Monday, June 27, 2011

Once again, Alice Walker

A good essay by Marc Tracy of Tablet on why Alice Walker Is Sailing to Gaza.
Alice Walker dreams of classic civil disobedience. She quickly name-checks Gandhi as well as Schwerner, Cheney, and Goodman in an essay explaining why she will participate in the flotilla set to disembark for Gaza in a few days. But there is something fishy about her essay that betrays her stated cause of universalism (“One child must never be set above another”). It begins when she weirdly isolates Schwerner and Goodman, the two young civil rights martyrs who happened to be Jews, from Cheney, who was black, and it culminates in the story’s concluding anecdote, in which she reports what inspired her ex-husband to be a civil rights activist:
He was a little boy on his way home from Yeshiva … He was frequently harassed by older boys from regular school, and one day two of these boys snatched his yarmulke (skull cap), and, taunting him, ran off with it, eventually throwing it over a fence.

Two black boys appeared, saw his tears, assessed the situation, and took off after the boys who had taken his yarmulke. Chasing the boys down and catching them, they made them climb the fence, retrieve and dust off the yarmulke, and place it respectfully back on his head.
Walker seems unaware of how easily she—a novelist, who should know better—allows everyone their standard roles: The meek, pious Jew taunted by the evil, brutish goyim and saved by the goodhearted and even more powerful Magical Negroes (“appeared!”).... Regardless, a stereotype-laden fable, even if depicting a real event, is not a sufficient basis for a grown-up to adopt a cause. Does Walker’s objection to the blockade derive from liberal humanism or from a recoiling at Jewish power? Sadly, her essay suggests the latter.
I agree with Tracy. Walker does have a problem with both Jews and Jewish power. Despite the fine words about nonviolence she wrote in her CNN essay, she is not merely anti-Zionist, she is anti-Semitic.

From an essay she published a couple of years ago, about her trip to Gaza in 2009 with Code Pink:
And so I have been, once again, struggling to speak about an atrocity: This time in Gaza, this time against the Palestinian people. Like most people on the planet I have been aware of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict almost my whole life. I was four years old in 1948 when, after being subjected to unspeakable cruelty by the Germans, after a “holocaust” so many future disasters would resemble; thousands of European Jews were resettled in Palestine. They settled in a land that belonged to people already living there, which did not seem to bother the British who, as in India, had occupied the land and then, on leaving it, decided they could simply put in place a partitioning of the land that would work fine for the people, strangers, Palestinians and European Jews, now forced to live together....

[A description of meeting a Palestinian woman - RL] Coming upon another grouping of tents, I encountered an old woman sitting on the ground in what would have been, perhaps, the doorway of her demolished, pulverized home. She was clean and impeccably dressed, the kind of old woman who is known and loved and respected by everyone in the community, as my own mother had been. Her eyes were dark and full of life. She talked to us freely. I gave her a gift I had brought, and she thanked me.

Looking into my eyes she said: May God Protect You From the Jews. When the young Palestinian interpreter told me what she’d said, I responded: It’s too late, I already married one. I said this partly because, like so many Jews in America, my former husband could not tolerate criticism of Israel’s behavior toward the Palestinians. Our very different positions on what is happening now in Palestine/Israel and what has been happening for over fifty years, has been perhaps our most severe disagreement. It is a subject we have never been able to rationally discuss. He does not see the racist treatment of Palestinians as the same racist treatment of blacks and some Jews that he fought against so nobly in Mississippi. And that he objected to in his own Brooklyn based family. When his younger brother knew he was seeing me, a black person, he bought and nailed over an entire side of his bedroom the largest Confederate flag either of us had ever seen....

The people of Israel have not been helped by America’s blind loyalty to their survival as a Jewish State, by any means necessary. The very settlers they’ve used American taxpayer money to install on Palestinian land turn out to be a scary lot, fighting not only against Palestinians, but against Israelis, when they do not get their way. Israelis stand now exposed, the warmongers and peacemakers alike, as people who are ruled by leaders that the world considers irrational, vengeful, scornful of international law, and utterly frightening. There are differing opinions about this, of course, but my belief is that when a country primarily instills fear in the minds and hearts of the people of the world, it is no longer useful in joining the dialogue we need for saving the planet.

There is no hiding what Israel has done or what it does on a daily basis to protect and extend its power. It uses weapons that cut off limbs without bleeding; it drops bombs into people’s homes that never stop detonating in the bodies of anyone who is hit; it causes pollution so severe it is probable that Gaza may be uninhabitable for years to come, though Palestinians, having nowhere else to go, will have to live there. This is a chilling use of power, supported by the United States of America, no small foe, if one stands up to it. No wonder that most people prefer to look the other way during this genocide, hoping their disagreement with Israeli policies will not be noted. Good Germans, Good Americans, Good Jews. But, as our sister Audre Lorde liked to warn us: Our silence will not protect us. In the ongoing global climate devastation that is worsened by war activities, we will all suffer, and we will also be afraid.

The world knows it is too late for a two state solution. This old idea, bandied about since at least the Eighties, denounced by Israel for decades, isn’t likely to become reality with the massive buildup of settlements all over what remains of Palestinian land....

What is to be done? Our revered Tolstoi asked this question generations ago, speaking also of War and Peace. I believe there must be a one state solution. That Palestinians and Jews, who have lived together in peace in the past, must work together to make this a reality once again. That this land (so soaked in Jewish and Palestinian blood, and with America’s taxpayer dollars wasted on violence the majority of us would never, if we knew, support) must become, like South Africa, the secure and peaceful home of everyone who lives there. This will require that Palestinians, like Jews, have the right of return to their homes and their lands. Which will mean what Israelis most fear: Jews will be outnumbered and, instead of a Jewish state, there will be a Jewish, Muslim, Christian country, which is how Palestine functioned before the Europeans arrived. What is so awful about that?
As I wrote earlier, Walker's essay is marked by serious errors of fact. She doesn't seem to be aware of the actual history of Palestine before the establishment of Israel, revealing no knowledge of either the British Mandate or the Ottoman Empire. She refers to the "holocaust," as if doubting that it occurred, and thinks mistakenly that it was the British who decided to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. Israel is not committing genocide in Gaza - does she actually know what genocide is? With such willful ignorance, how can she reach valid conclusions?

But what is most unnerving about her essay is not these errors, but her statement that Israel "is no longer useful in joining the dialogue we need for saving the planet." In other words, Israel is not a partner in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - it is an object, rightfully subject to the plans of others. It has committed crimes so awful that it cannot be worked with, only upon.

"What is so awful about that?" Walker asks about Jews becoming a minority in a unified Palestine. Do I need to instruct her in the sorry progress of Jewish history in the late 19th and early 20th centuries? Apparently, yes, because she refers to the "holocaust" without understanding its devastating effect on both those Jews who survived it and Jews living elsewhere in the world who were not physically affected by it (including the Jews living in Palestine during the British Mandate). She seems to have no knowledge of the growth of political and racial antisemitism that led to the birth of the Zionist movement and the conviction that the only way Jews would be safe would be to create their own state. Jews have a well-founded fear of becoming a minority, especially if it means living in a unified state of Palestine where Hamas and Fatah would have the upper hand. There would be no return to a mythical "living together in peace" - the one state solution is a recipe for an intense and cruel civil war, with the losers being massacred and expelled. And I do not assume that the Jews would be the losers. For the sake of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, a two-state solution is an urgent need.

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