Words fail me. I find the present attack by Israelis on Palestinians, the latest episode in a 60-year battle for territory in the Middle East, to be mind numbing. I've read the news online and seen the video clips on CNN and BBC. Old positions are repeated ad infinitum. He said, she said. The Israeli-Palestine conflict has defeated dozens of peace makers. The U.S. has never been an uninterested party and the powerful Jewish lobby has blocked both Democrats and Republicans from proposing realistic solutions. Obama's election will not help, for he is a "friend" to Israel, which means that he and new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will continue the Bush administration's support for whatever the Israelis want to do.
There is some evidence that the bloody blitzkrieg of Gaza is occurring now for political reasons. The present administration fears that it will be seen as soft on terrorism if it continues to allow Hamas to fire rockets from Gaza. So the "all out war on Hamas" is a cynical political maneuver to prove its credibility, and the dead Palestinians are only pawns in its game.
I believe the establishment of the state of Israel on land occupied for generations by Arab and Christian (and not a few Jewish) Palestinians was a mistake. The Old Testament stories were no justification for this land grab, however sympathetic post-war Europeans felt for Jews persecuted by the Nazis. But the western world ignored the pleas of displaced Palestinians while immigrants from Europe took over their olive groves. For Muslims, the invasion of the Middle East was yet another western crusade, and we have been suffering the fallout from this mistake ever since. Radical Islam is a direct result of the theft of Palestinian land.
But Israel is a reality today, an ethnic religious state in which Arabs do not have the same rights as Jews. It is not a democracy with one vote for every citizen. Despite years of condemnation by the United Nations, the Israeli government continues to support the development of Jewish settlements on the little land left in the Palestinian territories. The largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, Israel's "success" is underwritten by American taxpayers. They pay for the bullets and bombs that kill Palestinians (just as Iran no doubt buys the rockets that Hamas sends into Israel). How will this all stop?
While not exactly realistic at this point, I agree with the one-state solution. Israel should cease to exist as a Jewish state and empower all its residents as citizens with full rights and duties. Let differences be sorted out in the electoral process, as it is done in other democracies. Historian Tony Judt made the argument for Israel as a binational state in a very controversial article in the New York Review of Books in 2003. Supporters of the present Israel of course argue that this will destroy the Jewish homeland and fulfill the objective of radical Islam. Perhaps. But there will never be peace so long as two major ethnic and religious groups continue fight over a relatively small plot of land in the Middle East.
Here in Thailand, the shoe is now on the other foot. Yesterday a mob of people in red shirts prevented Abhisit, the new PM, from presenting his policy statement to Parliament as required by law. They argue that he achieved office by a "silent coup" and want him to dissolve the House and call for new elections which they believe they can win. Abhisit is a member of the minority Democrat party which came in second at the last election a year ago. But demonstrations by the mob in yellow shirts, inaction by civil and military authorities while they took over government buildings and two airports, and a judicial decision that outlawed the ruling party, made it possible for him to become the country's new leader. Oxford-educated and good looking, Abhisit is a natural politician, but he was forced to make many deals with former opponents to gain power. The new foreign minister was a supporter of the yellow shirts and praised the airport closures which has brought Thailand's tourist industry to its knees. The ruling elite has given Abhisit its stamp of approval. But the rural poor who supported exiled PM Thaksin Shinawatra and his two successors are not pleased. The authorities who turned a blind eye to the yellow shirts for six months are poised this morning to get tough with the red shirts. I stay glued to the TV screen.
On this day before New Year's Eve, I thought briefly about blogging the year in review. This ends my first full calendar year as an expatriate in Thailand. But I think such dates are artificial, partitioning time just as national borders partition geography. However useful symbolic dates may be (July 4th, 9-11, or November 22, 1963, when JFK was assassinated), they are also unreal and subject to manipulation. How important is a decade, a year, really? "Age is just a number," one of my new young Thai friends told me. And numbers are an intellectual invention. How do we speak of what's real, what's essential?
My world was shaken a bit this morning when I read an email to me from a friend in America. She was responding with "love (yes, but tough--)" to my recent holiday postings, and wrote: "You are SO sad and lonely and negative in your blogs that it is pitiful! And, a good part of it is your making entirely. Isn't it time you grow up, appreciate all the talents and love you have/had, and come back to the people who care about you????" She criticizes my life style, my search for a Thai woman, and suggests it has something to do with emotional distance between me and my four children. "It's YOU that left your kids, not the other way around, so get over it and grow up and yes, grow old gracefully--with grace, as you have been very much gifted with, before you tossed it all away on your cravings." She asks: "Isn't it time you become accountable for your choices, instead of crying woe is me, and blaming it on everyone else?"
She has been a kind a compassionate friend and no doubt her opinions are shared by some others in my far-flung community. One of my sons has written that he feels "a little abandoned since you left." I wrote back to my friend:
I've tried in my blog to write about my experience as an older man living now in Thailand, teaching English to monks, and looking for enlightenment and love among those I meet. I am not sure what in particular pushed your buttons, but it seems clear that you do not agree with my choices. So be it. I've made lots of mistakes in my life and will continue to make them, but I try to live honestly and with kindness and compassion for those I encounter (including myself).I told her that I've always felt accountable for my choices and that is one of my major topics here. As for my kids, I think I was a decent if not perfect dad. If they choose to live their lives without keeping in touch with me (as my friends continue to do), I must accept that. I don't see it as a judgment on the way I live my life, and I forgive them for their independence. Thinking that she found my blogs about love and sex disturbing, I wrote that I do not have all the answers, but I am trying to live my life in a conscious and truthful fashion, which includes writing about my search for a relationship with someone here. Yes, the women I meet are younger, speak little English, and have very different cultural values. But the fact that we can communicate with intimacy says something about the universal need for love.
Integrating the desire for love with the call of the Spirit has always been a challenge for me, and I have tried to articulate a materialist spirituality that honors physical existence as well as the eternal Dhamma. This morning I wrote to a Buddhist friend that I'm just trying to figure out how to live a decent life, or at least the last end of it (can't do much about what went before). Lately I've been focusing on the five precepts as a guide to conscious living. I can do alright by not stealing or lying, and I have little interest in intoxicants these days, other than a beer to be sociable with friends who drink. The only killing I do is of annoying insects, but I try to do it consciously. My main problem is sexual misconduct. I've sought companionship from the ladies and in the process have undoubtedly hurt people, myself included. The rules seems different here for old farang not yet ready for the dust heap.
If I have an approach to religious stories, it is to value the physical over the intellectual, humans who are living and breathing over the inherited wisdom that too often becomes frozen in religious texts and institutions. There is too much fear of the body and hatred of women in Buddhism as well as Christianity. Now maybe I'm just trying to justify my own physical impulses, but I think sex engaged in with love, kindness and compassion is holy. People who choose to work and raise families are no less than those who renounce the world and put on robes to wake up. But of course for each of us the path is unique.
I'm not sure if this will be the last blog of the year. But if it is, may you have a very Happy New Year.