Facing Tomorrow — and Yesterday

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There were many surreal moments last Wednesday night, when Shimon Peres’ “Facing Tomorrow” conference celebrated the American-Israeli relationship, an evening that culminated with a speech by President George W. Bush.

Perhaps the most ridiculous part of the agenda: two (very sculpted) male dancers in skin-tight white get-ups prancing across the stage as a pianist played the Carole King classic “You’ve Got a Friend.”

Yes. That song.

When you’re down and troubled
And you need some loving care
And nothing, nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night

The message (or so it seemed): the relationship between Israel and America is flamboyantly homoerotic.

If that wasn’t weird enough, the whole night was, in many ways, a vast communal fantasy, with Bush and Israel’s embattled Prime Minister Ehud Olmert being showered with love and esteem. This for two leaders who may be the least popular in the history of their respective countries.

Indeed, it was good the conference was focused on the future, because the present and past seems more difficult to get into focus.

Of course, the conference was in honor of Israel’s 60th birthday and no one wants to be the party pooper. But, as I discuss in my latest column for The Jerusalem Post, Israel’s birthdays are inevitably complicated, as it coincides with the Palestinian observance of Nakba Day.

In my article, I look at a book that reminds us not to view the creation of the State of Israel in bipolar terms: S. Yizhar’s novella Khirbet Khizeh, which was written in 1949 and was recently translated into English for the first time.

Khirbet Khizeh tells the story of an army unit that, as the War of Independence comes to a close, is given the task of expelling the residents of an Arab village called Khirbet Khizeh. For the most part, the story’s drama takes place in the mind of the narrator. Even as he rounds up the villagers, he’s weighed down by moral questions. “My eyes roamed this way and that. I was ill at ease. Where did this sense come from that I was being accused of some crime?” …

Ultimately, though, Khirbet Khizeh is important for its context – who wrote it and when – not merely its content. S. Yizhar was, of course, the pen name of Yizhar Smilansky, a professor, Knesset member and one of the great scribes of modern Hebrew. Yizhar was a Zionist who helped to shape Israel, politically and culturally. That someone of this ilk could publish Khirbet Khizeh – and in 1949, no less – proves that the founding myths of Israel were not destroyed by the occupation of the West Bank or by the New Historians…

The moral complexities of Israel’s birth were clear from the outset, and we can thank Khirbet Khizeh for reminding us of this. (MORE)

Posted on May 19, 2008

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