Despite Gaza Strife, Leftists Mustn't Become Estranged From Israeli Society

We have a right to be here. Far better leaders than our current ones have not managed to convince our neighbors of that.

Avirama Golan
Avirama Golan
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A protest held in Haifa against the Israeli operation in Gaza, July 19, 2014.Credit: Rami Shllush
Avirama Golan
Avirama Golan

Were it not for the words of the Eshkol Regional Council head Haim Yellin, which followed the foiled terror attack on Kibbutz Sufa a few days, I would have remained silent, since today’s wars are constantly accompanied by such drivel that it’s difficult to see things clearly.

However, Yellin, who is a leftist, demanded that the current Israel Defense Forces operation should not cease until all the attack tunnels originating in the Gaza Strip are destroyed. Hours later, I looked into the grief-stricken eyes of Dudu and Michelle Barak, who had just lost their 20-year-old son, Eitan. That made me remember something I had not expressed, neither to my children and their friends, nor to others like them who have not been children for a long time, and are parents themselves now.

I did not tell them that amid all the commotion, a brutal combination of violent ignorance and cynical contempt for all that is dear to this place and its people – it is still important to contend with the dilemma posed by Yellin. It pinpoints the problem facing Zionism with great clarity.

We, your parents, were born to a generation that voluntarily or out of necessity established this state and this society with blood, sweat and tears – in kibbutzim or moshavim, in development towns or transit camps. That generation had hoped that our lives would be easier than theirs. We, standing on their shoulders, nourished big cosmopolitan dreams. Admittedly, ultra-bourgeois ones.

When you children were born, we knit soft, protective blankets for you out of our dreams. At best we managed to imbue you with the universal humanitarian values imprinted on us by our own parents, a smattering of a desire for equality and social-economic justice, and perhaps with some of our profound craving – some would call it delusional or pathetic – for peace. In less admirable cases we raised individualists, pragmatic, skilled and open to the world.

Many among you have already managed to find yourselves a foreign passport and a sought-after occupation. Many of you have done well abroad. We didn’t complain. After all, we taught you to be nonjudgmental, to be open to others, to be trusting, to respect every human being. However, we were infinitely prouder of those of you who stayed here, protesting in the summer of 2011, demonstrating for peace, against the occupation and for equal rights for Israel’s Arab citizens. Nevertheless, we worried about you and your future.

And now, under rocket attack for the second time as parents of small children, amid horrific pictures of dead children in Gaza and the violence in the streets and in the social media – it seems that you have lost all hope. You say that this government is leading us to the brink of an abyss, that there is no hope of changing things and that you will no longer be able to protect your children if you stay here.

We understand, but ask that you listen to the words of Haim Yellin. Maybe from him, who dares to speak counter to the ideological movement from which he arose, but in the name of the people living in the region he heads, you can hear what we forgot to say – that even though Benjamin Netanyahu destroys every opportunity to reach an agreement, that even though this is a bad government, reality is much more complex. Far better leaders than our current ones have not managed to convince our neighbors that we have a right to live here.

The most important thing you can learn from Yellin is that being a leftie does not imply becoming alienated from the society you live in. That striving for peace, morality and humanism does not contradict a love for one’s country and its people. This includes concern for the wellbeing of those now in the trenches. Furthermore, one should not be afraid, not even of the extremists on the right.

Maybe you can learn from him what we didn’t dare say, since we didn’t want to make things difficult for our children: The road ahead may be long and full of strife. But that road is wide and it is open, so don’t give up.

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