Like you I am a Jew, a screenwriter and a playwright. Unlike you, the first time I was shot at, I was 16. I mention this because in your letter to my friend Renen Schorr of the Sam Spiegel Film School, reneging on your agreement to appear there, you cite as one of the reasons for the moral outrage you feel, “the endless shooting of innocent people there [Gaza], including juveniles.”
This is part of a litany of complaints against the Jewish State of Israel which includes the “atrocity” of the “Israeli attack on the flotilla ... the resumption of illegal building on the West Bank ... the ongoing criminal blockade of Gaza” and finally, what you refer to as “the last straw ... the Loyalty Oath.” I would like to address each of these, but because you are rightfully concerned with the shooting of juveniles, let me start there, since I was in fact just such a juvenile, shot at twice in as many weeks in the very places you mention.
At 16 I was a high school student and left the kibbutz where I lived for the two-week Chanukah vacation to visit friends on Kibbutz Nahal Oz, which was, and is, right on the border with Gaza. There, another kid and I were put to work planting palm trees well inside the kibbutz, and well onto the Israeli side of the border. Fedayeen terrorists opened fire at us for the crime of planting palm trees, and only by the grace of God did we escape unharmed. I mention this because the year was 1963. There was no flotilla, no blockade, no illegal building on the West Bank, nor any loyalty oath. There was simply a Jewish state, with the very borders that our detractors and some of our well-wishers assure us now will bring us a golden age of peace. On the other side of those borders were our neighbors who did not believe that the Jewish people had a right to a state of any size, of any borders, anywhere in the territory of historical Israel (or anywhere else in the Middle East, for that matter). Surprisingly, there was also no Palestinian state at the time, though the West Bank was controlled by Jordan, and Gaza by Egypt. The only state our neighbors talked about liberating was ours.
That is why the current government of Israel has placed such an emphasis on recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. It is the core of the conflict. The central question is, will our Palestinian neighbors ever accept the right of the Jewish people to a state of our own in the land of Israel? If they will, the conflict will end. If they won’t, it won’t.
You deride Israel’s blockade of Gaza. It’s there because Hamas’ Gaza is proudly and avowedly bent on killing us. As Hamas spokesperson Abu Odeh puts it, “We never target civilians. We only target Jews.”
In 1962, the United States set up a naval blockade against Cuba to prevent Soviet rockets, which theoretically could hit the U.S. only 90 miles away. Ninety miles for Israel would be strategic depth. For us, it is not theoretical. The houses and kindergartens of Sderot, which were the constant targets of what would become almost 10,000 Hamas rockets, are less than a thousand meters from the border. The flotilla you cite, under international maritime law, was illegally trying to run a blockade, which Israel had every right to enforce. Israeli forces boarded five of the six ships without incident. On the Mavi Mara they were met with deadly force and responded in kind.
When people don’t try to kill us, we don’t kill them. In the past year there have been 165 rocket and mortar attacks on Israel from Hamas-controlled Gaza, including at least two incidents in which white phosphorus was intentionally fired at Israeli civilian targets. Forty-one armed Palestinians, according to the United Nations, have been killed by Israeli forces trying to infiltrate the border, plant explosives or launch rockets at our civilian population. That’s why juveniles who come too near the border get shot, almost always below the knee, after warning shots are ignored. Sometimes, rarely, an innocent person is killed. It is tragic. But to paraphrase the late Golda Meir, when our enemies want their children to live more than they want our children to die, there will be peace.
As to the loyalty oath, which, you say with righteous indignation, was the last straw, that oath is not meant for Israeli Arabs but for all new applicants (including Jews) for naturalized Israeli citizenship. It is similar to the oaths of loyalty of many countries, including the U.K., which demands that the applicant“... bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her Heirs and Successors ...” Realizing that you are concerned that Muslim sensitivities may be offended by having to swear allegiance to a “Jewish Democratic State,” I wonder that you are not similarly concerned about the many Muslim immigrants to your country, who have become naturalized citizens and were forced to bare true allegiance to the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, Queen Elizabeth II.
Finally, Mike, in your letter, you mention your courage. Please don’t insult anyone’s intelligence. It takes no courage to bash Israel in Europe today. It is as a la mode as the umbrella was in 1939.
I want you to know that I am establishing a scholarship in your name. Since I have already given scholarships at the Sam Spiegel School in my son’s memory, I don’t want to confuse the issue. Thus, I’ll establish at the Ma’aleh Film School ... the Mike Leigh Scholarship for Moral and Political Courage. It will be awarded to the student whose work displays examples of those qualities your letter to Renen Schorr so woefully lacked. It will be awarded on Israel Independence Day. You’re invited.
Dan Gordon is the screenwriter of 14 feature films and plays that have been presented in the West End of London and on Broadway. In addition, he is a captain (Res.) in the Israel Defense Forces.