The Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens. So He overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. But Lot’s wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.
– Genesis 19:24-26
“Why are you going to Palestine with dishonest, anti-Semetic scumbags?” The shouting was louder now. The suit-clad baby-boomers opposite the Shabbat dinner table twisted their heads in my direction for a quick eavesdropping.
“I must learn the other side’s story.” I replied, anxious but firm. I had not anticipated a tense stare-down with a former co-worker at the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.
“What is in it for you? Why put yourself with APAN (Australian Palestinian Advocacy Network)?” His question was simply-put with a snappy delivery. He must have thought that to feel for the Palestinians made me a rat, a sell-out, and a self-hating Jew. And so into the ring we jumped. We argued during the meal, and when it was over we argued some more – jabbing at one another like a pair of prize-fighters on championship day.
The curse of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that everything you do is under the microscope. To feel for another tribe is to betray your own; to avoid insult is weakness; and to trust in a shared humanity is to surrender yours.
“Hashem Y’azor! May God help you, don’t put yourself in danger,” my religious parents pled with me, as they wrapped me tightly in a hug warmer than the body-bag they expected me to return in. Perhaps my body never will return. Perhaps, God forbid, I will transform into an immovable citadel of salt, preserved in time and space like an ancient minaret towering over the lush green Samaritan hills, forever reminding my tribe of the time that one of us dared to look at the cities we chose to rain bombs upon.
Amidst my parents’ prayers and spats with co-workers and the words of booby traps, black magic and fairy-tale tribalism, I can’t help but look back at the cities we burned. There is something so human in following Lot’s Wife into the lonely world of those who dare to look. And no cluster of doublespeak slogans – of collateral damage, peace processes and military embargoes on a territory not occupied – could turn me away.
For those who consider the fate of a city’s people as another dull statistic on a coffee stained stack of notes, your witnesses must not be the ambitious tattle-tale of the warmongering bureaucrat. And until those who bring down the executioner’s axe and who bang the judge’s mallet choose to fill their empty witness box with someone worthy, justice will not be delivered.
By Yaakov Aharon