This is my fifth war when I'm counting as an American. There was the Cold War; then Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. Those are just the sites where my country of origin was deeply involved, where the war was visible. I'm not counting covert operations in places like Chile, Mozambique, Chad, Ethiopia (very partial list). I'm talking about when the carnage was right there, in your face, sometimes with the image of a young girl in Vietnam running naked through the streets, another time with scenes of bombed out Mosul and devastation in Afghanistan.
The Cold War remains embedded in my mind's eye. I picture nuclear bombs about to hit my schoolyard, launched by Russian Communists intent on destroying The American Way of Life.
And now, more wars. But this time, I'm an elder. It's harder. It's anguishing to watch the patterns repeat themselves, as if no enmities had ever been resolved. Now I see through the lens of a Londoner, a grandparent, a woman of a certain age who will not witness the next period of relative stability. The world is in freefall. The historic moment I inhabit reverberates with chaos and rage. Russia is once again a threatening monster, and nuclear nightmares disturb my already age-troubled sleep. America has abandoned Afghanistan to its ghastly fate. Armed clashes in Iraq's north kill more civilians. A divided Korea lives on, and North Korea's masses die of Covid under the pitiless gaze of their god-like ruler. The US just sent ground forces to Somalia. The UK blusters and blunders on the world stage, creating conditions for conflict in northern Ireland.
So what? Why should I care about matters about which I can do little? Because I'm your classic bleeding heart liberal, someone for whom the horrors of the world are real even when I'm not directly impacted. And the powerlessness I feel engenders my old defence, rage. I'm one of those people whose feelings of being vulnerable are so scary, I use rage to mask my frightened self.
Sometimes the defence works well, and my strongly expressed feelings cut through English reserve to deeper connections than I might otherwise have. Sometimes the rage is just noises I make, flailing about in well-honed outrage. I screech about how unjust it all is, how horrible things are, how stupid people are ruining the world. In reality, I'm wallowing in feelings of anguish at how unimportant and powerless I am, how the world will go on without me once I'm back to being stardust. The novelist Nabokov reminds us 'our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.'How I hate today's current darkness, and how I dread the darkness yet to come.
Closer to Home
The ongoing conflict in Palestine/Israel feels up close and personal. That’s because I’m a Jew. It’s a baseline identity, a reality both good and bad. I see the world through the lens of a New York Jew, whether I want to or not. It’s not a matter of choice; it’s ingrained. My life partner is not Jewish nor are my grandchildren. I don’t affiliate with any formal Jewish organisations. Intellectually I call myself a rootless cosmopolite. But in my heart of hearts, I’m a working class Jew who filters perceptions through that gaze.
Five and a half years ago, I moved to London from California. I deliberately turned away from Palestine/Israel. Realities there were too painful, and being in a new country preoccupied me with other concerns. But I keep being drawn back to events in that small patch of land on the Mediterranean. My pain and outrage around what Israel as a nation-state is doing to Palestinians won’t be stilled. So I'm presenting a three part Zoom series addressing some of the core issues.
The series will examine the histories of both Palestinians and Jews going back to their beginnings. We’ll look at how Christian Zionism influenced the Balfour Declaration and continues to exert enormous influence today. We’ll consider the role of key figures like Yassir Arafat and Theodore Herzel. And most difficult of all, we’ll have a look at the entanglement of antisemitism and antizionism.
This will be the most challenging issue. Antisemitism--real Jew hatred--is on the rise. It’s not a figment of the Right’s imagination. Opposing Israeli policies and demanding accountability for what Israel is doing to Palestinians can very easily slide into portraying Jews as all-powerful, moneyed, hook nosed, greedy creeps. It’s easy to ignore the reality that antisemitism has its roots in early Christian doctrine which insisted Jews were Christ killers. It’s hard to remember that for 800 years, Jews were forbidden to enter English towns. And there are those who still deny the reality of six million dead in the Holocaust.
The series will make room to discuss these issues, with the aim of shedding light and diminishing heat. It won’t be easy. But that’s what the series will be going for. Join us.