The events aboard the Mavi Marmara were a disaster. It seems that on that point, everyone agrees. But were they a disaster because they were a PR nightmare for Israel’s image abroad, or were they a disaster because nine people were killed -whether the shooting was provoked or not, they were killed- in defense of a blockade that is corrupting our nation’s soul and clouding our ability to see rationally?
There exists in Israel a powerful fear. A pervasive, heavy fear, the traumatic societal residue of blown up buses and falling rockets, pounded in to the rhythm of the ever-growing Iranian threat. The root of this fear is unquestionably legitimate, but this fear has grown and metastasized, manipulated by power-drunk leaders whose pursuit of security has actually made Israel far more existentially insecure than could all of its military enemies combined. Israel’s most powerful threat is not a boat full of angry activists, or a community of hateful and reactionary bloggers. Israel’s most powerful threat is not Syria nor is it Hamas or Hizbullah or even Iran. Israel’s most powerful threat -and here I paraphrase a claim that was made by one of Israel’s most decorated military heroes, defense minister Ehud Barak- comes from the lack of progress towards a two-state solution and towards peace.
I was told recently, in the midst of a heated political argument with an Israeli acquaintance, that I could not understand what was going on due to my “mabat chitzoni,” my “outside perspective.” Perhaps this acquaintance was right: perhaps my mabat chitzoni prevents me from understanding how blocking certain foods and toys from going into Gaza helps increase Israel’s security. Perhaps my mabat chitzoni hinders my ability to comprehend how not allowing exports out of Gaza helps ensure that weapons are not imported into Gaza. Perhaps it is my mabat chitzoni that sees the blockade failing to accomplish any of its possible strategic goals: failing to facilitate the release of Gilad Shalit, failing to encourage the people of Gaza to rise up and overthrow Hamas, failing to stop rockets from coming into Gaza; I am no military expert, but I know -both from news reports and from common sense- that it is delusional to imagine that Hamas does not have ways to get around [read: under] the blockade. So perhaps it is only because of my mabat chitzoni that I was so disturbed by the events on the Mavi Marmara that were carried out in order to defend a strategically backwards and morally bankrupt blockade and by the knee-jerk defensiveness displayed by so many of my people, on both sides of the ocean.
Not by might, not by power, but by my spirit, O Israel. Political beliefs aside, where are the statements of remorse for the lives of the activists lost? Even if there was no choice, we must mourn their deaths, for as Martin Buber writes, “no one who counts himself among the ranks of Israel can desire to use force.” And where are the statements of concern for the children of Gaza? Not for the leaders of Hamas, and perhaps not for those who voted in Hamas, but for the children? Have we so hardened ourselves that we are unable to feel pain for any but our own? I shudder to wonder how much the other side would have to suffer for those who still defend the blockade to question it?
We need change, and we need it now. Perhaps it is my mabat chitzoni that fails to see any way for Israel to remain a Jewish, democratic homeland unless there is a two-state solution and a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians. Perhaps it is my mabat chitzoni that fails to imagine the international community continuing to support Israel’s occupation and blockade and its suppression of Palestinian freedom and national aspirations. Perhaps it is my mabat chitzoni that enables me to see the Palestinians as human beings: human beings who, as a collective, have certainly done a lot of things wrong, but who, as human beings, deserve food, and water, and safety and freedom of movement. And independence. Like ourselves. Like any people downtrodden by history.
Israel is mired in a terrifying spiral of violence, fear, hubris and confusion. There are some who argue that it is not appropriate for those of us approaching the issue from a mabat chitzoni to criticize, to challenge, to meddle. Indeed, if Israel were only hurting itself, this argument might be compelling. But Israel is not only hurting itself, Israel is hurting the Palestinians -who certainly also have and continue to hurt themselves and the Israelis in a myriad of ways- and indeed, the continued conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians hurts the potential for international stability and peace. It is thus not only appropriate for those of us with a mabat chitzoni to criticize certain actions taken by Israel, it is an obligation. The United States’ mabat chitzoni, coupled with the influence that comes with being the most powerful country in the world and the only ally Israel will listen to, is crucial to securing Israel’s future. Peace is desperately needed, now in this time of crisis more than ever, and Obama must live up to his declarations one year ago, in Cairo, and bring peace to the Middle East. It pains me to sharply criticize my brothers, and it pains me to ask the United States’ government to help my people do what we should be able to do on our own, but frankly, I am afraid of what we will become if we are left alone.
Moriel Rothman was born in Jerusalem, Israel and is the new President of the National Student Board of J Street U. He is a rising senior at Middlebury College in Vermont.