June 19, 2003 (Ira Pilgrim)


"In that direction," the Cat said, waving its right paw round, "lives a

Hatter: and in that direction," waving the other paw, "lives a March Hare.

Visit either you like: they're both mad."

"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.

"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad."

You're mad."

"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.

"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."

Lewis Carrol

I have heard the world described as an immense insane asylum in which the inmates have the keys. I would consider Israel as a violent ward. There are other violent wards such as the Balkans, Rwanda, Burundi and Ireland.

Jewish and Arab terrorists have been killing people for more than 50 years. However, suicide bombers seem to be a relatively new development.

I have been troubled about Israel for a long time. Many of my sentiments were crystallized when I read an interview with Israeli writer David Grossman. The interviewer says that Grossman feels that hatred is becoming increasingly intense within Jewish society. One's neighbor is one's enemy. The secular Jews hate the religious ones. The Ashkenazi Jew hates the Sephardim, the leftists hate the rightists, the Russians hate Jews from Arab countries. Grossman says that "The ability to hate other people is so deeply embedded in us that we even hate ourselves." When asked whether he, Grossman, is doing anything to soften that hatred, he replies, "Yes, that is important to me, because hatred frightens me, because the stereotypes that people use frighten me, because I am frightened by the human ability to distance themselves, and, from a distance, do all kinds of terrible things."

I don't find what he says to be surprising, nor do I believe that it is something new or peculiarly Jewish. Hatred pervades all social groups, even those who hate hatred. I think that it may be as impossible to have love without hate as it is to have a coin with only one side. However, there are many places where the hatred does not lead to lethal violence. The middle east is not one of those places.

I was raised in a center of tribalism. In the New York City of my youth, a Jew who intruded into an Irish neighborhood was in danger and vice versa. No one had guns and few carried knives, so the main danger was a bloody nose or a fat lip. However, when we were in school all of this was forgotten and we all lived together without the rancor of the streets. Rivalries were channeled into the classroom or the sports field. It was possible to be competitive without hatred or rancor. Kids who played for opposing teams were often good friends.

There is an old saying that love is blind. The same principle also applies to hate. People who are in love with their own culture, or another one, can't see the glaring faults in it. Love for ones own culture, like love for one's mother is the most natural thing in the world. The immense problem is not with the love, but with the blindness. The blindness is not too serious in a child, but when it persists into adulthood, it becomes the kind of major problem that can lead to wars, death and destruction.

Reasonable people have the ability to solve problems and to settle disagreements in some satisfactory manner. People in the throes of love or hate often cannot. People in the extreme throes of either love or hate (Love and hate are like both sides of a coin and may be inseparable) can become ruthless killers of others and themselves. That is what is happening now in the middle east..

The problems in Israel and Palestine seem to me to be unsolvable because so many people are ruled by love and hate rather than reason.

I think that what troubles me the most about Israel is that the people actually elected Ariel Sharon as their leader. He seems to me to be a man who only knows one way to deal with opposition: kill. Former minister of justice Yossi Beilin said that, "We must work against Sharon's policy. For without any hope for, and effort toward peace, Israel will be just an episode in history, and it will be impossible to maintain a Jewish state."

When, after many years, I returned to the place in New York City where I grew up, it had changed. The buildings and streets were the same, but the people were different. Instead of English and Yiddish, they spoke English and Spanish. What had happened was that as the Jewish immigrants became more affluent, they moved to the suburbs or to other parts of the country. I suspect that a generation or two from now, the Spanish speakers might be replaced by, perhaps, Chinese speakers. All of this is possible because the US is a very large country. There is lots of land. The water supply may be limited, but there is a lot of unoccupied land. True, much of it is desert, but the same thing is true of the middle east. However, the Palestine-Israel area is very small. There is no place to go to in Israel except places that are occupied by Palestinians. Both Israel and Palestine are tiny countries.

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