Opinion |

What Palestinians Can Teach Jews About Saving Israel

What I'm about to say will be grossly unfair. But if young people don't find ways to fix this ungodly mess they had no hand in making, 'Death to Israel' will definitely begin at home. It already has

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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Israelis take part in a rally in support of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel to end the conflict, in Tel Aviv, May 27, 2017.
Israelis take part in a rally in support of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel to end the conflict, in Tel Aviv, May 27, 2017.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

What I'm about to say will be grossly unfair.

I'm worried sick about Israel. What it's becoming, day by day. Totalitarian. Totalitarian and abusive. Totalitarian and abusive and oblivious. Totalitarian and abusive and oblivious and suicidal.

It's unfair of me to say this because I played a part in it. It's unfair of me to voice concern about this because I let it happen. I couldn’t stop it. I didn't even manage to slow it down. Worse, I helped keep it going. I paid taxes. I occupied. I stayed.

There's no way around it. We screwed up. Criminally. My generation. And day by day, we find ways only to make it worse.

It's unfair of me to say this on a day when Israel, the Palestinian Authority and God knows how many other regional actors are conspiring to make the living hell that is Gaza, an even more unspeakable torture chamber, and all to theoretically pressure Hamas. They are cutting off electricity to nearly two million innocent people, including their hospitals – and all during the Ramadan holiday.

But mostly, it's unfair of me because I am coming to believe that if Israel will ever begin to change for the better, it will be because young people, Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims and Christians, found entirely new ways to change it. That is, finding ways to fix the ungodly, catastrophic mess that they had no hand in making.

And because if they don't, "Death to Israel" will definitely begin at home. In fact, it already has.

Don't take my word for it. Listen to the assessment of the Israeli official responsible at the highest and most comprehensive level for evaluating threats to the nation's very existence. In March, Tamir Pardo, the recently retired head of the Mossad intelligence agency, declared publicly that "Israel has one existential threat. It is a ticking time bomb."

It wasn't Iran he was talking about. Nor Hamas or Hezbollah. He was talking about the occupation, and the threats to democracy posed by inaction with regard to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Unfair as it is to urge young people to put out the fires of their elders, there are already signs that this is exactly what has begun to take place.

In the West Bank village of Sarura, south of Hebron, hundreds of Israelis, Palestinians, and diaspora Jews banded together last month to set up an unorthodox, ongoing and inspiring protest camp in support of Palestinian villagers harassed by settlers and the army.

There are signs that other joint Palestinian-Israeli initiatives will emerge.

Some of them have already changed me.

"New Voices from Palestine" was the subject of a panel during the 2017 Israel Conference on Peace sponsored by this newspaper on Monday. There was something quietly but fundamentally revolutionary about the views expressed. The speakers confounded all expectations, stressing again and again that liberation was bound up with leaving behind the mentality and the comfort zone which says "I am a victim."

It's a lesson which Israel as a whole needs to take to heart, in order to do what is needed to save itself.

During another panel, which discussed ways to teach peace, educator Prof. Mohammed Dajani Daoudi noted that his students had asked him why they should learn about the Holocaust while the Israeli government has pursued legislation to curb teaching about the Nakba.

"Because you would be doing the right thing," he replied.

The right thing.

Let me get a little less unfair. Let me pledge, here and now, that I will do everything I can to kill off the parts of me which say "I'm a victim." And to kill off the parts of me which despair. The parts of me which say, "It's already too late." And to kill off the parts of me which hesitate before plunging into learning Arabic, which hesitate to spend more time in activism.

From this day on, I refuse to be a victim. And I refuse to be a perpetrator. From this day on, I will be empowered by hope.

I deeply thank these Palestinians for their wisdom. I refuse to consider it unfair to apply it.

From this day on, I refuse to believe that it's already too late.

And one other thing I learned this week:

Once you stop bending and breaking and remaking yourself in order to change for the better – once, that is, that you stop learning from your mistakes – it's at that very moment that you begin to die.

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