A couple of months ago, my Upper West Side New York synagogue did something unusual in sponsoring a journalist as its Shabbat “scholar-in-residence.” Jeffrey Goldberg, currently a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, has worked for The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine, as well as other publications, and is the author of “PRISONERS: A Muslim & A Jew Across The Middle East Divide.”
He’s a very engaging and entertaining speaker, as well as an accomplished writer. His two talks at Congregation Ansche Chesed were on Israel and his involvement with it, his favorite subject. He made aliya in the 1980s as a young Zionist who used to attend the Hashomer Hatzair summer camp, Shomria, in New York’s Catskill Mountains. His book is about the relationships he cultivated with Palestinian prisoners he guarded in Ketziot prison during his time as a soldier in the IDF during the first Intifada.
He built upon these relationships years later when he returned as an American correspondent to Israel and the occupied territories, having gotten to know some individuals who later rose to prominence in Fatah and Hamas. In the course of his journalism, Goldberg was briefly held captive twice by armed groups in the Gaza Strip; since he once was an Israeli soldier, he is very lucky to be alive. (It struck me that his courage turned to foolhardiness in placing himself in a position to be kidnapped twice.)
A particularly powerful and disturbing story he told contrasts his visits to the homes of a Hamas leader and that of a Fatah official — both in the Gaza Strip. The Hamas activist related with pride that his adolescent son aspires to be a “shahid,” a martyr, by which he means a suicide bomber. The Fatah official spoke earnestly with Goldberg about how he struggles against his son’s aspiration for death in such a mission.
Sadly, suicide-bombers and “shahids” in general have become rock stars for many, if not most, Palestinian youngsters in the territories. There is a veritable culture of martyrdom which is promoted in this society, with a viritual industry of posters, videos and bios making them into celebrities. Clearly, many or most Palestinians see this as a form of “resistance” to real oppression, but it only promises more death and destruction, not true liberation, which can only come in the form of a negotiated peace agreement with Israel. Click for Part 2 …