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Truth Without Borders 

Conversations with Grandpa about Israel and Palestine

Wednesday, Aug 7 2002
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Page 4 of 4

To this my grandfather is quiet. I know it‘s asking a lot, I say, to reconcile the two main Jewish imperatives: taking up the cause of social justice and not underestimating one’s enemies. “If you can set aside passion,” I suggest, “Jewish experience demands being critical, of both Palestinians and Israelis. Isn‘t that the idea behind so many biblical stories -- to learn from how we were treated?”

Remember the story, I ask, where God chastised the angels who laughed when the Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea? Those are my people, too, He said. “Israel,” I add, “is like a kid who learned karate to fight off bullies and then winds up victimizing his classmates. I like the idea of Jews defending themselves, and I’m proud of you for that,” I say. “But I don‘t want the Jews to be occupiers. Both sides need to put the gloves down, and why not lead the way?”

I could tell my grandfather was listening intently, because it got so quiet I could hear him smoking. “You might have a point somewhere in there,” he says.

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In recent days, there have been some slight movements in the direction of critical introspection. A group of 55 Palestinian intellectuals and politicians recently signed a document that, without the usual “yes, but . . . ,” opposed suicide bombings specifically on moral and not only tactical grounds -- an important step. And even Bush, in a speech several months ago, while not going nearly far enough, acknowledged that the settlements are the biggest physical obstacles to peace. (He asked the Israelis to stop building them.) As for my grandfather, he’s come around a bit, too. The last time Israel came up, he was not intent on arguing. “I‘m saying a prayer for Israel,” he says. “But maybe they should give the whole thing back . . . but who deserves it? Maybe the mosquitoes and the camels. They’ll treat each other better.”

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