Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Lost Boys and the Hebron Crisis: 6/22/14



“Where there is no vision, the People perish.” –Proverbs 29:18

            I am a New Yorker, the son of New Yorkers, as I have said many times before, and though I will never live there again, it bred into my bloodstream a love for and understanding of diversity. When I read of the strife, suffering, and lack-of-understanding between Israel and Palestine—and there are many different Israels, different Palestines—I inevitably hearken back to the Lower East Side of my childhood, where we Jews lived in our enclave, Hispanics and African-Americans in theirs, Italians in Little Italy, Chinese in Chinatown, and then, you were in Greenwich Village, where the Beatniks and Bohemians first lived, and then, after, the Hippies, and anything went and nearly everything was accepted: it was New York, in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.
            I went to high school and a few years of college, before I dormed in Washington Heights—another Orthodox Jewish enclave surrounded by a sea of suspicion and hatred—Dominican, this time—carrying a can of pepper spray in my pocket, but never “fired it in anger”—it was my personal security blanket, in all senses of that word, which I caressed whenever feeling threatened. The only time it was used was when a close, nameless relative, of a scientific bent, squeezed it in the house, of all places: she and I coughed and were teary-eyed for hours afterward.
            And I was never, thank God (He was G-d, in those days) mugged, excepting one instance when, on a rainy night, I ducked into a half-phone-booth to call home, and a skinny Hispanic youth came alongside me—unnecessarily close, but it was raining hard—and asked me for money. I am uncertain, to this day, whether he was shaking me down or simply begging; in any case, the call did not go through, and I let him have the quarter from the change slot.
            What is happening as I write is that an army—a Jewish Army (not counting the Druze and, likely, Christian Arabs) is holding the West Bank, in particular Hebron, hostage, “punishing” them, innocent civilians and suspected terrorists and terrorist supporters alike, on suspicion of having kidnapped three yeshiva boys, who ought not to have been hitchhiking at 10 pm in Hebron; they should have used their cell phones to call a taxi, or a friend, to come pick them up. As a New Yorker, growing up in a dangerous, and mostly unfriendly city, I could have told them this.
            A word about Hebron. During my graduate school days, when I was mostly unemployed—it was the Jimmy Carter Recession—I was working as a substitute teacher in the NYC Board of Education. English High School Teacher’s License in hand, I would travel all over the city—Bedford-Stuyvesant, Harlem, West Manhattan—lousy, dangerous neighborhoods one and all—I used my “street antennae” to avoid dangerous places. Someone who grows up in a Big City learns about these things, or, if they are country bumpkins in the City for the first time, it is the duty and obligation of their teachers and peers to warn them. Why were these three boys not warned?
            I visited Hebron in 1972, the guest of a loving aunt and uncle, who had hired a guide. These were the halcyon days following the 1967 War, when Israel had an iron grip on all the Occupied Territories, and it was still sufficiently a novelty to make Palestinian resistance not as common. We emerged into the main square of Hebron, stopped the car, and got out—clearly American, festooned with bags, cameras, and the trappings of wealth.
            A crowd of un- or under-employed Arab men and boys stared at us with looks of pure hatred. It was a large, open square, and they were bored; they undoubtedly saw tourists from time to time, but Hebron was not as popular then as it is now, among Jews. My “Jew-hatred antennae” were twitching madly, though we had just arrived. As I said above, I have been throughout all of New York City, in all different kinds of neighborhoods, but never in any other place had I seen such clear and unmitigated hatred as I saw in Hebron. And, even if I were a fundamentalist Jew of the strongest stripe, of the “not-one-inch” brand of Zionism, I would not live in Hebron; no, not there, nor anywhere near.
            And though I know, as a believing and literate Jew, that in our Holy Tradition, Everyone who was Anyone, from Adam and Eve through Jacob and Leah (poor Rachel died on the road; she has her own tomb, which is—you guessed it—a magnet for infertile couples) is allegedly buried there, I would not beard the Palestinian lion by contesting their claims to the Cave of Machpelah. The game is not worth the candle, as they say: let them have it, and welcome. I am a Jew; I do not pray to the Patriarchs and Matriarchs; Judaism may have its saintly leaders, but we do not pray to them. Leave that to other faiths. I pray to God Almighty, and my strongest, staunchest prayer would be to “Get Me Out of Hebron.”
            Beyond this, I saw recently a video of Palestinian youth attacking a Palestinain Authority Police Station, charging them with colluding with the Israeli Army in their search for the Lost Boys. It was unique in that, following a massive rock-throwing bombardment by the Palestinian teens and young men in their twenties, I heard the sound of one gun firing, which I later read was a PA policeman using live ammo against the mob.
            This is a dangerous trend: it shows that more and more of the shebab, the youth and their elders in the Palestinian Street (both literally and figuratively), are rejecting both the PA and its titular leader, Mahmud Abbas, as outdated and treacherous, and will undoubtedly drive more and more of them into the arms of Hamas. Ironically, the lockdown policies of Benjamin Netanyahu and his Cabinet have turned them into a Recruiting Office for Hamas. Nothing will popularize an issue more for young people—in this case, Palestinians—than making it forbidden.
            Finally, what would defuse the Situation? Sadly, I believe that the Israeli side has moved far beyond this possibility, and, besides, it takes very little manpower to move three young boys from house to house to house—I only hope and pray that they are still alive, although I believe they are; dead, they are useless as a bargaining chip in a prisoner swap.
            The only solution would be to bring in crisis negotiators and social workers, to begin a process of dialogue on both sides. Then, it would be necessary to re-start the Peace Talks, again, using professional social workers familiar with the psychology of Jews and Arabs (I think of the late Raphael Patai’s books on The Jewish Mind and The Arab Mind; his conclusions may be outdated, but there are massive universities in Israel, and there must be experts on this topic, who have studied it for decades.)

            In the meantime, having adrenaline-charged nineteen- to twenty-year-old Israeli soldiers walking the length and breadth of the West Bank, blowing their way into civilian homes, frightening and often wounding babies with the shrapnel, will only compound and worsen the Situation.