“The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these, in a larger circle
of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
and one graveyard. But the young woman
who was buried in the city she came from,
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
enlarges the circle considerably,
and the solitary man mourning her death
at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
includes the entire world in the circle.
And I won’t even mention the howl of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
a circle with no end and no God.”
“The Diameter of a Bomb”
Yehuda Amichai (1924 – 2000)
Yehuda Amichai moved to Palestine from Germany in 1936, as the Nazi war against the Jews was emerging in Europe, and the Arab war against the Zionists was gathering steam in Palestine. He would fight together with the British army in World War II and with the Jewish Defense Forces in Israel’s War of Independence in 1948-9. He would later become one of Israel’s most treasured poets, winning the Israel Prize for poetry in 1982 for his collection of works he penned in Hebrew. He died at the age of 76, at the start of the Second Intifada in September 2000.
Like all living things, Amichai’s life had a beginning and end. However, his works touched upon deeper truths which surpassed both time and geography. In a life framed by antisemitism and rejection, his words brought the Jewish people a mixture of bitterness, longing, anger and comfort about the hatred and violence they all endured.
The poem above is such an example regarding how the diameter of a bomb doesn’t begin to explain the sphere of its impact. While the scars are physical, the trauma is mental; the explosion may be ephemeral, but the shock is eternal.
Amichai’s words resonated deeply for the small global Jewish community which suffered from constant attacks both in Israel and in the diaspora. In Europe and Russia during the 20th century, millions of Jews were slaughtered while the Jews in Arab countries were expelled. The physical pain experienced by one Jew touched their cousins around the world. The grief was shared.
But the pain experienced by the Jews in Israel from multiple Arab wars and countless terrorist attacks carried an extra burden for world Jewry. While the emotional trauma of fellow Jews slaughtered and maimed reinforced the constant haunting echo of antisemitism, the attacks on the Jews in Zion also compromised the Promised Land. A place of holiness became a house of mourning. The collective Jewish inheritance bestowed by God was being ravaged in an unholy assault.
Since the beginning of the rebirth of the Jewish State in the early 1900’s, Jews and pro-Israel people around the world have been emotionally connected to the terrorism and wars inflicted upon Israeli Jews. Amichai’s poem noted that local Israeli tragedies encircled the world in grief. The bombs severed limbs and cut lives short, yet they connected everyone.
But something changed drastically over the past dozen years. The tragedies befalling Israeli Jews are now perceived through different lenses for both Israeli Jews and the Zionist community around the world.
The Changed Israeli Perspective: The Bombers
The beginning of the altered Israeli perspective began as the Second Intifada was born at the failure of the Oslo Accords.
The September 1995 Oslo II Accords were scheduled to reach a conclusive peace agreement in five years, in September 2000. However, when the Palestinian Arab leadership under Yasser Arafat was not able to secure 100% of his desired goals, he launched waves of attacks against Jewish civilians, killing hundreds of people over several years.
The ramification of the Second Intifada was not only the hundreds of murdered Israelis, but the penetrating shock waves that rippled through Israeli society which left permanent scars. Israelis internalized that the conflict was not about land as they had hoped, or about Palestinian “refugees” as they had been told. Israelis concluded that people who would intentionally slaughter children because they did not get a 100% of their demands, would never allow the Jewish State to exist on even 1% of the land. The Second Intifada scorched the psyche of Israelis that the Palestinians rejected the basic presence of Jews and the existence of the Jewish State. No enduring peace could ever be achieved with such Arab sentiment.
The shrapnel of intent of the bombers of the Second Intifada entered the minds of Israelis altering their views of the Palestinian Arabs, while the heat of the blasts incinerated the Israeli doves. The dream of peace with such murderers was reckoned a fantasy too dangerous to pursue and impossible to achieve.
In light of their new perspectives, the Israelis altered direction in dealing with the Palestinian Arabs. They erected a security barrier between the Arabs in the West Bank and Israel, and have elected a series of right-of-center governments. All to the chagrin of the liberals in the diaspora.
The Changed Diaspora Perspective: Untouched
Yossi Klein Halevi, an American-Israeli author who works at the left-of-center Shalom Hartman Institute recently wrote a book called “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor,” which captures some of the divide between the American left-wing and Israelis. In describing the book, he talked about the anguish of his dream of peace with Palestinian Arabs being destroyed by the Second Intifada.
“The Second Intifada brought the right back to power and nearly destroyed the Israeli left, something the international community still hasn’t internalized.”
For Israelis, the Second Intifada was different than the wars and terrorism before 2000. The Israelis felt that they had stretched far to achieve peace and were rewarded with the massacre of innocents. Even after the Second Intifada, when the Palestinians got to hold open elections for their parliament for the first time in 2006, they elected the terrorist group Hamas to a 58% majority. When Israel left Gaza in 2005, it was rewarded with wars in 2008, 2012 and 2014. And regarding people living and working side-by-side, the coexistence was paid for with stabbings and car rammings – literally funded by the Palestinian Authority.
Unlike Yehuda Amichai’s poem, liberals outside of Israel were not deeply touched by the Second Intifada. The Jewish diaspora didn’t see the pizza store and bus bombings of the 2000’s as markedly different than Palestinians shooting up schools or hijacking planes in the 1970’s: the Palestinian Arabs were still seeking 100% of their demands and the Israelis were not compromising nearly enough. The Israelis concluded that the counter-party was forever false, while the international community was occupied counting refugees and square kilometers of land.
While Israelis became convinced that the Palestinians rejected any enduring peace with the Jewish State, the left-wing diaspora was certain that the Israelis were never going to give the Arabs everything they demanded without external pressure. The viewpoints were different; the near term objectives were different; and one party was going to force the other to adhere to its terms.
Amichai’s poem concluded with a bond of empathy that surpassed boundaries: deeper truths surpass raw figures. While Israelis gained clarity of their relationship with the Palestinians in witnessing their pathological reaction to minuscule gaps in an agreement, the international community and liberal diaspora Jews were tracing the invisible 1949 Armistice Lines.
The difference in reactions opened a wide divide in the relationship.
Since the Second Intifada, the diameter of Palestinian bombs no longer encircles and binds Israeli Jews and liberal diaspora Jews. Until the shrapnel of intent penetrates the minds of the international community, the chasm in the relationship is only likely to widen.
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