The best solidarity is no solidarity– On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

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Count the buildings associated with a religion or ethnicity in this picture. There are a lot more in Jerusalem!

    These days, everybody is prompted to pick a side: Israel vs Palestine, Jews vs Arabs, Jews vs Muslims, Jews and Christians vs Muslims, Jews vs Christians and Muslims, and so on. Because the issue is a lot more complicated than the simple ‘good vs. evil’ routine, I try to refuse to pick a side. However, I often end up on the opposite side of the people I am debating, who, of course, are all Westerners. When they are a pro-Israel crowd and focus on Israel’s right to defend itself, I start wondering what this right entails, since the death toll is utterly disproportionate, and ask if an occupied people has no right to defend itself in the same manner. When they are pro-Palestine and compare ‘the Jews’ to the Nazis, I ask them why they are making this about a religious group, how a Jew in Europe can be called responsible for the actions of a government s/he didn’t even vote for, and remind them that it was the actions of their very own ancestors that caused the ancestors of the Israelis to seek the security of an own state, since their neighbors would not stop persecuting and killing them every other decade or so. (Not to forget that the neighboring states of the newly founded Israel surprise attacked the state more than once. The Palestinians, however, didn’t.)

It’s not that I don’t want to be firmly in one camp. I just can’t. The conflict is way to complex, and, as I have said, the talking points of both camps seem flawed to me. I don’t see how you can rightfully pick a side in this conflict, unless you belong to one of two groups of people: Palestinians and Jews.

“Wait a minute!”, you might say, “Aren’t you the one who is making this about a religious group now?”. Yeah, kinda. But what is important, is context. If you protest the actions of the Israeli government in front of a synagogue in Paris instead of, say, the Israeli embassy, you’re making people who deliberately are NOT in Israel and do not stand for this state in any official function responsible for a state they are not living in and might even be highly critical of. (You might also be better advised to protest the actions of your own governments. If we all did that, we might all be better off.) If you yell “Death to the Jews!” you are blaming people, whose ties to a country you have constructed and who are not and have not identified as representatives of the Israeli government. You are actually criticizing them for actions they have no control over whatsoever. (It’s like blaming Edward Snowden for the actions of the US government.) And yes, if you, person living in the West or anywhere outside of the Palestinian Occupied Territory, shout such slogans, you are acting antisemitic and thereby strengthening the position of Zionism.

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If this happens to your country, you’re allowed to be upset at the very least.

Why this regional exemption? Because the Palestinians in those regions are at war, oppressed by a state that stresses it’s Jewish identity, and everything those people say is said out of desperation and justified anger. The current Israeli government is not simply trying to make their state safe, it is trying to bomb the Palestinians in Gaza into submission, much like they have put their heal on the necks of West Bank Palestinians who are being slowly driven from their land and out of their homes. Spewing anti-Jewish statements in response is not nice, it’s not building any trust on the Israeli side, and it isn’t doing justice to the complexity of the situation, but I understand where it’s coming from and I will be the last person to tell Palestinians to stop it, as they think of all their relatives in Israeli prisons and mourn their dead. (It’s kind of like, how, under very specific circumstances, a white person gets to use the N-word.)

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Theodor/Benjamin Zeev Herzl loved by Jews, hated by Jews. Admired by Zionists. Loved/hated/admired/ignored by Israelis.

When people shout the same slogans outside of these areas, I think they are happy to channel their general frustration to the one target group which was safe from criticism for a while because of the crime of the Shoa, but can now be attacked once again. And I believe that if you don’t understand that there is a difference between ‘Jew’, ‘Israeli’ and ‘Zionist’, you shouldn’t be talking about this topic in the first place. Work for peace, but don’t you dare call for the death of anyone. (Unless you seek to achieve world peace by total annihilation of the human race. Then go ahead, you’re right on track!)

“Blablabla, f***ing hypocrite! Why do the Jews outside of Israel get a pass then, if there’s such a big difference between Zionists, Jews and Israelis?”

First of all, don’t cuss on my blog, dude! And to answer your question, because I kinda understand the perspective and the emotional attachment of Jews to the State of Israel.

I’m the black son of a white single mom, born in one predominantly white country, raised in another predominantly white country, and never felt at home anywhere. There is no landscape or street or buildings that makes me feel at home and safe. There is no such smell or sound either. All I have is a sense of unease, which is sometimes stronger and sometimes not so strong. When I hear my mother’s language spoken in a different country, I don’t want to approach my compatriots, because I know they would ask me, as so many times before, how I knew this language, as I obviously could not be from their country. I will never fully be one of them. That much has been made very clear to me and all black people and other non-white people in this country I live in. And, in time of economic struggle and other troubles, they turn against people like me. Too many black people have been killed in the last years by racists. Too many drown on the doorsteps of Europe for me to fool myself into believing black people were seen as fully human by the white European majority. And way too often have the police and other organs of the state shied away from naming it what it was.

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In Yad Vashem, a sculpture commemorates the exile experience.

I think this is what a Jew feels like (or: I think most Jews understand the feeling I’m describing in the following). Never feeling certain that their neighbors won’t turn on them, as they so often have without warning, much less reason. Just imagine your family having to have fled every other generation and never feeling safe once they had settled down somewhere else. Always knowing that, if you were recognized as a Jew, you might have to face the ugly true faces of your friends. Or silently listening to their disgusting ‘jokes’ deathly afraid that they might ask for your opinion about the rich/filthy/untrustworthy/deceitful people you call your own. It is hard to describe the feeling you have, when someone tells you something blatantly racist and dehumanizing and expects you to find it amusing or, worse even, agree with the sentiment. Then you only have the option to keep silent or alienate yourself from their society by speaking up. People tend to be blind to their racism and racist structures of thinking. And they become very offended, if you point those logical fallacies out to them, as they simply cannot see why you are now attacking them personally. Which, of course, you’re not doing, but that’s another thing they won’t understand.

And to be frank, if I were a Jew, I’d be a Zionist for those very reasons. If you are not safe anywhere, sooner or later you’ll grow tired of running. I would probably still be highly critical of the Israeli government’s policies and actions, but I’d be living there and feel somewhat more safe. And being the majority for once must be a beautiful, refreshing and freeing feeling.

To me Zionism, defined as the idea that Jews should have their own country to live in because there is no safety for them anywhere, is related to the Pan-African ideas of black people outside of Africa. Because black people are victims of violence and oppression all over the world, some seek this safe space, a unified home continent and want it to be strong enough to defend itself against all outside forces. And this is the true core of Zionism as well: people sick and tired of being the eternal victim of a majority that hates them for no reason.

I am not a Jew, however, and this is precisely the reason I am not a Zionist. Any Zionist who is not a Jew makes me wonder about their motives. I can’t help but think that non-Jewish Zionists don’t truly care about Jews as human beings and individuals or their safety and well-being. This is very much true for Christian Zionists, for whom Jews are basically Judgment Day bait. The only reason they want a strong Israel, is that they fear Islam and want to pressure God into His Coming by putting all the Jews in one place. On Judgment Day, the Jews are then to convert or go to Hell. Theologically, I find this blasphemous. On a human level, it simply disgusts me.

The political non-Jewish Zionists, on the other hand, are hypocrites to me. They are basically saying that their societies are so hopelessly antisemitic that all they can do is kick out the Jews, ‘for their own safety’. If they thought Jews were unsafe in other parts of the world, but safe in their own respective countries, they should logically ask all Jews to join them quickly. Since these are the countries of the same people who argue against immigration because the ‘aboriginals’ will feel sidelined and act out violently if ‘too many foreigners’ came to their shores, I have a hard time seeing their concern as genuine. Or – to give them the benefit of the doubt – their position is simply not thought through consequently. If the commitment to tolerance and acceptance goes only skin deep and is not strong enough to counteract those violent, uncivilized impulses, your society is in deep, deep trouble and not worth saving in my book.

As a Non-Zionist, I want Jews to feel safe anywhere in the world. Supporting their ghettoization within an iron dome is, to me, at the very least giving up on humanity, and at it’s worst a ‘humane’ method of ethnic cleansing. To be clear, I don’t believe that Israel has to disappear from the map. But it’s identity as an ethnically and religiously homogenous state (which it never was!) has to change, just as much as Palestine can never be a Muslim country (since there have always been many Palestinian Christians and Jews in this area) or an Arab nation. We need to accept the fact that these two peoples need to reach peace and have to (re-)learn to live together. This is idealistic, I know, and perhaps just plain naive, but if people who are not part of this conflict would stop picking sides and spewing hate at the others, if they would stop enabling the destructive behavior of either side, if they would understand that working for peace in the Middle East means to open channels for communication, offering perspective and positioning oneself between the parties, so that they cannot harm each other, a small step towards a lasting peace in this part of the world will have been made. And then perhaps we could do the same with all the conflicts we keep ignoring, because they don’t lend themselves to such great headlines.

When I lived in Jerusalem, Yehuda Shaul of Breaking the Silence put the conflict into a parable. He said we had to picture one man fighting another. The first man had wrestled the other man to the ground and was holding him down. The one on the ground was trying to shake him off, but couldn’t. Obviously, the man on the ground was in a bad position. The first man, however, knew that he would have to fight the man again and might not be able to defeat him again, should he ever let him get to his feet. As the man on the ground grew angrier and angrier, the man on top was becoming more and more cynical. Now a third man entered, viewing the situation. Shaul said that this man could not give any good advice and that all his pleading for the man on the ground would fall on ears deaf (out of the fear of the one currently on top). And I agree. We all would be appalled, if he cheered the first man on. We would be annoyed and irritated, if all he did was talk to the first man and kindly ask him to stop. The only viable action, I think, is to grab the first man and remove him from the one on the ground and then immediately keep them from each others throats by standing between them, holding them apart and waiting until they calm down enough to truly talk things through. However long it takes. And it will take a long time.

You see, a lot of people miss this important fact: Their will be no solution negotiated within a couple of weeks. This will take time. And their will be no solution as long as Israel has almost absolute control over the Palestinians. And their will be no solution, if the Israelis fear that we will let them at the mercy of the Palestinians and the opportunism of their other neighbors. Their will be no peace as long as we refuse to actually invest time and effort into letting both sides catch their breath and gain trust in our solidarity with both sides and our siding with neither.

In short: This war, as so many others, will not be stopped by people joining either side. It will only end if people who are not a part of it, who have no stakes in it but their love of peace and humanity, go where it is most dangerous, into the middle, take flak for their positions and help to reopen the tunnels and channels for discussion which have been leveled by rockets and mortar shells.

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Litany in despair

I still believe that God will heal his broken creature.
I still believe that God will set things right.

I still believe that God will heal his broken creature.
I still believe that my Lord’s grace will break all earthly might.

I still believe that God will heal his broken creature.
I still believe that God will let us rest.
I still believe that God will heal his broken creature

But still I always fear

God comes too late

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Looking at old age from far away

A few days ago, I visited my grandparents. Originally, I hadn’t intended on doing so for another two weeks, since it is Ramadan and I was unsure of how to handle the fact that we’d be having coffee, if I visited them. My grandparents don’t observe the fasting month (and I doubt they know it exists), but I do. (This tells you a lot less about my religious identity than you’d expect.) My plan was to go in August. But I had a very awing dream – which felt more like a vision – that prompted me to call my grandmother the very next morning and ask her, if they would be home on Sunday.

I always like visiting them. My grandparents are genuinely funny people. They know good jokes. I always felt supported by them.
I always dread visiting them. My grandfather is 91, my grandmother 86. My grandfather suffers from Parkinson’s. He has trouble walking and talking. His body is failing him and he knows it. My grandmother is extremely hard of hearing. She has great trouble remembering things. She often tells me the same joke or makes the same – rather witty! – remark several times each time I visit. She doesn’t notice it. But she notices that her mind is failing her.
Because she is hard of hearing, they will always start yelling at each other – and not in any amusing way. He says something, she doesn’t hear him, he raises his voice, she becomes annoyed at him raising his voice in such a manner and raises her own. It’s a vicious cycle.

Visiting them always makes me think about aging, old age and the way my grandparents have to go through some things which seem so utterly unfair. My grandfather’s body, faithful companion and seat of his power, begins to fail him, while forcing him to witness it. He can’t do the things he used to do. He has trouble controling such a basic thing as his bladder. Many people his age have to start wearing diapers. And as someone, who works with little children and sees what it means for them to not having to wear a diaper anymore, that breaks my heart.
And my grandmother’s mind is failing her, that very seat of her identity, her source for witty come-backs and poetry. I hate this. It’s the sneakiness of it that is so unsettling to me, the fact that you don’t know what you have forgotten until you have to remember it. And the headache of having forgotten something and knowing that you have forgotten it, mixed with a sense of doubt: Did you really forget something?
I fear it, because I know this will happen to me too, as it runs in the family. And, a doctor once told me, the only way not to get dementia, is to die before it starts.

Aging, to me, is the giving up of all these important victories you have achieved from being a baby to becoming a “full grown adult”. The more independence you got and valued, the painfuller it is to lose so much of it.

“So, you, you say aging is bad and old people should be miserable?”, you might ask. I would reply: “Why no, handsome stranger, God forbid!”
I don’t think aging in and of itself is bad. It’s natural, unavoidable. But we as a society don’t treat our elders the way we should and that makes the whole thing such a problem. We accept that children cannot take care of every aspect of their life yet. Likewise, we should accept that from a certain age on, we lose abilities we once possessed. We should treat them with respect regardsless, as they have more experience than we do and their achievements are the foundation of our today. And we should also be more accepting of mistakes they make, as technology and culture is moving so fast these days that even 30-year-olds can be left utterly confused by a phone they only wanted to make calls, but which can now do so many other – entirely useless! – things. We should not, and I can’t stress this enough, make them feel that committing suicide is a solution with which everybody is happy. Because we think to much in the categories of visible productivity, we and they themselves overlook their meaning and influence on society. In the view of the Market, old people are not productive enough and are the best, if they die soon. We shouldn’t think like that but see what these people still can and want to do. And if they don’t want to do anything, they have earned that right in my book.

To summarize a post that is threatening to get away from me, but has hopefully provoked some thought:
1) Aging is scary from my perspective.
2) Cut the oldies some slack!
3) Humans, even when old, should not be thought about in terms of profit.

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Imagine you are in Germany. The year is 1937. You are Black.

Since it is Black History Month, I would like to use the opportunity to point out this film project to you. Rheinland is a movie about one of the descendants of the black soldiers, who were stationed in West Germany, the Rhineland specifically, by the French during their occupation of the country after the First World War. Check out the video at the bottom for more information. (It’s in German with English subtitles.) And here’s the teaser trailer (also German with English subtitles):

It’s an important part of Black History, because these people were also victims of the politics of ethnic and racial cleansing of the Nazis, but are so easily forgotten and ignored. So, check it out and support it!

 

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Some animals are more equal than others…

Last sunday, a group of lions ate a giraffe. Last sunday, an animal was slaughtered by having a bolt shot in his head. Last sunday, people totally lost it and sent death threats to people for killing a giraffe, while remaining silent about the oppression of their fellow human beings.

As you might have heard, the giraffe Marius was killed, dissected in front of an audience including young children and then partially fed to lions. The Copenhagen Zoo did this for reasons that seem horribly bureaucratic, but do make some sense to me. Other zoos offered to take the young bull, but Copenhagen denied or didn’t respond to this and proceeded with the killing.

A lot of people got really angry about this. Beforehand, they started a petition to stop the slaughtering from happening and afterwards started another one, demanding the resignation of the person responsible for it. They abhorred the idea of the killing and the dissecting of the animal in front of children. Everybody and their momma wanted to save this one giraffe. Zoo staffers even received death threats. And all the while I ask myself: WTF?

These are my main problems:

1) A zoo is not the natural habitat of giraffes or any other animal. The Copenhagen Zoo people did not go to wherever giraffes come from and kill some wild bull. They killed an animal that had been bred and born in captivity. This kinda sucks, yes, but a zoo is not a good thing, not a paradise for animals to begin with. If you are really invested in the right to life of an animal, you should rethink your understanding of what a zoo is. It is basically a prison, in which animals are caged and sometimes trained. A zoo is the opposite of natural. The point of a zoo is exploiting animals for our pleasure. I understand that zoos are often the last place species threatened by extinction can survive. But that doesn’t really say anything about my point, as I think zoos are exploitation and should be stopped just as much as the destruction of the natural habitat of animals must be stopped. Zoos are not were animals should be held, just as much as they are not where humans should be held.

2) You really only get to be offended by the killing and public dissection of Marius, if you are a vegan or vegetarian. (I am neither.) Marius was shot in the head with a bolt while bending down to eat from the hand of one of his ‘wardens’. On a ‘cruel murder’ scale, this qualifies as better than how millions of cows and pigs are killed, for the sole reason that a familiar, warm smile was the last thing Marius saw, while the cows and pigs only did smell the blood of their fellow cows and pigs before they were hit with the bolt. If I had to choose how to be killed, I would of course fight you with all the power left in me, but I would still understand that a smile is a better last thing to see than a fellow being dropping lifelessly to the floor. Why is the death of a random giraffe, brought upon in the same way as the death of millions of other animals, so much more offensive to people? Why are there no mass protests in front of every slaughterhouse in the Western world? Don’t answer that, I know the answer. Hypocrisy. Giraffes are cute, they appear in movies and we don’t eat them. Only cute animals which are killed for other reasons than our nourishment are worth getting upset about. If we were to worry about the cows, we might have to change our habits.

3) I see no problem with kids watching a giraffe being dissected. (Apart from the ‘zoos are prisons’ and ‘seriously, all meat is basically murder’ problem addressed before.) I sure as hell wouldn’t watch and I wouldn’t actively take my children, but if they wanted to see it or someone else (you know who you are!) took them, I’d be fine with that. For millenia, children have seen how animals were slaughtered and their meat prepared to be eaten. They knew how this worked. We in the last couple of generations didn’t want our children to witness such acts. But why should they not know what their burger meat did and how it looked before it got its new promising job at McDonald’s? We do not respect meat, its price and what it means to eat meat because we are able to ignore how it gets into our supermarkets! I think vegans, vegetarians and non-vegetarians can all agree that your decision to eat or not eat meat (and other animal products), is better founded if you actually have an idea of how it comes to be on your plate.

In closing: I do not know, if the decision of the zoos to kill the giraffe was absolutely necessary or if an alternative was overlooked or ignored. To me the reasoning of the zoos seems rather sound. However, I would have prefered if the animal had lived. In freedom. And I would prefer, if all people got at least as much upset about the politics that bring hardship, suffering and death upon their fellow human beings and all animals, no matter what species they might come from and how cute and cuddly they may be, and then spring into action with just as much passion.

 

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