Sunday, March 27, 2005

Thoughts on Disengagement II

As I’ve written before, I happen to be thinly pro-disengagement. Meaning, whereever the line is between “pro” and “anti” the disengagement from Gaza, I’m just barely on the pro side, having gotten there based on a combination of the information I have at my disposal plus my intuitive sense of what would be better for Israel in the long run. Of course, intuition is based on information, and I admit there may be holes in my knowledge*, which is why I’m not prepared to say that people who are anti-disengagement are dumb. Perhaps they know more than I do, or perhaps they know different things than I do. I suspect, though, that (as I’ve written) it’s mostly that they consider different things important than I do.

Be that as it may, before I left for the US, two things happened that highlighted how complicated this issue is, even for someone like me who has (so far) made up her mind.

First, I went to a meal hosted by a native Israeli man in his mid-thirties, who serves as a tank gunner when on army reserve duty. He is an extremely quiet, soft-spoken, person. I suspect that he’s one of those “still waters run deep” people who have very strong opinions, but he mostly keeps them to himself. He’s dati leumi (national religious- and strongly both) and very intellectual and educated. Overall, a sweet guy (and a good cook, too. No, I am not interested in dating him. No, I will not give further details).

One of the other guests asked him what will he do if he is called up to help remove Jews from Gush Katif? And he said “I don’t know. Probably refuse to serve. I don’t know.” He said it very quietly, and looked troubled. At that point the other guests dropped the topic.

Now, I am a big fan of the IDF in general, and a believer in the importance of obeying army orders. I don’t like the idea of the army falling apart at the seams because of conscientous objectors. However, this guy is my friend, and he may have friends in Gush Katif, and even if not he certainly would feel like a low-down dirty scumbag, pointing a tank gun at other Jews (if such a thing became necessary, I guess, to complete the evacuation. One hopes it will not and that, having exhausted all legal avenues available to them, the Jewish residents of Gaza will not do anything that involves gunfire.) I couldn’t blame him.

It’s easy for me to say that I’m pro-disengagement. It’s a lot harder for me to look my friend the tank gunner in the eye and say “how dare you refuse to serve?” Would I go ahead and do my soldierly duties in his place? Would I be willing to put my tank where my mouth is?

I don’t know.

The next morning, a guest rabbi at my synagogue, visiting from the US, said in his speech that he will not address the disengagement; he feels that, as someone who does not live in Israel, he does not have the right to publicly argue against the plans of the Israeli government. The woman next to me, a close friend who happens to also be a right-wing activist (as in, civil disobedience), quietly started to cry. I asked her what was wrong, and she said “how can he talk about it so calmly, when this is going to be one of the biggest tragedies ever to befall the Jewish people? This is a catastrophe. How can he just smooth over it like that?”

Well, what was I going to say? She herself said “I know this is awkward, because we disagree about it.” I thought for a moment and replied “But what we have in common is that we both passionately want what is best for the Jews. We just disagree about how to get there.”

What else could I say? I certainly couldn’t start arguing that disengaging isn’t a catastrophe (though, given Jewish history, I doubt sincerely that it could be “one of the biggest”), because maybe it will be. It’s just that I’ve come to the conclusion that not disengaging would probably lead to a bigger catastrophe.

In 1967, Israel was handed a gun. The gun had crazy glue all over it; there was no way to get rid of it without an operation. The intifada caused that gun to start glowing red hot. It’s burning our hands. The pain is agonizing. And the only way, it seems, to cool down the gun is to shoot it at ourselves (just stick with me here; obviously this analogy requires some stretching).

Do we let our hands continue to burn? And thereby invite not only indefinite pain but also a large chance of infection and therefore possibly death? Or play Russian roullette, betting that instead of blowing our heads off, we'll be removing the gun, the pain, and the chance of infection, and be able to move on - with scars, and more weariness about the gun next door, but with more freedom to live gun-free?

I vote for Russian roullette. But can I blame people for preferring to be burned slowly rather than to take a risk, however small, of shooting oneself in the head?

* Here's an example: in my last post about disengagement, I wrote "every home-owner in the territories signed a contract acknowledging that they will leave if politics forces them to do so." I based this statement on information provided to me by a couple of settlers I've spoken with in the past. After that post, a friend of mine who recently (as in, the week before) bought a home in the West Bank called to tell me that she didn't sign any such thing. There was nothing at all like it anywhere in her contract. What does that mean? That my information was wrong? That it applied only to certain settlements and not others? That it used to be correct and is no longer? I don't know. I'll try to look into it and get back to you.

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