The Integrity of Israel's Intellectual Elite, Evaporating in the Face of Occupation

That is Israel in the 21st century: the glory of creative endeavor within, and on its doorstep terrible, no-holds-barred oppression.

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Smoke and fire from an Israeli strike rise over Gaza City, July 29, 2014.
Smoke and fire from an Israeli strike rise over Gaza City, July 29, 2014.Credit: AP

The thing is done, the darkness driven out. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rescinded his dismissals of two members of the jury of the Israel Prize for literature. Proof, before the eyes of all, that in times of crisis Israel’s intellectual elite bursts forth in a mighty wind and drives evil out of its own house and onto its neighbor’s property. And now that the camp is pure, it is time to return to work, to discussing the meaning of life and to lament the neighbors’ bad luck.

That is Israel in the 21st century: the glory of creative endeavor within, and on its doorstep terrible, no-holds-barred oppression. Ancient Athens can only be envious, while Sparta is alive and kicking on the other side of the fence. As long as Sparta does not stride in, who cares? And if the choked voices from the horrors taking place outside sneak inside, then an open letter or two couldn’t hurt.

Meanwhile, the lives of 500 children in the Gaza Strip were forfeited, and no intellectual in calm Athens forfeited his job in protest. The pilots who delivered the death notices from on high were also dispatched on behalf of high ideals to carry out their difficult missions. For nothing is harder than pressing the death button while you are suspended, alone, between heaven and earth. As we know, those who push the buttons are acting on behalf of e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e – the forces of light and also the forces of darkness. The brotherhood of light and darkness at its best.

In Gaza and the West Bank, people watch and wonder: If they’re so sensitive to normal life there, why isn’t it expressed in their relations with their neighbor, who lives under siege and behind fences and checkpoints? As we know, nothing is more infuriating to those who are trapped in mud than to see the victory of good in the camp that is responsible for their misery. And if the suffering of the Palestinians continues forever, why is it that when good wins on the side of the oppressors, the intellectuals who are on the side of good don’t attempt to fight the evil wind that is wreaking havoc right outside their sealed home?

Then again, why should we be surprised? As if there’s something new under the sun. In 1953, the only place a group of Israeli artists found for their new village was the empty homes left behind by the residents of Ein Hud when they were forced out at the time of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. And ever since, artistic endeavor in the village has increasingly thrived. Just like the kibbutzim that sprouted up in our land. Everyone is equal there: the milkers, the cleaners, the cooks, the launderers, while their representatives are appropriating the land of others and sorrowfully taking part in the oppression of the neighboring nation. And there’s a chance, too, that the compassionate man who makes sure that the food brought in the Gaza Strip amounts to no less than 2,179 calories per person per day was raised on a kibbutz. No one loses any sleep over that.

In the course of last summer’s Operation Protective Edge, a solid majority of Israeli intellectuals chose to toe the line drawn by Netanyahu. These people, who supposedly know how to analyze complex situations, failed to comprehend and to explain to others that Israel never withdrew from the Gaza Strip, to the point that it even prohibited the import of cilantro to the territory before international pressure forced it to relent. And then they rolled their eyes and asked what should be done when rockets are fired at Israel from Gaza. It’s as if the question, even under the false assumption that a negotiated solution is impossible, has only one answer: to kill 2,200 people and leave 300,000 without a roof over their heads.

The truth is that deep in their minds and their hearts, these good people are capable of solving complicated questions, but they’re afraid that if they declare that publicly and attempt to repair the injustices outside they would lose support inside. That’s a real pity, because right now everything looks muddy and murky.

I am not a pessimist, and for that reason my suggestion to Israel’s intellectual camp is to make an about-face and whip up a storm that will rock the camp of oppression. Otherwise their mighty wind will remain nothing but hot air.

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