October 24, 2010
An Open Letter to Mike LeighBy Dan Gordon
Although we don't know each other, our paths have crossed over the years, and we have numbers of friends in common. Recently, you were invited to be a guest lecturer at the Sam Spiegal Film School in Jerusalem, where for a number of years I have offered scholarships for aspiring screenwriters. Like you, I am a Jew, a screenwriter, and a playwright who has known the thrill of having my words spoken by wonderful actors on screens and stages throughout the world, including many of the wonderful theaters in your country.
Like you, I had the honor of being invited to teach as a guest lecturer at the Sam Spiegel Film School in Jerusalem. It was a wonderful and rewarding experience, I assure you. Unlike you, I was sixteen the first time I was shot at. There were two incidents, actually, a few weeks apart. I mention this because in your letter to my friend Renen Schorr of the Sam Spiegel Film School reneging on your agreement to appear there, you cite as one of the reasons for the moral outrage you feel "the endless shooting of innocent people there [Gaza] including juveniles."
This is part of a litany of complaints against the Jewish State of Israel, which includes the "atrocity "of the "Israeli attack on the flotilla ... the resumption of illegal building on the West Bank ... the ongoing criminal blockade of Gaza," and finally, what you refer to as "the last straw ... the Loyalty Oath." I would like to address each of these, but because you are rightfully concerned with the shooting of juveniles, let me start there, since I was in fact just such a juvenile, shot at twice in as many weeks in the very places you mention. At sixteen, I admit I was a bit of a wild child. I was a high school student then and left the Kibbutz, where I lived for the two-week Hanukah vacation. I first went to visit friends, who were at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Not to confuse you, that wasn't the current Mt. Scopus campus and Haddassah Hospital, where my middle son was born. You see, that campus of the Hebrew University and hospital was the scene of a horrific massacre during Israel's War of Liberation. A convoy of doctors and nurses were slaughtered there by Palestinian terrorists, even though the convoy of humanitarian aid and medical workers were supposed to be under the protection of the British Army (this when the British Mandate was still in force, before Israel declared independence). Those British soldiers, who were supposed to be the guarantors of the convoy's safety, stood by, under orders, while the doctors and nurses were all murdered. At the end of the War of Liberation, Mt. Scopus was in our hands and recognized as such by the U.N., but the road to it was in the Jordanians' hands. So Mt. Scopus was a ghost campus, manned only by a handful of Israeli reservists. Thus, my university friends and I had to confine our drinking and carousing to the Israeli side of a horrifically ugly barbed-wire scar that cut through the heart of Jerusalem. Then, fueled by liquid courage, we took part in a kind of rite of passage of the time. We ran into the no-man's-land that tore through the city and let the Jordanian soldiers take potshots at us.
I was quite sober the second time I was shot at, however. I had left Jerusalem and gone to visit friends on Kibbutz Nahal Oz, which was, and is, right on the border with Gaza. There, another kid and I were put to work planting palm trees well inside the Kibbutz and well onto the Israeli side of the border. Fedayeen terrorists opened fire with automatic weapons at us for the crime of planting palm trees, and only by the grace of G-d did we escape unharmed. I mention this because the year was 1963. There was no flotilla, no blockade, no illegal building on the West Bank (which was illegally annexed by Jordan after the 1948 war, without a word of protest from any European nation, nor the Palestinians themselves), nor any loyalty oath. There was simply a Jewish state, with the very borders which, our detractors and some of our well-wishers assure us now, would bring us a golden age of peace. On the other side of those borders were our neighbors, who did not believe that the Jewish people had a right to a state of any size, of any borders, anywhere in the territory of historical Israel (or anywhere else in the Middle East, for that matter). Surprisingly, there was also no Palestinian state at the time, though the West Bank was controlled by Jordan, and Gaza by Egypt. The only state our neighbors talked about liberating...was ours.
That is why the current Government of Israel, whom you so deride, has placed such an emphasis on recognition of Israel as a Jewish State. It is the core of the conflict, the central question: will our Palestinian neighbors ever accept the right of the Jewish People to a State of our own in the land of Israel? If they will, the conflict will end. If they won't, it won't.
You deride Israel's blockade of Gaza. Why do you think it's there? Why, conversely, is there no blockade of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank? Are the Palestinian Authority's Palestinians racially different from those under Hamas's rule? It's there, quite simply, because Hamas's Gaza is proudly and avowedly bent on killing us, and the Palestinian Authority, at present, is not. I quote from the Charter and binding document of Hamas: "We look forward to the implementation of the promise of Allah, when the Muslims will fight and kill the Jews, who will hide behind rocks and trees, until the rocks and trees cry out, 'O Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me! Come and kill him!'" or as Hamas spokesperson Abu Odeh put it more succinctly, "We never target civilians. We only target Jews."
In 2005, Israel took an extraordinary chance for peace. It deployed Jewish soldiers against all of the Jewish settlers in Gaza and tore them physically out of their homes, businesses, and farms, where they had lived for the better part of half a century, in order to end the occupation of Gaza and give peace a chance. As Israeli forces left, the rockets began to fall, not in response to the occupation, but as a clear announcement that the land they intended to "liberate" was not Gaza, but Tel Aviv -- not Israel of the post-1967 borders, but Israel, period. The blockade was the nonlethal, legal response to those rocket attacks, which eventually numbered ten thousand rockets and mortars aimed exclusively at our civilian population. Each one of those ten thousand rocket attacks constitutes a war crime, but then, who's counting?
In 1962, the U.S. set up a naval blockade against Cuba to prevent Soviet rockets, which theoretically could hit the U.S., only ninety miles away. Ninety miles for Israel would be strategic depth. The houses and kindergartens of Sderot, which were the constant targets of Hamas rockets, are less than a thousand meters from the border. The flotilla you cite, under international maritime law, was illegally trying to run a blockade, which Israel had every right to enforce. Israeli forces boarded five of the six ships without incident. On the Mavi Marmara, they were met with deadly force and responded in kind.
When people don't try to kill us, we don't kill them. In the past year, there have been 165 rocket and mortar attacks on Israel from Hamas-controlled Gaza, including at least two incidents in which white phosphorous was intentionally fired at Israeli civilian targets. Forty-one armed Palestinians, according to the U.N., have been killed by Israeli forces while trying to infiltrate the border, plant explosives, or launch rockets at our civilian population. That's why juveniles who come too near the border get shot, almost always below the knee, after warning shorts are ignored. Sometimes, rarely, an innocent person is killed. It is tragic. I've lost a son, and no one needs to instruct me in the horror of a child's death. But to paraphrase the late Golda Meir, when our enemies want their children to live more than they want our children to die, there will be peace.
As to the loyalty oath which, you say with righteous indignation, was the last straw, that oath is not meant for Israeli Arabs, but for all new applicants (including Jews) for naturalized Israeli citizenship. It is similar to the oaths of loyalty of many countries, including the U.K., which demands that the applicant "bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her Heirs and Successors." Realizing that you are concerned that Moslem sensitivities may be offended by having to swear allegiance to a "Jewish Democratic State," I wonder that you are not similarly concerned about the many Moslem immigrants to your country who have become naturalized citizens and were forced to bear true allegiance to her Majesty the Queen, who is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. That is, in fact, part of the casus belli cited by no less than Ayman Al Zuwahari of al-Qaeda.
The reason the current government of Israel has proposed this oath, which has the prospective citizen recognize Israel as both a Jewish and a democratic state, is that those who wish us ill, and even some of those who say they wish us well, are now engaged in an effort to delegitimize our right to the Jewish Homeland in Israel that was promised in the Balfour Declaration, formalized by the League of Nations, in setting up the British Mandate, which was to prepare the ground for just such a Jewish state, and finally brought into being by the United Nations precisely as a "Jewish State."
Finally, Mike, in your letter, you mention your courage and your cowardice in various instances. Please don't insult anyone's intelligence. It takes no courage to bash Israel in Europe today. It is as à la mode as the umbrella was in 1939.
I want you to know that I am establishing a scholarship in your name. Since I have already given scholarships at the Sam Spiegel School in my son's memory, I don't want to confuse the issue. Thus, I'll establish at the Ma'aleh Film School for Jewish Religious Girls the Mike Leigh Scholarship for Moral and Political Courage. It will be awarded to the student whose work displays examples of those qualities which your letter to Renen Schorr so woefully lacked. It will be awarded on Israel Independence Day. You're invited.