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All The Things I Didn’t Know

I’m not an activist – perhaps, at best, I’m a desktop activist. I can’t imagine myself part of these thirty-three Jewish organizations that guard the politically correct views of Israel. Yet, in my own conversational sphere I have been as … Read More

By / September 16, 2009


I’m not an activist – perhaps, at best, I’m a desktop activist. I can’t imagine myself part of these thirty-three Jewish organizations that guard the politically correct views of Israel. Yet, in my own conversational sphere I have been as intolerant of disagreement, as hot-headed, quick to take offense and strike back, as the members of these organizations.

That’s why I began my book; or, better said, that’s what turned my attention towards myself in a way that became the inspiration for my book. Storming out of cafes, refusing to speak for weeks to friends who disagreed with me, insisting that Israel, surrounded by a hostile sea of Arab nations, was seriously endangered -at some point I began to question myself. By profession I am a listener; sometimes we call this listening psycho-therapy or psychoanalysis. I call it intuitive listening and I practice it daily. If one of the people who came to talk to me was behaving as I had been I would wonder, and ask, and encourage us to discuss, this extreme behavior. Why so hotheaded? So quick to attack and defend? I would be curious about what was a-stir under the surface; some unrecognized conflict, some self-division, some terrible fear? Listening daily to others in this questioning way it was inevitable that I would begin, sooner or later, to question to my own stridency.

In general I am not an embattled person. I subscribe to the idea that we have points of view rather than Truths, different ways of perceiving and organizing reality. It was Israel that called up this storm of agitation and made me so intolerant. Was there something about Israel I didn’t want to know or see, something involving the strength and power of our nation? If what was unseen by me was visible to others how had I managed over the years not to know what they knew? I worked hard at this question and eventually pieced together a sequence of refusal to know. I set out this interlocking structure in the chapter I call A Land Without A People, where it can be read in detail. I mention it here to emphasize that I do not exclude myself from my analysis. What I have to say about other strident and embattled Jews has been true of me, their ignorance has been my ignorance and to some degree it remains our ignorance. There are many things this chain of not-seeing can help us not to know; most of all it can help us not to know almost anything about the lives of the Palestinians.

For instance: I had never read a book by a Palestinian author-not a single book, by either an individual Palestinian or a Palestinian scholar or educator. When I’ve asked other Jews what they have read I find, for the most part, a similar pattern. For me, this failure to have read and found out, was certain proof that my opinions were based on something other than knowledge and were very different than facts. I began my reading with Amira Haas, an Israeli journalist who has lived in Gaza. I regard her as the most clear-seeing and courageous of Israeli journalists and therefore, although I have never met her, I dedicated my book to her.

It helped me begin my quest for knowledge by reading a Jewish voice reflecting upon the Palestinian experience. What I learned was troubling enough. As I began to listen to the Palestinians directly what I heard was more disturbing still. Perhaps for other readers I can be what Amira Hass was for me: an introduction to the Palestinians as a people suffering as we Jews have historically suffered. What I think of as my traditionally Jewish heart, open to compassion, has been able to take in the Palestinians as individuals living difficult lives. It is no longer possible to think of them all as terrorists.

Here are a few of the things I did not know:

I did not realize that there were two, very different accounts of what happened in 1948 when the state of Israel was declared.

I had no idea that hundreds of Palestinian villages were destroyed; I think when you learn the actual number you too may be surprised.

I had no idea that the Israeli army was capable of acts that no one would consider an expression of its "purity of arms."

I was not aware how much water from the West Bank was sent into Israel proper and to the settlements, and was withheld from the Palestinians.

I thought many, many more Jews had been killed and wounded in terrorist attacks than actually had been.

I was stunned to realize the number of casualties among Palestinians, including women and children.

Talking to a friend some weeks ago I heard this: "Well, if life is so hard for them, why don’t they just leave?" She was surprised to find out that Jordan is the only Arab country that accepts the Palestinians as citizens.

These is a fact we should all know.

I have never lost my dedication to Israel, to our Jewish homeland, to our people. But I have had to ask myself what this dedication could possibly mean if it was based on ignorance.

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