Called to Freedom | Watching Israel Make a Change

Ancient Israeli figurines. Via the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Israelis are celebrating, for the most part, a potential change in government today. Protestors, who’ve been active for over a year, are hopeful. Corruption, extremism, a sort of fraying of the secular aspects of the state have been cause for concern. There’s so much embedded in the conflicts within and without Israel and the Middle East for the world. Think about what has been built from the ideas and beliefs that were born there.

For a landscape can hold many things. Especially over time. Imagine a millennial birds eye view of Jerusalem — the building of palaces, temples, various rites, wars, crusades, violence, peace, happiness, families, growth, destruction. Romans coming and going, Muslim and Christian conquerers. And daily life continued. You may not actually be able to see, however, the way the reality of life altered there, Jerusalem, Israel, Palestine in the 20th century. The redrawing of the map of the Middle East by European powers. Powers which reneged on promises, following WWI. The creation of the state of Israel.

Bunting Map 1581 Jerusalem as the center of the world.

Or how the genocide of Jews and dissidents and other minorities (frankly anyone who looked like a problem) contributed to that altered map. And, again, to the ways lives changed as a result. The creation of the state of Israel was both something long hoped for and a direct response to the coordinated, masterminded attempt to destroy the Jewish people. It became a necessity. Finding a place where it was possible to defend themselves when the countries they had adopted abandoned them. Surrounded by potentially hostile states, when they later won the 7 day war — and stunned opponents — the sense of upset in the Middle East affected politics in many ways. Democracy became less of a priority.

As parties across the political spectrum, including Balad the party advocating for Arab rights, work to oust Netanyahu in Israel — we see democracy at work. It is difficult to imagine a coalition of this kind ousting Putin, for example. Russian political candidates and journalists put their lives on the line by standing in opposition to him. The same can be said for Modi in India, where BJP members murder journalists, incite violence against Muslims and encourage Hindu nationalism. BJP is, after all, the party that murdered Gandhi. Erdogan is not dissimilar in Turkey. You hope for coalitions that will oust them. You see how they ensure that is difficult.

Democracy is something Arab Muslims have wanted for themselves for decades. It is, after all, the 10th anniversary of Arab Spring. And I can’t help but imagine what kind of European or Western help might have ensured that transition resulted in a democratic state. Which is what millions of Egyptians in wanted when they poured out of their homes and onto the streets — a protest visible from space. And as they camped in Tahir Square. Palestinians held a clear and fair election, and Hamas won. Hamas being the fundamentalist nationalist islamic party. Their popularity is on the rise following the conflict with Israel.

Stone Mask 7th Millenium BCE | The Museum of Israel

When the Israeli paper Haaretz issued a cover with photos of all of the recently children killed by Israel in Gaza — that was something made possible by the objectivity of the paper itself, its editors and democracy. Haaretz is a good read. Their coverage of American racism and its impact on the lives of African Americans is worth your time. Arab news responded to the cover — noting that objectivity does exist in Israel. One of the children killed on the Israeli side, by Hamas, was Palestinian.

I think many of us are becoming disassociated from our daily physical experience. There is our relationship to where we live (if we have one) and then there are the ideas and identities and beliefs from which we draw strength and purpose. In America, this isn’t as interconnected for everyone as it is for some. Or it is interconnected in different ways. This is possible because of democracy. And where this freedom is on the wane, it’s because democratic processes are diminished.

Titian, David and Goliath

Perhaps it’s the oldest human struggle, to find enough freedom in and for ourselves, to allow others to be free as well. And to even, I’d like to think, find purpose in that. To find strength in in that space that allows us all to be the people we need to be. To not defer power, to an ideology, to a questionable leader, and to our own fixations and fears. Whatever they maybe.

The West is many ways more built upon the beliefs of the people of the book, as is said in Islam. Within that set of beliefs there is a fundamental requirement without which the rest is noise and complication: respecting the freedom and inherent value of each individual human being.

And history if very noisy and complicated.

In the book of Samuel, there was a moment when the Israelites asked for a king. The necessity for that lay with them. And the story goes that the divine intelligence that guided them, however you name it, tried to make them understand what giving that kind of power away would mean. And wanted for them better things.

David playing on a rote 13th Century

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