Israel at a Standstill

Ziev Basson, Contributing Writer

Being with family in a geriatric rehabilitation center in a town outside of Tel Aviv was a cultural reawakening. As I’m sitting in this dining room full of Israelis, the bulk of which are 80+ in age, something interesting happened. Several heads turned towards the TV, and after a minute or so the majority of the room was watching the usual pair deliver the nightly news—a pair who I still recognize from childhood. It was something out of a sci-fi movie the way this silent group was lifted and was now intently focused on the latest edition of Israeli-Palestinian/Iranian coverage. As I stared at the faces around it hit me: what the country meant to these people was something I would never feel as someone who identifies as Israeli-American, and someone who visits every two years or so. At one point in time, Israel was this eldest generation’s baby. These mid-20th century immigrants and survivors exemplify those who raised this baby, and these newscasters, given the dining room’s full attention, were the teachers at the parent-teacher conference. The newscasters explained to them nightly, “Israel’s not doing so well with the class bully again.”

So as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to remind us that an agreement in which Iran doesn’t recognize the existence of Israel is not really an agreement, one must think of Israel’s older generation attentively glued to the TV. They’re clinging onto the state as they have when arriving. They hung on in ’67, ’73, ’82, and on several more occasions down the road. They cling because it is their reality that someone is trying to take away their child. This is a reality they were introduced to when arriving, and this is a reality that I, as an Israeli-American, can never empathize with. We must also recognize that Netanyahu and his government are acting on the judgment of these Israeli elders. These judgments are of those who found salvage from persecution, and those who will always feel that their growing child is in harm.

Later during my stay in Tel Aviv I saw a movie, Labyrinth of Lies,” where a young German prosecutor in the late 50s becomes aware of Nazi war crimes. His goal is to bring justice to members of the Schutzstaffel (SS) now working “ordinary” jobs. I realized what the German film was doing in Israel as the Israeli audience’s reactions and crying accompanied the whole of the film. The audience, in my interpretation, found the most compelling feature of the film to be the fact that 1950s Germany was finally uncovering and facing its atrocities committed. People in the theatre reacted most when the survivors of Auschwitz told their stories to the German prosecutor. Really, the film was telling us a different, more valuable story as the protagonist decides to defy old German veterans and deviate from the post-war Germany “norm” of ignoring. The story’s importance actually lies in this character’s ability to question a society governed by his older generation.

When Israel can identify with the struggle of the protagonist instead of the stories of the Auschwitz survivors, it can begin to seriously put a two (maybe one) state solution on its radar. This is best summed up by the Hadag Nahash song “Misparim,” or “Numbers,” in which they rap, “The most important number today, that holds hope but maintains the disaster, that makes every sane person stand still, is six million.” There’s a national emphasis on one sentimental number to keep the country rolling, but in reality it maintains disaster, leaving Israel at a standstill. Countering this movement will always be the paranoia instilled by Netanyahu, and the eldest generation’s cradling and clinging onto its child.

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