Sunday, January 04, 2009


Returning from my parents’ house in Texas last week, I was shocked and embarrassed to realize Israel was in its third day of air strikes on Gaza, and I’d not realized it. I can excuse myself, saying that I was so occupied with my father’s cancer and aneurysm, my Uncle’s unsuccessful brain surgery, and what was probably my last visit with him alive. But then I remember my student from Ramallah whose mother was undergoing cancer treatment while bombs fell around their family not so long ago.

But the second thing I thought was: damn! This was about the very worst week of the entire year to serve Babydaddy papers in order to sue for full custody of my child and a “reasonable visiting schedule” so that I can move with her to Israel. What judge on earth is going to award a parent permission to take a child into a country at war?

Babydaddy phoned the first night of the air strikes to discuss mediation. There have been no follow up phone calls.

I fully support Israel’s right and obligation to defend itself. And when I am face to face with my student, who has spent significant amounts of time praying that the last suicide bomber was not from her home town, I am at a loss. The West Bank is not Gaza. But even if it were, Hamas must still be made to stop its incessant rocket fire, whose only purpose is to provoke Israel and to prevent any two-state solution, any hope for peace.

But why is the world so screwed up that innocent civilians cannot move out of the way of fire? When she asks me this, I won't have an answer.

This student has sent me an invitation to sign petitions, and to subscribe to her blog that tracks the death of every civilian in Gaza. Before the strikes, she was awarded a national prize in Israel for an essay she wrote about her mother’s cancer treatment—a prize she received at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. She clings tenaciously to the distinction between the people and the politics of politicians. Or she used to.

So far the tactic we have both taken is never to lose sight of the humanity of the other. She is going to be in my class this spring, translating the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish who passed away late this summer. I really hope we can do this.

She has the assurance that most of the world views her and her people as the victims and Israel as the oppressors. She has the experience of having bombs fall all about her. She once wrote movingly about being unable to distinguish the broken jars of strawberry jam from the blood in the kitchen. I have the burden of loving Israel, and evaluating the student’s work, thereby, in the worst-case scenario, duplicating the political power structure in the realm of personal relations.

I hope the poetry we’ll be translating is elastic and profound enough to absorb the mental and emotional chaos. Because if two people who are invested in this situation cannot find the humanity in one another from a distance, imagine how impossible it is for those who are in the heat of it all, who face being killed or killing.

I hope that the war accomplishes all that Israel needs it to, quickly and with as few casualties on either side as possible.

I hope all of the soldiers that I saw daily on the bus between Tel Aviv and Bar-Ilan, new recruits who came in to pick up their uniforms and receive assignments, will be safe. They were boys who spoke to their mothers on cell phones in Hebrew, Russian, French and English; who teased each other and shared their snacks. Of course they annoyed me at the time, since I often had to stand for 45 minutes while I graded papers on the bus; they and their baggage took up all the space.

And if I have any wishes left, I hope that this war will not prevent my daughter from living with a man she loves so much she calls him Ima. That I can take her to Israel and she can grow up in a loving family.


Anonymous said...

Maya, I've been looking for something like this. This whole thing (just like every other time) is so awful but I've had a lot of trouble finding perspectives that embrace the beauty of both sides and the pain as well. Thank you for sharing it. And may all of your family members find a refuah shlema...

elanit said...

Your relationship with your student is the type of relationships we need to build more of. Keep going at it, no matter how difficult it gets. Your daughter will learn an invaluable lesson.

Anonymous said...

"I have the burden of loving Israel".

Wrong. You CHOOSE to 'love' Israel. Gaza residents, who are now suffering as a result of the mandate that your 'love' issues, have the burden of your loving Israel.

This post smacks of the worst backhanded Zionist rhetoric-- "I'm really sad that they have to explode my student's homeland but, oh well, Israel has to do what it has to do..."

You don't just fall into loving Israel and therefor silently sanctioning the blatant violations of human rights that that country has committed since its inception.

To be Jewish is not synonymous with being Zionist. Furthermore, to feel friendly toward a Palestinian and "wish for understanding" while writing Israel a blank check to "do what it needs to do" does not render you inculpable or tolerant. If anything, it paints a more vivid picture of hypocrisy.

I hope you'll direct some of your eloquence toward an honest exploration of why you feel like Israel has the right to oppress Palestinian people, how you feel like your support enables this situation and how you justify that to yourself beyond the fact that you personally wish to make Israel your home.

-- another jewish perspective

Maya said...

Anon--The situation is so difficult and complex that mere slogans fail to express it. The cliches "any means necessary" and "blank cheque" are not ones I condone or use. I did not condone America's attacks on Afghanistan or Iraq, for example, because they were excessive, ineffective and not directly related to the crime of 9/11. The situation in Israel is different in that rockets are launched daily from Gaza into Israel. That being said, I think that solving the refugee crisis and working towards a real and livable two-state (or even one state, I'm not an expert) solution is better than war from any perspective: moral, ethical, spiritual, material, common-sensical, economical. Just as I thought that building up Afghan infrastructure and eliminating poverty is a more effective means of ridding countries of desperation and religious extremism. But what if your political partners don't recognize you?

This post is a response to the issues and situations at hand, not to abstract ideas.

I'm a pragmatist, not an idealist (which you seem to be). But the world needs both.

I’m a terrible idealist. See what happens when I think that way: Does it do any good to ask if Israel should exist at all, which seems to be your point (others hold as you do: the Iranian Government, Hamas). I guess you could ask if America should exist at all (small pox, wholesale slaughter of native Americans and all, not to mention Guantanamo Bay now). Maybe Texas should go back to Mexico (the Anglo treatment of the Tejanos was horrific). I don't know. Should the Arabs have conquered Spain, the place they experienced their Golden period?

Should you beg a mugger to forgive you because your society is unjust to him?

But the conclusion I come up with is that we can't change the past. We can only move forward.

I'm not moving to Israel for Zionist reasons. I'd move only because the man I want to spend the rest of my life with can't work here, and I've got a better job offer there. But that's not to disparage Zionists. Just that my personality isn't moved by slogans one way or the other. It's probably one of my many moral failings

JARichards said...

Wonderful Blog! Your openness, and your skill with words does you credit.

I stumbled on your blog when it came up while I was searching for information on Gaza, and am struck both in this reply and in the original post how much we all are 'the victims' of our perceptions and often the news we watch. All of us - including me.

This is one on the many reasons I read from a variety of sources, some from Israel, others Arabic,American and British. An attempt to understand the many perspectives and beliefs.

A very informative book I just finished reading, from an author with lots of experience and friends on both sides of this ongoing conflict, is Jimmy Carters - Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, which lays out both sides of the conflict very well and proposes a potential resolution that, I think, would give both sides what they want - peace.

I recommend it to anyone wishing to get a balanced view of this, now over 40 year old, ongoing tragedy.