Unless it’s going to be all war all the time in the land of old Palestine, a political solution must be sought. That a viable one to balance peacefully the existence of the state of Israel with justice for five million people in an apportioned Palestine---three million in the West Bank and two million in Gaza---has not been found in seventy-five years speaks to the difficulty of the task. The reasons for failure number several historical, political, economic, and religious ones, of course. Maybe a rhetoric cannot be found to work through all that productively. But it’s always worth trying to get the language right. Such a task seems especially urgent to me when I watch dominant media coverage of unfolding events and responses on campuses such as Harvard and UCLA. I make three quick points in this regard.
First, life must mean life. The horror of the October 7 attacks by Hamas is undeniable. Women, men, and children, hundreds of children, mowed down mercilessly. Understandably, somebody is going to want to get their lick back and will do it. This is what Netanyahu is saying to Blinken when he shows him pictures of the atrocities. Blinken, upping the ante on the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, responds that these pictures are worth millions of words. How many millions of words, though, are pictures of dead children in Gaza worth? Are the children’s lives equivalent? Is Blinken differentiating, creating a scale of life, when he declares that the United States will always stand with Israel? Or as the celebrated poet Naomi Shihab Nye---great poets are always useful---writes in “A Palestinian Might Say”: Where before you mingled freely/appreciated people who weren’t/just like you/divisions grow stronger/That’s what “chosen” and “unchosen” will do.
In other words, that’s what the rhetoric of chosen and unchosen will do. So life must mean life. None being the unchosen, unreal life against a really real chosen one.
Second, call an occupation what it is. We do it regarding Crimea and Donetsk, and the United States government has spent over forty billion dollars for Ukrainians to resist. Now there are all kinds of special-interest reasons for not calling the Israeli government’s occupation of Palestine the Israeli government’s occupation of Palestine. But refusing truth won’t change truth---and certainly isn’t a fruitful way to talk about truth. I wonder if or when they’ll include statements of land acknowledgment on syllabi in Israeli colleges and universities the way the do in the U.S.
Speaking of universities and the demonstrations at UCLA and Harvard brings me to my third language point, that is, the need to recognize anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism as false equivalents. To express opposition to the Zionist project espoused by the likes of Theodor Herzl, David Ben-Gurion, on down is to disagree about a policy proposal. That is not anti-semitism if that is taken to mean prejudice against or hatred of Jews AS Jews. This point is missed by students waving the flag of Israel near UCLA as a counterstatement to critics of the Israeli government and by the doxxers (extreme action) driving around Harvard Square to out students who belong to the thirty student groups that signed a statement asserting that the Israeli government was responsible for “all unfolding violence” (extreme wording). Nuance and detail are needed but not always welcome on this topic. Ask Jimmy Carter about the reception of his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.
I ponder this when I listen and imagine, thinking of Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem again, what various people might say.