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May 27, 2015

Spring is over, here in the promised land. Spring’s lush greenery and wildflowers lie devastated by a series of fierce hamsins, the parching, weirdly ionized desert winds that settle on us for days, 100 degrees in the shade, and an oppressive pall settles over my country. The hills are now brown and yellow, the earth cracking open, thirsty for better times.

Rosa Parks started it in Montgomery, more than any single person. She was tired after work that day in 1955 and didn’t feel like walking to the end of the bus, as demanded, because she was black. She was weary, and she had had enough. The Montgomery bus boycott Rosa started sparked the fire of the civil rights movement.

My government recently considered segregating the buses in the occupied West Bank. The settlers’ lobby demanded that we free them from human encounters with Palestinians. As in some hospital sterile-room, that there be no contact whatsoever, no rubbing up against the people into whose homeland we have intruded.

However, we Israelis are not honky white people looking to beat up on some darkies. We are Israelis, again at a precipice, the abyss yawning below, as we consider our choices.

It was 1965, I had just turned 18, Martin Luther King was calling to the nation of activists to come to Selma. We gathered in a classroom on campus in Madison, Wisconsin, to learn how to protect our vital organs while being pummeled. We boarded a bus…….we boarded a bus, dammit. We freely boarded a bus to travel to our destination. We were headed to Selma, to Martin. By the time we got to Chicago, the folks in Selma said on the phone that the numbers were surprisingly good, and they needed us to create a presence at the White House. Disappointed, we headed to DC, glued to our transistors.

We slept on the floor of the Bright Hope Baptist Church in a black neighborhood in DC. In the morning and began a three day vigil in the slush in front of the White House. It was cold and nasty, but one day Bobby Kennedy sent us a white van full of hot coffee and donuts. I can taste them now.

When Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel linked arms with Martin in Selma, he was saying, “My people know slavery. We will not tolerate yours.” Must we relive the civil rights movement here in Israel/Palestine? Is the debate going to be about how we live the occupation rather than whether we will continue to be the Pharo’s soldiers? 67 years since 1948, and 48 years since 1967. May we please learn the lesson now and act on its implications?

The settlers’ representatives demanded separate buses. The Palestinians were sometimes harassing them on the buses, they claimed. The pot calling the kettle black. Are we stupid? Do we not see what is before us? Four and a half million Palestinians live without the home we Jews longed for during 2,000 years of exile. They cannot, will not accept that. Which part don’t you understand?

Choice? There is no choice. Humanism is the only choice. The endless quest, the search for decency among people. Most settlers don’t want to be aggressive, nasty, dangerous people. They’re trying to work out life the way they understand it. We believe they mis-understand the choices confronting us now. But of course, they think it is we who are misled. This will only be resolved through human contact among us all, through discussion, through being together and wrestling it through.

What’s “the right” in Israel? The right think they’re right. What’s the left in Israel? We ask, “What’s left to be done?”

We must bring our values to the village square and square off against those who would prefer less human contact. We must introduce folks to their better selves, which we will achieve only by being our own better selves. With compassion for the other, we will melt hearts. Then, together with our adversaries, we will create the path to our mutual fate, all of us team-members in this zero-sum game. Either we move toward life or toward death. Victims or builders, to be the problem or the solution.

He drew a circle that shut me out               

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win;

We drew a circle that took him in.

                                          Edwin Markham

Yes, hamsin season is here. Today the heat coming up from the Sahara blasted us, tomorrow the desert dust will join the heat. In the sham of this new “government,” a gaggle of horse-traders, they are not busy thinking up good ways to serve us, the public. It’s pretty much in our hands. Or not.

Perhaps this is the moment for all of us to ask, in the words of that civil rights hymn,

Which side are you on, which side are you on?

Rosa Parks is watching.



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  1. Ronald Frank permalink

    Nice post.

  2. silvana winer permalink

    You made you point with and honest, straight and rich descriptions. Thanks for inspiring me!

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