I've struggled a lot with speaking my truths about Israeli State policy of the late twentieth- and early twenty-first centuries, that particularly virulent form of Zionism that has probably done more to sponsor terrorism--American, British and Islamic--than any other single factor. Israel has taken the role assigned it as proxy cop for the region on behalf of the USA and turned it into an excuse for fascistic conduct toward the Palestinians and the neigbours it has been able to bully, directly and indirectly. True--I criticise once in a while, but often hold back when I'd wade in neck deep against my own government. And perhaps I should console myself with the fact that there are a lot of Jews far more eloquent and impassioned than I am who constantly hold a critical mirror to the excesses and injustices of the Israeli State; of course hostile Zionist propagandists resort to the most obscene tactics--they accuse these fellow Jews of being "Jew-haters", "self-haters", "traitors", or of "not being really Jewish" at all; so why should I censor my own small voice anyway?
I was born in 1944 and my father served in the British armed forces during the war. He wasn't very tolerant of difference, but one of the first things he exposed me to was a huge tome with many pages of those photographs you arrive at after turning printed pages, only to be faced with misty veils of protective tissue behind which lurk horror after detailed horror of the Holocaust: disinterred mass graves; mountains of skeletal bodies; the ovens; the gas chambers; and my father crying as he talked me through it all. At five- or six-years-of-age it left a deep impression.
For a good portion of her adult life, my mother worked as housekeeper to the eminent Swifts and Rosenblatts of Liverpool. They treated her exceptionally well. It was a comfort to me to know that she was accepted like family in both homes. There was mutual commitment beyond the role of employee and employer. Then about 25 years ago, pieces of evidence began surfacing that suggested that our family might once have been Jewish and subjected to one of the many ignominious episodes in British history of forced conversions. I remember thinking, as I have often done since, how proud I would feel in being Jewish; there is so much I admire about Jewish culture. I can hold that thought, even as I condemn the
The last paper I chose to write in my MA (English Literature) was on the Holocaust; probably to give some narrative form to those childhood images I could never quite get out of my head. I chose a critique of Shoah, the epic documentary of the Holocaust by the Jewish film-maker, Claude Lanzmann. It's nine-and-a half-hours of video filled with scenes of those places of extermination, completely silent except for the birds in abandoned concentration camps; lots of technical information too; but the worst images for me are in Lanzmann taking two survivors back to those places of horror.
One was a 13-year-old boy in one of the extermination camps who, like Lazarus, rose from the dead out of a pile of Jewish corpses. The Nazis who found him alive discovered he had a beautiful voice, so he was spared a second attempt at extermination to entertain them on the river patrols for the remainder of the war. With a rictus smile on his face he was taken back to a Polish village in which the people still remembered him singing as he passed each morning on the river. All is celebration until Lanzmann steers the conversation cleverly to reasons the villagers might provide for the Jewish exterminations. Ugly, vituperous voices emerged from the crowd accusing Jews of being Christ-killers; and so the poison leaches while the elderly man--still emotionally that 13-year-old boy, stands smiling with a continuing instinct to simply live another day.
The second survivor, Abraham Bomba, a Tel Aviv barber, is interviewed by Lanzmann while he is cutting hair in his shop. Sweat is beading on his upper lip; the blood has drained from his face; stoically he holds his voice steady and speaks the words mechanically. As he cuts hair he recounts cutting the hair from Jewish women, gently reassuring them just before they are led into the gas chambers. Lanzmann manipulates him back into the depths of his trauma. Abraham begins to tell of one woman who arrives, a family friend from his village. He cuts her hair and tells her the necessary lies of reassurance. In the middle of the telling, he suddenly cracks emotionally: "Please!" he turns to Lanzmann, "I can't! It's too horrible!" Lanzmann refuses to stop, insisting, "You must go on".
I watched the entire nine-and-a-half hours of Shoah three times, and important segments such as these two, reported above, countless times--60-70 hours of viewing. I was a straight A student in all my papers and my thesis except this one. It was the only paper I turned in late and the only one that fell short of an A. Why? Because I couldn't find the courage to critique Lanzmann's work in the way I thought it should be critiqued--as a masterpiece of documentary art that deliberately tortured and victimized Jewish survivors all over again; I imposed on myself an act of self-censorship. This is not my paper, so I won't expound further on Lanzmann's cruelty, and I don't want to set my viewing experience off against those who were exterminated and those who survived. I got a little closer to it all in traumatizing myself so that I couldn't sleep or go through a waking day for over a year without intruding images from the documentary and the book images, refreshed, that my father introduced me to at six years of age.
I have often attempted to engage in reasonable conversation about issues related to the excesses and injustices of
The idea of Palestinian Statehood has become a joke. All that is left to constitute a state is a discontiguous string of enclaves--classically Bantustans, after the South African apartheid model, or the reserves of
Manifest Destiny as a motivating principle for Israeli or
Writing elsewhere in late spring of this year I predicted an Israeli or American military assault of
The American withdrawal from
The only hope for a more stable region is, paradoxically, in accepting the terrible reality of nuclear proliferation (it was always only a matter of time), the necessity of giving up the notion of a two-state solution in Palestine, the repudiation of Zionist manifest destiny, and simple justice and dignity for a too-long-oppressed Palestinian people. If all of this amounts to anti-Semitism, I stand proudly accused, but refuse to be condemned. I will not be manipulated into silence by Lanzmann or the fact of the Holocaust, raised to a high aesthetic of victimization, which has been completely co-opted by the fascistic Zionism of our fragile times.