As the mood in the Israel grows dark, I can’t help but sigh at the tiring cycle that we’ve been stuck in for as long as I have been alive. This cycle is fed by entrenched political narratives in Israel.
On the right, the same old military mindset, rational yet brutal and short-sighted: destroy those who seek to destroy us. On the left, the same old self-loathing rhetoric that offers few real ideas and only serves to demoralize and frustrate an already worn Israeli population. Neither narrative comes from a place of compassion for self and for the other. Neither narrative speaks to the essence of the State of Israel.
Israel is meant to represent the expression of a connection between the Jewish nation and its homeland. The physical land and the spiritual concept of The Land of Israel have been a fundamental facet of Jewish cultural and religious life for thousands of years.
However, Israel on the whole represents itself, and is thought of by the world, as the product of Zionism, a modern nationalism modeled after other European-style nationalisms, born in response to modern anti-Semitism.
This recent timeline is telling. It starts in 1917 with the Balfour Declaration. Apparently, until the honorable Lord Balfour put his signature on a piece of paper Jews had no connection to the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
Somehow, we have allowed Zionism, a modern nationalist movement, to supplant thousands of years of culture. We have attempted to squeeze three millennia of Jewish identity into the 19th century Western suit of nationalism.
In this poorly fitting and somewhat out-of-style Western suit, Israel seems every bit the grasping hand of American imperialism that many imagine: political, unemotional, and militaristic. The Jewish nation often seems to have replaced its unique moral and historical narrative with American-style Realpolitik.
Without a narrative that speaks to the root of who they are, many Israelis feel frustrated and angry. They cannot find a genuine internal voice for nonviolent struggle.
But what exactly is nonviolence? It is the ultimate weapon of resistance against injustice. We have seen its effectiveness during the American Civil Rights Movement, when black students accepted beatings with immense courage as they refused to leave whites-only lunch counters.
Writing in 1957, Dr. Martin Luther King outlined 5 general tenets of nonviolent resistance. I believe we can find relevance for Israel in each point:
1) “First, this is not a method for cowards; it does resist…This method is passive physically but strongly active spiritually.”
The war erupting now in Gaza will certainly harm Hamas capabilities, preventing them from targeting men, women, and children in Israeli streets. It is true that Israel has a moral responsibility to put murderers out of action. It is a Jewish tenet that “if one comes to kill you, rise up and kill him.”
Yet our physical war will not have much of a lasting impact. Hamas will rearm, and they will continue to try kidnapping more children or blowing up more commuters. In the long run, we will only gain a new generation of Palestinians bred on hatred, twisted by the tragedy of a father, brother, or cousin killed by the IDF.
We must recognize that our true battle is against evil itself, rather than the physical manifestation of evil. We must go on the spiritual offensive, an offensive in which all of us can partake, even thousands of miles away from Israel. Our weapons are pure thoughts, true words, and kind acts.
2) “Nonviolent resistance does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding.”
Palestinians suffer humiliation and defeat far more than Israelis. Not because of some imagined oppression by Israel. Certainly checkpoints and limits on import and export hurt Palestinians. But they suffer from something exponentially worse. Palestinian author Raja Shehadeh writes that in the Palestinian territories
society conspires to destroy, discourage, and bring down by rampant corrosive jealousy those who triumph. It’s a society that encourages you to cringe. Most of your energy is spent extending feelers to detect public perception of your actions, because your survival is contingent on remaining on good terms with your society.
The Palestinian people are suffocating under a nationalist narrative of self-righteous hatred. They are taught from birth that all their suffering in life is caused by the Other, by the Jews.
We can only combat this by putting down our guns and using our words, the ancient weapons of Israel. We must foster friendship and understanding by talking constantly of the religious and cultural relatedness between Jews and Muslims. We must create forums for conversation and socialization between Arab and Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria.
We must give Palestinians a greater sense of human dignity and self-efficacy and the opportunity to experience a free and open society. The only way do this would be for Israel to annex Judea and Samaria and give the Palestinians living there the same rights that all Israeli citizens enjoy.
Palestinian nationalism ascribes no special status to Judea and Samaria; it openly claims all the land under the feet of an already existing state, a claim strongly tinged with genocidal intent. Palestinian nationalists will have to be satisfied with Gaza. The Palestinian claim to the West Bank must be sacrificed in exchange for freedom and human dignity for individual Jews, Muslims, and Christians.
No ideology should override human rights and individual freedom, neither Zionism nor Palestinian nationalism.
3) “The attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who are caught up in those forces. It is evil we are seeking to defeat, not the persons victimized by evil.”
Israel probably doesn’t have enough bullets to kill all the people that hate Jews in the world, even if that were the right thing to do. We must ultimately fight evil, rather than the people that are under the control of evil forces.
4) “It avoids not only external physical violence, but also internal violence of spirit. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love….Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can be done only by projecting the ethics of love to the center of our lives.”
By “love” Dr. King is referring to agape, which is “nothing sentimental or basically affectionate” but rather a “redeeming good will for all men, an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return.”
Many in Israel and around the world who claim to be for peace do not understand this aspect of nonviolence. These people are often quite violent, if not physically. This is especially so for many Jewish and Israeli peace activists whose rhetoric is dominated by a lack of self-compassion. These activists are pathological in their readiness to demoralize and castigate Israel aggressively, incessantly, unfairly, and unwisely.
Yet a society that hates itself only sows frustration, degradation, and further hatred. Instead, we must “project the ethics of love to the center of our lives.” We must be proud of our heritage and our homeland. We must love our fellow Jews and fully support their human right to live freely in their homeland, not merely within irrelevant armistice lines. We must love our cousins, the Palestinians, and appreciate how they too connect to the land, they too have breathed the enlightening air of The Land of Israel over several generations of settlement there.
5) “Finally, the method of nonviolence is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice. It is this deep faith in the future that causes the nonviolent resister to accept suffering without retaliation. He knows that in his struggle for justice he has cosmic companionship.”
This is perhaps the simplest nonviolent tenet of all: The Universe is good. The Creator guides history towards a great goal: a peaceful heaven on earth. It takes courage and strength to accept a vicious bombardment of missiles without offering swift retribution. This courage comes from a trust in the Life of the Worlds.
Certainly any other nation would attack viciously. Any other nation would bomb Hamas to dust. Yet this is Israel, the Jewish nation. What will we do, as the Jewish people?__________________________________________________________
Let the true nonviolent struggle for justice in the Middle-East begin. Our segregated buses are the neighborhoods in east Jerusalem where Jews better not venture. Our Salt March is our fight for individual freedom and the right to reap the bounty of our cultural homeland, to build greenhouses, farms, and homes regardless of where they may lie relative to some green line drawn on a map, a line with no real cultural significance.
Our nonviolent struggle is firstly to do no harm to ourselves as the Jewish nation. We must love ourselves and find pride our culture of peace and universalism. Only in doing so will we find the natural capacity to truly care for our Palestinian neighbors.