Sunday, January 11, 2009

These Are My People

Every morning when I wake up, I turn on the news. Things in Gaza are not only getting worse for the Palestinians, they are making everything worse for every one, everywhere--including the Israelis. Whatever door you've walked through (according to Marianne Williamson), life won't be quite the same as it was before. There wasn't much chance for real reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians before the current siege of Gaza, but now, even that remote possibility has died along with all the Palestinian women and children who have been recklessly killed. Hamas today proclaimed the peace process is now behind them for good. Forever.

Israel continues to claim the higher moral ground based on its stated objective NOT to kill civilians. This intention is meant to pass for emotional sobriety on their part. Hamas, when it comes to killing civilians, doesn't give a shit, so the Israelis claim. It uses civilians as human shields. Meanwhile, in the past couple of weeks, over 800 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis, more than half of them civilians. The millions who are still left alive are hanging on by a thread, desperate for food, water, fuel, and medical assistance. So what is wrong with this picture? And what is the role of pure intentionality here?

My friend Fern and I have had many conversations on this topic. Intentions require the convergence of words and actions. We have always agreed that if you say one thing but then do another, you have to look at the actions, not the words, to evaluate what is really meant. When it comes to the subject of Israel, however, my friend's approach is no longer straightforward, because she happens to be Jewish. "I don't like what they're doing either," she says, referring to the Israelis, when I lamented their actions, "but I stand by my people."

It gets to me every time she talks like that. It's a statement, and a feeling, I simply can't relate to. I don't have any "my people." The whole idea makes me crazy. And then shortly afterwards, I found myself reading this comment by Hannah Arendt, quoted in the current New Yorker (Jan. 12):

When she was accused of lacking a love for the Jewish people, Arendt responded by saying, "I have never in my life 'loved' any people or collective....I indeed love 'only' my friends and the only kind of love I know of and believe in is the love of persons." Amen to that, I say.

Hannah Arendt is famous for pointing out that even a typical Nazi functionary did not regard himself as a murderer, because he did not do it out of inclination but in his professional, hired capacity. The same man would go home to his wife and children at night, and be a perfect husband and father. Arendt referred to this phenomenon as "the banality of evil."

Something to ponder in the present crisis--a further comment by Adam Rich, the author of the essay about Arendt in the current New Yorker: "As long as ordinary people can be transformed overnight into mass murderers, we are still living in Hannah Arendt's world."

Israelis take note. Very few people jump up and down to be with mass murderers. It's a setup for mistakes, a recipe for disaster. Not only that, it makes us lose our sparkle. Have we managed to forget how much Hannah Arendt's world sucks?

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