Friday, January 19, 2018

Walking on Eggshells

 I had written earlier of an arts and study partnership through which I work with an Israeli artist to commemorate Israel’s seventieth birthday. Our assignment was to agree on a text and each develop an individual artwork on that theme, perhaps sharing other elements if we chose.

Our first task was to successfully connect by video chat which took some doing. My partner soon knew me better than I intended when she heard my frustrated expletive when the communication didn’t appear to be working. Oops, apparently it was, so much for first impressions. We’ve had a number of chats since and gotten to know a bit about each other. We then began to tackle our second task, agreeing on a common theme.

As part of our study we read and discussed several texts, among them the Declaration of the State of Israel which is largely a vision statement. It paints the hopes and dreams of what Israel could be. It speaks of how the Holocaust further demonstrated the need for the State of Israel. Despite outlining the vision, the Declaration is grounded in reality. In the body of the statement it talks of “loving peace, but knowing how to defend. “ It recognized this would not be an easy road and acknowledges that while our eyes must be on peace, they must not neglect defense. This is not surprising given that Israel was built on the bones of the Holocaust.  For Israel to offer a place of refuge to Jews around the world, it must first be able to offer a place of relative safety. We agreed that this would be our common text to explore.

As I read the vision statement, I found myself wondering how we had done at achieving that ambitious vision that promised a nation "based on freedom, justice and peace . . . equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex . . . freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture . . .safeguard [of[ the Holy Places of all religions." It went on to offer to its Arab inhabitants "full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.”

Arab Israelis make up 21% of the population, 1.6 million.  Arabs who live in East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights were offered Israeli citizenship, but refused and are considered permanent residents.  They are entitled to become citizens and they receive municipal services and have voting rights in the municipality. 

So what are the facts? Freedom of religion is afforded to all religions. Israeli Arabs have political rights with a consistent history of serving in the Knesset.  Every state-run company is required to have at least one Arab Israeli on its board. Holy places are safeguarded. The one exception for Arabs is an exemption from compulsory military service. A major bone of contention is the Jewish nature of the state and the right of return afforded all Jews, the very core principles that underlie the state. This is a right which feels personally important when I look at the fact that throughout history the Jews had nowhere to flee when their lives were at stake. 

So vision vs reality? It seems to me that the divide is largely created by the need for security. The fact is that Israel has not been able to deliver on the vision of peace as it is not a one-sided choice. The clause on defense in the Declaration speaks to this reality.  So how to represent these concepts?

We find vision in several Biblical texts. In Numbers 13:23,  Moses sends out the scouts to bring back the fruit of the land.  They bring back grapes on a pole born between two men.  In the sky of the painting you will see faint grape-like clusters in the clouds.  In Deuteronomy 30:19  God calls upon us to "choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed.”  Choosing life is closely allied to loving peace. This is not a culture or belief system that breeds suicide bombers, looking to a reward in the afterlife. To capture the idea of the continuity of life, I took the form of DNA and wove it through the sky. Within it is the quote from Isaiah 2:4 "Lo yi-sa goi, el goi che-rev" which in its entirety means "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. They shall study war no more.” Also in the sky is the form of a bird, actually a flying scroll, an image of an archeological find that can be found on the first stamp with the name of Israel in 1948.  Below the sky is the image of church, synagogue and mosque all co-existing.

All of these passages speak to choosing life and peace, not war, and yet the importance of knowing how to defend is also recognized in the Declaration.   I decided to use a checkpoint as a symbol of security as a line awaits passage. Some checkpoints are wooden guard posts, others are turrets and I opted for the latter. The figures are suggested, not distinct, with the exception of the three by the tower. The checkpoint sits atop a rocky promontory constructed of crushed egg shells as we are frequently walking on eggshells, trying to balance competing objectives. The State of Israel, while a long-time dream, came to fruition out of the Holocaust. Life was shattered, much of our people destroyed and a new life was created in Israel. Many countries turned their backs on the Jews during the war, including the United States. They did not offer a place of refuge in an uncertain world. This is an important role that Israel plays. It will always be a refuge to Jews around the world.  It will always be a place that understands the importance of being able to defend. Eggs of course represent life, but in this case, crushed, they represent the destruction of life. In rebuilding upon the shards of that destruction, we are all too aware of the importance of security.

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