Saturday, July 29, 2006

Hezbollah, Hamas, & Heresy

The worst sin that any Jew can commit is to say something nice about an enemy. To most Jews, even those who begrudgingly admit that “Arabs are people, too”, become insanely irrational when Israel is under attack which, by the way, is always. The rhetoric goes something like “Israel is always right. Arabs are always wrong. If you dare think different, then you are either grossly misinformed or a self-hating Jew.” Now I fully understand that sentiment, having shared it for the first three decades of my life.

Nothing brings out the fanatic in a Jewish person like Israel. In disagreement with religious rites and doctrines, one will always find one or two other Jews, perhaps conservative, reformed, or non-practicing, that share skepticism of god, faith, and the common assumptions of Jewish history. Yet, when it comes to criticizing Israel or an admission of common understanding with those who continually assail her existence, I have yet to find any Jew who doesn’t take serious umbrage with my opinions. Israel is something that unites all Jews and all Jews, and even those who opposed a Zionist nation in 1948, now have come to love and cherish the Jewish Homeland. Well, so do I.

My support for Israel does not mean, however, that “my country, right or wrong”, and that no matter what policies Israel follows I will always blindly acquiesce. That sort of thinking is not possible for me. Along the same lines, I will not disparage my enemy simply because he is my stated enemy. I know he dislikes me. I know he does not share my ideals. I know he wishes to cause great bodily harm and insult to my people. Yet, I have a hard time imagining this enemy to be so one-dimensional as to not have some life outside of hating Israel. In fact, it may be that life he wishes to have or that he does have and feels it threatened by the west that he fights for! (That his fears are irrational or otherwise is not my concern here.)

Let me speak my heresy now: “The Hezbollah and Hamas fighters (call them terrorists if you wish), whether you associate with their cause, or not, are, indeed, very brave men and women.”

What? How could I say this in earnest? Have I gone completely mad? (That’s arguable.)

Look at it this way. It’s not 1948 anymore. Israel is not some tiny little fledgling state striving to merely exist. Israel has proven time and time again that no matter what the threat to her security, Israel will be successful in defending herself and inflicting serious hurt on those who dare confront her legitimate right to be. Israel, with the backing of the United States, is the dominating super-power in the Middle East. We have the brains, the machinery, the finances, and the sheer will to overcome because without any of those things, Israel would soon cease to exist. We are, by far, militarily superior to any Arab nation or group of nations, not to mention groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.

Israel has every right to defend herself, but in self-defense there are two prevailing attitudes. The first is the ‘Old Israel’ style which justifies counter-offensives with the rationale that we are outnumbered and outgunned, just as we have been for centuries before modern Israel was created. This is a victim mentality that creates a cultural defense mechanism response in Jewish people worldwide. It means that the defense becomes irrational and any and all actions taken by the state, no matter how misguided, will be unilaterally supported. This ‘victim mentality’ excuses all the wrongs we may or may not commit. (Arabs feel the same way, and considering Israel’s military might, the Arabs are could me more justified in claiming to be the ‘victim’ than the Israelis at this point.)

With power comes a moral and ethical responsibility to use that power with restraint and, in the Israelis defense (pun intended), Israel has bent over itself backwards to accommodate her enemies and not engage in too much indiscriminate killing or collateral damage. I do believe the Israelis are more conscious of civilian losses than are Hezbollah or Hamas because of the political fallout caused by the photographs of dead Arab children on the front pages of world newspapers. We have the power now and there is no reason for us to abuse it. We know that.

Now we know that Hezbollah and Hamas sometimes hide behind civilian targets and many would call them ‘cowards’ because of it. Well duh! Where else are they going to hide? How else would they possibly deter Israeli retaliation? How else can they operate if not partially underground? Sure, the people know and the people don’t, won’t, or can’t do anything about Hezbollah in their midst. Maybe the dead non-combatants serve as ‘martyrs’ to evoke international outrage at the Jews. So what? We cry ‘victim’ anytime they kill one of ours, too.

The Hezbollah and Hamas fighters can’t ascend to the caliber of the Israeli war machine. There is almost no comparison one to the other. For them to step into harm’s way and risk their lives incurring the full wrath of the Israeli armed forces, where death is pretty certain, and casualties among their non-combatant loved ones is a given, then they must be very courageous souls to make the personal and possibly even familial sacrifice for their cause.

A man doesn’t have to be morally or objectively correct to display bravery. A person has to be committed to the ideals to the extent that his or her life becomes subjugated to the ‘greater good’, the moral veracity of that ‘good’ notwithstanding. Sometimes acts of bravery are really acts of folly designed to ingratiate the doer to those who run the social order. Neither bravery nor martyrdom prove the justness of any particular cause, but let’s ‘give credit where credit is due’. To piss off the Israelis takes some huge brass balls.

This inability to say something or anything complementary about one’s enemies reminds me of how my ex-wife spoke about our marriage after the divorce. It would have been quite enough for her to have told the plain truth about her ex-husband to have those around her hate me as much as she did. Yet, her hatred for me was so intense, and became so irrational that she would fabricate newer and greater faults for me! Not to mention her inability to admit any good qualities in her ‘enemy’.

Let’s not become the angry ex-wife so blinded by rage that we cannot see the ‘ex’ as a real human being anymore; with qualities and faults that go beyond the images we are programmed to accept in wartime to ensure he or she remain an enemy worth killing. Let’s encourage our enemies not to become the same. Perhaps a good dose of plain unembellished truth about ourselves (and our enemies) is the slap in the collective ‘face’ we need in order to be able to sit down and honestly engage in real diplomacy.


Nu? So What's In A Name?

Let’s start from the beginning of my troubles in life.

I was named after two of my ancestors, one who was already long since decomposed ,and the other who was soon to be dead if Nature had any direct say in the matter. In spite of the Ashkenazi superstition that forbids naming offspring after the living (the Sefardim have no problem with it), my father nevertheless felt it appropriate to offer me the name of a breathing, living human being.

The reason given for this custom is based on Jewish mysticism. There exists the notion that the neshama (soul) directly correlates to the name given, and if one is named after a deceased relation or friend, that name travels with the soul into the next incarnation which, in this case happened to be me. Kabala (Jewish mysticism) does speak a good deal about reincarnation, and the entire superstition is somewhat similar to spiritual ideas centered in genetic memory theories. One soul cannot share two live bodies and one of them has to ‘give up the ghost’ to accommodate the other.

I suppose that if the Sefardim were doing it all these years and there seemed to be little ill effect, then it shouldn’t be much of a karmic or psychological issue for a Chasidic kid from Brooklyn. It was still, however, a serious breach of minhag (custom) and some were likely to have questioned my father’s logic at the time, and had they wondered aloud, my father never would have heard it. He was ‘deaf as a post’, or at least that is what he led most people to believe. My father may have ‘lost’ his hearing, but his ‘selective hearing’ seemed to function perfectly.

So not only did my father willfully violate a cardinal rule in the naming of an Ashkenazic child, but he managed to also (why I’ll never know) choose the names of two people that nobody liked! Don’t be surprised by this. Much of my adolescent years were spent staring back at my father’s doings and asking myself (don’t ever ask him directly) “What was he thinking?”

If I wasn’t absolutely convinced that all this kabalistic and superstitious Jewish voodoo was complete nonsense, I would have two very good explanations as to why I turned out the way I did. First, having been named in violation of Jewish custom and second, with insult added to injury, after two people that few human beings, none from our family anyway, could tolerate! By virtue of a short and bloody ceremony (of which I have no conscious memory) I inherited the souls, traits, and personalities of those unpopular men. Wasn’t it bad enough that I already had their DNA?

I come to find out much later that I could have been a “Shaul” instead of a “Shlomo”. So why wasn’t I named “Shaul” after a relative that people adored? My father did share this bit of ‘logic’ with me when I was considering names for my first son, Nissim. Apparently, my father had a good friend living on the next street who also had a son named “Shaul” and, in order to avoid confusion between the boys, he chose to name me something else. Well, let’s put Father’s rationale in its proper context. That “Shaul” was already 6 years old when I was named, had an almost Mediterranean complexion, and black curly hair. (If only I were that handsome!)

So the reasoning behind my given name is so that I wouldn’t be confused with another kid in the neighborhood? I know my father was deaf, but blind, too? How the hell does one confuse one’s own child with another’s six years older and radically different in physical traits? To this day, I have yet to be mistaken for that particular individual, but one never knows what lies ahead. If my father was playing a cruel joke on me with that explanation, I certainly didn’t get it at the time.

See? I wasn’t kidding about why I was screwed from the get-go. You can’t make this stuff up. I also have yet to discover what exactly it was about these men that no one appreciated. Will I have to consult the mirror to find out?

Meshugas, you say? Well, I must agree!

Ok. I'm back for now.