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"The Israeli Dilemma": A Commentary

By Maxine Shapiro

Dallas, TX – One week ago, a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 15 people in Israel. One week ago and one minute later, Israel began retaliation - a pattern that has become routine in the Middle East. A feeling of hopelessness is seeping into my system.

As a Jew, it is sometimes hard for me to explain why Israel must do what it does. I didn't always feel this way. In the early '70s, I attempted to go work on a Kibbutz in Israel. I was a rebel and loved the idea of a commune setting where men and women are equal, working for the good of the land. But (and now it seems totally insane), I was not a Zionist. I did not support what Israel was doing in the Middle East. I never went to Israel. I never worked on the Kibbutz. I did not understand why Israel had to go to any lengths to keep a Jewish State. This was like most political and social issues in the early '70s: black or white, left or right. and no room for gray.

But in my maturing process, I became sympathetic to the Israeli cause. Maybe it was coming face to face with real anti-Semitism for the first time. Maybe it's just in my heritage, in my genes. There were the stories that my father told about my relatives in France during the Nazi occupation. As I learned more about the degradation and treatment of Jews throughout history, a feeling deep in my gut screamed "survival by any means." For me, that pendulum swung all the way over. Israel had to do what they had to do.

Throughout the past 25 years the situation on both sides has worsened to a degree I never thought imaginable. This is not just a mere prejudice one feels about a menacing neighbor who plays their music too loud. The hatred on all sides is beyond human. Both sides are willing to die for what they believe in and worse - they are willing to kill as well.

For some people looking at this crisis intellectually, it is difficult to comprehend Israel's lack of willingness to compromise. This is not a movement of the intellect. It is a stand that Jews took after 10 million were annihilated during Hitler's regime. This resolve came after survivors of the Holocaust had nowhere to go. The countries they loved and called home for generations were turning their back on these Jews either out of shame or denial. Thus came a solemn vow taken by all Jews - never again. And so they fight.

Some Americans find it hard to grasp how we can support a religious state when our country is built on the separation of church and state. But Israel must exist, and Israelis must continue to fight for their country. In their hearts, there is no choice. This is the dilemma. I just don't know when it's going to stop.

The refusal on both sides to cease firing, to cease killing, to sit down and act humanely with each other is inconceivable. If we learn anything from history, probably and unfortunately there will have to be a major escalation and many more deaths before both sides say "enough" - before anyone is willing to look their enemy in the eye and see another human being.

This situation saddens me deeply. As a world leader, the powers that be in the U.S. must go to any lengths and talk to the compassionate face of both sides and beg, if need be, for a cease fire.

The distinguished Golda Meir was plagued by this same dilemma 28 years ago after the Arab-Israeli War. She so painfully expressed, "When peace comes, we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons. But it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons."

Maxine Shapiro is an actor and public speaker in Dallas.