David Shulman’s FreedomandDespair:NotesfromtheSouthHebronHills will be published in October. He is Professor Emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was awarded the Israel Prize for Religious Studies in 2016. (June 2018)
Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century
by James Loeffler
The Wall and the Gate: Israel, Palestine, and the Legal Battle for Human Rights
by Michael Sfard, translated from the Hebrew by Maya Johnston
In the somewhat exotic Jewish home in Iowa where I grew up, it was axiomatic that there was an intimate link between Judaism and universal human rights. Like nearly all Eastern European Jewish families in America, my parents and grandparents were Roosevelt Democrats, to the point of fanaticism. They thought that the Jews had invented the very idea, and also the practice, of social justice; that having started our history as slaves in Egypt, we were always on the side of the underdog and the oppressed; that the core of Judaism as a religious culture was precisely this commitment to human rights, and that all the rest—the 613 commandments, the rituals, the theological assertions—was no more than a superstructure built upon a strong ethical foundation. For me, this comfortable illusion was shattered only when I moved to Israel at the age of eighteen.
In September 1673, Vijaya Raghava, the last king of the Nayaka dynasty of Tanjavur, in the far south of India, sauntered forth from his palace in a final, suicidal confrontation with enemies from the city-state of Madurai who had broken through the ramparts and entered the royal fort. Vijaya Raghava …
No Room for Small Dreams: Courage, Imagination, and the Making of Modern Israel
by Shimon Peres
The theme is an ancient one, fondly nurtured by the Jews for the last two millennia. The Passover Haggadah says it explicitly: “In every generation they come at us to exterminate us, and the Holy One, Blessed be He, saves us from their hands.” Needless to say, the Jews have good reason to recite these sentences once a year. The problem lies not in the historical record that gives them credibility but in the emotional and cultural investment in the idea, or perhaps the romance, of life on the edge of extinction, and in the political consequences of that idea in a generation for which the threat has vastly diminished, perhaps even disappeared.
The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine
by Nathan Thrall
This June, Israel is marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Six-Day War. Some Israelis, including most members of the present government, are celebrating the country’s swift victory over Egypt, Jordan, and Syria as the beginning of the permanent annexation of the entire Palestinian West Bank; others, like me, mourn it as the start of a seemingly inexorable process of moral corruption and decline, the result of the continuing occupation of the West Bank, along with Israel’s now indirect but still-crippling control of Gaza. As it happens, my own life in Israel coincides exactly with the occupation.
I visited Alchi in 2004. A caretaker monk unlocked for us the eleventh-century carved doorway to the Dukhang, every inch of which is painted with Buddhas, Buddhas-to-Be, gods, goddesses, demons, hungry ghosts, imps, flying nymphs, other celestial beings, royal hunters and patrons, monks, Yogi magicians, and many hallucinatory figures that seem to have floated up from the stuff of our dreams. The monk was bored and impatient; after some thirty minutes, he shooed us away. But I was left, then as now, after spending some weeks with Peter van Ham’s book, with a sense of a dizzying proliferation of vital beings mobbing my eyes. In all of South Asian art, there is nothing quite like these densely painted murals.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reaffirmed his commitment to the ultimate destruction of al-Khan al-Ahmar. But already it can be said that a small group of unarmed, ordinary human beings, appalled by the injustice about to be inflicted upon innocents and prepared to face reckless violence without flinching, have achieved a moral victory that cannot be measured in purely instrumental terms. Even a transient victory of this kind has meaning and gives reason for hope. Perhaps al-Khan al-Ahmar will be remembered as the place where the Israeli descent into self-destructive savagery was checked, at least for a crucial moment.
When Netanyahu claims, as he did recently, that Israel’s situation has never been better, he means, in part, that in his own mind he has smashed the Palestinian national movement once and for all. I have no doubt that this has been his goal all along. Indeed, Palestinians in the occupied territories are worn out, demoralized, fenced into small discontinuous enclaves where they lack basic human rights, where their land and other property may be appropriated at any moment, and where they may be arrested and incarcerated at the army’s whim. They are, by now, largely paralyzed by despair. Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem may galvanize them back into action; we shall see.