Dwight Howard has never been able to transfer his deftness on the basketball court, his drive, his sheer, bold athleticism and vision, to his public relations. Whether he's insulting Laker Nation, awkwardly hugging Stan Van Gundy after throwing him under a bus, or tweeting out #FreePalestine this past week before awkwardly deleting his thoughts, Howard seems incapable of making the right move in sensitive situations. I don't care about Laker Nation, I'm Knicks fan, and Jeff's always been my Van Gundy, not Stan, but I do care about Palestine.
I care about Palestine because when my Great-Great Grandfather moved there in the early days of the 20th century, that is what it was called, Mandatory Palestine. The British had just taken over from the Ottomans who'd ruled the land since Columbus sailed the ocean blue. It's a dusty strip that's traded hands more times than dice at a craps game, and just like Robbins in Porgy and Bess, gutted at Crown's angry hand, many a man has been killed fighting over it.
So what am I to make of Dwight Howard? He, like many of us, likes to root for the underdog. He like many of us, chafes at the sight of dead children, bombed as they played on a beach near rocks that unfortunately may have also hidden decidedly un-Hustonian rockets. He is probably a good man, who let an unfiltered thought escape from his heart and found words slung at him like arrows, piercing any notion he had that free speech comes without consequences in America. And he, like many of us, was likely incredibly misguided.
What is #FreePalestine? Gaza and the West Bank? Fatah and Hamas? Utopia? Hell? It depends on who you ask. Some believe that Free Palestine is a land without Israel, stripped of Jews, a Muslim sanctuary within a Muslim sanctuary, with a Muslim sanctuary... Some believe that Free Palestine means a state where children no longer have to worry about Israeli bulldozers crushing their homes because their uncle Ali hung with the wrong crowd. Some believe Free Palestine means legitimacy, a voice in the world, the right of return, and recognition, from Israel, the UN, and especially the US.
The problem is that Freeing Palestine means more than just peace with Israel. Palestine without Israel today would likely be nothing more than another Syria or Iraq, or perhaps Iran. It would mean a country that like Gaza, would probably be ruled by ultra-religious bigots who'd try to forcibly veil women, threaten Jews and Christians within their midst, and commit violence against those who believe the same thing only with a twist. It would mean a return to fifteenth century ideals in a twenty-first century world. And though it's certainly the Palestinians' right to live in such a country if they so choose, they would not be free.
The fact is, the Palestinians will never be free the way things are today. They've given their lives over, like so many abused people, to crooks, strongmen, and false prophets. They live for the promise of a land that will never come, united in hatred against Israel, a hatred that's never spared them from killing each other from time to time. There is no more hurtful existence in the world today than to live life as Palestinian, crushed at once by military force and the force of your own history and banishment. There cannot be freedom under such circumstances, even when tyrants retreat and Prime Ministers relent. There is no life to live in such a world.
Freedom for Palestine means freedom from oppressive religion, freedom from a culture of guilt and war, freedom from a ruined generation that asks their children to take on their hate and suffering, that throws punches after the fight is lost, inviting kicks on the ground. Freedom for Palestine means real leadership, and flexibility, and ideals, and secularism in government. It means letting go of the ghost of 600 years of empires stepping on your back. And yes, Freedom for Palestine means freedom from Israel.
Israel more than any country, and we as Jews, should know the feeling of what it means to be broken. But we have not let our empathy crowd out our need for security, and in this, we have been wrong. Until the leadership of Israel values peace for innocent Palestinians as much as for innocent Jews, there will never be an understanding. Dwight Howard was foolish, Bibi Netanyahu cannot claim the same ignorance. So I say #FreePalestine. I say that because I know what it means, what the cost will be, and that it is a statement with so many sides to it that geometry has never named its shape. But it must happen, because in the end, #FreePalestine means #FreeIsrael. One cannot happen without the other. One must happen, otherwise both will never come to pass.