About a week after I started classes at UC Berkeley (GO BEARS!) all hell broke lose in Israel.
September 2000. Y’all know what I’m talking about.
The Jewish students rallied with signs and flags, we stood on Sproul Plaza and sang without a drop of cynicism a song called “Salaam” —
Soon the day of peace will be on us, on us, and on everyone. Salaam. On us and on everyone. Salaam. Salaam.
You can guess how well THAT was received.
(“You occupiers! You Nazis! You took OUR word and turned it into a song about peace!”)
And oh God, how I wish I was kidding.
Soon after that, two bloody hands appeared out the police station window.
This is what had happened:
Two soldiers had made a very wrong turn, and would never turn back. They were swallowed by a lynch mob whole, who beat them, stabbed them, gouged their eyes out, and disemboweled them as they lay on the floor of the Ramallah police station.
We cried, all of us at Hillel as violence spread across the region. We held teach-ins to explain our side of the story. We were a small and mighty group, and yet we were outnumbered even as buses and cafes and PASSOVER SEDERSblew up, leaving children mangled, or orphaned or dead.
Still. Even when our death count rose, their numbers grew.
“Zionism is Nazism! Zionism is Nazism”
“Free free Palestine! Free free Palestine”
There were so many of them chanting against Israel. While we Jewish students debated our stance vociferously with one other — arguing, questioning, wondering if Israel should maybe do this, or if Israel should maybe do that. But ironically, we were facing an army: Organized and regimented behind their placards and theirs signs and their flags.
(And even behind the rotten eggs they hurled at a group of students leaving a Simchat Torah celebration.)
And while we stood there in circles divided – one state, two state, red state Jew state – they were very clear: End the occupation, from the river to the sea.
Then, one day, on my way to class, I saw a guy with a yarmulke holding a sign that said “Israel has a right to exist!”
Arguing, defending, EXPLAINING why we had right to a little piece of land a smidgen bigger than New Jersey.
And something broke in me.
NO $HIT ISRAEL HAS A RIGHT TO EXIST. In safely defined borders, with an army, with a government (that we may not always like) voted into power by the people. No $hit Israel has a right to exist, with cities and with rolling deserts, with old people on benches and children running through the fields.
Why are we arguing that we have a right to exist? Move on. We exist.
Look: The international community is never going to like it — it isn’t a Zionist thing, people, it’s a Jewish thing. (Sorry, MOTs living abroad, we’re tarred and feathered with the same brush you are) and it isn’t because of Israel that we are so excoriated, it’s the simple fact that we’re Jews.
Don’t believe me? Ask the world why narry a protest against Assad made the front pages of the papers. Don’t believe me? Ask the world why they were strangely silent on Darfur. Or on the hideous slayings in Mosul, or on sex trafficking all over the globe, or on nuclear weapons in the hands of North Korea, or on ANYTHING that isn’t related to Israel.)
Because let’s be real: this kind of hate has been going on for waaaaay too long to blame an ideology that rose out of the need to give a vilified people a safe haven.
(Although I do appreciate the irony that they blame modern Israel for the ancient scourge of anti-Semitism.)
Yes, we have a right to exist. And we DO exist. And we have to keep on keeping on, with as much compassion for our neighbors as we can give — after all, they are our cousins — and one day, I hope we will live and work together side by side.
But until then — and even after then — we have to stop feeling like we have to explain that we have just as much a right to security, to justice, and to peace as anyone else.