Postcards from Gaza
Photographs by Kitra Cahana
Commentary by Jay Michaelson
Page three

For me, the most difficult aspect of this conflict is the role played by religion. Most religious Israelis are against the disengagement -- not only including but especially including the sort of hippie-ish, Carlebach-loving crowd whose company I usually enjoy. A huge percentage of the most ardent right-wing radicals are pot-smoking kids (or former pot-smoking kids) who sing songs about peace and love.

How is this possible? How can you "love peace" but want to maintain a bloody occupation in land that is of no religious or political significance to Israel and the Jews? It's complicated. Many of these people see the Palestinian Arabs as intractable enemies of the Jews. Some are Biblically-inspired. But others are more pragmatic, and look only to the betrayal of Oslo. We tried trusting them, some say, and their leader secretly tried to kill us. You don't understand. You're not here. You don't see them every day.

Much of the Left's discourse, meanwhile, is authentically anti-religious, and contains within it a great naivete about how much many Palestinian Arabs really do hate Israelis. Really, though, why shouldn't they? If the Left's narrative of events is correct, these are people whose homes and land were stolen, and who are subject to daily harassment and humiliation. Wouldn't you hate your oppressor?

This is the argument Zeev Jabotinsky, forerunner of today's Israeli Right, made decades ago. He argued: I'm not the racist here. I respect the dignity of the Arabs -- which is why I think they will never make peace with us.

The feeling, which turns into an ideology, is: the more intensely you love Israel and Jewishness, the more you want to hold onto it. And so, the more you loathe those who threaten it. These are not people who see Judaism as a finger pointing at the Moon. For them, it's the finger, the moon, and the only way to spot it.

And again the Left misunderstands. They see it only as fanaticism, as if people are worked up in a frenzy over nothing. That's not right. There is real fire that the Jewish path touches -- real energy, real holiness. It's just that other paths touch it as well -- even ones which may seem to threaten our own.

This isn't to advise "national suicide" or deny the presence of intractable enemies of Israel. But there are many reasonable Palestinians already -- and the way to make more of them is surely not to make matters more cruel, more oppressive than they absolutely need to be.

I honor the peacemakers who gather together in reconciliation, and who build bridges between communities. But my hope does not lie with them. I still have hope, because flowers bloom on my porch in West Jerusalem, and someone is baking a pie, and when the sirens and chatter and agitated slogans finally abate, inside and outside, there is the beautiful redemption of the ordinary.

Peace will come from this seeming inversion of priorities -- away from that which is held sacred, away from ecstasy and ideology, and toward that which is actually sacred: that which is not held, and which is the simple, the everyday, and the plain. As always, peace will come if the conditions of oppression are lifted, and people are able to be boring.

[1]       [2]       3

Kitra Cahana is a widely-published photographer based in Israel. Her photograph of Laura Bush at the Western Wall was on the front page of USA Today.

Jay Michaelson is chief editor of Zeek.

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