It was about two weeks after the July 2006 Israeli bombing of Lebanon.
I was having dinner with a Lebanese friend, the gay novelist Rabih Ala-
“I don’t get it,” he said. “In the thirteen years that I have lived in this
country, many of my friends, maybe most of my friends have been Jews.
We usually agree on everything. Sometimes they are more left wing than
I am. We agree about the war in Iraq. But, then, Israel invades Lebanon,
and suddenly they don’t get it. They get it about Iraq, but all of a sudden
they are telling me that Israel has a right to defend itself, et cetera. And I’m
shocked. What is going on? Why don’t they get it?”
I have been trying to answer his question ever since, starting with my-
self. “Getting it.” The transformation of my own personal relationship to
the state of Israel has been a long, subtle, slow, stubborn journey that has
taken a lifetime. One of the strangest things about willful ignorance re-
garding Israel and Palestine is how often “progressive” people, like myself,
with histories of community activism and awareness, engage in it. In this
way it somewhat parallels the history of homophobia, in that there are
emotional blocks that keep many straight people from applying their gen-
eral value systems to human rights for all. The irony, in my case, of being
a lifelong activist and not doing the work to “get it” about Israel is deep
and hard to both understand and convey. But I have come to learn that
this insistent blindness is pervasive, and I want to use the opportunity of
this book to confront and expose my own denial in a way that I hope will
be helpful to others. So let me start with the example of my own story.
I was born in 1958, thirteen years after the end of the Holocaust, which
is not a long time. It would be like a Rwandan Tutsi being born today.
I was born only three years after my maternal grandmother finally con-
firmed, as postwar chaos subsided, that her two brothers and two sisters
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