In the summer of my 18th year I registered for the military draft, as required. I registered as a Conscientious Objector. Vietnam was the only war I’d known and I’d already spent two years on the front lines of protests against it.
Then in June of 1967, I began reading news reports about the United Arab Republic massing troops for an invasion of Israel.
A petition began circulating around my school: Volunteer to Fight for Israel. I didn’t sign it. But I went home and thought about it.
One of the first books I remember as a child was a small paperback with a cover illustration of a young boy planting a tree. It was first published in 1949, announcing the glories of the new state of Israel. I still have that book.
I grew up believing that the sun shone out of Israel’s ass. It’s existence made me proud: Jews could renew a desert, Jews could fight, Jews could help each other recover from the horrors of the Holocaust.
And there was Sandy Koufax – the athlete who gave every Jewish American in the 1960s a reason to be proud of being one of The Chosen. I had no idea if he was a Zionist – Judaism and Zionism were synonymous to me back then – but he was the most dominating pitcher in baseball and he wouldn’t pitch on the High Holy Days. He was my identity. How I prayed Yom Kippur wouldn’t fall on the deciding day of the World Series.
So, I went home and thought about the impending destruction of Israel – the motherland for an oppressed, dispossessed people; the nurturing matriarch of a new generation of sabra Jews – who were about to be driven into the sea!
I was a pacifist. Committed to non-violence.
The next day, Israel made a pre-emptive attack on Egyptian forces in the Sinai and a day later, I signed up to fight, relinquishing my right to Conscientious Objector status – consenting to a suicide pact: I would volunteer to risk my life for Israel and if I survived I would become a potential victim of Vietnam. I was giving up my claim to pacifism because I’d found a war worth fighting. My father – a World War 2 veteran with whom I had bitterly argued over my “duty” to serve my country in Vietnam – put his hand on my shoulder when I told him of my decision and said simply, “I hope you don’t have to go.”
I didn’t. It was over in Six Days. Like Koufax blowing through the lineup of the powerful San Francisco Giants, we had not only won, we had dominated. There was Black Power, there was Chicano Power and there was Jewish Power. Felt good to be a powerful minority. All the way Israel-ays!
It no longer feels good.
I don’t know when it happened. Could it have started as early as 1973?
If you recall the Yom Kippur War (known in the Arab World as the Ramadan War), you might remember that Egypt and Syria struck first. Dastardly bastards. You might not remember that after six years, Israel still had control of sovereign Egyptian & Syrian land. Surely the Egyptians and Syrians remembered how Israel had never gotten around to giving back the Palestinian land they took in their war of independence. Maybe – along with their vicious desire to drive Jews into the sea – they also thought they deserved to get back what had been taken from them in a war where they hadn’t made the first strike.
But I was still a proud Zionist then. And Israel was again under siege. We all remembered the 1972 massacre at Munich. Now this unprovoked assault on a tiny nation, minding its own business, trying to turn deserts into fertile farmland! Might I have volunteered again had that war been prolonged? I don’t know; the war ended in 19 days, with Israel dominating once again. Push ‘em back, push ‘em back, waaaay back! My team was doing an end-zone dance. I didn’t feel bad about it.
Still, the enemy kept coming (“When has there never been an enemy of the Jews?”). In 1976, a plane with 100 Israeli citizens was hijacked at Entebbe, Uganda. I cheered along with everyone else when a heroic raid got them back. Jewish Power. Rah! In 1979, Jimmy Carter negotiated the Camp David Accords and Israel gave back the Sinai, proving they wanted peace. There were still a few loose ends about the Palestinians but, hey, nobody wanted to get into too much unpleasantness and the important thing was we were here to make friends with Egypt. Mazel tov!
It was probably the First Intifada that started my questioning of Israel right or wrong.
Palestine was a powder keg. I was still an ignorant American Jew. Why did they (Arabs) hate us (Jews)? It was a rhetorical question.
The First Intifada, in 1987, allegedly started when an Israeli man was stabbed to death shopping in Gaza. Then an Israeli truck driver ran over four Palestinians in an apparent retaliation. Then a teenage boy was killed by an Israeli soldier during a protest. Provocation was argued by the Israelis. The protests grew and the response of the Israeli Defense Force was short of enlightened: more than 1,000 Palestinian protesters were killed – some armed with rocks or Molotovs but most (the mainstream media failed to report) unarmed.
Israel had laid the groundwork for the Intifada five years earlier, surrounding the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon, then sending in their proxies to murder hundreds of men, women and children in their sleep. Israel first denied, then shifted blame, then ultimately tried to rationalize the part they played.
At least Catholics might give a mea culpa. Frankly, world, Israel didn’t give a flying donut. Shame on you, my grandmother would’ve said. The Israeli government expressed no shame.
A second Intifada shouldn’t have been a big surprise.
Over the next decade, the Israelis did a fine job defending themselves from those dedicated to “driving the Jews into the sea.” But by the 1990s, you were finding that phrase used mostly as an excuse for violent overreaction to a threat that history had already downgraded - and as rationalization for the landgrab we’ve come to know as The Settlements.
“Never again!” Jews shouted throughout the Israel’s first 50 years.
“Enough, already!” Palestinians shouted as first the Labor governments of Yitzak Rabin and Simon Peres, then the rightwing governments of Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon confiscated land in the occupied Westbank, Golan Heights, Gaza and East Jerusalem to build permanent, subsidized Jewish housing. The 1993 Oslo Peace Accords was supposed to put an end to this. Since then, the Jewish population of those territories has tripled. The Israeli government put lipstick on a pig (no kosher slur intended) by calling the new settlements “Outposts.”
The Second Intifada, depending on whom you believe, was either planned by Yasser Arafat or provoked by Ariel Sharon’s in-your-face election campaign visit to the most holy Muslim site in Jerusalem.
“They want to kill us all. They want to drive us into the sea.”
And Arafat was still the sleezeball he’d always been.
Then he died in 2004.
In that same year, Palestinian children were killed at 22 times the rate of Israeli children – yet the deaths of Israeli children were reported on American networks 10 times more frequently (http://www.ifamericaknew.org/media/net-report.html).
They want to drive us into the sea.
I started to question my unquestioned loyalty to the motherland.
Then came the Gaza Strip invasion of December, 2008: 1300-13 – not the score of a lopsided cricket match but the number of Palestinians vs. the number of Israelis killed in that conflict. 1300-13. Go team.
The final step in my Zionist deconstruction came when some Jew on television said “Jewish lives are precious” in defending yet another draconian response to a rocket attack or a sniper attack or some other incident of isolated violence by some Islamic extremist Israel had helped create.
Isn’t all human life precious?
“Enough,” I said, “enough already.”
That was when I finally burned my Zionist draft card.
It’s fine with me if Israel exists. What’s done is done; I don’t want another war to change the Middle East map. But I won’t be signing up for the next volunteer army to save Israel. Smothering them with American love has not led to a nation of mensches. They’ve gotta learn to play nice with others.
Israel to American Jews: “I cook for you, I clean for you, and this is the way you treat your mother?”
Let go of the guilt. Mom isn’t perfect. And if you’re a big boy or girl, you’ll admit it.
Anything and Everything that has Nothing to Do with the Movies
Sometimes, we go to a movie to get away from the world and sometimes we go to see what’s going on in the world. This blog will offer comments on the world, the movies and their occasional overlap.