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Last Things for Israel?
The latest edition of First Things has arrived. It’s one of my favourite journals. Unfortunately, for me here in Australia, the latest edition is April. It comes by sea mail. April has been up on the First Things website for a little while. American subscribers have probably finished reading May already and will soon receive June. I probably won’t renew my subscription, opting to read it online instead.
April contains a provocative and somewhat depressing article by Richard John Neuhaus, “After Israel”, in which he quotes a supporter of Israel:
There appear to be only two possible outcomes to this conflict. Israel may eventually choose to . . . exterminate or expel Palestinians from Israel and the West Bank. Or the endless bloodshed will produce an accelerating exodus of Israeli Jews to America and other more peaceful and affluent places, eventually leading to a collapse of the Jewish state.
About eight years ago we got new neighbours, a young couple I’ll call Dave and Jane. We invited them around for coffee, and in the course of conversation we learned that the house they had moved from was nearby and was very similar to their new one. So why on earth had they moved?
It transpired that a local crime boss (apparently we have such people in Melbourne) had moved to the house next to theirs. He built a high fence around the property, in defiance of local building regulations. He carried out other illegal construction. It seemed he had a team of lawyers to keep the Council at bay.
He hosted noisy parties, with large cars parked illegally around the street. Occasionally party revellers would fire guns into the air. (And all this was in a fairly upmarket neighbourhood.) Once when Dave went to remonstrate over a particular problem the man pushed him against a fence and then punched him in the face.
Dave called the police, who urged him to press charges—they wanted to get this man—while warning Dave that the man was dangerous. Friends said Dave should hire layers to force the man to pull down his illegal fence. Dave and Jane were planning a family. They decided to drop the matter and to move, even if it meant selling their house at a loss. They didn’t want to raise kids next door to a crazed neighbour.
Is it not possible that increasing numbers of Israelis are also going to decide to move? The First Things article suggests they might.
PS (#1): An amusing postscript. By coincidence, a good friend of my wife’s, a Korean lady who spoke little English, also lived in Dave’s street, in a rental house on the other side of the crime boss (she, in contrast, to Dave, had no idea of his identity; neither did we at that time). One day she accidentally locked herself out of the house, and with her husband not due home for many hours, she desperately phoned my wife.
My wife urged her to try to use her limited English to explain to a neighbour her predicament, and to ask for help. She did, innocently knocking on the crime boss’s door. Later she phoned my wife: “You can’t believe how helpful my neighbour was. It was like magic. He knew right away how to get one of my windows open and get inside.” She baked him a cake to say thank you, and reported that he accepted it with a very bemused look on his face.
PS (#2): Richard John Neuhaus wrote his article on Israel before the latest hostilities. But his final paragraph remains resonant:
As too many people are eager to remind us, Israel is doing bad things to the Palestinians. And, as too many fail to say, Palestinians are doing bad things to Israelis, and it is not always easy to sort out which is action and which reaction, which is aggression and which defence. There should be no difficulty, however, in sorting out the difference between the one party that has the declared purpose of destroying or expelling the other party, and the other party that wants only to live in security and peace. This, I think, we know for sure: there could be a real peace process and a real peace if the Arabs believably accepted a sovereign Jewish state in their midst. This, sadly, does not seem to be in the offing.
May 12th, 2002