Pussycat love and perspective on/in Israel
So yes, Jerusalem felt like it wanted to hate me. But I still fell head-over-heels in love in the city.
I suspect he was a male. He had clean teeth, big feet, and the sort of insightful eyes that see right into your thoughts. I passed him on a thin street behind some big important church or other.
“Yes! And that troubles me. It doesn’t seem like a healthy way to live.”
“It’s not, but you have to understand, there has been so much suffering here, so much tension, in both history and living memory, that everyone carries the scars of memory and fear. The spirit has trouble thriving in that environment, but it’s possible.”
“Do all cats know this?” I was curious.
“Of course. We’ve transcended it though; have you ever heard of cats seeking genocide against dogs? No.”
“But dogs have never denied cats’ right to exist.” I thought I had a winner point there.
“No, but nor has anyone in their right mind ever claimed Israel doesn’t have a right to exist. Sure, it’s in some papers and some rants, but does any rational person actually believe that?”
“Well, no. And personally I’ve only ever encountered the idea from pro-Israelis who were shouting that it wasn’t true.”
“Exactly,” purred my love, “because only extremist nutjobs would say it in the first place, and you don’t talk to many extremist nutjobs. Know why? Because if you respond to the extremists all the time, let them shape the dialogue, then you tend to become an extremist too.”
“Kinda like a violent/homicidal version of the Tea Party?”
“Exactly,” his eyes squinted shut in feline pleasure that I saw his point. “Your country argues about whether or not to pay its bills while everything goes to shit, because you listen to a group of people whose platform is defined by the rejection of rational thought. Climate change deniers have no place in governance.”
I agreed with that statement so completely that I had to spend another few minutes scratching under his chin.
“Sure, there are some who hate Israel, as we talked about, but hell, there are probably some who hate Canada too, and those syrup-sippers are almost as loveable as I am. But what are the statements that you hear depicted as anti-Israel?”
“Well, people who talk only about the approximately 1,416 civilians* who have been killed by Israeli airstrikes, versus the 3 Israelis killed by rockets, one of which died of a heart attack. And then what’s worse, don’t talk about the violence of something like ISIS!” I was passionate.
“Dude. Here’s the math. If the number of Israeli civilians killed is X, and the number of Palestinian civilians killed is Y, and the number of UN Workers or any other group killed is Z, then if (X + Y + Z) > 0 then it’s too damn high. Killing anyone? Bad. Those three Israeli civilians killed: awful, shouldn’t have happened. Those 1,416 Palestinian civilians killed, and the fact that we have to estimate since aerial bombardment is so indiscriminate…Awful.”
I couldn’t deny his math.
“And about the ISIS thing? Have you watched the news? Good news? They’re talking about that too. A lot. A lot a lot a lot. And rightly so. If you think no one is talking about how wrong those executions are, then you’re only listening to the voices you find most offensive, which is basically the same mistake as listening only to the extremists.”
“But all these criticisms of Israel are just more of the traditional anti-Semitism that has plagued Judaism for centuries!” The nuns turned around and gave me worried looks at seeing me argue with a cat. I smiled at them, hoping they wouldn’t come back to perform my exorcism. Those really get in the way of conversation.
“Ah yes, here’s the heart of it, no? The idea that criticizing Israel is anti-Semitic.” His big beautiful eyes grew sad. He paused. “Do you love America?” I nodded that yes, I love my homeland. “Is everything perfect there?”
I gasped, at a loss as to where to begin. “We haven’t been a democracy in decades, if not longer, and our Supreme Court doesn’t even pretend to hide the fact that we’re a plutocracy anymore, government by the wealthy. I genuinely believe our former president and all his cronies should be facing charges of Crimes Against Humanity in The Hague, and I would like to see an investigation about our current one as well. He, in turn, the man who made me so hopeful I literally cried when I heard his campaign speeches in 2008, has followed a policy of unlawful detention, deported more people than anyone else, nominates cable industry lobbyists to head the FCC, gives MASSIVE corporate handouts to multinationals who don’t pay taxes, and didn’t do squat to prosecute the bankers who nearly crashed the world’s economy, and-”
“Whoa there tiger, that’ll do. Pet me until you calm down.” I did so, breathing deeply. “See, you are a patriotic American who recognizes and criticizes certain actions of your government. That itself is patriotic. The old adage ‘My country, right or wrong’ is treason against both the nation and humanity as a whole.”
“So calling Israel out on bad behavior is not the same as hating the country itself. You can support a nation, and still think something like the Dahiya Doctrine of deliberately targeting civilian populations with disproportionate force is wrong.
But that’s not the most important thing.” He paused for a second, then asked “What armed conflicts can you remember?”
“Well, Iraq and Afghanistan of course. The violence in Ireland. Bosnia in the mid-90s, I was reading about Srebrenica the other day…”
“Right,” he said, vertical pupils intent. “Notice a theme in those? Sunni v Shiite in Iraq? Taliban in Afghanistan? Catholic v Protestant Ireland? The massacre of Muslim Bosniaks in Srebrenica?”
“Well yeah, religion often drives people into horrible acts, but it also leads people to higher states of altruism, compassion, and kindness, not to mention giving meaning to many people’s lives.”
“Of course it does, I’m not saying religions are bad. But just maybe, linking a religion with a political entity is a recipe for disaster? Mainly because if you believe you have ‘The Right Answer’ to God, it’s a shockingly short step (for many) to believe everyone who doesn’t agree with you on the specifics to be wrong, and therefore lesser. Crusades, anyone?”
“Oy, don’t even bring up that 1000 year old can of worms.”
“Righty-o. But also, if you say ‘State X did a bad thing’ that’s one thing, but when people can twist that statement into ‘Religion X is bad’, you have a huge problem. Hard to talk to people if you feel like they’re attacking your faith in God.”
“But they’re NOT attacking your faith in God, not at all.”
“Sure, but people feel like you are. And that’s enough.”
“Yeah, sorry, kinda went long there. To sum up: only lunatics deny Israel has a right to exist, and lunatics should not be allowed to set the discourse.” I nodded.
“Any group who kills civilians should be held accountable for it.” No contest.
“You can love America/Israel/Djibouti and criticize its government. And most importantly: equating a nation-state with a religion is a very dangerous thing.” Agreement, and sadness.
“You poor human. Want a little pick-me-up? Shall I give you the answer?”
I perked up like a tabby when you open the can of tuna.
“Humans are inherently good. Y’all don’t actually want to hurt each other. There are basically three things that make you do it.
1. Bad experience. They killed/attacked you or your family? You may want to hurt them.
2. No experience. You don’t know ‘Them’ so you believe what you’re told about ‘Them.’
3. Fear. Fear for your future or that of your children, in terms of violence, economic well being, whatever.
The good news is: the first two are really easy to fix. 1A: Stop killing each other for a little while. 2A hang out together. Did you ever see that documentary about Israeli and Palestinian kids playing soccer? They were best friends after a few weeks. Let the kids be friends, and they’ll grow up into adults who are too.”
“What about the third one?” I asked, hoping he had an easy answer.
“Oh that baby’s hard, though not as hard as you think, or as your media and lobbyists want you to believe. But you have to figure that out for yourself. Right now, the sun is warm: it’s naptime. One more belly rub and then you may go.”