During this summer’s Gaza assault, we the ever-flexible American audience pitched a little more sonorously than usual about Israel’s 66 years: they’re a little too aggressive, sometimes; they’re a vital Jewish presence in the Middle East; we the overt progressives of the two coasts see that Israel is small island of democracy surrounded by rolling boulders of Muslim (ne’er Muslim and Arab shall separate cognitively) menace, and we just know this is an inherent, well-lettered fact; we shall always follow the endorsed and the endorsed is Israel, lily-colored in a land of red and black.
But then there were camps like the virtually apolitical American everyday people who flinched markedly, because journalists were let into Gaza to behold Israel’s decimation of children and their beach balls, to attest that the pulverized schools and relief centers and civilians indeed should have not been pulverized. This recoiling happened too during the First Intifada, when synaptic connectivity made Donna pause at the turkey carving while primetime news showed men riding in tanks into villages, snapping arms of 10-year-old stone throwers. Reactionary flashes to broken or exploded children akin to wincing from a hot stovetop are met with the furnace of Israeli hasbara telling the flinched: reach back towards the glow where at least your reputation is safe, where narratives you’ve heard about rightfulness and deservedness are warmer than the cold Siberia of alternative opinions.
“Are you okay in Palestine?” From farm land Illinois, mere high school-era acquaintances who are mothers now, fumbling towards me on Facebook. “But please tell me Mark, what is Hamas…?” “Isn’t Hamas…?” “Aren’t Jewish people supposed…?” They saw a punishing fist pounding down, and they know punishment is always in the inherent and linear business of thwarting harmful behavior.
The malleability of the terms ‘Jewish’ and ‘Jewish state’ and ‘security’ has been artfully employed by Israel and has influenced a reckless practice of its supporters, fervent or armchair, leaping headlong into the middle of a narrative and chugging the occupation steadily along. We are disciples of clean city streets and thumping nightclubs, so when they are ripped apart by a suicide bomber there comes sweeping in the tide of vehemence against jihad (struggle), more comfortably unifying and comprehensible than railing with scholar against the milieus where these resolute and terrifying people were created through their cultural starvation and life revocation. And “scholar” could be as trenchant as realizing why we don’t walk into Star Wars three-fourths of the way wondering why Luke Skywalker and his band of rebels are oppressing those poor stormtroopers; how we read books from beginning to end; the pragmatism of leaving the driveway and arriving at the supermarket, not starting the car at a stoplight. Why does Hamas fire rockets at Tel Aviv and why did buses explode in Jerusalem? History is sprawling and formidable, and this is why there are academics who hone in. But 1921 to 1948, 1967 to 2002—the story of the creation, the putting into practice, the hammering down of the Jewish state is lumbering, seething, inexorable, and antithetical to sitting in a chilly basement sorting through archives. It pulses with readability, with captivating hell and injustice, black-masked men growling Qu’ranic verses, kipas with shiny faces and bright white banners and blue stars, and after the images which have shocked us on ABC have been anatomized with non-revisionism the heroes are surprising, “terrorism” is suddenly a different word, negotiable, re-attributable.
We believe America is likely guiding us in the right direction. Jim Crow, Vietnam, Iraq — these were not us coming into our own to this point of balance, we are always coming into our own, and we are now a generation of vibrant liberals not unscholarly, but decisively apathetic and selectively empathetic, so many in toleration of the status quo occupation because perhaps we are gay or Jewish or friends of gay Jews, perhaps we voted Obama, perhaps Tel Aviv is a gas. Life is less frightful without a forced injection of shame (you are anti-Semitic, you are not patriotic) than with the biological trait of thinking everything well enough should be left well enough.
Every day, all day, I swim alongside Palestinians in Palestine, through the current which torrents against only them. I know little about them except the certainty of a book on their liberation—maybe a Kadir Nelson-esque “Nelson Mandela” or “I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King Jr.—on the shelves of children’s libraries, translated in 20 languages by the year 2060, making fools out of a by-gone regime and its patrons. I don’t know if the book will be about a leader: Marwan Bargouthi? The soot-faced little boy standing in rubble at Qalandia checkpoint trying to sell me shekel pinwheels? Perhaps his granddaughter? I prophesize this book henceforth, heralding the end of a towering oppression of an entire people. Its release will be preceded by this roll down the mountain of colonial support, so slow to pick up speed so that Palestinians might be unscathed. Should over 2,100 civilians have been killed by a powerful military? This is the simple question behind the Gaza shark feed which frenzied America this summer. It illuminated our impulse towards this foreign struggle, whether we invaded city streets or dipped our pontificating finger into an argument. But after that and during these—Protective Edge, Holot, the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a woman dead at a checkpoint, 1948, 2005, September, Tuesday—after those there remains the pummeling, snowbound winter of the occupation.
We all have corners of our bank accounts designated for Israel. We also have a tiny room in the attic of our ethics, and on its door is printed “The Palestinians.” We have our families and degrees and lawns to tend to and the right to dodge assailing judgment, but when we open the attic and look inside we realize that this room has been annexed into our American house, which means that we are ourselves all colonizers.