This piece was written the week before it was published and sent for translation — and then the Flotilla was attacked. I did manage to add one sentence into the piece below abut that. Here is a response from Rick Salutin to “The Shadow” in his Globe and Mail column: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/who-are-the-friends-of-israel/article1591587/
Here is a link to the piece on the Ha’aretz website: http://www.haaretz.com/haaretz-authors-edition
Recently I was in Israel. The Israelis I met could not have been more welcoming. I saw many impressive accomplishments and creative projects, and talked with many different people. The sun was shining, the waves waving, the flowers were in bloom. Tourists jogged along the beach at Tel Aviv as if everything was normal.
But… there was the Shadow. Why was everything trembling a little, like a mirage? Was it like that moment before a tsunami when the birds fly to the treetops and the animals head for the hills because they can feel it coming?
“Every morning I wake up in fear,” someone told me. “That’s just self-pity, to excuse what’s happening,” said someone else. Of course, fear and self-pity can both be real. But by “what’s happening,” they meant the Shadow.
I’d been told ahead of time that Israelis would try to cover up the Shadow, but instead they talked about it non-stop. Two minutes into any conversation, the Shadow would appear. It’s not called the Shadow, it’s called “the situation.” It haunts everything.
The Shadow is not the Palestinians. The Shadow is Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, linked with Israeli’s own fears. The worse the Palestinians are treated in the name of those fears, the bigger the Shadow grows, and then the fears grow with them; and the justifications for the treatment multiply.
The attempts to shut down criticism are ominous, as is the language being used. Once you start calling other people by vermin names such as “vipers,” you imply their extermination. To name just one example, such labels were applied wholesale to the Tutsis months before the Rwanda massacre began. Studies have shown that ordinary people can be led to commit horrors if told they’ll be acting in self-defense, for “victory,” or to benefit mankind.
I’d never been to Israel before, except in the airport. Like a lot of people on the sidelines – not Jewish, not Israeli, not Palestinian, not Muslim – I hadn’t followed the “the situation” closely, though, also like most, I’d deplored the violence and wished for a happy ending for all.
Again like most, I’d avoided conversations on this subject because they swiftly became screaming matches. (Why was that? Faced with two undesirable choices, the brain – we’re told — chooses one as less evil, pronounces it good, and demonizes the other.)
I did have some distant background. As “Egypt” at a Model U.N. in 1956, my high school’s delegation had presented the Palestinian case. Why was it fair that the Palestinians, innocent bystanders during the Holocaust, had lost their homes? To which the Model Israel replied, “You don’t want Israel to exist.” A mere decade after the Camps and the six million obliterated, such a statement was a talk-stopper.
Then I’d been hired to start a Nature program at a liberal Jewish summer camp. The people were smart, funny, inventive, idealistic. We went in a lot for World Peace and the Brotherhood of Man. I couldn’t fit this together with the Model U.N. Palestinian experience. Did these two realities nullify each other? Surely not, and surely the humane Jewish Brotherhood-of-Manners numerous in both the summer camp and in Israel itself would soon sort this conflict out in a fair way.
But they didn’t. And they haven’t. And it’s no longer 1956. The conversation has changed dramatically. I was recently attacked for accepting a cultural prize that such others as Atom Egoyan, Al Gore, Tom Stoppard, Goenawan Mohamad, and Yo-Yo Ma had previously received. This prize was decided upon, not by an instrument of Israeli state power as some would have it, but by a moderate committee within an independent foundation. This group was pitching real democracy, open dialogue, a two-state solution, and reconciliation. Nevertheless, I’ve now heard every possible negative thing about Israel – in effect, I’ve had an abrupt and searing immersion course in present-day politics. The whole experience was like learning about cooking by being thrown into the soup pot.
The most virulent language was truly anti-Semitic (as opposed to the label often used to deflect criticism). There were hot debates among activists about whether boycotting Israel would “work,” or not; about a one-state or else a two-state solution; about whether a boycott should exclude culture, as it is a bridge, or was that hypocritical dreaming? Was the term “apartheid” appropriate, or just a distraction? What about “de-legitimizing” the State of Israel? Over the decades, the debate had acquired a vocabulary and a set of rituals that those who hadn’t hung around universities – as I had not — would simply not grasp.
Some kindly souls, maddened by frustration and injustice, began by screaming at me; but then, deciding I suppose that I was like a toddler who’d wandered into traffic, became very helpful. Others dismissed my citing of International PEN and its cultural-boycott-precluding efforts to free imprisoned writers as irrelevant twaddle. (An opinion cheered by every repressive government, extremist religion, and hard-line political group on the planet, which is why so many fiction writers are banned, jailed, exiled, and shot.)
None of this changes the core nature of the reality, which is that the concept of Israel as a humane and democratic state is in serious trouble. Once a country starts refusing entry to the likes of Noam Chomsky, shutting down the rights of its citizens to use words like “Nakba,” and labelling as “anti-Israel” anyone who tries to tell them what they need to know, a police-state clampdown looms. Will it be a betrayal of age-old humane Jewish traditions and the rule of just law, or a turn towards reconciliation and a truly open society?
Time is running out. Opinion in Israel may be hardening, but in the United States things are moving in the opposite direction. Campus activity is increasing; many young Jewish Americans don’t want Israel speaking for them. America, snarled in two chaotic wars and facing increasing international anger over Palestine, may well be starting to see Israel not as an asset but as a liability.
Then there are people like me. Having been preoccupied of late with mass extinctions and environmental disasters, and thus having strayed into the Middle-eastern neighbourhood with a mind as open as it could be without being totally vacant, I’ve come out altered. Child-killing in Gaza? Killing aid-bringers on ships in international waters? Civilians malnourished thanks to the blockade? Forbidding writing paper? Forbidding pizza? How petty and vindictive! Is pizza is a tool of terrorists? Would most Canadians agree? And am I a tool of terrorists for saying this? I think not.
There are many groups in which Israelis and Palestinians work together on issues of common interest, and these show what a positive future might hold; but until the structural problem is fixed and Palestine has its own “legitimized” state within its internationally recognized borders, the Shadow will remain.
“We know what we have to do, to fix it,” said many Israelis. “We need to get beyond Us and Them, to We,” said a Palestinian. This is the hopeful path. For Israelis and Palestinians both, the region itself is what’s now being threatened, as the globe heats up and water vanishes. Two traumas create neither erasure nor invalidation: both are real. And a catastrophe for one would also be a catastrophe for the other.
Here is te translation of a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper from Artists for Peace: http://www.artistespourlapaix.org/ concerning the Gaza flotilla and actions the Canadian government is asked to take:
Montreal, June 3, 2010
Mr. Prime Minister of Canada
We bring the following to your attention:
1 – We protest the attack on May 31 by Israel against the flotilla of unarmed humanitarians who were sailing in international waters, carrying food, medical and school supplies and building materials.
2 – Gaza civilians, cut off from the world by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), are reported to be dying from lack of medical resources and food, and as a consequence of the destruction of water mains and sewers in the invasion of Gaza by the IDF in January 2009. Artists for Peace have given their full support to the Goldstone Report. That report condemned both Palestinian indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israeli civilians and alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by Israel. In May 2009 the sculptor and Vice-Chairman of Artists for Peace, Daniel-Jean Primeau, attempted to see the extent of damage with his own eyes and to provide assistance to school children in Gaza. He was denied this opportunity by the IDF. In addition to his testimony, other visitors to Israel and Palestine have informed us of the prevailing climate of repression: for example, the writer Margaret Atwood (see her article “The Shadow” published recently in Ha’aretz) and filmmaker Martin Duckworth, Artist for Peace of the Year 2002, who just returned from Israel on June 3.
3 – Documents signed by Shimon Peres in 1975 have recently been unearthed that show that Israel offered nuclear bombs to the apartheid regime in South Africa, which was ready to use them against their neighbours. The London Sunday Times revealed on May 30 that three Israeli submarines equipped with nuclear armed missiles, and identified by the names Dolphin, Tekuma and Leviathan, were patrolling off the coast of Iran. Each of the colonels at the head of their team of thirty men could launch these missiles. We have just seen that the Israeli navy shows a disregard for the lives of humanitarians motivated by a legitimate compassionate mission, not by hostility to Israel. Has your government considered the risk of an unprecedented historical catastrophe, when a short-fused Israeli navy armed with nuclear bombs is confronting a country governed by Ahmadinejab, someone who has already proclaimed his desire to eradicate Israel?
International solution in view
We fully support the unanimous call by 189 nations that signed the final resolution adopted on May 28 at the conclusion of the review conference of the United Nations Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in New York. Canada welcomed this success, but without saying a word about a key resolution element pertaining to convening a conference in 2012 towards a Middle East free of nuclear weapons (see press release of Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs). It is essential that Canada plays a positive role in promoting this particular conference. We must find a way to ensure Israel’s security without leaving nuclear weapons in the hands of a military that could lead humanity into disaster.
We therefore urge your government to
1 – Request that the UN convene an impartial investigation into the recent tragic events that killed members of the humanitarian flotilla
2 – Demand that Israel lift the blockade of the Gaza Strip
3 – Work with the UN for a successful 2012 conference, in order to secure a Middle East free of nuclear weapons
Pierre Jasmin, pianist and president of Artists for Peace
Margaret Atwood, writer and Vice-Chair of PEN International
Daniel-Jean Primeau, sculptor and Vice-Chair of Artists for Peace
Robin Collins, writer
Martin Duckworth, Artist for Peace 2002
Andrée Ferretti, writer
Graeme Gibson, writer
Georges Leroux, philosopher and Vice-Chair of l’Académie des Lettres du Québec
Pascale Montpetit, actress
Alice Munro, writer
Louise Warren, poet
Claudio Zanchettin, philosopher