If I’ve learned one paradoxical truth from years of writing about occupied Palestine, it’s that a sophisticated Israeli propagandist is nearly always more brutish than a merely ignorant one. In a related phenomenon — what might be called the Hypocrisy Index, or the First Principle of the Israeli Liberal — the volume of a pro-occupation apologist’s whining about “peace” offers an infallible measure of his eagerness to rationalize the Chosen State’s most savage crimes against its Palestinian underclass. (Think Ari Shavit, just for instance.)
So I wasn’t surprised when, upon the recent news of the killing of an Israeli settler-warrior named Dvir Sorek in the occupied West Bank, I was immediately taken to task by a former acquaintance (now Israeli) who — for several dreary years now — has divided his time on social media between professing his moderation and vituperating anyone, Jew or Gentile, who dares to suggest that Palestinians might possess the same human rights that he does.
“Write a poem for Dvir,” Mr. Moderate thundered at me from the safety of his Facebook account. “He loved you even though you support and encourage those who killed him in cold blood…. Can you write a poem in tribute to and in memoray [sic] of this pure soul…?”
(Though it should go without saying, I’ll take a moment to mention that the slander is preposterous: I’ve never encouraged anything of the sort. I’m also nonplussed by the implicit claim of someone who can’t spell “memory” to be able to probe the emotions of a dead man he never met… but we’re dealing with Israeli propaganda, so I guess some nuttiness is inevitable.)
Now, you might think Mr. Moderate’s notion that I, or any other serious writer, ought to compose propaganda at his direction marks him as too obviously a cretin to be worth noting. But he is hardly alone in his selective outrage. The Times of Israel filled its account of Sorek’s killing with panegyrics from illegal Israeli colonists (“an amazing man, very sensitive, smart, modest,” “a kid with light in his eyes,” “a symbol of the love of mankind,” etc.) Somehow the editors couldn’t make room for a single word from the people whose land those settlers continue to occupy — a brutal dispensation that has resulted in the deaths of over 5,500 Palestinians since the beginning of 2008, though you’d never know it from the Times of Israel‘s lugubrious summary.
The “religious” Jewish Press, bawling about “the horrible terrorist murder” of a future member of Israel’s occupation forces, dug even deeper into the dregs, quoting Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shlomo Ne’eman. Predictably, the settler spokesman called Sorek a “hero” and urged the Israeli government to annex the entire West Bank as a fitting response to his death.
And that — as far as the JP was concerned — was all there was to say. The killing of young Sorek was an incident devoid of context. Never mind that the lad had chosen to bear arms in support of apartheid in the Occupied Territories. Never mind that he spent his whole life as an illegal squatter on other people’s land. It’s true that Sorek was only 19 at the time of his death, and therefore much more an instrument than a perpetrator of land theft. But crime is crime — which is why, had the victim been Palestinian, and held membership in the ‘Izz a-Din al-Qassam Brigade, and been killed while robbing some Israeli property, you can be certain his militant credentials would have been blared in the first sentences of his obituary in the Israeli press. Double standards, anyone?
And there’s another little matter that has eluded the attention of Dvir Sorek’s eulogists: the “large numbers” of IDF goons who have already “conducted searches throughout the Gush Etzion area…closing off villages…as they looked for the perpetrators.” If history is any guide, this could mean that yet another Israeli terror campaign is under way in the West Bank, but don’t expect any concern about that from mainstream Israeli or Western media. After all, the systematic violence of Israel’s occupation can’t possibly have anything to do with an occasional spurt of resistance — can it? Even the thickest-headed cheerleader for West Bank apartheid will remember Shmuel Rosner’s insistence (in the New York Times, no less) that the mere presence of Hamas members in unarmed protests was reason enough to justify the massacre of 60 Gazans in a single week. But, of course, those deaths were Palestinian; to pundits like Rosner, attacks against Jews are unprovoked by definition.
My own disgust for violence of any kind has been mentioned so often in my published columns that it would be merely pedantic to repeat it here. As for the slain Israeli, what can I say about the general baying for Palestinian blood that passes for politics in the wake of an illegal Jewish colonist’s death? Maybe it is enough to note that young Sorek’s newly-canonized father — himself a propagandist for Israeli expansionism who refuses to admit that the West Bank is occupied territory (International Court of Justice be damned!) — wrote in 2014 that it would be “fair” for Palestinians outside the Green Line to be rendered a minority by way of “integration” into “the small Jewish state.”
Trouble is, the full “integration” of all Palestinians under Israeli rule would actually result in Jewish and Arab citizenries of roughly equal size. Sorek’s insistence that Palestinians must remain a distinct minority implies, therefore, that he is contemplating another round of ethnic cleansing. In my humble opinion, people who misrepresent international law, support a continuing apartheid regime, and appear (at least) to promote crimes against humanity should not be granted automatic victim status in the press — whatever personal losses may have stained their favorite transgressions.
I have not, consequently, composed a poem in honor of the Soreks. However, my newly published collection does contain an item devoted to the West Bank. And because this poem is an attempt to express my complicated connection to those who suffer in that anguished region, and in particular to stress the nature of that connection across the barriers of distance, culture, community and religion — as an observant Jew I mark the weekly Sabbath with wine and bread, even while Palestinian prisoners may be on hunger strike to protest their illegal confinement — I will reproduce it here.
If my critics identify with what I have to say, so much the better; if not, the fault cannot be mine.
SABBATH PSALM FOR A HUNGER STRIKE
Brothers, as I bless this wine,
let its drops bleed sorrow for your pain;
where the Sabbath bread is cut
let your invaded bodies beckon God,
whose wounds nor unquenched rain
may touch your hunger, clear and mute.
Never, in the words I spare
to barter off the midnight’s freezing fear
or the prison of the noon’s heat
where you starve for mercy, drown for hate,
may I clasp one drivel or soft stare
in the murder of your jailers’ sight –
nor bring to bed a coward sleep
for eyes too desolate in dreams to weep
penance of my sinning kindness, still
perishing in the famine of least will –
until the flood, hoarded and deep,
will burst upon this parching, stale
and final prayer. Now my heart’s shore
stands helpless to the dark tide of tears,
where a brine of unkept memory
profanes the blare and harsh harmony
that harrows your unbroken cares,
the peace that is my parody.
Alone in this cell of sorrow
is the keenest fast, the bleeding marrow
of my too distant love and cry
for all that suffers, struggles and is free –
rages, and is spent in borrowed
spume and breaking, like the sea.
© Michael Lesher, 2019