Israel’s Present Tense

My great-grandfather was obsessed with the past. His generation venerated a bygone world. My grandmother was obsessed with the future. That was her generation’s rebellion. We, the young generation in Israel, suffer from an obsession with the present, a worship of the here and now, and a lack of faith in our power to bring about change.

Dreading what we sense our future holds, we bask in our own individualism and try to block the torment that is all round us. We do not protest. We do not take to the streets. That is our sin. Someone watching from afar cannot realize what it takes to live as we do, cherishing liberal democracy, while in the countries around us women are being stoned to death for adultery and men are hanged in the squares for insobriety and homosexuality. In the face of this, we are losing our will to fight for our liberal values.

My friends, members of what was once the “peace camp,” feel trapped: between the cruelty of collective punishment in Gaza and Hamas’s fundamentalist zeal, its willingness to execute Palestinians, to crushingly repress dissent, and to send rockets into Israeli towns and cities.

Many Israeli writers petition for peace and rail against the occupation. I have added my voice to that choir, particularly in May during the government’s lethally inept handling of the Turkish flotilla that tried to break the embargo on Gaza. Yet, as I look back at 2010 and the flotilla, I deeply believe that the greatest peril is from a ruthless and implacable foe: religious fanaticism. And the people on the ship that the Israeli naval commandos boarded, the Mavi Marmara, with their motive and capacity to manipulate world opinion, were acting cynically on its behalf. The death of nine people on the Mavi Marmara was a calamity. But activists on board stabbed and shot the soldiers who sought to steer the ship to a port from which nonmilitary cargo could be trucked to Gaza.

It is simple for an author to declare: “Peace. Peace now!” But it is a hollow demand. Instead I say that all progressive, humane and fair-minded people are my brothers and sisters. All fundamentalists, Jews included, who seek to demolish liberalism are the enemies. Yes, we Israelis have made countless mistakes, allowed innumerable opportunities to slip through our fingers — mostly on account of our fears. We must change that. We must form an alliance with all liberal secular Palestinians. But first, we must awaken our younger generation and restore its belief in the future.

Ron Leshem, author of the novel Beaufort. This article was translated by Mitch Ginsburg from the Hebrew.

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