It's hard to be a Jew today, even an American Jew, when the headlines are screaming, "Israeli official: Killing Arafat is a possibility."
When did it become acceptable for a country to talk about going into another country and assassinating its leaders? In the past, world wars were started over this sort of thing. Yet now we have the leaders of Israel claiming the right to kill the elected leader of another state, just as America claimed it had the right to declare war on Iraq for no good reason, put Iraqi officials on playing cards, for God's sake, and hunt them down.
The United States turned its armed forces into a Western posse out of a John Wayne movie, and now Israel starts sounding more like Tony Soprano's mob than a civilized nation. Palestinian legislator Saeb Erekat correctly called this latest action by Israel "the behavior... of a mafia and not a government."
It appears that the United States and Israel are abandoning the laws of civilization and returning to the laws of the jungle. The Palestinian leadership is not far behind. On all sides, the people who actually get hurt and suffer are just pawns in this terrible power game.
The United States is my country, and my love for it is deep and abiding. And because I was a child at the end of World War II, I still feel the pain and horror with which my Jewish community greeted news of the death camps and heard the stories of the survivors. I was raised to support Israel
-- have a bake sale, send some money, plant a tree. I've lived in Israel.
Yet now I am watching the two countries with whom I have the closest possible emotional ties behaving in ways so morally repulsive to me that I am outraged and anguished every time I pick up a newspaper. And the Palestinians? The people who virtually invented the concept of the suicide bomber? How ugly can you get?
Not every Jew is an Arab-hater, and not every Palestinian is a Jew-hater. For the most part, we are people who want what everyone wants: peace, safety, a home, a good job, food for our families, education for our children, maybe a little television in the evening.
But every time peace comes close, Hamas or some other group blows up something Israeli and we're back on the merry-go-round of anger, hatred and fear.
My deepest fear, which is starting to be realized in Europe and has already taken over in the Middle East, is that the actions of Israel, America and the Palestinians will result in an unstoppable wave of anti-Semitism. As Canadian Member of Parliament and human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler said at a recent conference on anti-Semitism at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, "Anti-Semitism is the proverbial canary in the pantheon of evil."
Historically, Jews have a long history of persecution. There are many reasons for this, but in YIVO's report of the conference, I found this poetic quote by Leo Pinsker, a 19th Century writer: "Among the living nations of the earth the Jews occupy the position of a nation long since dead. If the fear of ghosts is something inborn, and has a certain justification in the psychic life of humanity, is it any wonder that it asserted itself powerfully at the sign of this dead and yet living nation?"
He wrote that in the late 1800's, 14 years before Theodor Herzl proposed the concept of a Jewish national state.
As a Jew and as an American, I was raised to fight injustice, respect the rights of others and have compassion for those less fortunate than myself. It is practically embedded in my genetic code to identify with underdogs.
As anyone with eyes can see, the Palestinian people -- not the Israelis, not Yasser Arafat, not Hamas, not all the other radical organizations -- are now the underdogs in the Middle East. They have become the "dead and yet living nation."
Israel has excellent reasons to dislike Arafat. He has had many opportunities make peace, and he always seems to choose war instead. But you can say the same thing about Ariel Sharon.
The news from both sides of this conflict is horrific. Israel floats the idea of assassinating Arafat. The removal of Palestinians from the West Bank, an idea once considered unthinkable, is now being seriously discussed. What could be more odious than a Jewish state developing a "final solution" for the Palestinian people?
Helicopter attacks on moving cars, children being blown to bits, women becoming suicide bombers, huge fences being built that divide towns and put the Berlin Wall to shame, separate roads for Israelis and Palestinians, homes destroyed, supermarkets and cafes bombed, land and water grabbed, illegal settlements, starvation, poverty -- when does the civilized world cry "Enough!"?
Perhaps no one alive can now understand the complexities of the situation in the Middle East, but before the whole world explodes, we should admit that there are no "solutions." There are no political virgins here, no innocents. There is no "road map." No "UN resolution" is going to solve this problem. Neither will defacing Jewish cemeteries in France.
America is complicit here. It now appears that one of the motivations for our neoconservative-led war on Iraq was Saddam Hussein's financial support of the Palestinian suicide bombers. Do the neocons think that wiping out Iran next will make Israel safer? Are they now concentrating the sights of their guns on Syria?
This is not America's business. This is not the UN's business. This is the world's business.
We need to stop taking sides - all of us, right now. We need to exert serious moral pressure on the Israelis and the Palestinians to put aside their very real grievances, and, in the name of humanity -- for God's very real sake -- find a way to live together.
Or else we will truly, as one Israeli Arab said about killing Arafat, "open the gates of hell."
Joyce Marcel is a freelance journalist who lives in southern Vermont.