Veterans’ Day Invocation

Who came up with the notion that the best way to resolve our conflicts was to brutally murder each in a lethal bloodbath of vitriol?

Whose idea it was that the best way to rebuild toppled regimes was to further dismantle, demolish, and destroy them?

Who decided–however many years ago–that we’d uproot our freshest and most naïve, our buds in the springtimes of their lives and send them to a transient winter of dark obliteration?

What can we build on destruction? Who can we save by slaughter? Why must the youngest mature so quickly?

Even as each question goes unanswered, the scale of justice in our world tips over as our spite outweighs any desire to foster global synthesis. And so, there are necessities. Irony dictates that, in order to maintain the peace, we must maintain militant power – the power to do all the things we dread most, the things we don’t want to do.

And so, as long as hatred survives in this world – as long as vitriol maintains its reputable stature and violence remains the answer – someone must be called upon, and someone must rise to the grim occasion.

“Not I,” says the politician. Not my son, not my daughter.

“Not I,” says the businessman.

“Not I,” says the teacher.

“Not I,” says the activist.

“Not I,” says the pundit.

“Not I,” says the college-bound student.

But someone has to say “I.” We don’t draft. We don’t force. We don’t take.

And so, to those who say “I,” we hold you in the highest esteem. To those who act as our guardians at the gates of freedom, we trust and treasure you. To those whom we fight vicariously through, we are indebted to you. To those who wield their free-will alongside and in cohesion with their M16’s, we honor you, and we pray for you.

I pray for the mother whose son is born eighteen years before a war. I pray for the son whose mother is standing at attention, looking out into a godforsaken desert halfway across the world. I pray for the safety and security, physical, spiritual, and mental health of the people who do the most precarious work in the world.

But paramount above all else, I pray – I plead – to the holiest of holies, if anyone’s up there and if anyone’s listening, that the constant quake of brutality may cease, and that we are left with a world lacking violence and deprived of any need for the fathers, daughters, sons and mothers, sisters and brothers, cousins and uncles to walk the altar of combat; I pray that savagery may become obsolete.

Lighting a match in a cave of incessant fear and bringing glory to gloom, I pray for their well-being, and  that they may be sheltered by serenity, covered in a blanket of composure, and accompanied by the our innumerable brothers and sisters in a harmony of peace.

60 Minutes: A Response

Several people have requested an article on Lesley Stahl’s 60 Minutes piece last night. The following is my response to the piece:

Lesley Stahl’s reporting on the City of David during last night’s 60 Minutes was an almost-flawless example of categorically irresponsible journalism. Her points were soft, her assertions were one-sided, and her facts were, quite frankly, missing.

No contention that Stahl put forward went unrebutted. In fact, even the fundamental premise of her argument — “No one has found any evidence that Abraham was ever here” –has some major holes. Let’s start with the basics.

Religion, as a basic idea, is based off of speculation and unsubstantiated “fact”. Religion–even if rooted in some sort of historical truth–is inherently ambiguous. While religion is a means of connection, community, and culture for billions of people worldwide, it is not wholly rational. This is true of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the Gospel, the Torah, and the Qur’an, Jesus, Muhammad, and, of course, Abraham. So, it is ill-advised to counter a theological argument with a rational one, based in concrete reality.

Stahl claims that organizations like Elad are using archaeology as a “political tool.” This may be true–and perhaps improper in the current Middle Eastern political climate. But she uses words like “indoctrination” to describe Israeli soldiers’ visits to historically relevant sites (like the City of David). Imagine someone claiming that the US Army was “indoctrinating” its soldiers by bringing them to the Alamo or, on a simpler level, Washington D.C. It’s simply hyperbolic and accusatory (to an unnecessary degree).

Stahl says, very matter-of-factly, about a man who opposes any settlements in East Jeruslem, “He’s angry that Elad bought his grandmother’s house and moved a number of Jewish families into it.” As stated in previous posts on this website, however, Israel is a free country, (the only one is the Middle East), and functions through several markets. One of those markets is the housing market and if a Palestinian family puts a house on that market, and someone expresses interest in buying that house (and offers an appropriate amount of money), then what is the point in being angry? His grandmother (or his family) sold the house to a Jewish organization. They could have sold it to an Arab organization or family if they’d wanted to. What’s that problem?

In another segment of the piece, Stahl herself says that “boys were throwing rocks at passing cars.” This is said in passing. She moves on to make a point about the leader of Elad, and his failure to stop after hitting a child who had just thrown a rock at his car. Obviously, it is not acceptable that the man hit the boy (accidentally or otherwise motivated–as the boy appeared to have run into/in front of the car), and he most likely should have stopped and gotten out of the car, but focus was shifted to the result of their rock-throwing, from their rock-throwing.

This of course brings us to the ultimate issue: even if all of this digging and building on controversial land is justified and legal, is this the right time for Israelis to be doing it? As Stahl asks, “Why not wait until the peace talks are settled?” Well, that’s the question.

Will the peace talks ever be settled? No one knows. And even if the talks, themselves, are settled, can Israelis and Palestinians practice what they preach? Can they turn theory into actuality? Probably not. Agitating Palestinians should not be the motive behind any of this–though it may be. The goal should not be to evict people from their homes or to turn public opinion against any particular group.

Tourism is a factor, religion is a factor, history is a factor, culture is a factor, safety is a factor, politics are a factor, settlements are a factor. Is this the right time to be expanding? That’s for you to decide.

What’s the ultimate lesson we should derive from this? Jerusalem’s Mayor, Nir Barkat, said it best: “Get your facts right before you bash Israel, before you bash Jerusalem.”

The High Road

Tonight, Israel faces a life-or-death decision.

Throughout the past few weeks, representatives of several parties (including Israel, “Palestine,” and the United States) have met in an attempt to “get the ball rolling” on fresh Middle East peace talks. These talks, regardless of their ultimate effect, have set the stage for a calm conversation about a subject that usually amounts to a screaming match.

Perhaps you believe that peace is possible. Perhaps you are a cautious skeptic. Maybe you are certain that comprehensive peace in the Middle East is out of the question. But most people will acknowledge that these talks are shaping up to be the closest thing to a “step” that the world has seen in a long time.

So, what is Israel’s life-or-death decision? Tonight at midnight, the disputed moratorium on Israel’s settlement construction in the West Bank ends. Palestinian negotiators have stated in unequivocal terms that the current peace dialogue will quickly become a hopeless monologue if Israel allows further construction in the West Bank. Peace Now— which dubs itself a “left-wing non-governmental organization”– claims that Israel has thousands of building projects set and ready to go. This leaves Israel with a quandary: muffle the dialogue, or take another “step.”

I’ve been to the West Bank.

One of the most sublime, peaceful weekends of my life was spent in the Gush Etzion settlement of Efrat. It’s not scary to live there or to spend time there. Walking around Efrat is a pleasure. It’s serene, almost like being in a suburb of Los Angeles. What’s scary is driving out of Jerusalem and into the West Bank (or vice versa). As you drive into the West Bank, gargantuan walls overwhelm you. “Why do I see giant stone dividers driving into your neighborhood?” I asked my host. Because during the Intifadeh, Arabs shot at Israeli drivers. They threw rocks and explosives. My host told me about an occasion when she had been driving with her children (who were very young at the time), and a bullet grazed her windshield. They were lucky. Other bullets, upon other cars, didn’t graze. It’s a reality that Israelis living in these neighborhoods must endure.

To me, one expression pops out in my mind. “Take the high road,” my mom has always said to me. Sure, in second grade, that Crayola marker was rightfully mine. But when Danny stole it from me, should I have let it go, or should I have fought and screamed until both of us were hostile and acrimonious? For those of you who missed out on your kindergarten teacher’s lesson on sharing, the correct answer is the former. Swallow your pride and take the high road.

Israel, you have the right to build your settlements in the most controversial spot on earth. But you could also build your apartments in Be’er Sheva, Eilat, Haifa, Sde Boker, Dimona, Karmiel, Hertzeliya, or anywhere else. Anywhere. To use economic terms, the ultimate cost to the peace process outweighs the immediate benefit to Israel; the utility Israel derives from pissing off the Palestinians. Continuing to build settlements in the West Bank is not a good idea.

Tonight, be the bigger man and swallow your pride.

Tonight, take the high road.

The World Is Going To End

Why are Jewish Americans so angry?

Last week, Karl Vick’s article (see shortened version here) was published in Time magazine. It explains that average Israelis have become intrinsically indifferent to the peace process and, in essence, have begun moving on with their lives– the “good life,” as Vick calls it. The article is not an offensive one, nor is it an erroneous one.

What Vick has written is not explicitly or implicitly anti-Israel. He doesn’t try to illustrate an Israel that is actively avoiding the peace process or one that is violent in its nature. It is a factual, investigative piece that strives to put together pieces of the very convoluted Middle East puzzle.

Vick writes (quoting Israeli political scientist Tamar Hermann) that Israelis have “no sense of urgency” about peace with the Palestinians. My opinion? Frankly, who can blame them? The modern State of Israel has been around for more than sixty-two years and it is still facing similar problems to what it was facing at its origin: enemies from all sides, a flailing media war, and an opinionated group of people who — despite much rhetoric — is still attacking on an almost daily basis. No matter how many times the leaders of all parties meet at the White House, the prospect of a full ceasefire and an exhaustive peace will always be bleak. Israelis are justified in moving on with their lives.

The article is warranted.

So, why are Jewish Americans so angry?

Because of the cover (“Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace”).

Time magazine is a for-profit organization. They are in business to sell magazines. Whenever I write an essay for school, my dad, a journalist, tells me to start by writing the body of the essay. Then, he says, write a catchy beginning that will bring in the reader. Then, write the title.

Are you more likely to read the story with the headline ‘Scientists Believe that Pollution is Harming Environment and May Eventually Lead to Detrimental Effects’ or ‘The World is Going to End’? My guess is the latter.

It’s not irresponsible or insolent of Time to put such a controversial statement on its cover. In fact, because the article is so pertinent and informative of Israeli culture, I applaud Time for its business acumen, and I hope more Americans read the article and grasp a fuller understanding of the current Israeli mindset.