A young man asked me some very good questions in the comments of my commemorative post on the 7th anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie. He deserves a full, more open answer than a reply in the comments would have given him. Here is his comment, and my reply:
Dear Mr. Munger,
I agree that Israel commits atrocious human rights abuses against Palestinians in the occupied territory. I agree that their settlement program is nothing short of colonialist. However, I'm afraid I see little constructive criticism on your part in this matter. As a left-wing Zionist, I feel it is fine to criticise Israel as long as its interests are taken into consideration, as well as those of the Palestinians. Perhaps you would find less antagonism from the Jewish community and others if you focused more on what you think should be done to resolve the issues in the Near East. For example, advocating the two-state solution, demanding a halt in settlement construction, and condemning Palestinian terrorist organizations intent on destroying Israel.
My warmest regards, and I enjoyed playing your music last year [Lamentations and Gordon's Last Ride Rag] in the Anchorage Youth Symphony.
Thanks for your earnest questions. I’ll try to answer them very specifically first, then in a more general way. It is especially gratifying that a young person has asked these questions. My commemorative post about Rachel Corrie cites the hopes that young people always have, and you show such hope in your questions.
I. I’m not sure what “Israel’s interests are,” when viewed overall. I accept the status quo of territorial expansion by Zionist settlers in the West Bank, unsustainable blockade of Gaza, ongoing diminution of the rights of Arab Israelis within the national boundaries, and intensification of racism as so markedly portrayed by the videography of Max Blumenthal and the Israeli media, as all being representative of part of what Israel actually is. In my mind, none of these are in anyone’s “best” interests.
Likewise, some Palestinians act out in awful ways. For instance, just this past week, on the 1,000th day of the Gaza siege, another rocket from northeastern Gaza killed somebody in Israel. I fully condemn terror wherever and however it occurs. The stance by some militant groups, and the overall stances of Hezbollah and Hamas, in regard to Israel’s “right to exist” are condemnable, and I have done that, in writings here and elsewhere.
Although I have condemned illegal settlement construction and land confiscation by Zionists in the West Bank, I can’t “demand a halt” any more than you can. Nor can I stop the hideous rocket attacks. Nor can I keep drunk drivers in Israel or Gaza or the West Bank from killing far more people than do these rocket attacks.
I think it is too late for the “two-state solution,” as its honest implementation would require almost complete withdrawal from the territories occupied in June 1967, which would result in an Israeli civil war. It is too late to address compensation for Palestinians forcibly removed from what is now Israel during the 1940s and 1950s, as it is too late to address compensation for Jews forcibly removed during that same period from Arab countries.
You cite "antagonism from the Jewish community" toward me or my work. I trust you mean my work about Rachel Corrie. Although I have endured antagonism from some within the Alaska Jewish community, and some from other parts of the world, this has been more than made good by the amazing friendships I have developed since late 2003 with many Jews around the world, most of whom are not Zionist per se, even if they feel compelled to sometimes support the various Israeli governments more than they would like. Locally, from day one of the controversy surrounding The Skies are Weeping, a few Anchorage and Alaska Jews have sought me out to let me know that they support me, but cannot say this publicly. During the most recent conversation I had with Rabbi Yossi Greenburg, in March 2008, I thanked him for what I had been able to learn because of the forum he and I had put on at UAA on April 8, 2004. Please ask him about this, should you have the opportunity.
Outside of Alaska and the U.S, I’ve worked a lot with groups composed of both Israelis or former Israelis and former Palestinians. There isn’t much of an infrastructure in that realm here in Alaska. If there were, I would enjoy helping bring about comity. Bridge Builders has done remarkable work in Anchorage, somewhat along those lines.
You address music and the joy that can bring. I don’t know whether or not you are aware of Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Founded in 1999, its aim is to “promote understanding between Israelis and Palestinians and pave the way for a peaceful and fair solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
Barenboim himself has spoken of the ensemble as follows:
"The Divan is not a love story, and it is not a peace story. It has very flatteringly been described as a project for peace. It isn't. It's not going to bring peace, whether you play well or not so well. The Divan was conceived as a project against ignorance. A project against the fact that it is absolutely essential for people to get to know the other, to understand what the other thinks and feels, without necessarily agreeing with it. I'm not trying to convert the Arab members of the Divan to the Israeli point of view, and [I'm] not trying to convince the Israelis to the Arab point of view. But I want to - and unfortunately I am alone in this now that Edward died a few years ago - ...create a platform where the two sides can disagree and not resort to knives."
Here’s the maestro, describing the mission on which he and Dr. Edward Said embarked:
And here is the ensemble of hopeful, young people, performing Franz Liszt’s Les Preludes in August 2009:
You might consider looking into participating in this orchestra’s summer programs in the future. If there are fellowships for young Americans available, I would be happy to help you prepare your application. The director of the Anchorage Youth Symphony, Linn Weeda, is a big fan of Maestro Barenboim's efforts in this regard.
II. More generally, Josh, I draw inspiration from what Dr. Albert Einstein expressed in his once famous, but now hard to obtain speech on April 17, 1938, at the Commodore Hotel in New York City:
I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish State. Apart from practical considerations, my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish State, with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power, no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain – especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already had to fight strongly, even without a Jewish State. We are no longer the Jews of the Maccabee period. A return to a nation in the political sense of the word would be equivalent to turning away from the spiritualization of our community, which we owe to the genius of our prophets.
When I covered Alison Weir’s appearances in Anchorage last fall, what bothered me most about her approach was her lack of recognition – at least in my take on what she has to offer – of how important the role of young people like you, or the kids in maestro Barenboim’s orchestra have in this future, and how limited the visions of older people like me, or Weir, or the representatives of various governments, political authorities, political parties, coalitions and major religious entities, actually are.
As far as the roles of the three Abrahamic faiths in this process are concerned, I see hope in the long term, but not in the short term. The rise of fundamentalisms in Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Judaism are quite troubling. It is even more troubling from the perspective of women’s rights. I can see a lot of hope for commonality among young people from all these faiths, through seeking to help women around the entire world obtain equal opportunities in every realm, particularly in decisions about their education and family planning.
Back at the beginning of our present set of wars, I turned to the words of young Rachel Corrie, hoping that involving young people in performances of work commemorating her, a dialogue that gave higher visibility to Palestinian rights than one normally sees presented in American fine art, might provoke a different kind of discussion than what occurred locally in April 2004. I learned from that, and am constantly looking to find young people out there who express hope, yet ask provocative questions:
My most recent work to address ongoing violence, war and hopes for peace, ends in a simple, fully diatonic prayer.
It is directed sincerely toward all who might seek peace. Especially young people. Hopefully, Josh, we can perform it together some day.
top image - Israeli and Palestinian kids at a summer camp together, July 17, 2001 Quique Kierszenbaum/Getty Images