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July 24, 2013

The tendency is to wait, now that peace talks have been announced. This is dangerous. We need not to wait, but to wake! In this hiatus, we must ask ourselves, What is to be done, Now?

 We already hear around us the voices of skepticism and cynicism. I can live with skepticism. Skeptics question, while leaving open what could be possible. But cynicism? It is the defense against not having been a sucker, a “friar,” we call it in Hebrew. As a cynic you believe that you look smart, savy, not naïve. You know a thing or two, and no one can fool you. And if, ultimately, peace is achieved, you can later claim to be delighted to have been proven wrong. If we fail to bring peace, then you were right all along. And how important, here in the macho middle-east, how crucial to be “right.” Being right and 12 shekels will get you a cup of coffee.

 No, for those of us who know that work lies before us, the question is “How do we reach out to Israelis so that they will support the enormous effort that birthing the two-state solution will require? How to engage? How to penetrate?

The self-righteous patronizing of an “education campaign” has never worked, has only deepened the suspicion and anger of people toward the Left. We on the left always seem to be competing in a search for the best possible analysis of the situation. As though left-brain has the answer. But someone once said, “Half-assed is half-assed, no matter which cheek you’re left with.” Why not ask a different question, such as….How can we approach people from the place of the wounded child in us and connect to the wounded child in them? Can we learn that quiet, gentle language? Among ourselves? With others?

 When 400,000 Israelis marched, in the summer of 2011, to protest the unbearable economic reality of life in Israel, what was expressed was a longing for a better life, a life of not “finishing the month,” but beyond, to a life of joy, with leisure time, with ease, with less struggle. It was a protest against “them” for the sake of “me.” And it then became an awakening to the fact that private hardship is collective. What was not there, in the protest, was an awareness of the link between personal and collective economic hardship and the cost of occupying millions of Palestinians and reconciling ourselves to an endless state of war. This link must be made clear, as we approach folks, so that the frustration about daily life comes to include the unworkability of ongoing occupation.

Without patronizing, how can we clarify and demonstrate the cost, economic and human, of this linkage? Can we get people to respond to the fact that taxpayers are funding security for settlers in East Jerusalem to the tune of 73,000,000 NIS per year? Can we get people to consider the ongoing harm done to our own occupiers’ souls, as our soldiers arrest a five year old boy in Hebron for throwing stones? The sticky phrase here is “…get people to…” What needs examining is how we reach out without handling or maniplating them?

 My mother said that her initial impetus for joining the Young Communists, as an 18 year old girl, was that “they were the most attractive people around.” Mom was a thinking woman, and I doubt she meant that they were hunks. There was something happening there that made her want to hang out with them, and her ideology crystallized later. In Israel, we leftists face an opposite phenomenon. People hate us, and it’s not primarily because they disagree with our positions. You disagree in a reasoned discussion. You hate when the other has offended you. Today’s paper reports a survey showing that 55% are currently leaning toward supporting whatever agreement Netanyahu will bring. Yet in this volatile place, that number could change twenty times before anything gets signed. No, we are not off the hook.  We need to figure out what to do and how to do it, so that 70% will support the agreement, and 30% will have to live with it.

I don’t have a blueprint. What I know is that we on the left currently lack both the will and the skill to mount a serious public opinion campaign. My vision is that we will self-organize into training cadre, grappling with our message and no less with the medium. We are the medium, and we must make it safe, inviting, attractive, for people to be willing to support the coming agreement. This will require preparatory work and a bit of soul-searching, on our part. And then we will need to get out to the streets, supermarkets, bus stations and engage with folks. Such an approach might bear both short-term and long-term fruits. I can’t see another, a more promising path.

 So here we are, on Heartbreak Hill, just down the road from a new possibility, just needing a last push to get us to the future that Rabin brought closer and that we lost with his death. When we get to the negotiations’ finish line, will some crazed guy blow us up again or will we get to begin living our way into the age of peace? While peace will bring the assurance that we can all live decently, it will not be “peace and quiet.” The age of peace will be turbulent and exciting and challenging and full of conflicts. But we will confront those conflicts without fear, because they will be waged within limits that make us safe enough to be passionate about our interests. Only an increasingly isolated gaggle of desperate people will still be out for blood – those who fear freedom more than they fear death. Most of us will be busy living – working and learning and playing and resting and making love.


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