The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin represents the refusal of the unprecedented step that Rabin himself, in a halting and ambivalent way, had set in motion: after years of displacement and death and with no end in sight, to embrace the possibility of ordinary life for Jews and Palestinians. In this sense, the murder can be seen as an angry protest against ending the era of Auschwitz, an era which featured the attempted annihilation of the Jewish people and the displacement of the Palestinians. The murder of Rabin represents an assertion of the need to continue Auschwitz as a shield for Jews and for the expansion of the Israeli state.
While the gunman, Yigal Amir, and his associates acted in a clandestine manner, their political and religious views are virtually identical with those of the Likud party and its allies on the Orthodox right. At the West Bank settlement of Maale Amos just days after the assassination, a sign hailed Amir proclaiming, "We are all Yigail Amir." Thomas Friedman writes that though the Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu wants the world to believe that Amir is deranged, this is hardly the case. Rather, "he is just your average religious right-wing hard-liner, who listened to the Likud's verbal attacks on Mr. Rabin, who saw the posters depicting Mr. Rabin as a Nazi SS officer and just took it all to its logical extreme."1 In fact, Amir's background testifies to his "sanity": He was raised in a devoutly Orthodox home where his mother runs a nursery school and his father works as a religious scribe. At the time of the assassination, Amir-a devoutly religious person and a capable student-was studying law, computers and Jewish studies. One wonders if it is also a sign of Amir's normalcy that discovered in his room was a book praising Baruch Goldstein, himself a devoutly religious, stable physician, who just a year earlier had murdered 29 Muslims at prayer in Hebron.
Yet it is too easy to blame the political and religious right for this desperate attempt to continue Auschwitz. For in the mourning of Rabin, his own ambivalent legacy has too often been left unspoken. As a young man, Rabin participated in the removal of over 50,000 Palestinians from Lod and Ramle in the war that gave birth to the state of Israel. Over the years, he was a prime architect of Israeli state policy, which ultimately disrupted the ordinary lives of millions of Palestinians. Just a few years before his death, he ordered the policy of "force, might and beatings" intended to crush the Palestinian uprising in Gaza and the West Bank. In his memoirs, Rabin recognized the harshness of his actions in Israel's war for independence, both for the Palestinian Arabs and the Jewish soldiers:
Great suffering was inflicted upon the men taking part in the eviction action. Soldiers of the Yiftach Brigade included youth movement graduates, who had been inculcated with values such as international fraternity and humaneness. The eviction action went beyond the concepts they were used to. There were some fellows who refused to take part in the expulsion action. Prolonged propaganda activities were required after the action to remove the bitterness of those youth movement groups and explain why we were obliged to undertake such a harsh and cruel action.
Was this the beginning of a cycle of violence, external and internal, that ultimately led to Rabin's own death? To label the expulsion of Palestinians or the assassination of Rabin as "right-wing extremist" is to lose the deeper lesson of a violence that, once unleashed, takes on a life of its own.2
Clearly the last years of Rabin's life demonstrated a movement of his political sensibility and in his last month’s perhaps a movement of his heart as well. At long last, and literally almost too late, he seems to have recognized the Palestinians as a nation and as a people. In securing as his first priority the basis for a Jewish state, Rabin also understood that the Palestinian people had been wronged. As a confirmed, even militant secularist, Rabin was perhaps also recognizing an obligation to reconcile, at least to some extent, the wrong done to the Palestinian people. Rabin kept to his course despite opinion polls and even the accusations that he was continuing the work of Hitler. And he persisted despite the threats against his life. Was he coming closer to the witness of some Jews, including children of Holocaust survivors, who have crossed boundaries to embrace the Palestinian people? Perhaps he was beginning to understand the dignity of Palestinian resistance, as the Jewish poet Irena Klepfisz articulates it with reference to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising: the desire of the Palestinians to restore the ordinary routine of their personal and communal life. Perhaps he was probing the tikkun-the healing-of ordinary decency that Holocaust theologian Emil Fackenheim finds in the moral and psychological resistance to degradation by applying it to the relationship of Jew and Palestinian. Surely Amir and his co-conspirators, as well as the Likud party and the religious right, grouped these positions together.
Palestinian reaction to Rabin's death is instructive. While Arafat spoke of Rabin as his "partner in peace," ordinary Palestinians reacted in more ambivalent ways. Said Mohammed, a grocer in Gaza, responded:
Am I sorry? Yes-I am sorry for us, not for Rabin. The one who killed him is a Jew, so why are the Palestinians locked up'? Even when it is open Gaza is still behind bars. The Israelis haven't absorbed the fact that we are here as human beings and partners. To them we are marginal.
Mosaad Ayash, a caretaker of a children's playground in Al-Shati refugee camp, told a reporter that Rabin is not "our president and he is not our leader. God knows he treated us like animals for years, but the hazards of destiny are strange. He died as he was trying to reverse course and make peace." Emad al-Ghoul, a factory worker, stated,
Everybody in this shop has had one or more tragedies in their families because of Rabin and his generals. We saw our sons, fathers, cousins or other relatives jailed, shot, beaten or rendered unemployed by Israel. O.K., so Rabin made peace. But does it mean you just forget what he did before that'?3
The challenge in appraising Rabin's life is to search out its complexity. On the one hand, and from the Jewish perspective, there is its greatness-for most of his life Rabin was an architect of the emergence, protection and expansion of the state of Israel, and in the last years a negotiator for peace. On the other hand, and primarily from the Palestinian perspective, there is its taint-for most of his life he was a relentless pursuer of destruction of Palestinian property, rights and life. This taint also extends to the internal life of the Jewish people, as his military and political policies also deepened the trauma of post-Holocaust Jewry. It is questionable whether Jews have been healed of the trauma of the Holocaust by an empowerment that has inflicted another trauma on the Palestinian people. The healing of the Holocaust has perhaps become more difficult because of the abuse of another people.
It is possible, then, to see Rabin's life within the context of a tainted greatness, moving in his last years toward a reconciliation with the Palestinians and therefore with his own personal and communal history. Rabin's choices were both great and tainted, and only their unfolding will ultimately determine how he is remembered-for his expulsions of Palestinians or for his halting attempts to redress the hurt that he, with other Jews, caused. Perhaps Rabin symbolizes the larger question in Jewish life relating to the covenant: Could the restoration of a covenant ruptured in the Holocaust be dependent on the process of restoring the ordinary life of both Jews and Palestinians?
Arafat's journey to Tel Aviv to give his condolences to Leah Rabin should be seen in this regard. Surely political strategy and appearances played a role here. Arafat still carries a taint from the perspective of many Jews and, according to Edward Said's critical analysis of the limitations of the peace agreements, with his own people as well. Still, Arafat's description of Rabin as a personal friend and the visit to Mrs. Rabin as "our duty" points to Arafat's ongoing evolution.
Arafat has, of course, pursued fidelity to his people in equal measure to Rabin. In the beginning, though for very different reasons, Arafat rejected the Jewish state as relentlessly as Rabin rejected Palestinian empowerment. As foes became partners, Arafat, like Rabin, began to see the Other as an avenue to a possible healing rather than as an eternal enemy. One can look at Arafat's condolence call in the same light that the agreements have often been analyzed, that is, as an example of weakness and surrender. Looked at another way, Arafat's willingness to mourn the loss of Rabin and place himself at the very site of mourning might be seen as symbolizing a covenant of healing sealed in the ordinary decency of sharing the anguish of a wife, family and nation. For partners and peoples-perhaps especially when they have suffered collective traumas and have profoundly ambivalent feelings about themselves and each other can only move forward by continuing a process that includes victories and defeats, celebrations and mourning.4
AN UNEXPECTED CONSENSUS
In the wake of the Rabin assassination, most commentators focused on Yigail Amir's religiosity, especially his ties to religious and settler Zionism. Important here was Amir's use of Jewish halakhah to justify his action. In fact much of the commentary revolves around Amir's use of halakhah to condemn Rabin especially his understanding of Rabin as a "pursuer" of his own people, someone who by his deeds endangers Jewish lives. A debate rages on this issue and its larger ramifications: Is Judaism, especially Orthodox Judaism and, in its most virulent form, militant messianic Judaism, to blame for Amir and those opposed to peace with the Palestinians? Of course most commentators condemn the use of Jewish law to justify Rabin's assassination and position themselves in relation to the importance and defense of Judaism in contemporary Israel and Jewish life in general. In defense of Orthodox Judaism, Rabbi Daniel Frank writes that the critique of Jewish religiosity compounded the tragedy of Rabin's death:
One tragedy has begotten another. Having just completed the week of mourning for Prime Minister Rabin, the Jewish people are now called upon to "sit shiva" for Judaism. You see, it's hunting season now, and Torah is the game. For while the overwhelming majority of religious Jews engaged in solemn reflection on the assassination, opportunistic secularists have been launching a slanderous campaign against the whole of religious Jewry, all in reaction to the behavior of one of its members and to the statements of a handful of rabbis.
From a different perspective, Reuven Gerber, an Israeli professor, writes that Rabin was not just a martyr for peace:
He is a martyr for moderate Judaism in Israel. He was not assassinated by a nationalist, but by a fanatic fundamentalist, acting according to his perverted understanding of "God's will." Since the murderer does not stand alone, those who know the teachings of our tradition must speak out against this type of desecration of God's name.5
Yet concentrating on the overt religious aspects of Amir's justification tends to obscure the larger framework of his world view, one shared in different ways by Jews across the political and religious spectrum. At a hearing before the Tel Aviv Magistrate Court, Amir asserted that generations of Jews stood with him when he fired the bullets that killed Rabin:
Maybe physically I acted alone, but what pulled the trigger was not only my finger, but the finger of this whole nation, which for 2000 years yearned for this land and dreamed of it.
In essence, Amir claimed to be acting on behalf of the entirety of Jewish history. His act was one of fidelity to this history, to make sure that the "traitorous" Rabin would not undo what generations had suffered and struggled for. In contemporary political terms, Rabin, who had helped to construct and maintain Jewish empowerment as a response to the tribulations of Jewish history, had, in his pursuit of compromise, endangered that empowerment. The force of Jewish history beckoned Amir to deny, exclude and murder Rabin as a man who had put at risk the final push to reclaim all of Israel. In this sense, Amir saw politics less in relation to the contemporary geopolitical situation of Israel and the Middle East than in relation to the long haul of Jewish history. Thus Rabin was not a patriotic but misguided politician to be opposed at the ballot box; he was a traitor guilty of murder in the present and in the future, perhaps in another Holocaust, and certainly in derailing the millennial dreams of the Jewish people. Amir saw the stakes as higher than halakhic injunction, for, in his mind, Jewish law is in service to the broader currents of Jewish history.
It is important to realize that this vision of Jewish history as being involved in the creation and promotion of Israel is hardly unique to Amir and the religious right. Its initial development and most widespread dissemination come from a religiosity that is progressive, probing and even at times radical. This religiosity has earned one of its proponents, Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Prize and was instrumental in providing the justification and narrative for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. And it is perhaps the most influential force in the Western political and religious narrative after the Holocaust, both in relation to the Jews and the state of Israel and in the renewal of Christianity. Holocaust theology, like Amir's theology, speaks to the broader currents of Jewish history and sees Israel as the culmination of the Jewish need for empowerment, especially after the Holocaust. Authenticity and inauthenticity, fidelity and betrayal are seen within the context of Israel's empowerment. Misguided politics or critique is seen less within the context of ignorance or limitations in perception than as a drama of survival.
In their reflections on the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Elie Wiesel and Emil Fackenheim exemplify this tendency. For Wiesel, the decisive Israeli victory in the Six-Day War allayed his fears of defeat and suggested a guiding force beyond the Israeli military. In fact the enemy is defeated by the sum total of Jewish history. Two thousand years of suffering, longing and hope are mobilized for the battle, "just as the millions of martyrs of the Holocaust were enlisted in the ranks." Wiesel describes the martyrs as "biblical pillars of fire" who came and shielded their spiritual heirs, the Israeli soldiers. With this added power, the possibility of Israel's defeat was impossible. "Suddenly all Jews had again become children of the Holocaust," Wiesel writes, and the military victory had to be interpreted by poets and kabbalists as a "great mystery in which we are encloaked, as if by the command of the Almighty." Emil Fackenheim analyzed the war in a similar way when he wrote that the
Commanding Voice of Auschwitz singles Jews out; Jewish survival is a commandment which brooks no compromise. It was this Voice which was heard by the Jews of Israel in May and June 1967 when they refused to lie down and be slaughtered.
Later, as the critique of Israeli occupation, the bombing of Beirut and the response of Israel to the Palestinian uprising increased outside of and within the Jewish community, Irving Greenberg, perhaps the most creative and insightful of Holocaust theologians, warned of the consequences of Jewish outrage with these policies. For Greenberg, outrage that might lead to a denial of Israel was an unforgivable sin equivalent to the excommunicable sins of earlier ages, "denying the Exodus and the God who worked it in the Biblical age or denying the Rabbis and separating from Jewish fate in the Rabbinic era."6
What Amir and the religious right in Israel share with Holocaust theologians and their followers is a perspective on Jewish history that is both mystical and practical, memory-oriented and contemporary, religious and militant. The differences between them include, in the broadest sense, what can be said about God, politics, Christianity and modernity after the Holocaust, and, in particular, what the mission of Israel is and what the policies of limitation or expansion of the state should be. The differences are important. However, the obvious divisions between progressive and extremist, like the ambiguous legacy of Rabin himself, can mask their essential agreement: that the Jewish drama of Israel is the defining moment of Jewish history and that Palestinians, or for that matter dissenting Jews who see Jewish history or Israel from another perspective, are to be ostracized and dismissed from the discussion. Amir used a gun; Holocaust theologians use their pens-to establish a narrative that defines, in essence, who is a Jew and who is not. If agreement is emphasized rather than division, then Amir's religiosity can be seen as a subset and extension of Holocaust theology. So what at first glance seems to be a war between the progressive and reactionary forces within Judaism is better seen as a competition within an essential agreement to define the future of Jewish life.
One who exemplifies this agreement is Amos Oz, the Israeli novelist and essayist. In response to the assassination, Oz writes that Israelis are tired of angry right-wing demonstrations that equate the peace process with treason. The silent majority of Israelis mourn Rabin not because all of them agree with his policies but because of the "simple, overwhelming realization that he was on the side of life whereas the killer and his sympathizers represent death." For Oz, a small group of "mad-dog fundamentalists" has declared war on the rest of Israel, with the "crazy dream" of turning Israel into an Iran-like theocracy controlled by "Jewish ayatollahs." These religious "fanatics" propose that the opposite of peace is either a Greater Israel or a Greater Palestine. But for Oz the reality is the need for division between Jew and Palestinian; the opposite of peace is fanaticism and death.
Michael Walzer, a prominent Jewish ethicist, argues along the same lines when he writes that the policy of labeling political opponents as traitors is rife among the religious right in Israel: "When the nation and its land are identified as sacred, any suggestion of political compromise, any attempt at a politics of give and take, is readily viewed as an act of betrayal." Thus for Walzer, Rabin's assassination is most disturbing in the "debasement of Israeli political life by religious zealotry," the transformation of a domestic debate into a "kind of holy war, where good confronts evil, hostility is permanent, and the enemy is always conspiring with fainthearted or false friends," For Walzer, Rabin represented the opposite of this politics-as-holy-war. As a "taciturn rationalist" Rabin embodied calculation and restraint.7 Like Oz, Walzer counsels against the "visionary" politics of the right and left because visionaries of the right are messianic about the continuation of the war between Jews and Palestinians and those of the left are equally messianic in their thrist for peace. Instead, Walzer longs for a politics of calculation and restraint: a politics "without God, without myth and fantasy, without eternal enemies, without sacred causes or holy ground."
In the wake of the assassination, Cynthia Ozick, the Jewish novelist and essayist, who generally opposes progressive positions on Israel, agrees with Walzer and Oz on this issue. Ozick decries messianic politics and criticizes those on the right and the left who adopt an active millenarianism that seeks to force the end of history. For Ozick, the crisis in Israel does not derive from too much dissension but from the opposite,
a common arrogance of messianic perfectibility. There are too many seers in the land, too many utopians. There are too many dreams of Eden, right and left, pious and profane. A murdered Prime Minister will not increase holiness. A Palestinian state will not insure Paradise.
Instead, ordinary electoral politics, with its twists and turns and its loyal opposition, provides a safer road. For Ozick, but also for Walzer and Oz, ordinary politics prevents a "slide from the worldly into the wishful."8
EXPANDING THE COVENANT
If it is true, as Ozick suggests, that neither the assassination of Rabin nor the creation of a Palestinian state are eschatological signs, and if one grants as beneficial Walzer's vision of a politics without God or holy causes, we are left with the question of whether these warnings will help move Rabin's and Arafat's limited agreements to the next level. Is Oz's vision of the need for separation of Jews and Palestinians significantly different from the vision of the right-wing lunatics he so clearly condemns? When moved beyond symbolism, do the accords Rabin fought and died for portend the mutual, interdependent empowerment of Jews and Palestinians? Or do they concretize an Israeli victory and a Palestinian defeat? Do Oz and Walzer simply defend Rabin's plan to disqualify the visionary politics of the right-and by extension the visionary politics of the left-in order to solidify the new status quo in the Middle East? Are those who move beyond Walzer and Oz, for example, those who pursue the ultimate goal of a con- federation of Israel and Palestine or even a bi-national state, to suffer the same exclusion and labeling that they decry among the "fanatics"? Rabin's first meeting with Arafat was unthinkable. Does the defense of Rabin now defend the previous unthinkable act as a way of defining a new unthinkable act, for ex- ample, the sharing of Jerusalem as the joint capital of Israel and Palestine? In this understanding the negotiation of a more equal distribution of land and power can only be defined in Ozick's words as the "common arrogance of messianic perfectibility."
Surely Ozick is correct; the issue is not one of messianic perfectibility. But could the issue of Jew and Palestinian be one of covenantal responsibility? The removal of politics from millenarian fantasy is quite different from seeing a religious basis from which ethical and political judgments arise. Though Walzer longs for a naked public square in Israel, all competing parties within the Jewish narrative appeal to Jewish history for their understanding of the present and the path to the future. There is reason for such an appeal: Israel does represent a dramatic, difficult and ambiguous unfolding of Jewish history. Rabin's meeting with Arafat was highly charged in the mind of Amir and no doubt in the minds of most Jews, for more was represented than politics in their first reluctant handshake. The facing of the new Other was recognized by Jews as a rendezvous with Jewish history. It should be seen in the context of the Holocaust and the 1967 War and the possibility of ending an era of history as well. The handshake represented the possibility of ending a cycle of suffering and violence that Jews have endured and now have perpetrated. When Rabin spoke of ending that cycle, one felt the opening toward a responsibility grounded in history and hope.
Surrounding the details of the accords was the sense of a possible healing of the Holocaust that had not occurred through Jewish empowerment in Israel and in some ways had grown deeper through the conquering of another people. But after the disaster of the Holocaust, where God and humanity were found wanting, the possibility of ending the cycle of suffering and violence is jarring. For if the covenant-carried through a long and difficult history, then broken, and found again in the Commanding Voice of Auschwitz were "demilitarized," what would happen to Jewish identity? Could the new challenge of the covenant be to find Jewish chosenness among those who share the promised land?
Paradoxically, Ozick laid the groundwork for such an understanding years ago in an essay, "Notes Toward Finding the Right Question." Though this essay addresses the issue of feminism, asserting that the inclusion of Jewish women in Judaism on an equal basis with men is a sociological rather than a theological question, it may apply to the inclusion of Palestinians in Jewish life as well. After arguing that contributions to Jewish life must be valued regardless of whether they come from males or females, Ozick sees the urgency of that inclusion not with regard to the upsurge of Jewish feminism but in light of the Holocaust:
The timing is significant because the present generation stands in a shockingly new relation to Jewish history. It is we who come after the cataclysm. We, and all the generations to follow, are, and will continue to be into eternity, witness generations to Jewish loss. What was lost in the European cataclysm was not only the Jewish past--the whole life of civilization but also a major share of the Jewish future. We will never be in possession of the novels Anne Frank did not live to write. It was not only the intellect of a people in its prime that was excised, but the treasure of a people in its potential.9
Because of "having lost so much and so many," for Jews there are no longer any "unrelated issues." But there is a "thick wall of scandal" separating Jews from the covenant, and, according to Ozick this scandal is twofold. On the one hand, the scandal denies a decimated people the needed contributions of women, and, on the other hand, the very injustice denies women their rightful place in Jewish history, especially after the Holocaust. Ozick's discussion of injustice is important:
What is injustice? We need not define it. Justice must be defined and redefined, but not injustice. How to right a wrong demands ripe deliberation, often ingenuity. But a wrong needs only to be seen, to be seen to be wrong. Injustice is instantly intuited, felt, recognized, reacted to.
The recognition of injustice gives rise to the feeling that there is "something missing." In Ozick's understanding, that is why the written law, found in the Hebrew bible, is complemented later by the oral law transmitted by the rabbis. The written and oral law become an extended Torah and covenant, which in every instance "strives to teach no to unrestraint, no to victimization, no to dehumanization." When the Torah is silent in relation to injustice, injustice calls the Torah into question: "Where is the missing Commandment that sits in judgment on the world?" With regard to women the question is strong: "Where is the commandment that will say, from the beginning of history until now, Thou shalt not lessen the humanity of women?"
When the Torah is silent on injustice, it is unable to judge. Instead it "consorts" with the world at large. For Ozick, it is almost as if the covenant is in search of the missing commandment that will return it to its proper role in the world and remove the wall of scandal separating the people from the covenant and the people from each other. The reaction of the Jewish people to these missing commandments throughout history has been to strengthen the covenant by discovering new commandments to confront injustice. As Ozick writes, to strengthen Torah is to "contradict injustice; to create justice, not through fragmentary accretions... but through the cleansing precept of justice itself."
Ozick's analysis is important because she relates the unfolding of Jewish teaching and living-the covenant-to the search for missing commandments. When found and implemented these commandments are recognized after the fact as having been born of the covenant itself. The next step in Jewish life is in retrospect obvious and granted validity as the reality that it addresses becomes an acceptable part of life. Therefore the commandment about women is within the Torah before it is spoken and recognized as it is added. The covenant un- folds as new questions are asked and answered. It expands as the experience of the people, their perceptions, needs and hopes journey through time. The next question demanding action is in response to injustice, which, if allowed to exist over time, perverts the covenant itself. A thick wall of scandal is erected that can only be overcome when the Torah ceases to consort with that which created the scandal in the first place.
How many Jews have heard the commandment, "Thou shalt not lessen the humanity of Palestinians?" Did Rabin's soldiers hear it when they had difficulty carrying out the "harsh and cruel" action of expelling Palestinians from Lod and Ramle? Did Rabin himself hear this commandment when he wrote of this difficulty in his memoirs? Did the Israeli censors hear it when they refused to allow the inclusion of that passage in Rabin's published memoirs? Perhaps Rabin heard it again when he invoked the image of shared humanity at the signing of the first accord in September 1993:
We, like you, are people-people who want to build a home. To plant a tree. To love-to live side by side with you. In dignity. In empathy. As human beings. As free men.10
Ozick writes that to right a wrong demands "ripe deliberation, often ingenuity." Did Rabin's hearing of this commandment-illustrated by spoken word and affirmed in public in a haunting and beautiful way-simply leap ahead of his ability to implement these words in concrete deliberation and ingenuity? Perhaps the commandment, once uttered, is so powerful that the prospects of implementation have to lag behind the recognition of the injustice itself. For if recognition and implementation occur simultaneously, the fear is that all will be lost, that empowerment will be undermined, and that confusion and remorse might predominate. Was Rabin balancing the hope and fear of finding the missing commandment of his own personal life and the life of his people because it was so earthshaking?
In the context of the Torah and the covenant, then, Rabin's assassination debased both. Amir thought that by murdering Rabin he could banish the commandment against diminishing the humanity of the Palestinians. Perhaps he was frightened of the commandment's corollary: The covenant can only unfold with the understanding that Jewish and Palestinian destiny is a shared one, the only question being how it will be shared. By murdering Rabin, Amir was perhaps attempting to murder the covenant itself.
From this perspective the condemnation of Amir by most commentators should be seen as a holding operation, an attempt to isolate the murderer and displace the missing commandment, which continues to surface. Amir and Walzer are guardians of the covenant, one speaking in overt religious language, the Other seeking to banish that language completely. It is ironic that the murderer of Rabin and a manager of his legacy are closer together than either would admit or could stomach physically. They both hear the Commanding Voice of Auschwitz, at least in its initial formulation. However, its unfolding message-that what has been suffered by Jews should not be visited upon another people-is either denied or explained away. As guardians of the covenant they both, like Oz and Ozick, are part of the thick wall of scandal that surrounds the covenant.
EMBRACING THE OTHER
Ozick does not analyze how missing commandments are found, who is likely to find them, or how, once found, they are to be implemented. If injustice is obvious, when does it become so? Are there stages of development when what is obvious in retrospect becomes obvious in the present? Does the community see the obvious, or do leaders understand before the people? Does the generation that recognizes injustice find the missing commandment? Or does that await the next generation? Do the leaders who participate in implementing the commandment do so with pure intentions and backgrounds or do they come to understand injustice because they have helped to create or maintain it? Can the missing commandment, once located, be lost again for the moment or forever, or is there a momentum which, like the cycle of violence, takes on a life of its own?
What happens to those victimized while the search for the new commandment takes place? Do they simply wait to celebrate until the victorious community comes to grips with its own complicity? Are the victims of injustice better off with the assassins or with the managers of the covenant? Are the oppressed sim- ply suffering students, learning their own potentialities until empowerment finally comes their way? Or is the struggle against injustice the path toward finding the missing commandment and thus as essential to the history of the oppressor as to the oppressed?
Victor and victim are interdependent; the way forward for the powerful can only be found when the Other is seen within the history of the powerful. The oppressed serve as a permanent reminder of the victors' capacity for injustice and as judgment on whether the found commandment has been implemented. The commandment, "Thou shalt not lessen the humanity of the Palestinians," renders judgment on the Jewish past, present and future. Though the past cannot be changed, reconciliation with the past can occur as time unfolds. That is why Rabin, as well as Jewish politics and thought after the assassination, will be judged by the future that unfolds for Jews and Palestinians. It is crucial for Jews to listen to the Palestinians' response to Rabin's assassination, as their ambivalence represents a profound challenge beckoning Jews to move beyond the limitations of the peace process as now constituted.
From the perspective of the covenant, a permanent and forced separation of Jew and Palestinian is impossible. The scandal of Jewish displacement and humiliation of Palestinians cannot be removed by "disappearing" those who remind Jews of the original offense. It would be like replying to the injustice against women by removing them from view, ceasing to lessen the humanity of women within Jewish life by banishing them from it. With regard to the Palestinians, the commandment to cease lessening their humanity would be met by further banishment from their own origins and homeland into a segmented, almost ghettoized entity, as if the challenge of the offense could be contained and exiled with them. The consorting covenant becomes a banishing covenant and the missing commandments, having surfaced, become commandments in exile residing in the Palestinian case on the outskirts of Jerusalem. This as Jews celebrate their own return to Jerusalem.
Still there is a choice. With a covenant that says no to unrestraint, victimization and dehumanization, celebration is impossible when an exiled Jerusalemite population remains outside its gates. Jewish mourning at Yad va-Shem, the Holocaust memorial in Israel, takes on a new perspective if, within the context of the found and implemented commandment, Palestinians and Jews mourn the expulsion from Lod and Ramie. So, too, Jewish prayers at the Western Wall will become more authentic when a substantial and free Muslim and Christian population live and pray in Jerusalem as well. Jewish mourning and prayers take on another level of authenticity because the thick wall of scandal is dealt with by facing the Palestinians and the commandment that they embody.
Jews, of course, demand a shared covenantal framework with Christians in the West, especially after the Holocaust. Jews refused a second banishment, which Christians, in order to preserve their own sense of superiority, might have proposed after the Holocaust. Jews insisted on this common framework for security; Christians needed it to recognize the commandment that they had missed completely, "Thou shalt not lessen the humanity of Jews." The displacement of Palestinians functions for Jews in a similar way.
Will there one day be an Israeli prime minister who pays a condolence call on a Palestinian mother whose son was killed by a Jewish soldier during the occupation? Will the prime minister carry a letter of apology that includes that Palestinian martyr as a marker of Jewish history and as a turning point in the life of the Jewish covenant? For the covenant remains today in a struggle for life in the heart of every Jew, religious and non-religious alike. Can the covenant be strengthened while the gates remain closed in a new and more sophisticated way? Or does the covenant revive when the missing commandment and the Other cease to be strangers? Then mourning will be overcome in a celebration that answers the charge of visionary politics and messianic perfectibility. For the road has been paved with a "tainted greatness" that combines suffering and hope, and now rests secure in the ordinary life of an ancient and newly covenanted people.
1 Thomas Friedman, "How About You?" The New York Times, November 8, 1995.
2 Quoted in David Shipler, Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land (New York: Times Books, 1986), p. 34.
3 Quoted in The New York Times, November 8, 1995.
4 For Arafat's journey to Tel Aviv see The New York Times, November 10, 1995.
5 Daniel Frank, "Hunting Season on the Torah," Hartford Jewish Ledger, November 24, 1995; Reuven Gerber, "The Keepers of the Gunmen," ibid.
6 Elie Wiesel is quoted in Marc H. Ellis, Beyond Innocence and Redemption: Confronting the Holocaust and Israeli Power (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990), p. 35; Emil Fackenheim, God's Presence in History (New York: New York University Press, 1970), p. 86; Irving Greenberg is quoted in Marc H. Ellis, Toward a Jewish Theology of Liberation (New York: Orbis, 1987), p. 30.
7 Amos Oz, "Israelis Will Not Stand for Fanaticism," Newsweek, November 20, 1995; Michael Walzer, "Reasons to Mourn," New Yorker, November 20, 1995.
8 Cynthia Ozick, "The Consensus That Plagues Israel," The New York Times, December 2, 1995.
9 Cynthia Ozick, "Notes Toward Finding the Right Question," in On Being a Jewish Feminist, ed. Susannah Heschel (New York: Schocken, 1983), pp. 120-151.
10Quoted in The New York Times, September 14, 1993.