A visit to Stratford this past weekend helped me to better appreciate a rather protracted and sometimes heated email discussion I recently had with two good old friends, friends which go back to high school and college. They were concerned that the general mood in Israel was desultory and war-weary. The conflict with Israel's Arab neighbors continues over fifty years since the UN partition, and despite repeated Israeli military victories, the indigenous and neighboring Arabs continue to treat the thriving, technologically-advanced, militarily superior young nation like a thorn in its side. The Arabs will not concede an inch of territory lost in wars and continue to pledge the total destruction of the Jewish state.
My friends think Israel needs more moral and military support from the US, more pressure from the Diaspora to hold the fort, and not continue to give up land for peace. These lands in question were won by the Israelis, kept and settled for strategic purposes. But continual pressure from the Arabs and their friends in the United Nations, along with unceasing terrorist attacks and American presidents pursuing the 'peace process,' have led to withdrawal of Jewish settlements, the surrender of Palestinian prisoners, and most recently a pullback of Israeli military from south Lebanon. Hardline Israeli prime ministers have given way to a dovish leader who appears, with popular support, to be ready to surrender ever more land for peace.
One of the topics of debate was the awareness of a growing mood in Israel to give up the fight for a Jewish state, and to give up the symbol of Zionism, that Israel is the biblical homeland of the Jewish people. Passover seders, year after year for three thousand years, have recounted the story of the Exodus, and how the Jews with the help of God, drove out the Egyptians, freeing themselves from the bonds of slavery, ultimately to return them to the Promised Land. If the Israelis ever gave up the principle of Zionism, Israel would become just another multicultural democracy, with its citizens having varied ethnic, racial and national backgrounds, in which the Jews would be a minority. It would no longer be a Jewish state. Most Jews are adherents of Zionism and reject the growing mood of anti-Zionism, led by left-wing intellectuals, revisionists and those rejecting the Law of Return in which any Jew can claim first class citizenship. This law was once considered a basis for a UN proclamation that Zionism is racism, a principle which has since been renounced after much objection by nations sympathetic to the Jewish cause after the Holocaust..
Anti-Zionists don't want Israel to be a Jewish state if it means continual military conscription, a never-ending drain on the economy and endless heartaches of soldiers killed in never-ending clashes with Palestinian teenagers hurling rocks and curses and terrorists blowing up busses of tourists and school children. The rocks are answered with tear gas and rubber bullets, the terrorist strikes with raids on guerrilla strongholds and refugee camps. Iraq rains Scud missiles on Tel Aviv while Clinton warns Israel to refrain from retaliation. These exchanges of violence have blocked Arab-Jewish understanding, tolerance and cooperation, and are fuelled by the powerful force of revenge. For every Jew killed, an Arab must suffer. For every Arab killed, a Jew must pay the price. It is the Mosaic Law--- "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." The Old Testament itself seems to encourage it. The idea seems to be that if I don't punish my neighbor for his trespasses, he will continue to trespass, and I will lose ground. To maintain my ground, my livelihood, my life, I must retaliate so strongly, that my neighbor's suffering will prevent him from trying to take advantage again, and his weakness will prevent further action. If I succeed in making my neighbor suffer, he (or his children or grandchildren) will want to retaliate, and so the vicious cycle goes on and on. I feel justified and righteous. He feels justified and righteous.
Which brings us back to Stratford. Two great classic plays dramatized the power and consequences of revenge, "Titus Andronicus" and "Medea." Without going into detail, both plays were about uncaring and unfair violation of another person's comfort and security, which led inevitably to sweet (cold, bitter) revenge. Even though in each case the victim was considered to be weak and helpless, human cunning led to a turning of the tables, in which those in power were reduced to misery and shambles, and to unimaginable suffering. Those who operate from the principle that might makes right, will in time learn that might can crumble.
I argued to my friends, who advocated renewed military and moral strength, that this is a flawed principle, amply demonstrated by history and Shakespeare, but they argued back that there is no other way, that history constantly shows that eternal vigilance (and winning wars) is the price of liberty. And that means the good guys must win, or we are lost. But in truth, neither the hawks nor the doves have the answer, and none is provided by history, the bible or Shakespeare, but I continue to maintain that a way must be found to resolve conflict without violence. We must never give up searching for a better answer.
As I write this North and South Korea are coming together, and there are hopeful signs that China and Taiwan are seeking reconciliation.
Dr Bloom is Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Wayne State University School of Medicine. He is a member of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and on the editorial board of the Wayne County Medical Society. He welcomes comments at his email address--- email@example.com.