I'm about to write about something that I do not myself understand, not in the slightest. Bear with me.
- Israel's brain drain is a call to arms - let’s be the best
- What the price of pudding reveals about Israelis' fragile national psyche
- Israel's right-wingers are living in denial
It begins with a question my wife asked me last week. We'd been discussing how bleak things are getting here, how oppressive and despairing and hate-laced and creepingly despotic and down-the-toilet the future looks, how tough it is for decent, family minded young people, Jewish and Arab alike, to even begin to start their lives here.
Then she asked the question. I was rocked off balance both by her question and by my own answer, which came without a moment's hesitation:
"On a scale of one to ten, how much do you love Israel?"
"I knew you were going to say that," she said. "Me too."
What is it about this place? What is it about the quality of relationships, the extraordinary bonds of family and friends, the indescribable, undeniable, deep-vein feeling for the land that insinuates itself into absolutely everyone here.
I know many, many people who truly love Israel, and most of them are leftists.
They know everything that is obscene and obnoxious about this place. They've looked under every flat rock. Some of them do it for a living. Nearly all of them are working, in one way or another, to buck the tide.
I don't know a single one of them who understands how this works. Where the love comes from.
Many if not most of them get hate mail, dirty looks, racist cracks on a regular basis. From the hard left of One Palestine for Palestinians and the hard right of One Greater Israel for Jews. They are told that nobody thinks like them. They are told that if they don't like things here, they should leave. Some even do.
When they do leave, though, that feeling, distilled and yet still impossible to comprehend, tends to percolate back to where it cannot be ignored.
This week, I found myself beginning to understand. What helped me to begin to see this more clearly, were the words of Palestinian Israelis.
"Would you believe that I still care about Israel?" author and Haaretz columnist Sayed Kashua wrote recently to writer Etgar Keret in a fascinating, revealing, and deeply troubling exchange of letters published by the New Yorker.
"I don’t mean the government, God forbid, or its designation as a Jewish state," Kashua continued. "I mean the future of the place I lived in."
Until recently a Jerusalemite, Kashua, whose roots are in the Arab town of Tira in central Israel, indicated in the Guardian in July ("Why I have to leave Israel") that a scheduled sabbatical in the States had turned into a potentially more permanent stay.
Detailing in a letter to Keret the racism and discrimination practiced in Israel against its Arab citizens, Kashua seems to himself be surprised by what he writes next: "And, would you believe, despite that I say to myself, 'But the people!' I know people there [in Israel] who are my friends and my children’s friends, my neighbors, my partners, basically good people, honest to God, they’re fine."
Many of the best people I have ever met, live in Israel - Jews, Arabs, mixes and migrants. Many of those who love this place the most, are leftists. I have heard them describe what they want to see here, and what they are working for, despite everything, despite the brainwashing and misinformation and official hogwash, despite the above-the-law and damn-the-democracy pious, despite the twenty eye-gougingly affluent families in Israel who earn everything and who own everything, including the government and those who ostensibly run it.
"The situation is not easy, but that is no reason to abandon the principle of justice," wrote commentator Oudeh Basharat this week in a Haaretz column titled "The two-state solution lives."
"Someone once asked the poet Antar Ibn Shaddad, the bravest of the brave, the meaning of courage. He replied that courage meant holding on for one more hour.
"The Palestinian people have no choice but to hold on."
No one knows Israel, and Israeli Jews, like the country's Palestinian citizens. The Jews who love Israel and hate occupation have much to learn from them.
The Jews who love Israel and hate occupation are heroes. The Jews who love Israel and fight racism, inequality of opportunity, and limitations on human rights, are heroes. The Jews who love Israel and work for partition, self-determination for two peoples, and a future of justice, are heroes.
They have no choice but to hold on.