Saturday, June 12, 2004

Random associative chatter
Bish said he was bowled over by my answer on Norm’s profile to “What personal fault do you most dislike?” I said “Blaming others for one's own shortcomings and failures.” “You do that.” He said with a little twinkle in his eye. Well, duh! I know that!

He was talking of what I do on a personal level. But I also realize that much of what I write here on my blog, in my attempts to explain why Israel does what it does, is blaming others. My inner work is to be aware of this.

I do try to see our part, our mistakes, and our part of the blame. If I don't write about it very much, it is because it is being done already, particularly viciously and unfairly, by others, others who refuse to see any other point of view and refuse to put any of the blame on the Palestinians, even as they commit crimes against humanity. It is also because I believe that, especially at a time of war and bloody conflict, this is mainly a subject for inner debate, inside Israeli society, in Hebrew.

A large segment of Israeli society has been deeply immersed in the self-blame game for years. I had counted myself as part of this segment for most of my adult life. Then one day I discovered that this can be dangerous, even suicidal, when it is one sided.

Yes, we do share part of the blame for what has happened in our conflict with the Palestinians. I saw the Oslo Accords and Barak’s offer for a final settlement as sincere attempts to accept this, correct it, and make amends.

However, the Palestinians, as a people, seem completely and utterly unwilling to openly look at themselves critically. Until we see such a serious, pervasive inner dialogue among Palestinians as we see in Israeli society, until we see a real Palestinian peace camp, until they are widely able to accept that there are two sides here, and that they must compromise, there will never be peace.

Despite this, and despite Palestinians’ often-sickening war strategy and the open proclamation of certain Palestinian parties that the destruction of Israel is their ultimate goal, the self-blame game of many Israelis continues, unfettered.

Ruined parts of Jenin refugee camp are being rebuilt and renovated - wider roads, better, newer homes. Some residents are being relocated to a shiny, new neighborhood. See how Gideon Levy follows Palestinian lead, perversely twisting this into something monstrous.

Wider roads, not so that cars can drive through the former narrow alleyways, but so tanks can get through! (Apparently building roads wide enough for tanks to pass without having to go through the houses is a very wicked thing to do). He makes building nice new homes for people sound like something awful. How could this possibly be? Is it because they may lose the urge to want to destroy Israel and kill Israeli civilians? Is it because if they’re not desperate, what excuse will they have to be angry, indignant, and murderous? As Bish put it, it’s taking all the fun out of the Right of Return!

Yahoo! reports that the construction and renovation works in Jenin have been halted, because some Palestinians are so angry they’ve been threatening workers and even shooting off rifles in the local UN offices! Is this Israel’s fault as well? Surely there must be limits on blaming oneself.

Actually this ungrateful, violent behavior sounds like no more than a typical Middle Eastern ploy by private Palestinians in order to get a better housing deal. The best way to get what you want in this part of the world is to make sure to be the one to shout and complain the loudest. The Palestinians, as a people, are the masters of the art. Westerners, unfamiliar with the practice, are completely taken in.

I am reminded of Efraim Kishon’s classic depiction of an Eastern ma’abara dweller, Sallah Shabbati. A ma’abara was a transition camp – the Israeli version of a refugee camp - where they housed the hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the early years. They were awful places. People lived for years in soggy, muddy tents or, if they were lucky, in ramshackle huts.

In one of the most famous and well-loved scenes of the film, which I recommend watching if you get the chance, Sallah Shabbati is fed up of being continuously passed over for permanent housing. Typical Kishon, Shabbati stages a noisy demonstration with his sizable family in front of the local Housing Ministry office, chanting, “We don’t want housing! We want the ma’abara!” The housing bureaucrats are, of course, horrified, and the members of the Shabbati family soon find themselves in their brand new apartment in the housing project.