Thursday, December 6, 2012
The timing is remarkable but not planned, in that our publication of The Inbetween People by Emma McEvoy (January 2013 in the USA and November 2012 by Ashgrove Press in London), coincides with the recent vote by the U.N. to give Palestine non-member observer status. Just weeks earlier , Israel assassinated leaders of Hamas in Gaza and Hamas responded by launching rockets into Israel. Israel retaliated with airstrikes causing more than10 times as many Palestinians killed and vast property destroyed (Gaza is about twice as large as Manhattan with a population not unlike that of Manhattan’s one million six-hundred thousand). A cease fire was then followed by Netanyahu’s plan to build new settlements separating Jerusalem from the West Bank, in violation of a previous U. N. resolution. World-wide attention was now refocused on one of the most explosive areas of today’s world, with media largely content to describe these events by reporting the conflicting statements coming from Arab and Israeli leadership (“he said/she said”), speculating on what might follow, showing pictures of the dead and dying and of buildings aflame. It all pointed toward the likelihood of a worsening stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians, one which seems certain to bring on ever higher, and bloodier, casualties on both sides.
In short, the decades long news reports about Palestinians and Israelis accusing one another of deceptions and intransigence, the ups and downs of the Intifadas and of the Occupation, of killings and counter-killings have not abated and continue to worsen. But rarely does one read about the effects this has on the silent majority of people caught up in this world of toil and trouble. And it is this group that Emma McEvoy gives voice to.
Her novel chronicles the friendship between Avi Goldberg, the son of a Jewish pioneer, and Saleem, an Israeli Arab. When I first read the manuscript I was haunted by it—and still am; by the setting and the language, appreciating the vise so many reasonable and innocent people—Jews and Arabs alike—are caught in, living in this land of troubles. This beautiful and touching first novel (from a 39-year-old Irish writer) depicts the anguish, individual acts of bravery, and small hopes amidst despair, while getting to the crux of the real story—the emotional story and price paid by those “inbetween” —without political argument.
That the “Land of Milk and Honey” God promised the Israelites has turned bitterly sour is beyond dispute. And my belief is that things will never get better until people world-wide can consider what life is like for most people living in this land. The image that comes to mind is of ordinary people squeezed between two radicalized forces, compassion replaced by the growing Talibanization of both Jewish and Palestinian leaders alike.
Some of the things these warring factions say or do are both laughable and despairing at the same time. Two years ago I read about a young settler from Brooklyn, New York who, after bringing his family to live in a contested settlement on the West Bank, supported his anti-Palestinian bias by saying “God promised this land to the Jews, so of course it should be ours.” Or, when one thinks about it, how many Jews in both America and abroad can be against Morsi’s proposed new constitution for Egypt where Mullahs are to have some influence in the government and readily side with Egypt’s secular protesters; yet have no quarrel with the notion of Israel being a Jewish state with Palestinians having second class citizenship? Again, where did compassion and reason go.
Yet there are signs of things possibly changing.
To begin with several groups started by Jews have been calling for reconciliation for some time and gathering more strength and numbers as time goes on, like J Street or Peace Now, both based in Washington DC. Or Jews for Justice in Palestine based in London
In a bold move on Friday, December 5, three rabbis of the B’nai Jeshurun synagogue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan sent an email to their congregation enthusiastically supporting the U.N./Palestine vote. The next day The New York Times reported that the email stated, “The vote at the U.N. yesterday is a great moment for us as citizens of the world. This is an opportunity to celebrate the process that allows a nation to come forward and ask for recognition.” Immediately criticism rained down from members of their congregation, who were shocked that they had taken such a positive stance, likening it to a “warm embrace” of the PLO. Notwithstanding this resistance, as well as opposition towards the vote from both the US and Israel, this is perhaps the beginning of some real movement toward autonomy for Palestine, opening the possibility of a two-state solution.
Alison Weir is a freelance journalist and scholar who has lectured at Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard Law School, Yale, The Naval Postgraduate School and elsewhere. She has also given briefings on Capital Hill. On her website “If Americans Knew” http://www.ifamericansknew.org/history/realstory.html, you can find articles based on her research and extensive travel during the height of the 2nd intifada, to flash points in the West Bank and Gaza rarely visited by American journalists. Investigating the origin of the Palestine-Israel conflict she reminds us that “What really happened was that the Zionist movement, from the beginning, looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the indigenous Arab population so that Israel could be a wholly Jewish state, or as much as was possible. Land bought by the Jewish National Fund was held in the name of the Jewish people and could never be sold or even leased back to Arabs (a situation which continues to the present).The vast majority of the population of Palestine, by the way, had been Arabic since the seventh century A.D. (Over 1200 years.)” She goes on to add “One further point: being Jewish ourselves, the position we present here is critical of Zionism but is in no way anti-Semitic. We do not believe that the Jews acted worse than any other group might have acted in their situation. The Zionists (who were a distinct minority of the Jewish people until after WWII) had an understandable desire to establish a place where Jews could be masters of their own fate, given the bleak history of Jewish oppression. Especially as the danger to European Jewry crystallized in the late 1930’s and after, the actions of the Zionists were propelled by real desperation. But so were the actions of the Arabs. The mythic “land without people for a people without land” was already home to 700,000 Palestinians in 1919. This is the root of the problem, as we shall see.”
Can the Endless War be Ended? Read The Inbetween People and share your thoughts with me.