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Tisha B'Av

My friend R introduced me to The Magnes Zionist, which is the blog of "Jeremiah Haber" - the pen name of an orthodox Jew who teaches (Jewish history, I think) at the Hebrew University. The title of the blog is a reference to Judah Magnes, who was a minority among Zionist leaders in the late 19th and early 20th century - a proponent of a binational Jewish-Arab Palestine.

One particular critique I have of this entry is the reference by "The Magnes Zionist" to the destruction of Jerusalem by greedy developers today, without mention of the planned judaization of the Palestinian East Jerusalem that has been going on since 1967. Also, I'm curious to know more about what he means when he says, about Israeli prime ministerial candidates, that "Mofaz is preferable to Livni" because "it will be more difficult to pressure an Israel led by a woman than by an obtuse general who represents all that is wrong about the IDF." There are some interesting and problematic gender assumptions in that statement (which is not to say that I would support Livni - obviously, femaleness is no guarantee of social justice orientation).

That said, I really like these thoughts on Tisha B'Av. And the tribute to Mahmoud Darwish, who died on Erev Tisha B'Av, at the end.


The Magnes Zionist: Nine Comments on the Ninth of Av, 5768
Posted: 10 Aug 2008 04:17 AM CDT

1 Tisha B'Av. The Ninth of Av is the Jewish fast day that commemorates
the catastrophes that befell the Jewish people over the
centuries,especially the destruction of the first, then second temples
in Jerusalem. Jews all over the world gather in synagogues to recite
the scroll of Lamentations, and then to say elegies over the
destruction of Jewish communities, especially in Jerusalem. The graphic
description in these elegies of the suffering of innocents is
heartrending. Would that we Jews, or for that matter, any people, use
these descriptions to sensitive ourselves to the sufferings of other
groups! We sit and wail about something that happened centuries ago,
when, at the same time, innocent civilians are being killed in
indiscriminate bombing in the Republic of Georgia. Can we not make the
connection?


2 Baseless hatred and Jewish Zealotry. Two reasons are generally
given in Rabbinic Judaism for the destruction of the Second Temple in
70 ce: baseless hatred among Jews, and the activity of the zealots
against other Jews and the Romans. If one reads Josephus, the historian
of the Jewish revolt, the emphasis is upon the latter. Josephus, though
he is hardly a disinterested observer, provides the "balance and
context" for the destruction of the Temple that is lacking in the
rabbinic sources. In this way, and using moral standards that civilized
people reject, he mitigates the Roman responsibility for the
atrocities. Can he not condemn Roman atroicites yet attempt to
understand them at the same time?


3 "Balance and context," we are often told, is what is lacking in the
criticism of Israel's human rights. Granted that the Palestinians are
suffering, and there are human rights violations. But haven't the
Israelis suffered as well? What about the suicide bombings and the
shelling of Sderot? Doesn't this one-sided criticism suggest naivité at
best, and, perhaps, anti-semitism at worst? The call for "balance and
context" seems reasonable, until one understands the underlying
motivaton – to lessen responsibility, to shift the focus to the other
side, to justify, and ultimately, to condone. We hear the same demand
for "balance and context" from war criminals, dictators, and other
apologists for atrocities. I once heard a professor of Serbian studies,
herself a Serb, criticize the West for unfairly blaming Milosevic for
atrocities. "And what about the atrocities on the other side?" she
said. "What about the centuries of atrocities against the Serbian
people" She was right, there had been centuries of atrocities. But in
her voice I heard the voice of the Jewish supporter of Israel who
attempts to mitigate crimes by pointing fingers at other Palestinians.
It is natural enough; we all do it in kindergarten. We don't want to be
considered bad, so we point our fingers elsewhere. Can we not grow up?


4 Whose Balance? Whose Context? Here are two responses to the calls
for "balance and context." First, bite the bullet and say, "There is no
balance. Both peoples suffer, but one people suffers much, much, more
than the other. And when trying to gauge suffering, one doesn't use
a partisan measure. One looks at the total picture using measures that
can be used in any conflict." Second, look at context, but not just the
context that is favorable to our – or their – side. Both the suicide
bombings and the shelling of Sderot have their origins no more in
baseless hatred than the actions of Israel in the West Bank. They are
local responses to local situations, based on broader ideologies and
contexts. These should be studied and lessons should be drawn from
them. If one's commitment is to human rights, you will condemn the
indiscriminate shelling of Sderot as a violation of human rights, and
then go on to condemn the Occupation as a more serious violation of
human rights, for obvious reasons.


5 The Settlers Demand "Balance and Context." I heard on the radio this
morning that the West Bank Settlers are demanding from B'Tselem video
cameras. It seems that they want to document the Palestinians who
provoke the settlers to use violence, and then who film settler
violence with B'Tselem video cameras. B'Tselem's response was that it
will cooperate with the settlers when their human rights are violated.
More "balance and context" for their crimes.


6 Jewish Zealotry. The historical Zealots believed that Jewish
independence from Rome trumped all other considerations, and whoever
did not agree with them, Jew or non-Jew, was the enemy. With the growth
of nationalism, the destruction of most of European Jewry, and the
birth of the State of Israel, Jewish zealots today range from
respectable spokespeople like Charles Krauthammer, Norman Podhoretz,
Ruth Wisse, Yehezkel Dror, Alan Dershowitz, etc., to ROYS (Racist Orcs
with Yarmulkes), like the ultra rightwing settlers in Hebron. But, in a
sense, anybody who makes the existence of a state – any state – into an
absolute value is a zealot. If the price for the existence of a Jewish
state is the ongoing occupation and suffering of another people, then
that price is too high. I am not saying that this is the price of the
Jewish state. But the defenders of Israel, who try to justify the
ongoing occupation with Israel's existential worries, lead me to this
conclusion.


7 Jerusalem in Ruins. When Israeli troups occupied East Jerusalem in
1967, there were some calls to revise the traditional "Nahem" prayer,
which describes a decimated city in ruins. One such prayer, by Rabbi
Abraham Rosenfeld, turned the prayer into a memorial prayer for those
slained and a call for the flourishing of the city. Most traditional
Jews ignored such a liturgical innovation that reflected the moment.
And they were right to do so. With each year, the city declines through
over-development. Can anybody seriously say that the city has developed
positively over the last forty years? Returning from shul today, I
found on my car a pamphlet with the headline, "What is Happening on
Yorde Ha-Sira Street?" The pamphlet pictured a building that had
recently been constructed on the street that dwarfed the other
buildings, and that was completely foreign to the Katamon architecture.
"We won't let builders and the wealthy destroy the neighborhood." Every day buildings are
being destroyed to make room for multistory complexes that not only
replace beautiful building with ugly ones, but that increase the
population density of the neighborhoods. A corrupt city management
combines forces with greedy developers. The prayer to speedily rebuild
Jerusalem is a curse, not a blessing, today.


8 Our Hurban. Among the current candidates for Israeli Prime
Minister, I vote for Benjamin Netanyahu. In my opinion, Netanyahu, a
paper tiger who crumpled before Clinton, will damage Israel's image
internationally the most, and will be the most susceptible to American
and international pressure. The worst of the crop is, needless to say,
Ehud Barak. The reasons are obvious, but if you don't get it, just read
Gideon Levy's perceptive op-ed to see why here. As for the other two,
Mofaz is preferable to Livni – it will be more difficult to pressure an
Israel led by a woman than by an obtuse general who represents all that
is wrong about the IDF. But, needless to say, as candidates, they are
all a hurban, a destruction.


9 Their Nakba. In tribute to the great Palestinian poet who died
yesterday. Mahmoud Darwish, on the eve of the Ninth of Ab, I conclude
with his beautiful poem:


In Jerusalem

In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy . . . ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy, because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.

I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself: How
do the narrators disagree over what light said about a stone?
Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?
I walk in my sleep. I stare in my sleep. I see
no one behind me. I see no one ahead of me.
All this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. I fly
then I become another. Transfigured. Words
sprout like grass from Isaiah's messenger
mouth: “If you don't believe you won't believe.”

I walk as if I were another. And my wound a white
biblical rose. And my hands like two doves
on the cross hovering and carrying the earth.
I don’t walk, I fly, I become another,
transfigured. No place and no time. So who am I?
I am no I in ascension's presence. But

I think to myself: Alone, the prophet Mohammad
spoke classical Arabic. “And then what?”
Then what? A woman soldier shouted:
Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you?
I said: You killed me . . . and I forgot, like you, to die.
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