So I will stay with drinking water or maybe something bitter – a really bad espresso to wake me to the reality, because bitter it is.
I am old enough to have grown up, seeing the 1973 War, the 1972 Munich Olympic Terrorist Attacks, bombings of Jewish and Israeli sites throughout the 1970s and 1980s and the 1980s Lebanon War, Sabra and Shatila, then, the first Intifada and in my 20s, how Rabin and Arafat came together.
I never had any doubt, nor do I have today, about the importance of Israel, a state where Jewish people could live and be more in charge of their destiny than anywhere else, in a country that stands on the basis of Jewish history and religion, as a pluralist democratic and diverse country. But I had to learn that there were Palestinians (the concept was not one I grew up with, then, all were simply terrorists that hated and murdered us Jews) and that the versions of history people close to us told us, were only one part of the story, that there was another side. I support for a long time now the two-state solution.
Believe it or not, with a dose of scepticism that I had as a German-born person, that history had more on offer, I learned in Israel itself, most of all, from open and progressive Jewish Israeli teachers and people who knew a fuller more complicated history. I had been as a young adult to a Palestinian village (I was not allowed by the school administration, and did so nevertheless), and they gave me espresso to drink. Nothing happened to me, but the taste of the coffee was strong and bitter, only sweetened by lots of sugar.
I was shocked when I first met, still in secondary school in Israel at the time, students a year or two older than me who had been alumni of my Israeli secondary school and had begun their army service. I remember how one such young man came back with raw, hateful emotions about Palestinians and revengeful blind and violent language. Then, a few years later, came Rabin and Arafat. It was what turned out to be the last return of a more just, equal, fair and also intellectual Israel or the hope thereof (it is still there, but it has not been in control for nearly half of my lifetime). Much of the old welfare provisions, even the famous Kibbutzim, no longer are anything of what they once were, though there are still a few left – shadows of the past really.
What we got instead is the growth of mostly unchallenged extreme nationalist views on both sides, not helped by bias and interference from the outside against or for either side of the conflict. It was the combination of Russian- and American- and later French-Jewish waves of immigration, mostly from small regions, nearly all coming from divided and racist realities, that they carried with them. They wanted to be free and no longer compromise. Some, with little means, got free or reduced rate housing in controversial areas, beyond the Green Line, a cynical style of politics to people with few choices or lack of awareness. Others moved there deliberately to live-out their Jewish fantasies undisturbed, or so they thought or hoped, and reclaim more of “God’s given land”, more than what laws and wars had settled on decades earlier.
Netanyahu represents a world of simple populist politics, a Jewish version thereof. Easy slogans underpinned with right or far-right, sometimes religious fundamentalist uncompromising ideology, neoliberal economics, aided by coalitions with people like Trump and Bolsonaro, most recently even, it is hard to swallow, with Saudi Arabia at the height of its atrocities in Yemen. Arafat had tried to use a new strategy too. Whilst some found it hard to believe, those who disagreed with him made things hard, he hesitated a lot, and his internal and ideological enemies later returned with a vengeance.
The neighbours of Israel likewise were supported by hardcore dictators and fundamentalists at the same time. Not only the old autocratic rulers Hussein, Gaddafi, Assad but also Ayatollah-led Iran, and later movements like Hamas, the Islamic Brotherhood, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Al Qaida and Daesh. They provided a rationale to an uncompromising iron fist politics by Israels leaders.
But there are pacifists and non-violent peacemakers on the other side too. They have a hard time. In Israel, there is a chance every so often to change the leaders. So far, it is unbelievable but true and for a generation now, reason, morals and intellect are not winning the day, toughness, big words and posturing do. I pray that we will see a return of the hope we felt in the early 1990s, on both sides. And that next time societies are not so fragile, that they allow one fanatic and one bullet to derange rightful aspirations of many, to trigger decades of entrenchment. They always try to extinguish hopes and goodness with violence, hate and bloodshed. It is their tactic, it enrages people, and keeps the fires burning.
Israel has still not gotten over the murder of one of its former elected leaders. And what have they got in return? Double Espresso, with no sugar!