Sunday, March 13, 2011

Itamar

There are times when political events, or at least events that draw the attention of political analysts, are simply too much for political categories. The murders at Itamar present such a time. You need a writer like Shakespeare or Dostoyevsky simply to conceive the hardening required to kill another human being, and the futility of trying to prevent the softening. What political writer, accustomed to abstracting from economic forces, ideological claims, and military strategies, has the imagination for what goes through the mind of someone who finds his hand slicing through the neck of a baby?

The condemnations have come from all sides, settler sympathizers who tell you they told you so, and grieving neighbors who've just turned graveside elegies into diatribes. And they come also from leaders of the Palestine Authority, various Israeli peace groups, etc., who fear that opposition to occupation and, indeed, to Itamar's existence, could somehow be interpreted as an apology for any form of Palestinian insurrection, or naiveté about human nature, for that matter.

But condemnations, mandatory as they may seem, seem superfluous the moment they are spoken. To condemn this act is nothing but the other side of being civilized. I can only distantly imagine the scorching felt by the family's surviving children. I pity those underground, suddenly contemptible youths who rushed to "take credit," particularly if they are not caught. They will spend the rest of their lives planning how to appear sincere every time they look another person in the eye.

Is there a political conclusion to be drawn? I think not. An act of this kind can only reinforce what you already believe; that whatever settlers do is justified because it is not really theft to steal from the heinous murderer who is anyway trying to kill you; that, on the contrary, settlements are a provocation and, besides, it takes the same kind of heartlessness to drop a phosphorus bomb on a populated square in Gaza. Both are the half-truths you reach for, or sink back into, as you wait for passion to fade.

For my part, the only political response that seems sane is the humility at the heart of democratic standards, a reaffirmation of the unexpectedness of every journey, of the absolute tolerance we need to build into human rights. What terrorist--what political purifier, who thinks with nothing but political categories--does not give the promise of a totalitarian future? What Palestinian terrorist imagines that a boy from the Gush settlements will grow up to lead the Sheikh Jarrah protest movement? What Israeli state assassin imagines a refugee insurgent whose brother was "ended" will become a democratic pollster and peace activist?

"A wonderful fact to reflect upon," Dickens writes about coming up to another light in the middle of the night, "that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!"

6 comments:

David Fisher said...

I like the following in the item: "What terrorist--what political purifier, who thinks with nothing but political categories--does not give the promise of a totalitarian future?" We must think beyond right and left.

We must recognize the humanity in ourselves and our enemies. We must also recognize the inhumanity in ourselves and our enemies.

Larry Rosenwald said...

That's beautifully said, Bernie, and about something that it's hard even to be lucid about. A hartsikn dank.

Anonymous said...

Only prayer "suffices" and you wrote one. Thank you.

Potter said...

Well said.....we should leave this as an individual act. I can't imagine what was in that heart either or how that heart came to that moment.

I wish that there was the wisdom and restraint to not draw the political conclusion that was drawn officially, the action that was taken ("they murder we build")- war mentality. That individual act is then given much more meaning - that perhaps it should not have, for the good of everyone.

Mori Rothman said...

Thanks for this piece, Bernie: it is both moving and sane.

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