Digital Art - Copyright 2011
POEM: TO ISRAEL
by Sharon Elayne Levine
Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved
Israel, oh my blessed Israel!
When will You find
Your borders are torn
With war and
Your children are falling
Day by day
For Your life.
May G-d let You
Find Peace soon,
For the sake of Your children,
And for all of the world!
I remember writing this poem in 1974, sitting at my grandmother's kitchen table looking out the window onto her sunny garden she had just planted. I was a Zionist then, and I remember feeling very anxious and sad. It's not the greatest poem in the world, but as was and is my habit, I write poetry when I am upset. It's practically the only time I do write poetry.
What was happening in that part of the world in 1974 that had upset me?
Well, on May 31, 1974, Israel and Syria signed an agreement on disengagement following the Yom Kippur War in October of 1973. Weeks before that on May 15th, the Ma'alot massacre occurred. Palestinians crossed the Israeli border from Lebanon and attacked a van killing two Israeli Arab women. Then they entered an apartment building in the town of Ma'alot and killed a couple and their four year old son. Then a local school was taken over and 105 students and 10 teachers were taken hostage. The Palestinians demanded the release of 23 Palestinians from Israeli prisons under the threat of killing the hostages. When the elite Israeli Golani Brigade unit stormed the building on the second day of the standoff, the hostage-takers detonated their grenades and shot the children. 105 children. 25 hostages were killed, including 22 children, and 68 more were wounded.
The month before, on April 11th, the Kiryat Shmona massacre occurred. Palestinians crossed the Israeli border from Lebanon, entered an apartment building in the town of Kiryat Shmona and killed all 18 residents there, half of whom were children. (Above history from Wikipedia)
The relentless attacks on Israeli citizens and the slaughter of so many children was a shocking horror to Jewish people, especially Jewish people in America. Jewish people like me.
I was a young Jewish woman in my mid-20s in 1974. Like many Jews, I had no clue who the Palestinian people were and what they wanted from us. No one taught us about them in the synagogues and temples of America, and many of us didn't accept responsibility for learning the whole history of how "our country," Israel, came to be born. We were just glad that we had a home for our people. World War II and the Holocaust were still vivid in the minds of many Jews in 1974. G-d had returned us to our land. That's all most of us knew. That's all most of us cared about.
One of my favorite books in 1974 was Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary, the story of a young girl who gave her life to help Jews leave Europe and settle in Israel. Of course, I read all the stories of Zionist heroes: Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan, David Alazar ... And oh, how jealous I was of the Israelis referred to as sabras, those born on our country's soil. And the women! I wanted to fly planes like Hannah Senesh. I wanted to grow up and be the president of a country like Golda Meir. I wanted to be a soldier like my sisters in the Israeli military. I wanted to live on a kibbutz. I was trying to learn Hebrew.
I was a Zionist!
And since 1998, I am a Muslim.
With a heart divided between two peoples, it saddened me deeply to hear of the murder of five members of the Fogel family last Friday evening who were butchered in their sleep in the Jewish settlement of Itamar on the West Bank. Although many are blaming the murders on Palestinians, the truth is that the Israelis are still investigating and no one knows who did this yet.
I know: these settlements are illegal.
I know: many many Palestinian children have been murdered by the Israelis.
True. But that's not why I'm writing about it today.
I'm writing to demand that the violence stop. Is anyone listening?!
How many Israeli and Palestinian children have to die before both sides will sit together like the adults they are and come up with a peace plan? How much blood has to be shed before the international community will give more than lip service to trying to help? How many children will die before the UN enforces its resolutions?
Let's face it: Israel probably isn't going anywhere. But I would like to see a peace plan and enforcement of the UN resolutions that call for Israel to return the borders to the 1967 lines. I would like to see Israeli honor the agreements they signed. The ones Anwar Sadat died for. The ones Yitzhak Rabin died for.
But that's going to take a lot of work. And both sides have to do it. What's the alternative? Ongoing violence and oppression?
My poem, written in 1974, and the question it asks is still relevant today in 2011. If I would have known better in 1974, I would have directed the question to both the Palestinians AND the Israelis. I would have asked for peace for all the children.
Sadly, there is still no answer. Yet ...