Hillel Damron
Writer, filmmaker and blogger

The Israeli Mandela

Who is he, the Israeli Mandela? Where is he hiding? Let him come into the light, stand up and speak out. He is desperately wanted, and much needed. We actually had one, hadn’t we? His name was Yitzchak Rabin. Remember him? He was a freedom fighter; he fought for the independence of his country; his Jewish, democratic state of Israel. And then, like Mandela, he was ready to forgive his enemies. He was ready to make peace, compromise and share the land. For all the world to see, uncomfortable as he was, he shook hands with his sworn enemy, whose name was Yasser Arafat. Our Mandela may not have been ready to embrace his enemy in his heart, but he did so in his actions. The same as Mandela had done, by forgiving the people who had imprisoned him for 27 long years. He made peace with them to unsure the future and justice of all his people. That’s why he was so admired.

But else, in Israel, this Jewish Mandela was murdered. Not by an Arab enemy, mind you, but by a Jew. A hero to many, still, who would like to see him go free. And if you ask the writer of this column, then he’ll tell you that he has serious suspicions – admittedly, without any proof – that the killers of Yasser Arafat came from the same camp. Why is it, one wonders, that the Israelis are so vengeful? Is that the only language we know how to speak: eye for an eye? We, the people of the book? It may have been understood, to live by the sword, in the early stages of the establishment of the Jewish state. There was no other option, supposedly. A reaction to the Holocaust, quiet possibly. Murdering squads roaming Europe, killing previous Nazis without a trial. And then doing so to Palestinian terrorists as well. All for the cause. But when is it going to end, this obsession with power and the use of power?

Take Netanyahu, for instance, who came up with the most ridicules excuse possible not to attend Mandela’s funereal services. Living large as he is, spending fortune on ice-cream orders alone; he who had demanded that a special bed be put on an airplane for him and his wife to fly to Margret Thatcher’s funereal. Can a person like that become his country’s Mandela? Fat chance. No wonder his refusal to go: Israel was such a close ally of the Apartheid regime of South Africa, building its army industrial powerhouse thanks to that collaboration. Now in reality, Israel is practically the pariah of this world. The new Apartheid state of this world, is how most of the world sees Israel these days. Hate it and despise it as you may, but the divestment movement against Israel is gaining ground, and going nowhere but forward. Now we are facing, Jews and Israelis, not only the Association for Asian American Studies endorsing of that boycott, but the American Studies Association’s as well. What Israel’s answer? It continues to occupy the land the Palestinians consider their homeland, continues to settle it even further, and continues to control and terrorize the lives of the Palestinian people.

Not a good answer. But if not Netanyahu, then who? The Palestinians may have one in the form of Marwan Barghouti, who has been called by some Palestinians “the new Mandela.” He is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison. And of course, Israel would never consider releasing him, to prevent exactly that possibility, of him becoming Mandela. What are they afraid of, exactly? That he’ll come out of prison and be ready to make peace. But where is he, the Israeli Mandela? Is there such a young leader in the making? Maybe in the Knesset, who possesses these rare qualities to stand out bravely and deliver peace? Without being afraid for his own life. Rabin paid for it; Sharon paid for it. No wonder no leader in Israel is ready to fight for peace, even if he believes strongly in it. I don’t see Yair Lapid as such a leader; the false premise sign is written all over him. He and his twin, Naftali Bennett, are in the same sand box. Maybe the new leader of the Labor Party, Isaac Herzog, is the real deal. He said this upon election: “Only bold steps toward peace with the Palestinians will enable us to break through on all fronts.” Don’t know enough about him, honestly, except that he comes from a good stock. One can only hope.

What I do know, however, is that time is running out on this new leader to emerge. Facts on the ground are against him. The actions of the zealots/settlers are against him. They hear the words of God, not of man. The spirit of the ‘sane, liberal-democratic Israel’ is also against him, since it is largely missing in action. They prefer to look the other way, it seems; they choose to dance on the Tel Aviv Titanic’ beach-deck, while their ship and country is sinking. The Jews of America are against him, too. They are too obsessed with their old ideas about the glory of Israel, and how much they used to be proud of it, to realize what had happened to their beloved people and country. Their babies are adults now, yet they don’t resemble anything they thought they would look like. So they turn their eyes the other way. There are some good, encouraging signs though, of some awakening in American Jewry. Will they be suffice to push an Israeli Mandela to stand up and deliver? And be counted for? Regardless of his own personal safety and political future? I doubt it. It has to come from within. From a solid, firm inner conviction. Where is he, then, the new Herzl? The new Ben Guroin? The new Rabin? The New Israeli Mandela?

About the Author
Hillel Damron is the author of novels, essays, and short stories—one which won the 2011 ‘Moment Magazine Memoire Contest.’ He studied films at the ‘London Film School’ and became the film director of TV documentaries, a feature film, and video shorts. He was the Executive Director of the ‘Hillel House at UC Davis'. He was an elite IDF paratroops unit officer who was wounded in battle; he was born in kibbutz Hephzibah to parents who survived the Holocaust.
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