when engaging in 'family' screaming matches.  But whatever the reason, it is shaking my faith in our collective humanity.

When misguided teenagers pour oil and nails on a busy highway, they are setting events in motion that could certainly cause damage to property, and quite possibly lead to injury... or even loss of life.  But to call these misguided people terrorists is to suggest that their primary intention was to maim and kill in order to further their agenda... and that is not only grossly unfair, but it is patently untrue. 

Do people who spread oil and nails on a highway deserve to be locked away for a long, long time (not to mention be required pay severe reparations for any damage or injury they may have caused)?  Absolutely.  But to use the word terrorist to describe them is to intentionally dilute the word terrorist. 

We have so few meaningful words to describe people who deliberately set out to inflict as much bodily harm and death as as possible.  We rant and rave when reporters insists upon calling them 'militants' and 'insurgents' and 'infiltrator's'... anything but terrorists.  Why the hell would we voluntarily devalue one of the few remaining words that accurately describes a person whose primary goal is indiscriminate politically/racially-motivated murder?

I honestly don't know what the world is coming to when an otherwise thoughtful, humanist blogger commenting on the 'oil & nails incident' suggests that the parents of these teenagers should be sent to reeducation camps!  I almost wept when I read that.  I have seen with my own eyes (up close and personal, as the saying goes), what kind of horrible scars are left by the 'instructors' in such camps; the cigarette burns... the caning scars... the missing finger/toenails... the poorly set bones... the broken and missing teeth.  Worst of all I have seen the broken spirits that have somehow managed to survive the brutality of the 'reeducation' process.  That a thoughtful, caring woman with impeccable humanist credentials could suggest such a thing, even in jest (and there was no indication that it was a joke), made me wonder if there was anything good and decent left in the world.

I physically flinch every time I hear anyone from either political or religious extreme glibly tossing around 'N' bombs (meaning n*zi, not n*gger).  How dare they water down the terrifying force that remains in that word?  How can we expect the world to take notice of our pleas of 'Never Again' when we invoke the ultimate bogeyman any time we feel like insulting someone whose views we find in conflict with our own?

When the Histadrut blocks highways with people and burning tires to add emphasis to national strikes, there is much hand-wringing and many impassioned editorials about the effectiveness of the tactic. 

But when those who oppose the disengagement block highways with people and burning tires (I'm not talking about oil and nails here), the Walla web portal (owned by the left-leaning Ha'aretz) publishes an editorial calling for "large groups of people go to the Ayalon highway [in Tel Aviv] with heavy chains…or plain fists" to assault road block protesters.  It also suggests throwing gasoline on anti-evacuation demonstrators and "fixing" their windows and headlights. There was also the helpful suggestion that if police were to question them about breaking the windows of cars with orange ribbons, they should answer that they thought they saw a baby locked in the car.

There is simply no way a reasonable person could read those words and not understand that it is calling for violence and possibly murder.  In fact there were several incidents on the Ayalon during demonstrations where people wielding chains seemed to be acting in direct response to that editorial.

The same can be said of refusal. 

Each side sees its own refusers as heroes of conscience, and the soldiers who refuse from the other side as traitors.  Rather than concentrating on the only real issue of what constitutes an illegal order (the only kind a soldier is allowed to refuse), both sides seem quite content to set aside such litmus tests in order to escalate the name-calling. 

Each side accuses the other of indoctrinating its children with hatred, yet they fail to listen to the hateful words and messages coming from their own mouths. 

The secular left accuses the religious right of teaching its children that "the other side is dominated by goy-appeasing, dati-hating, acculturated lefties who are prepared to make idiotic withdrawals on other people's backs out of pure spite."

The religious right accuses the secular left of encouraging its children to view the them as being "dominated by nut cases who will never agree even to obviously-beneficial retreats because they are in the grip of a messianic ideology that includes the certainty that they have the map of the geulah in their shirt pockets and all the streets on it are one-way."

[both of the excellent quotes in the two paragraphs above were crafted by my friend Ben Chorin in this well-written post]

If one were of a mind to assign blame, the growing distance between the two sides could, by itself, be a likely culprit.  By this I mean that if you don't have occasion to actually meet and exchange ideas with someone it becomes child's play to paint them as some sort of monster... and then actually start to believe it. 

However, I don't think this is all there is to it.

The very tactic that makes it psychologically possible for soldiers in the field to kill another human being is being deliberately employed in political and religious debates.  By this I mean that both sides are actively indoctrinating their children and teenagers to stop viewing the other side as human, and to start seeing them simply as 'the enemy'.  Once that transition is complete, no rumor or suspicion is beyond plausibility, and no act of sabotage or violence is beyond the pale.

A friend of mine forwarded a link to a video taken by a bystander during last week's opening salvo in the disengagement.  The video showed a group of Israeli policemen handcuffing an anti-withdrawal demonstrator .  Once the demonstrator was completely immobilized, one of the policemen deliberately reached his fingers up the bound man's nostrils and pulled sharply upwards... nearly tearing the man's nose off.  What did this policeman's parents teach him about the monsters on the other side of the divide to make such a horrible (and clearly well-rehearsed) action possible? 

I won't paint myself as some sort of angel.  When I hear people attacking me  because I happen to feel differently than they do (or perhaps because I sometimes don't know what to feel), I get defensive.  Instead of a Jew or an Israeli I see only an opponent and I want to defeat him/her and make them agree with me at any cost. 

This is human nature at its most basic.  44 years of living have not dulled this instinct in me one bit, and it is only through tremendous effort that I am able to keep my ugly feelings hidden from view until they have had time to either mature or dissolve.

As a thinking, feeling human being living in a liberal democracy I hate having to confront such feelings on a daily basis.  The only reason you don't read more of them here is that, while I allow myself to write while I am angry, I try very hard not to publish under the influence of such strong emotions.

Which brings us (finally) to the point of this rant.

One can (almost) be forgiven for saying terrible things out loud in the heat of an argument.  But I would hope that when putting pen to paper (even in the virtual sense of blogging /writing for publication) there is ample opportunity to look back over what has just been written, and be critical enough to see the damage our words can do.

In these emotionally fragile times, the carnage that can be wrought by careless name-calling is every bit as devastating as that inflicted by well-thrown sticks or stones.

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Posted by David Bogner on July 4, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Friday, July 01, 2005

Photo Friday (Vol. XX*XII) [continuity edition]

I apologize that this is being posted so late in the day.  I should have warned some of you (you know who you are), since I knew in advance that Photo Friday wouldn't be posted until mid-afternoon Israel time.

You see, at 9:30 this morning Zahava, Ariella and I left Gilad and Yonah in the capable hands of one of the neighborhood teenagers and went for a drive to a nearby kibbutz.  This wasn't just any drive... and it certainly wasn't to just any kibbutz.

This morning's drive took us to the Bat Mitzvah celebration of Ariella's closest friend, Ayelet. The celebratory brunch was held at kibbutz Massuot Yitzchak here in Gush Etzion.  It was quite emotional for me to see the name of the venue on the invitation because Massuot Yitzchak ceased to exist in Gush Etzion on May 14th 1948 when the last surviving members of the kibbutz were taken prisoner by the Jordanian Legion, and the buildings of the kibbutz were looted and destroyed.

I have written a bit about the history of our area before, but for those who are really interested in a more complete understanding of events that took place here, you should go read this.

The remains of the Kibbutz can be seen in a few small clearings, and hiding amongst the trees of this quiet mountain forest:
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The Kibbutz's primary supply of water came from a natural spring whose icy waters still flows from the side of the mountain.  Today, this spring feeds a small mikveh (ritual bath) that sits just a few feet from the spot where we celebrated Ayelet's Bat Mitzvah  The mikveh is still used by many residents of Gush Etzion... and this is what it looks like today (the water flows from the underground source on the left):
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The choice of this forested spot amongst the ruins of Kibbutz Massuot Yitzchak for the Bat Mitzvah was extremely poignant for the assembled guests.  It created a living link to the past... and like the Bat Mitzvah itself, it presented a clear message of continuity. 

Here are a few pictures from the Bat Mitzvah:

The tables were set in a small stand of trees.  You can see the remains of one of the kibbutz buildings on the right in the background:
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This picture (from a different angle) allows a view of the same crumbled wall... but now it is in the foreground:

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Here we are listening to the Bat Mitzvah girl give a very scholarly talk.  She completed the study of 'Seder Moed' (one sixth of the entire Mishnah) and spoke beautifully, with many Biblical and Talmudic references to support her points.
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A closer view of the Bat Mitzvah girl:
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The dual message of continuity found in celebrating a Bat Mitzvah in this historic setting was enough to bring tears to the eyes of many in attendance.  But there was another, less well-known element of continuity present at this celebration.

When my wife was about Ariella's age, she was a member of a Jewish youth group in Upstate New York. Among her closest friends were two girls; Adina and Melissa.  Adina married a great guy, and they have been living with their wonderful kids within walking distance of where we now live.  Melissa (who I dated for a few months, and who was nice enough to introduce me to my wife), also married a great guy, and they also moved to Israel and are raising their family here in Efrat.

I can't tell you how wonderful it was to experience the sense of continuity when I saw these three childhood friends celebrating together in a forest near our homes in Efrat.  But the real sense of continuity can be found in the fact that all three of these childhood friends have daughters who are the closest of friends.  (Back row: Adina, Melissa and Zahava... Front row: Mira, Ayelet and Ariella)
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Shabbat Shalom!
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Posted by David Bogner on July 1, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack