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Belonging

Alice Walker and the Gaza Flotilla

US writer Alice Walker in Gaza City in 2009. Photograph: AP

A dear friend (and subscriber to my blog!) responded to my last blog by sending me a piece published by the Guardian newspaper written by Alice Walker. In it she justified her decision to join the Gaza flotilla. I found the piece moving, and as a long-time fan of Alice Walker, it made me feel more positively inclined towards the flotilla, which in turn made me think about how our attitudes are so influenced by the press and what we read. So this morning I decided to look further into Walker’s piece. I soon came across the response written by Howard Jacobson for CNN – but did not find it too convincing. Then I found a link to the full article written by Alice Walker on her own website – and found it deeply disturbing. She may claim to be motivated by love – but reading her full piece, it felt to me that hatred played an equal part in her motivation.

When I woke up this morning, I was initially thinking about writing about the fear that underlies Israel’s response to the flotilla, as to so many other things. The fear that underlies so much of the conflict on both sides. The Jewish-Israeli fear that stems from a long history of trauma that has left much of the Jewish people crippled by a victimhood complex. The Jewish-Israeli fear that outsiders, and the Palestinians, find it so difficult to comprehend given the might of the Israeli army. And of course, the Palestinian fear given their own painful experiences before and over the course of Israel’s existence.

But reading Alice Walker’s blog, I am reminded that sometimes the well-known joke about paranoia is true: sometimes people are out to get you. People who support one side in this conflict whilst attacking the other, do no service to the cause of peace. Alice Walker’s full blog only serves to make Israelis feel justified in their conviction that the world is out to get them. Of course, I am not suggesting that some of what she describes is not true – though sometimes she seems to blame Israel for procedures on the Jordanian side of the border. I too have been through the land crossings between Jordan and Israel (though Israeli Jews are not allowed to use the Allenby Bridge crossing). I know the procedure can take hours, it’s very difficult to work out where you’re meant to go and what you have to do, there can be no doubt that the border guards treat Israeli Jews and Palestinians differently (though my 80-year-old mother was also detained and body-searched in a small side room). There is extensive discrimination and violence, Palestinians can’t move freely around the West Bank, let alone in and out of Israel proper. All of this is true. I have also heard it repeatedly said that the female soldiers and border guards are consistently more unpleasant than their male counterparts – and may dedicate another blog to looking at why that may be so. But even with all of that, it’s still not helpful to respond to Israel’s actions with hatred and with words that undermine Israel’s right to exist.

I have written before about the need for both sides to recognize each other’s belonging in this place. Alice Walker’s phrases – referring to the Jews in 1948 as “Zionist terrorists,” to Israeli Jews today as “Jews, Palestinian and American,” (calling Israeli Jews “Palestinian Jews” does nothing to make us feel you recognize our right to exist), comparing the behavior of the border guards to that of Nazis – none of this recognizes the belonging of Israeli Jews. When our belonging is threatened, we react with hostility. Hence our (unwise) reaction to the flotilla.

I do not mean by any of this that symbolic action to challenge the ongoing blockade of Gaza is not justified. It is justified and Israel would do well to reconsider her response. But Alice Walker seems to have taken James Taylor’s words to heart: “Shower the people you love with love; show them the way that you feel.” By all means, shower the people with love – but if you want to promote peace and justice, at least try to love both peoples, and shower both peoples with love.

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Discussion

3 thoughts on “Alice Walker and the Gaza Flotilla

  1. Thank you for this piece.

    Posted by Helen Gottstein | June 30, 2011, 11:14 am
  2. The shortened version of Alice Walker’s piece was beautifully written and or skilfully edited. But after I read Walker’s original blog, thanks to Jerusalem peace seeker. I was overcome with a terrible sense of helplessness, of being damned if we as Israelis do and damned if we don’t. Palestinian propaganda exhorts those who find the situation too complicated to join flotillas to Gaza, wave banners to “End the Occupation Now” or “Free Palestine” or “Boycott, Divest and Sanctions”. The message that Alice Walker tells in her blog is that it is all Israel’s fault. Yes, certainly, there would be no Israeli Palestinian problem if Israel had never been created. Is that what she is really saying? How inconvenient, or in Hilaire Belloc’s words “How odd of God, To choose The Jews”
    But if He didn’t, who apart from the Jews themselves would care whether or not they continued to exist?

    Posted by Brenda Herzberg | June 30, 2011, 3:24 pm
  3. I didn’t have the same reaction as brenda or sarah to reading the full article by Alice Walker. I recall reading it when she first published it and instead of being overcome by helplessness, it inspired me to keep doing more and to spread the word further about the possibilities for peace outside of so-called ‘peace talks’ in israel/palestine. Her writing echoed my own experience of being in Israel in the late 70’s when in two separate incidents my ‘arab looking’ Irish brother was attacked/harrassed by Israeli soldiers with impunity simply because of the way he looked. In one case he was attacked with a knife by a drunk Isreali soldier on a public bus and in another he was held and ‘questioned’ in a youth hostel by two scary looking Uzi-armed soldiers. There was no explanation, accountability and I recall being terrified by both incidents. This is the reality of the behaviour of Israeli soldiers. this was, and I suspect is, the norm in Israel /Palestine. Perhaps it so difficult to read Walker’s description of her experience because it exposes this particular underbelly of human behaviour and tries to ‘explain’ it by recalling other similar human experiences in previous (and current) contexts. It is not an either/ or situation of being damned if we do or don’t. I agree with brenda that assigning fault and blame is not helpful at this point. Making sure there is accountability is. And naming waht is actually going on is one way of holding people accountable.

    Posted by Joanne Bacon | June 30, 2011, 6:55 pm

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