Someone once said that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. The Israeli version of that maxim would be this: a right-winger is a left-winger who has just spent time in a bomb shelter.
When it comes to what Israelis and others call ha-matzav (the situation), I have always occupied a narrow, pointy place in the exact ideological center -- and, given any particular situation, all too easily nudged into a more liberal or more conservative position. The three Israeli boys -- Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel -- are kidnapped and killed, and I slide to the right. A Palestinian boy -- Muhammed Abu Khdeir -- is kidnapped and killed, and I, despairing of what the Jewish people stands in danger of becoming, slide to the left.
I write this from Jerusalem, which just last night, was subject to an air raid from Hamas, firing from Gaza. At that precise moment, I was with a friend, on the way to getting coffee. The siren went off, and we went to the nearest apartment building and joined the other residents in going down to the shelter. When we got there, we discovered that there was a pile of children's bicycles blocking the entrance. To me, those bicycles at the entrance symbolized that no one thought that they would ever actually have to use the shelter. We crowded into the small, dank space, and the whole thing was over in five minutes.
This trip is, according to my estimates, something like my fortieth trip to Israel. In all those years, and in all of these trips, this is the first time that I have ever experienced the anxiety that most Israelis feel all the time, at least on this level. I have been here during several intifaddas. I have narrowly missed suicide bombings.
And yet, this was my first air raid warning. In some ways, the most amazing thing about this has been witnessing the resilience and even the humor of the Israeli people. Five minutes afterwards, the streets of Jerusalem were busy again, humming with life and laughter. As for my friend and I, we never did get that coffee.
So, as I begin my shift towards the right (which might be temporary, or not), let's be clear. The barrage of rockets that have been emerging from Gaza has nothing to do with the horrific death of young Muhammed, whose blood has stained all of our hands and put massive dings in our moral sensibilities. The steady barrage of rockets has been business as usual, Hamas style. Consider: In just one day, more than a hundred missiles were fired from Gaza. All of Israel is targeted. We were simply amazed that the cities of central Israel -- Tel Aviv, Rishon L'Tziyon, Hadera, among many other places -- would become targets. This is Hamas' ongoing war against Israel. No country would ever tolerate such an invasion of its borders and security. Israel, for sure, will not and should not.
And what would lubricate my slip towards the right? The fact that there were Palestinians cheering the rockets. The fact that there is a large Nazi flag flying over a Palestinian town http://www.timesofisrael.com/nazi-flag-flown-over-palestinian-town/which must surely be giving Haj Amin el-Husseini, the hateful Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and friend of Hitler, great satisfaction. The fact that many of us left-of-center idealists (because, yes, that is also me, sometimes) must bear with the fact that there are millions of people who wish us evil, and not good; death, and not life. Our songs, prayers and slogans will not change that.
The late singer Richie Havens sang: "I don't want to know about evil. I only want to know about love." It is way past time for us to know about evil.
And now, sliding to the left: the evil that we must know includes, even and especially, the temptations to evil that exist within the soul of the Jewish people. No sentence describing the death of young Muhammed should contain the word "but": "Yes, our thugs brutally tortured him, and burnt him alive, and he inhaled the ashes and the soot, but we don't celebrate such murders, unlike 'them.'" "We make condolence calls to his family, but where were the Palestinian leaders who should have called upon the families of the three teenagers?" Please -- no "buts."
Or, at most, only one "but" -- the words of the Yom Kippur liturgy: "But we are Your people, the children of Your covenant." How do the children of this covenant burn a child, so that his lungs were filled with ashes and soot? Explain this to me again -- we burnt a child?
And finally, at least for now, a slide to the right.
As the sirens went off in Jerusalem last night, this is what went through my mind.
In Joseph Heller's classic Catch 22, Yossarian, beset by the horrors of war, wails to Clevinger:
“They're trying to kill me," Yossarian told him calmly.
"No one's trying to kill you," Clevinger cried.
"Then why are they shooting at me?" Yossarian asked.
"They're shooting at everyone," Clevinger answered. "They're trying to kill everyone."
"And what difference does that make?”
Yes, the rockets were aimed at Israel, and at Israeli citizens.
They were aimed at the Jewish people.
They're trying to kill everyone -- all Israelis, all Jews.
Those rockets were aimed at me.
They had my name on them.
Now, it's personal.