Israel-Gaza (No Enemies) (Sympathy & Criticism)

(Michal Rovner, Outside, 1991)

I remember during the 2006 Lebanon War or 2008-9 Gaza War sitting on the 1 train going downtown from 116th Street and there was an Arab twenty-something, wearing a keffiyeh, sitting across from me. It looked like he had come from a demonstration or was going to a demonstration or had been just following a news report or a blog post or something bad. He was staring into space, completely distraught. All I could think was that, at that moment, he and I were probably the only two people in that subway car cared in any way about events transpiring across the globe.

Like most people, I’m trying to figure things out and to sort things through. Frankly what I don’t know trumps what I do know. Was the assassinated Hamas leader really pursuing a peace agreement with an Israeli peace activist? Maybe no, maybe yes, and maybe it was serious or maybe it was the last ditch attempt by a desperate man who knew that his own days were numbered. Was this a political ploy by Netanyahu and Barak before the elections, and/or was this a political ploy by Hamas to get ahead of the Salafis and Jihadis on the resistance front. Yossi Verter has an article based on an interview (?) with Barak in which it is suggested that the killing of Jabari had to do with timing, and that the immediate trigger was a Hamas attack on an IDF asset in Israeli territory. This would suggest that what’s at stake is a principle of state sovereignty, not self-defense per se. Again, I don’t know, although I’m sure there are others who know more and better.

In the meantime, as a private citizen, what’s left is to sort through the flood of impressions inundating that part of our common public space constituted by “the media,” offline and online. About this current round of fighting, I’m not going to argue with anyone, and will only comment if addressed directly. I’ll throw in my two cents. I want to think that Israel has the right to defend itself, but I also think that, in the long term, this is meaningless in the absence of a strategic vision to secure a reasonable modus-vivendi with the Palestinian people.  For those of “us” who care about Israel and/or Palestine is that, for the time being, we don’t care about anything else.

Mostly, I am going to try to  resist the rhetorics of enmity and enemies, as well as the rhetorics of friendship and solidarity, and all the indignation and mawkishness that go with those rhetorics.  About this current round of armed conflict, I’m inclining towards fatalism. It seems to me that these  state-sovereign and non-state actor-sovereign dynamics are big machinic things with their own internal logics, mechanisms, tripwires.

Politically, I really don’t really “know” what’s going on and why, and most likely you don’t either. Who’s thinking what in Tel Aviv, Gaza, or Cairo? We don’t know. Morally, I just want to be sympathetic in these unsympathetic times. And critical if by that one means not getting the truth, but at the very least sorting through the static from both sides of the ideological divide. Marx was wrong. There’s not a lot we can do to change the world that we can nevertheless interpret.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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