The Blood of Every Child | Joseph Margulies | Verdict

Hamas’ merciless assault and Israel’s predictable response have produced an entirely new level of partisan fury. For months, I have tried unsuccessfully to capture what it is about the current debate that has driven me to such despair. The following essay, which originally appeared in the Cornell Daily Sun, begins to articulate my thoughts, though I still feel that much is missing. With your indulgence, I hope to use this space to develop my views in the days and weeks to come. In the meantime, I hope all of you are safe and well in these very angry times.

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I have been a supporter and a critic of Israel nearly as long as I could spell its name. For nearly the whole of its existence, it has represented complexity to me. It is promise and hope, but also cruelty and idiocy. It is besieged but also discriminatory. It has a right to exist and to defend itself; it has an obligation to change and to reform itself. I defend it; I condemn it.

All this time, I thought I could maintain these positions, not simply in my head but in the world. But lately, it seems I am not sufficiently Zionist to be a Good Jew, and not sufficiently radical to be a Good Progressive. I thought I was both, but in a one-eyed world, the two-eyed are freaks.

The terms of membership have changed. I have long thought Palestinians should be free from the river to the sea. I have long believed Jews should enjoy the exact same freedom. Apparently, one is now forbidden to hold both thoughts simultaneously. I am quite sure I have not moved from my long-held positions, yet the ground on which I once stood has disappeared, and for months I have been falling.

It’s not simply that we are told we have to pick a side, which is foolish enough. It’s that my side is no longer represented. In the din, I’m starting to wonder if it ever was. So, at the risk of making myself even more of an outcast, here is what I believe: More important than Israel or Palestine; far more important than Palestinian or Jew; and infinitely more important than “mine” and “yours” is the shared right to thrive, the right to be treated with dignity and respect.

These are universal and non-negotiable rights, equal for all people and equally urgent in all circumstances and under all conditions. As a Jew, I insist that Israel has no meaning if its success commands that Palestinians be denied the right to thrive; as a progressive, I insist that Palestine deserves no future if its success commands that Jews be denied the same right. And as a human being, I insist that if your position commands the displacement of an entire people, then it deserves to fail.

In today’s Manichean madness, asking people to accept my view is like inviting them to picture a dog with antlers. They think my position is some kind of naïve centrism, but it is nothing of the kind. I am confident I am farther to the left than most of those who now shout themselves hoarse in the public square.

But I do not occupy a place on their field. I am not between them; I am not above or below them. I am elsewhere entirely, on a different plane. I have only one champion and one vision. It is not a vision of a triumphant Palestine or victorious Israel. It is a vision of equal dignity and respect, which I sum to the right to thrive—a right that transcends borders and history, speaks every language, honors all religions and celebrates all creeds.

To me, Gaza is merely the latest site in an endless struggle. But the struggle is only incidentally between Palestine and Israel. Cruelty in the West Bank is no more intrinsically important than cruelty in Western Sahara. Apartheid was no more important in South Africa than it was in South Carolina. Torture is equally squalid when practiced by the CIA as by Israeli security forces; by the British in Northern Ireland as by the Russians in Ukraine. And there is no set of conditions that makes genocide more or less obscene.

When I state my position, people tell me I do not understand. Today’s contest is not like the others, they say. It is somehow more. More urgent. More just. More desperate. It throws its roots deeper into history, deeper into human suffering, deeper into victimhood. But that’s what everyone always says.

And when I fear that people are getting lost in their imagined differences, I remind them that the blood of every child looks the same when it pours onto the ground.

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