Sarah Tuttle-Singer, Israeli author and Times of Israel’s New Media editor, wrote with defiance, “I live my life here in Israel as a big fat fuck you to anti-Semitism, to the tropes and the lies and the insinuations”. These words make me smile, but I confess that I was not always Sarah’s biggest fan. In fact, many Zionists become angry when they read her posts, yet I have slowly learned why Sarah makes us angry, and why it is a good thing.
Sarah, who is proudly Jewish, says that she is, “outspokenly opposed to the Occupation” (the Israeli occupation of what was traditionally called Judea and Samaria, or more recently the West Bank). I, on the other hand, wrote, “I support the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and I am proud to do so”. At first sight, these are diametrically opposed views, but let us dig a little.
First, it is easy for me to support the occupation since I do not live anywhere near it, and since I will never have to pay a price for it. Sarah’s children, on the other hand, will one day serve in the IDF, many of her friends probably already do or have done so, and they may have to enforce that occupation and risk their lives doing it. Secondly, although I support Israel’s right to continue the occupation as long as there is no viable alternative, I do not think that the occupation is intrinsically a good thing. In fact, it takes a huge toll on both Palestinians and Israelis, something that Sarah often talks about.
Sarah admits that she does not know “what the solution is”, but she raises uncomfortable points, such as, “We are a military powerhouse – one of the strongest in the world. And it’s about time we act like a strong and moral nation, because occupying over 2.5 million Palestinians is corroding us from within”. Zionists who read that should ask themselves, has Israel really explored all possible options to end the occupation?
Maybe Israel has explored all options, or maybe it has become complacent in justifying the occupation on the basis of 71 years of Arab rejectionism, and its leaders have stopped looking for solutions. Maybe Israel has become too addicted to inexpensive new construction projects on land that it does not own. Maybe its right-wing government prefers to gain votes for supporting new settlements than to lose votes for exploring difficult and time-consuming solutions.
Sarah knows that much of the hatred against Israel is simply anti-Semitism. She wrote, “NO $HIT ISRAEL HAS A RIGHT TO EXIST […] It isn’t because of Israel that we are so excoriated, it’s the simple fact that we’re Jews […] Yes, we have a right to exist. And we DO exist. And we have to keep on keeping on […] 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”.
Sarah writes often about the Palestinian terrorism that is inflicted on Israel. She wrote vividly about the time in 2000 when two soldiers made a wrong turn in Judea and Samaria and “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”. She wrote about the trauma of stabbing attacks in Jerusalem where, “Stabbings have no siren so we don’t know when to run”. She wrote about Israeli defiance against terrorism. She asked boldly, “How many of us have to die for people to understand the extent of Hamas’s evil? Will six million do it for you?”
Sarah talks about the scars that never-ending war, terrorism, and occupation have inflicted on Israelis. She wrote about a former IDF soldier who served in Gaza and who now becomes traumatized simply from hearing the news.
She argued that Israel should do better for the “25% of all Holocaust survivors in Israel” who live in poverty and isolation.
She praised the Jews of France as “a shining example and a light unto the generations” and told them, “Israel is here — with our arms wide open, we will be your home if you choose”, and she invited American Jews to visit Israel and to, “Come see how complicated it is, come hug and wrestle with this place as we are doing here”.
Sarah sees Israel as “a homeland based on exquisite principles of equality, fairness, and righteousness — the very values that are steeped in our ancient culture and peoplehood, culled through our own varied histories… values that honor the fundamental dignity of others who may believe different things and pray in different languages”.
She wrote, “when I see the latest news that they’re reading Mein Kampf in Palestine, or they’re selling the Protocols in Jordan or Japan or wherever, or that Ken Livingstone is being himself, it makes me sad”. Yet she added, “But I’m not afraid”.
Sarah is unafraid to write with empathy and even compassion about the Palestinians and other Arabs, both those who are Israeli citizens and those who are either occupied by Israel or at war with Israel.
She reflected on what she would do if she was a mother in Gaza, “I don’t know if I could grieve for that other [Israeli] child across enemy lines, I don’t know if I would talk about white doves and planting flowers in tires, or if I would burn them by the fence that separates my bitterness from a flourishing country just across the hill, right over there”.
She wrote about her encounter with an Arab taxi driver who suddenly told her, “On behalf of my people, I am sorry for what was done to you [the Jews]”. She answered him, “And I’ll take responsibility for all the shit we’ve put you through, too”.
She argued that Israel should take in, “A few thousand refugees” from Syria because, “We weren’t always lucky – but others were good to us, and we have enough now”.
She demanded that Israel do better to change the mindset that led to an attack by Jewish terrorists against Palestinians.
Sarah wondered if Israel could become more inclusive for its Arab citizens, such as by having a national anthem that speaks to their own history.
After seven decades of conflict and unjustified hatred against Israel, many Zionists, particularly those living away from Israel, have developed a hard defensive shell. The other side is no longer composed of individuals. Instead, it is a dehumanized enemy that hates “us” and does not want peace, and that enemy’s feelings no longer matter. Many Zionists even pretend that the Palestinian people does not exist and that there is no such thing as an occupation, because these fictions hide reality.
The reason that Sarah makes Zionists angry is because she pierces through that shell, forcing Zionists to see the other side as human, as existing, as experiencing pain, loss, and despair.
Sarah forces Zionists to ask the tough questions that they often do not want to ask, and that they especially do not want to answer. They often prefer to retreat and call her an enemy of Israel, someone who does not understand the true nature of the enemy, a naïve lightweight who plays into the hands of terrorists, or worse, a narcissist who craves attention.
The truth that took me some time to understand is that Sarah is simply an obstinate dreamer, someone who wants every citizen of Israel, Christians, Muslims, Haredi Jews, secular Jews, and everyone else to feel at home. She wants peace and dignity for everyone, even for the Palestinians. She insists on highlighting the cost of the conflict on everyone involved, even if it makes us uneasy and even aggravated. As an Arab, I am immensely grateful to her; she is the kind of Israeli who made me fall in love with Israel many years ago. As a Zionist, I learned to listen to her better.
Zionists might see her audacious observations and her daring questions as attacks on Israel, but we can also choose to see them as attempts to open our eyes to reality, to make us better. When we stop and reflect on what she says, we develop a deeper understanding of the conflict, we start putting more effort into resolving it than into justifying it, and we become more genuine and stronger human beings.
It is natural to grow a protective shell when we face a situation that is hugely unfair and that we can do little about. It is normal to insist on seeing a difficult conflict in black and white because seeing the shades of gray is simply too painful and too raw. But being in that comfort zone too long also transforms us into uncaring and programmed individuals, the kind of individuals that we feel contempt for without realizing that we have become them.
Sarah also writes a lot about everyday life: family, faith, sickness, love, and sex. Her writing is often funny and self-deprecating, but even with these non-political topics, she goes to uncomfortable depths that we often are afraid to explore, such as when she talked about how she personally dealt with domestic abuse.
Sarah said about her own writing, “It isn’t fluff. It’s feeling. And if you don’t like it, don’t read it”. But we should read it. She kicks us out of our comfort zone. It hurts, it makes us angry, but it is good for us.
Note: All pictures included with permission from Sarah Tuttle-Singer.