Jephthah then called together the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. The Gileadites struck them down because the Ephraimites had said, “You Gileadites are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh.” The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied, “No,” they said, “All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’” If he said, “Sibboleth,” because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time. —Judges: 12 (4-6)
I think it’s interesting that Judges judges that the Ephraimites “could not pronounce the word correctly,” because if the outcome were reversed and the Gileadites had lost and the Ephraimites had won, Judges would instead say that the Gileadites could not pronounce the word correctly. I used to have a lisp so I wouldn’t have been able to pronounce either Shibboleth or Sibboleth, and my Hebrew name is Yosef Efraim – because the Tribe of Ephraim and the Tribe of Manasseh were half tribes that constituted the full Tribe of Joseph – but despite this I have never been killed.
Gilead as a Hebrew noun in its modern usage, גלעד, means “monument,” and according to Genesis the place Gilead was named “Galeed” by Jacob – whose name later became Israel – because in Aramaic it means “witness pile,” or a “heap [of stones] of witness,” which is basically what a monument is. But it occurs to me that the shibboleth scene would have a monument constructed by the victors, the Gileadites, to celebrate their victory. And it occurs to me the real heap would be the 45,000 dead Ephraimites. And it occurs to me, too, that real witnesses are those who cannot give testimony because they have been killed by what they have witnessed; they are like the stones that cannot speak, and like the ear of corn (this is what “shibboleth” means) that cannot hear. Or like the English word “martyr,” which comes from the Greek word for “witness.” Or for the Arabic triconsonantal root sh-h-d, شهد, which can form derivations meaning both “witness” and “martyr.”
The word shibboleth migrated from the Hebrew language – it crossed a border – and has broader meanings now. The word largely means something like “password” in computer science, for example. It still operates as a set of words or even a set of spoken beliefs or interpretations that mark not necessarily where you’re from, but where you stand. A great deal of them won’t get you killed. If someone starts the phrase “That’ll do,” and you finish the phrase “donkey,” it indicates that you’ve seen the movie Shrek, and you most associate those first two words with that. If you finish the phrase “pig,” however, you’re quoting the movie Babe, from ten years prior. And this itself might perhaps mark that you’re, in the latter case, a Millennial, and in the former, Gen Z. If you call a water fountain a “bubbler,” you’re from the Midwest somewhere. Or if you call a bagel a ”bag-ull,” you’re maybe from South Dakota. None of these shibboleths necessarily imply anything about your political beliefs and none of them, I don’t think, will get you killed.
But the classical shibboleths, or let’s say political shibboleths, are still very much in use, like when a crowd in America chants “make America great again,” and you know they’re voting for Donald Trump. There were, during the Holocaust, the shibboleths Jews tried to hide, when they were trying to hide their very identity, so that they would not be killed. Paul Celan’s poem “Shibboleth” is largely about this one; his parents were killed by the Nazis for being Jews. He’s thinking of the origins of the word, its Gileadite origins, as we can see, with the very first words acting as a sort of password set, or shibboleth:
along with my stones
the big cry
behind the bars
they dragged me
in the middle of the market
where the flag rolls up, I
swore no oath.
It begins with the stones – those testifiers, as well as those signifiers of a national origin – and the big cry that is perhaps silent, and perhaps behind bars. This prison however is mobile, and it includes the speaker, who is put on display, and is made into a kind of monument in the middle of the market, in the middle of commerce, in the middle of money, where the speaker and the stones witness the flag rolling up, the nation itself becoming mute, unraveled, diasporic. Suddenly a border has been crossed, and the speaker belongs to no country.
make yourself known here too
here, in the middle of the market.
Call out the shibboleth
away from home:
February. No pasaran.
“No pasarán” is not a shibboleth, but it is the definition of shibboleth. The shibboleth is supposed to call out what your home is, what side you belong on; the shibboleth’s performative function is to ensure “they shall not pass,” because it turns “you” into a “they,” and the one invoking the shibboleth is the one who will kill you, if you are not meant to pass.
The irony here is that “No pasarán” was the cry of the losers; The Republicans in the Spanish Civil War shouted “No pasaran” to and of the fascists, who did pass, and who famously said “Hemos pasados,” we have passed, and then they killed those Republicans. In this case, then, it is not a shibboleth, but a battle cry for the oppressed, and therefore its eulogy; “No pasarán” is the shibboleth’s autobiography from the other side of the border. It is the tragic ironic cry of the stones. The witnesses of these events are the martyrs of these events, so Celan recalls the dead, those who have been petrified and turned to stone, those who will not pass, and not simply the story of the Republicans but the workers killed by fascists in February in Vienna in the workers’ uprising. Paul Celan, who wrote a poem about the Shibboleth inspired by the Holocaust, and inspired by the biblical book of Judges, repatriates the word by expatriating it. No nation has a purchase on the shibboleth because expropriation and murder is transnational. It takes a witness, a near-martyr – an exile – to know this. Someone who belongs now to no nation. A living monument to losers. A stone that speaks. A Jew who learns that the horrors he has experienced are not exceptional.
you know about the stones
you know about the water
i’m taking you away
to the voices
This is the end of the poem. We know about Gilead, we know about the Jordan, we know that Estremadura lies at the border of Spain and Portugal, and we know that “Estremadura” connotes extremity, another border. It promises escape at the same time as it promises imprisonment or death; it promises a return to the dynamic of borders and prosecution, as much as it promises transcendence of this. It is impossible, like a unicorn. We know this ambivalence probably ultimately resolves itself into tragedy, as it did in Vienna and Spain, and because Celan is taking us, or the unicorn, not to Estremadura, but “to the voices,” these voices at the extremity. The voice of a stone has either never been alive, or was once alive; regardless, it has witnessed death. “The only historian capable of fanning the spark of hope in the past is the one who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he is victorious,” said Walter Benjamin, who took his own life during the Holocaust so it wouldn’t be taken from him by the Nazis.
The past, unfortunately, shall not pass either; some 3,000 years after the originary scene of Judges, we still find ourselves at the Jordan River, just the other side of it, in occupied non-sovereign Palestine, a territory politically defined by the borders that sovereign Israel enforces, specifically Gaza, which has been under military occupation since 1967, and where now over 2 million people, half of which are children, are being bombed to death by the Israeli Defense Forces (“Israel has a right to defend itself” is a shibboleth), where the vast majority of critical civilian infrastructure has been leveled to rubble (witness), and whose deaths cannot be broadcast because strategic shibboleths have deemed them to hold incorrect speech. They have been deemed unspeakable, while they experience the unspeakable. They have been sentenced to die in the middle of the world market, where all flags roll up.
And so I have amassed here a small heap of contemporary shibboleths – I pile the rubbish below – because I am not a historian, and because I do not want to keep the dead safe, but the living. But I do think it is the dead who can teach us that the only real border is death, and that the only pronunciation difference that is really pronounced, and essential, is silence. The dead speak silence, and when the living are silent as they witness military death at national borders, the silence of the dead grows deafening.
- “Do you condemn Hamas?”
There is a border here, too, but it is largely an ideological border. Supporters of Israel ask this question to those who seek to criticize Israel; in many cases, too, Israelis ask this question of Palestinians. This question is often asked on interviews, and it is the first question asked. Earn your right to speak, the question demands.
On October 7th Hamas butchered some 1200 Israeli men, women, and children. This is the specific event towards which this question, these days, centers. It is a strange question, because who would not condemn something that is so clearly self-condemning, an atrocity? If it is a sunny day, I don’t say “do you believe it is a sunny day?” We are both squinting, or in sunglasses. However, if it is a beautiful day, I might say something like “isn’t it a beautiful day?” I’m not looking for disagreement, nor for a discussion. I’m simply looking to share something.
The purpose of this question, then, is similarly coercive, but existentially. First of all, you cannot say “No, I do not condemn Hamas.” If you do, your critique or testimony is dead, your right to speak is revoked. If you, on the other hand, do condemn the actions of Hamas – which, because you’re human, you do – then your critique, or testimony, is dead as well. The rhetorical question means to state, rather, that if you condemn the actions of Hamas, you cannot condemn the response of Israel. And you as a pro-Palestinian, or as a Palestinian, or as a humanitarian, or as a human being at all, are turned to stone.
Now the response of Israel, to date – December 7th – is the killing of well over 17,000 Palestinians, well over 8,000 of which are children. This then is a classical shibboleth, of Gileadite proportions. The “question” – pronounce Shibboleth – authorizes the killing response. Although I’m situating this as a question that takes place not on the physical border of the occupied territory of Gaza and its occupier Israel, but on news media outlets, the question is nonetheless most often posed to Palestinians who, if they were living in Gaza, in lieu of being asked this would be killed outright. The question, then, is actually “Will you authorize us killing you?” which is a rhetorical question for “We are going to kill you.”
Israel has been employing this shibboleth for decades, and continues to months after the October 7th attack. On the two-month anniversary of the attack, December 7th, Israel “reveals” sexual crimes Hamas committed against women on October 7th, and states to the UN, “you must condemn Hamas.” All this while Israel (and the US) refuses the UN’s resolutions for a ceasefire, and bombs for the 3rd time in as many days the Jabaliyah refugee camp, which houses mostly children and women.
The question “Do you condemn Israel” is never asked of Israelis, or of US government officials, or of Jews, or of anyone who supports Israel, in interviews, and it is because they do not have to prove their right to speak. This second question is as ridiculous and rhetorical as the first, because Israel has as I said, killed over 10 times the number of people that Hamas did, as well as displaced over 2 million people. This is the nature of the shibboleth. It does not respect nor reflect justice, but power. Israel, who holds power over the border, has the right to silence, and it has the right to speak. What it exercises instead, however, is “the right to defend itself.” This is a minor shibboleth, insofar as its ongoing massacre of Palestinians – “as of today” is a phrase I will stop using, because all it really means is that the heap of stones is taller and bloodier every day – in a territory with a population of 50% children, can no longer be qualified by anyone as “Self-defense.” The larger shibboleth this minor and obsolescent one attaches to, however, is “Israel has a right to exist.”
- “Israel has a right to exist”
Israel does not have a right to exist. Even I bristle as I say this, so I know it is a shibboleth. I also know it is a shibboleth because it seeks to create 2 sides, because it acts itself as a border: you are either for Israel, or you are Israel’s enemy. “Israel has a right to exist” is demanded by Israeli officials and pro-Israel world leaders in response to any criticism of Israel. I know too it is a shibboleth because if I punched you in the kidney, and you said “ow,” and then you said “don’t do that,” and I said “I have a right to exist,” it would be as irrelevant as if I had said “Say Shibboleth.”
People have rights, not states; a state’s duty is to confer upon and protect people’s rights to exist. If I am wrong and a state does have the right to exist, the right to exist is revoked the moment a state threatens another people’s right to exist. Additionally, according to international law, if people live in an occupied territory, the occupying state has a legal responsibility to protect those people. And yet, according to the United Nations, Gaza has been deemed “unlivable” since 2020, for the past 3 years, “indirectly” due to Israel’s land and sea blockade of the strip, allowing minimal food, fuel, electricity, and clean water into the enclave. And now for the past two months it has been unsurvivable, due to Israel’s direct military onslaught. In denying another people nationhood, or even humanity – “human animals,” Israel says of Gazans, when it is Israel that denies them personhood and cages them like animals – they forfeit the right to exist. If the right to exist is predicated on humanity, we need to reexamine that definition.
If the right to exist is predicated on democracy, it stands to reason that a democracy does not occupy land and subjugate the people who inhabit that land. A democracy is not an apartheid state. A democracy does not owe its existence to the forcible removal of the previous inhabitants of that land. Any democracy that does so is not a democracy. A democracy does not justify its existence by saying God promised that land to that democracy. Even if that is true, a democracy by definition renounces that divine decree, because divine decrees are not democratic.
If there is something that rings untrue in the previous paragraph, I think it is the historical record. In the abstract, this is what should be true of a democracy. But the democracy I call home, the United States of America, is founded upon the systematic genocide and expropriation of 200 million indigenous peoples; we celebrate this fact by burying it through a holiday we call Thanksgiving. The very non-democratic, non-consensual, long-standing and brutal cleansing upon which they established their country does not find adequate expression in the word “thanks,” or a holiday called Thanksgiving. It was not an offer made or a “giving” of the land over to us, and it’s no secret that this was instead just brutal colonization, and I think we all know that this is a national program of forced forgetting to justify our establishment here. A more accurate name for the holiday would be something like The Catastrophe, or maybe Nakba.
Because in the current moment the Nakba is being reconstituted – on an equal or greater scale than its 75 year-old progenitor – and explicitly by Israel, shows that it was indeed Never Forgotten. This vitiation is founded on viciousness: a displacement of Israel’s own Never Forget trauma of the Holocaust (instrumentalized, or literally weaponized, because that state’s founding “rests” on its “right” to “redress”) onto Palestine. The West’s seemingly unaddressable guilt over the Holocaust, as well as its seemingly unaddressable guilt over its own colonialist and genocidal founding – because neither Europe, nor America, have a right to exist, and the latter knows this, and rarefies this insecure guilt not through apology or reparations, but through an origin story holiday named “Thanks” – both and in tandem fund Israel.
The Nakba, past and current, casts doubt on all the West’s democratic self-identifications and rhetoric, and that is why the West, and the United States in particular, has been so complicit in the destruction of the Palestinians as a people. Destroy them so we can forget, so the Palestinians cannot remind us, that we as a state have no right to exist. The urging that Israel has a right to exist is an implicit admission that Israel has no right to exist, and that it usurped that right from Palestinians who have equal claim to a right to exist.
This is what the Shibboleth is meant to communicate: “Israel has a right to exist [more than Palestinians do].” The person who is asked “Don’t you think Israel has a right to exist?” is being misdirected. It is, like all other shibboleths, besides the point; the point is to create an enemy. On one side is “Israel has a right to exist,” on the other is “Israel will revoke your existence.” It is not that no one cares about the Palestinians. Rather, it is that the West and Israel want them dead.
We see this in a sort of sub-Shibboleth, again, that of human shields. Israel claims Hamas uses human shields; they argue that all the deaths in Gaza as of October 7th are Hamas’ fault, and that Hamas occupies (in cramped, dense, occupied land) civilian centers to defend themselves. Thus, whatever “collateral damage” of civilians Israel inflicts, is actually Hamas’ fault.
And yet, in the war on Gaza, Israel bombs an entire civilian zone (the Gaza strip) in order to, by extension, kill a small military cadre (Hamas leadership). In terms of scale and focus, the concept of collateral damage is inverted: civilian populations centers are the primary targets, and military personnel casualties are secondary. Because of the prior consideration, in terms of intentionality, however, collateral damage is not inverted so much as it is disfigured: civilian casualties cannot be said to be unintentional, and military casualties are hoped for.
If Israel accuses Hamas of using human shields, it means Israel is shooting them and launching rockets at them and intentionally obliterating those human shields. It seems to me that Israel views those human shields as exactly that, “human shields,” and not as human beings, and not even as children. No one in Gaza is considered innocent. The desperation to blame and the desperation to kill are one and the same insofar as Israel blames Palestinians even for dying: why did you die when we shot at you?
Israel and proponents of Israel say that Gazans elected Hamas, and so they are complicit. I don’t think this is logical; in the same way that I do not blame Israelis for the actions of the state of Israel, I don’t blame Palestinians, or even the Gazans who elected Hamas, for the actions of Hamas. But even if the Gazans who elected Hamas were to blame, what is the rationale for killing children? What is the rationale for targeting civilian areas in a very small blockaded territory where half the extremely dense population of 2,000,000 is children? Hamas was elected 16 years ago, and once you’re 16 you’re not a child, and half the casualties are children.
No Palestinian has a right to exist, according to the world order.
- “Anti-Zionism is antisemitic”
This is a remarkable Shibboleth. It operates the most like the Shibboleth, because it polarizes all speech into two types, with only one viable option: do not criticize me. The very idea of free speech is anathema to this. This is the first amendment inverted, it is the constitution for autocracies.
Additionally, Zionism is not a Jewish sect, nor a Jewish tenet, nor a Jewish ritual, nor will you find it in the Torah, the Talmud, the Midrash, etc. It is a political movement and ideology based on religious fundamentalism, like, say, Hamas. Often, we call religious fundamentalists “terrorists,” but that’s only if they’re Islamic. This too is a shibboleth.
Zionism has two main tenets: Jews have a sacred claim to the land of Palestine, and Jews cannot survive as a people in a world that is deeply hostile to them, unless they have their own state.
These are two very different things. The first tenet is religious in nature – and as with most things sacred and numinous, it ought to be seen as fixed and immutable – but it is, interestingly, not necessary to Zionism. Or, that is, it is literally nominal insofar as “Zion” referred in the Hebrew Bible to Jerusalem, and often referred metonymically to the larger surrounding area that we would call Palestine. Therefore, Zion and its -ism. But in keeping with the metaphorical usage of “Zion” in the Torah, the founding Zionists were not necessarily committed to a Jewish State existing in “Zion,” or Jerusalem and its surrounds. Theodor Herzl himself, the founder of modern Zionism, presented at the 6th World Zionist Congress the Uganda Scheme – developed by the British – an idea for a Jewish State in British East Africa.
Herzl did, like many Zionists, prefer to found the state in Palestine, but he was looking for expediency; considering the historical plight of the persecuted Jew, he believed Jews needed a homeland in the form of a state, and that that homeland didn’t have to be religiously sanctioned as home; it just had to be established. Therefore, he and other Zionists worked with the British, who they hoped would establish for them a Jewish state. This is because of the second tenet, which as I have said trumps the first: the Jews need their own state in order to survive in a world that is existentially hostile to them.
This second tenet is deeply cynical; it resigns itself to antisemitism as fatalism. Zionists moreover relied on Britain, a colonialist empire that is as Arabophobic as it is antisemitic – and that promised Palestine both to Arabs and to Jews, simultaneously, for the sole sake of geopolitical strategy against the Turks during World War I – to establish that state for them. The Zionists had no illusions about this: “The antisemites WILL BECOME our most loyal friends, the antisemitic nations will become our allies,” wrote Herzl in his diary. In establishing the world then into 2 camps – Jews and antisemites – Zionism re-maps not only the entire world, but Jewry itself. Even Jews like me, who don’t support Zionism, would be considered antisemitic. And in pitting themselves against an “antisemitic world,” the Zionists authorize themselves to commit horrors. Herzl wrote in his diary as early as 1895 the Zionist plan for occupying Palestine: “We must expropriate gently the private property on the state assigned to us. We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it employment in our country. The property owners will come over to our side. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discretely and circumspectly. Let the owners of the immoveable property believe that they are cheating us, selling us things for more than they are worth. But we are not going to sell them anything back.”
This plan for naked ethnic cleansing follows its throughline uninterrupted to today. In April 2021, in an address to Palestinian Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi, Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich tweeted “a true Muslim must know that the Land of Israel belongs to the People of Israel, and over time Arabs like you who do not recognize this will not stay here.” Later that fall, he elaborated that the Palestinians were “here by mistake—because Ben-Gurion didn’t finish the job and throw you out in 1948.” And this year, looking to finish the job, Israeli security minister Avi Dichter said on November 12th, “We are now rolling out the Gaza Nakba…Gaza Nakba 2023.” Like it’s a Black Friday event. Like it will be done in the middle of the market.
The resemblance in the speech of the Zionists to their antisemitic oppressors – the fascism, the racism, the colonialism, the vitriolic ambition for land and power – is illuminating. It is like the Gileadites and the Ephraimites, who resemble one another exactly, and only differ in their accents, and in who holds power. For this reason, this is to me the most interesting shibboleth of the three: it inverts itself. Its expression contains its absolute antithesis. The border crossed is not geopolitical, it is a border within the self, it self-trespasses, it self-annihilates. “Anti-zionism is Antisemitic” is the wrong pronunciation: the correct one is “Zionism is Antisemitic.”
- “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”
I don’t know if this is a shibboleth. A shibboleth as I have said is a sort of password used by those in power, to identify those who are not on the side of the powerful and, in the classical instance, to kill those people. The powerless who became witnesses, or martyrs, in Paul Celan’s shibboleth, said “No pasaran,” but it could also be taken to mean “we will pass.” It could also be taken to mean “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
Another reason I am not certain this is a shibboleth: it is interpreted variously by various sides. “Do you condemn Hamas” is performative; it robs you (Palestinians) of speech and of testimony. “Anti-Zionism is antisemitic” and “Israel has a right to exist” are performative utterances that effect the same non-response from those who criticize Israel. “Say Shibboleth” is just as performative, just as lethal.
“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” on the other hand, has various interpretations. In its original 1960s context as a slogan for Palestinian resistance, I think it means what it says it means: the dream of a free and self-determining Palestine, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. According to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, for a time, this translated politically to a call for a one-state solution, where Jews and Palestinians lived under one protectorate, with equal rights and equal freedoms. On the other hand, it has also been described as calling for a two-state solution, which is in no way mutually exclusive to Palestinians experiencing “freedom,” finally from Israeli military rule. Essentially, on the Palestinian side, “freedom” means an end to 75 years of occupation, murder, apartheid, expulsion, and consequent diaspora.
However, it is “free” which has come under the most intense scrutiny, and this from the Israeli side. Israel says “free” is a coded pro-Hamas usage – like a shibboleth – to mean the ethnic cleansing of the Jews. Israel further argues that Hamas’ usage of the expression in its 2017 Charter proves the phrase is antisemitic, and that it encodes a summons and a plan to wipe out all of Israel.
This is strange. If you look at the context of the language of the 2017 Charter, it is clear Hamas is actually advocating for a 2-state solution. Here is article 20:
“Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea. However, without compromising its rejection of the Zionist entity and without relinquishing any Palestinian rights, Hamas considers the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of the 4th of June 1967, with the return of the refugees and the displaced to their homes from which they were expelled, to be a formula of national consensus.”
We see here that the “liberation of Palestine” in no way implies the expulsion of the Jews; this despite the Palestinians’ expulsion. And so when Israel speaks of an ethnic cleansing threat from Palestine in the future, it is speaking only of Israel’s own past actions, and projecting it onto “free,” freely.
Regarding the charge of antisemitism, Article 17 is explicit:
“Hamas rejects the persecution of any human being or the undermining of his or her rights on nationalist, religious or sectarian grounds. Hamas is of the view that the Jewish problem, anti-Semitism and the persecution of the Jews are phenomena fundamentally linked to European history and not to the history of the Arabs and the Muslims or to their heritage. The Zionist movement, which was able with the help of Western powers to occupy Palestine, is the most dangerous form of settlement occupation which has already disappeared from much of the world and must disappear from Palestine.”
Perhaps “freedom” is the real shibboleth at work here, insofar as the shibboleths I’ve laid out so far restrict the freedom of speech for the powerless, and ensure freedom of speech for the powerful. Those without freedom cannot speak of freedom; those without it will not shut up about it. In fact, those who commit genocide against those who call for freedom – and those who fund that genocide, such as the US – seem to have the most to fear from freedom. They say Palestine is calling for genocide, as they commit genocide against them.
As a contested phrase, then, it seems to me “from the river to the sea” is the only item in this list that holds and promises power for the persecuted. It seeks to remake borders, rather than enforce them in the interests of the powerful; it is anti-colonial, and we see this most clearly in the “post-colonial” powers’ regressive return to colonialism, via their rush to condemn global users of the phrase, and in their rush to kill the oppressed peoples for whom the phrase invokes liberty.
The shibboleth is an exercise of power. It identifies enemies because it identifies what cannot be discussed, and it identifies power differentials. It betrays your identity, but even though it is wielded by the powerful to betray the identities of the powerless peoples it interrogates, what it actually reveals, through its coercion, is the murderousness of the interrogators. A shibboleth is only wielded by one who deigns to kill you.
This is why “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” this cry for emancipation, is itself emancipatory. It can be spoken by anyone: the persecuted, the persecutor, the ally, the enemy. It transforms according to its speaker, but it can also transform its speaker.
I am Jewish. Israel is not a Jewish state. I’ve never heard anyone say this, so it is not blasphemy, but the opposite statement, that Israel is a Jewish state, and that Israel by extension represents all Jews, is so widely disseminated and so outrageously untrue that its opposite, Israel is not a Jewish state, must hold some salt. As a young Jew I was taught what the Holocaust was, I learned the real live pain transmitted intergenerationally to me and to my mother and to her brothers and to their parents from my great grandparents who survived and even rescued others from the Holocaust, picking up Jews in boats to ferry them away, and I was reminded to Never Forget, so that it would happen Never Again. Never Again is not a call for genocide, and yet it is being weaponized in the name of committing genocide; “Never Again,” today, most explicitly, is coextensive with the call “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
From the river, to the sea, Palestine will be free.
Jared Joseph lives and writes in Los Angeles. His novel “Danny the Ambulance” is available from Outpost 19 press, and “A Book About Myself Called Hell” from Kernpunkt Press. Jared Joseph teaches at Los Angeles City College.