|By A.D. Freudenheim||
10 February 2002
In the 1940s, a middle-aged man dedicated some of his free time to acting as a gun-runner, supporting a liberation movement dear to his heart. He collected guns anywhere he could: he asked soldiers who might be friendly to the cause, or he purchased them on the sly using funds donated by other sympathizers. This man involved his children in these activities, using them to help store the weapons in harder-to-reach crawl spaces, and as a cover for the process of moving them from place to place; after all, a man with his young child is less suspect than a man on his own.
By most accounts, he was a peace-loving man, and he certainly did not keep a gun of his own at home; he abhorred the violent pain and death guns caused when used by humans, and he had seen enough of the dangers of war earlier in his life to know why he felt the way he did. Nonetheless, he continued his gun-running activities with the knowledge that these weapons would likely be used against people, and that those people would be hurt if not killed. His cause was too important to him, and it would not have occurred to him not to follow-through on his commitment.
Thinking about it now, 60 years later, suffering through the daily bombardment of news and images showing the violence in the world, this man's story sounds more awful than powerfully mythic; it is alien to my perception of (so-called) liberation movements. Since the 1940s, any number of countries have suffered collapsing governments and civil wars, but those which hold sway as models are the ones whose destinies were shaped not by guns but by peaceful resistance movements. The fall of the Eastern European Soviet-satellite governments, the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union itself, or toppling of the Apartheid government in South Africa - although there was violence in each case, the core movements for change were non-violent resistors who suffered but eventually prevailed in their efforts at forcing change. There is also something disturbing about the man's use of his children as helpers in an effort that is discordant with what most of us would consider normal behavior for families; it reminds me of the equally disturbing trend among some Palestinian families who permit (or even encourage) their children to participate in their Intifadah, risking their young lives for the chance to throw stones at Israeli soldiers.
This man's story is deeply connected to my own life and existence. The man from the 1940s was not miles from American shores, but lived in upstate New York. The guns he collected were not sent to Europe or Africa or South America, but were shipped to Jews - perhaps soldiers in the Haganah or the more militant Irgun, or maybe even part of the terrorist Stern Gang - and to other settlers then living in British-mandate Palestine. The man was my grandfather.
As I sit here in America, I can only wonder at how my grandfather would react to the present situation in the Middle East. Knowing him as I did - as an old man with a love for Israel and a deep sadness for the violence that continued there throughout his life - I believe that he would appreciate my point of view, a perspective simultaneously supportive to both sides of the situation and to neither of them. I am sympathetic to the dreams of liberation that exist on the side of Palestinians, and when I hear about their efforts to smuggle weapons, I have an immediate and strong frame of reference; their desires are just as valid as those of the Jewish settlers in Palestine so many years ago. But I am also sympathetic to the Israeli sensibility of being under siege, to the insecurity and uncertainty that comes from living with senseless and unpredictable violence. As the child and grandchild of refugees who fled Hitler's Germany, the weight of my family's history is always present, even if the memories - and the insecurities - are not directly my own.
Every story has two sides, and it is no less true of the fight between the Israelis and the Palestinians. There are valid claims on the part of both populations - but there will be no peace until both sides accept that whatever violence may have been perpetrated in the past, it must be left behind. The approach to solving this problem will, by necessity, need to draw on simultaneous aspirations for freedom and for peace, from both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Until then, there will only be more death, and more grieving families wondering about the person on the other end of the gun or the bomb whose force has brutally torn into their lives.
Copyright 2002, by A.D. Freudenheim.
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This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.