Saturday, March 21, 2015

Wilentz: Bibi Offers Israel Troubled Sleep — and No Hope – The Sisterhood –

Novelist and essayist Amy Wilentz recalls the 1990's, a time of war, peace, and hope in Israel. -gwc
Bibi Offers Israel Troubled Sleep — and No Hope – The Sisterhood –
by Amy Wilentz

....From around the globe, religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews (then entirely exempt from army service) were flooding to Jerusalem and had built and were building - over generations - a large and powerful fundamentalist voting bloc that was anathema, culturally, to the Zionists who had fought for independence in the 1940s.
God was becoming a major player in Israeli politics. While those religious families lived in near-penury in Jerusalem, wealthy and secular Silicon Wadi was about to emerge in Tel Aviv.
Israelis were stressed out. The costs of occupation were obvious in people’s tense faces and in their notorious lack of politesse. I remember laughing at myself because only a Jerusalemite could breathe a sigh of relief the way I did when I visited my family in Manhattan.
Compared to Jerusalem, New York seemed laid back. A very tough, war-hardened man was prime minister. Yitzhak Rabin, known as “Bone-Breaker” because of his early attitudes about handling the Palestinians, was leading the country toward peace. He was letting us continue to believe that Israel was sane.
Then a religious Israeli extremist killed Rabin. What seemed in those days like a blip in an arrow-straight timeline, an anomaly of some kind, is now an event that itself reads as inevitable and logical. Of course a moderate consensus builder was assassinated by an extremist.
As conservative Israelis like to say about their neighbors: Welcome to the Middle East. We don’t live in Scandinavia, they like to say.
But Israel itself, it turns out, is also very much a part of the contemporary Middle East. Not because of “the neighborhood,” but internally. A fundamentalist killed the prime minister, just to begin. In spite of this (and because of it), Jewish fundamentalism is on the rise politically and demographically.
The secular population is frightened about the future. The country is its own ghetto, surrounded by walls and barriers. It’s a weird place now whose culture seems, more and more, to have been invented in reaction to its enemies, rather than created by its founders.
Historically, the way to a better world has never been painless. But it’s easier to say that a future peace is better than a present security when you’re sitting on the other side of the globe, as I am now.
In the end, I think, many Israeli voters this week just lost courage. Though so many are tired of Netanyahu’s racially tinged, repetitive, reactionary fear-mongering, no one wanted to vote for Bougie and then lose a child in the first bus-bombing after the peace process starts up again.
In the aftermath of this dispiriting election, Israel will continue to be a harsh, militaristic place without hope - but with a great beach and lots of start-ups. That’s how Likud has transformed the country under Netanyahu’s stewardship.
The Jewish dream of Zionism was always a nightmare for the Palestinian population of the region. The way it has now played out finds the Israelis themselves in a troubled sleep from which they don’t seem able to awaken.
A sleep troubled by God, and monsters.
Amy Wilentz served as the Jerusalem correspondent for “The New Yorker.” She is the author of “Martyrs’ Crossing: A Novel,” set in Israel and the West Bank, and several non-fiction books, including “Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter from Haiti.”

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