Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Too close to home

As I mentioned in my last post, the more someone mentioned in the news is "just like you," the more emotionally immediate the news will seem.

And now here we have a 32-year-old (I'm 32, at least according to the Hebrew calendar) American immigrant (I'm an American immigrant) who arrived in Israel a year ago (I arrived two years ago) and has been studying at Ulpan Etzion (where I went) . . . setting himself on fire to protest the disengagement from Gaza (um, something I would not do).

The main reason it freaks me out is that when the article says

Ben Menachem, who came to the ulpan's entrance carrying a prayer book and wearing tefilin on his forehead and arm, doused himself in a flammable liquid and set himself aflame

I can exactly imagine what happened, because I passed through that entrance twice a day, five days a week, for five months.

There is no doubt about what students in the dorms will be talking about tonight, and what the teachers will be talking about tomorrow.

I'm not going to question the logic of his actions, because I tend to think it's not about logic. I suspect there are other emotional/cognitive problems going on, and the disengagement is simply the catalyst for bringing those problems to the surface.

I know a lot of people who are distraught over the disengagement to various extents, and I know a lot of people who wear orange to express their feelings about it, and I know people who were willing to break certain laws to express their feelings. All those things make sense and are healthy. I've also heard of people who were willing to hurt others over the disengagement (and were talked out of it, or in the case of the terrorism against Arabs and the caustic soda poured on security forces, were not talked out of it) --which, while evil, at least has a certain twisted logic behind it.

But hurting yourself? Is there a precedent for this in other political movements? I mean, in any country, not just in Israel. Has it ever worked to effect any kind of change?

Oh, yeah, now I remember. Refusing to eat has worked. It's one of the things that drew attention to the women's suffrage movement in the United States, for example, and resulted in women getting the vote. But at least there it was the women themselves who fasted. I suspect that to the average Israeli, an American immigrant in Ba'aka torching himself just sounds silly, and confirms the stereotype of American immigrants as right-wing religious zealots.

Speaking of which, I'd be interested in knowing what Baruch Ben Menachem's educational background is, and with whom he's been hanging out since he made aliyah.

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