In ancient Greece an athlete boasted of his wonderful achievements in the high jump performed on the distant isle of Rhodes. His listeners eventually tired of his boasts, so to test him they challenged him to repeat the performance there and then. In other words, they wanted him to show his abilities at home.
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This story has been revolving in my head recently, but in a different context. Friends and acquaintances have been proudly telling me about their sons’ and daughters’ achievements in Berlin and elsewhere around the globe. In fact, these young people have emigrated (though this is couched in vague promises to return home one day). The children of these emigrants already speak the language of their new countries and are slowly losing their connection to Hebrew.
I affirm the right of people to live wherever they please, if the local regime permits it. But I must admit that this emigration clouds my spirit. I assume that the emigrating Israelis come from all communities and social strata. It’s also reasonable to surmise that they come from among the more vigorous, creative, entrepreneurial and skilled strata, precisely the people who find it easier to settle anywhere.
I also assume that these emigrants don’t come from sectors of the population that are happy with the way things are here now, people who feel close to Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud, who aren’t bothered by the occupation, and who are happy to see the erosion of liberal and secular democracy. The emigrants hate this situation, otherwise they wouldn’t be leaving. They are attracted by the winds of freedom blowing through the German capital, by the atmosphere of liberated youth, with all the conveniences of life.
So why does this bother me? It bothers me because it’s precisely these young men and women who are needed here. It's precisely the vigorous, entrepreneurial, freedom-seeking ones we need to save this country from Netanyahu and his cronies.
The usual excuse is despair. “There is no more hope for this country,” say many good people. “There is no one left to save democracy from the onslaught of the religious-Zionist crowd, from the settlers and their lackeys.”
Such a future will indeed come to pass if there is no one around to fight the developments unfolding here. It will happen if everyone who is capable of resisting these processes gives up and moves to the cafés on Unter den Linden or the Champs-lysées, where they will sit and weep as they remember Zion.
Recently there was an excellent headline on a Haaretz article in Hebrew: “Despair corrupts.” There is nothing truer. It’s not only the occupation that’s corrupting us; despair is even better at it. It paralyzes the struggle against the occupation.
I want to shout to all the wonderful people now in Berlin: Rhodes is here! This is the place where the struggle must be waged! Here in Israel is the place to confront politics, to organize, change, establish new forces and take over the government.
This is even more true for our Arab friends, citizens of this country, who dream of a future overseas. I understand their feelings. I want to call on them too. Stay here! Rhodes is here!
This is also the case for Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem, groaning under the yoke of the occupation. A few days ago I got into an argument with a friend from overseas who had visited the Gaza Strip. He told heartbreaking stories about patients who could not receive lifesaving treatment in Germany, about brilliant students not allowed to return to their universities in England, about a grandmother who isn’t allowed to join her grandchildren in Europe.
My friend is immersed in efforts to help them escape from “the largest prison in the world.” He was stunned when I told him that he was actually collaborating with the occupation because the main objective of the settlers and their allies is to empty the occupied territories of their Arab residents.
The true struggle against the occupation shouldn’t lead to an increase in the Palestinian diaspora but to the opposite – to convincing them to stay where they are and struggle for their freedom and national renewal. Rhodes is here!
Anyone believing in a future consisting of two friendly states, living side by side in a common homeland, should call to duty the young people of both nations. Together we will fight for a better future. We’ll wage the battle here. As the old saying regarding that boastful athlete goes, Hic Rhodos, hic salta!