A Father’s Daughter

I am a Jew, a journalist and a professor, but I also am an anguished and proud father. Last month, my wife and I welcomed our daughter back to Los Angeles for her annual visit to observe the High Holidays with our family. She will not be coming home. Home for her is Israel, where she has lived for 23 years.

We hope to talk about things other than the subject, but who’s kidding whom? After all, we are Jews. Inevitably, we will banter about politics, be it the wackiness of California’s recall election or the tragedy of Israel’s dead-end policy in the territories.

Aliza Ben Tal left Los Angeles as Lisa Fromson after her 1980 graduation from Palisades High School to participate in a Machon program. That began her aliyah process largely, it turned out later, on behalf of a Soviet Jewish family we befriended when I was the CBS News correspondent in Moscow 30 years ago. That family, the Yakirs, waited 14 years to obtain exit visas and when they arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport, Aliza and her brother, Derek, were at the foot of the airplane ramp to welcome them to Israel.

Aliza maintains an abiding belief in the viability of a Jewish homeland. She has lived through the war in Lebanon, the Gulf War in which wearing gas masks became a frightening daily ritual, and the first and second intifada. In 1993, her mother and I sat with Aliza in her kibbutz apartment, watching the televised coverage of Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shaking hands on the White House lawn. Her hopes for peace soared, only to be crushed two years later when she attended the rally where Rabin was assassinated. Peaks and valleys are a curse experienced by every Israeli, sometimes more than once daily. Like so many Israeli wives, Aliza has had to say farewell to her husband countless times when he was activated by the Israel Defense Forces to serve in Gaza or in the West Bank. In what seemed to me like a moment of despair, she recently wrote the family:

“I can’t say that any great love will ever be shared by Israelis and Palestinians, but dialogue between people, trying to overcome stereotypes, break down barriers, listen to one another’s narratives … this and only this is our way out of this madness. What worries me most is not the sad reality of our neighbors, but the disintegrating moral fabric of our country — the values that those who are only 10 years older than I tried so hard to create and preserve, the ‘beautiful Israel’ going up in dust…. We are becoming a nation suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder … and at every assassination, every attack, our Palestinian counterparts grow more and more enraged. No wonder the kids here like trance music and that hard drugs are so rampant today among our youth in Israeli society. Blast the reality out of your head. Angry Palestinian kids, on the other hand, are recruited to blast our reality out of their lives. Are we in fact doomed to kill one another?”

I wonder how many other parents are reading messages or letters of this kind from their sons or daughters who made aliyah? I wonder, too, about the silence of the tens of thousands of Israeli university students and compare them to the raucous Vietnam-era students I covered in the 1970s. Many of the Israelis had gone off to war, returned from the territories or Lebanon and, since then, act as if they have nothing to say. Is this part of an unwritten bargain with the government that underwrites most of their education?

But then must we in the Diaspora also remain silent? I think not. Israel does not need cheerleaders for a bankrupt policy led by a man whose gross miscalculation in 1980 took the country into the quagmire of Lebanon, causing countless Israeli lives for 20 years. Shortly after the Six-Day War in 1967, Moshe Dayan told me the occupation would prove to be like an incurable cancer and he was right.

Yet, the so-called Jewish establishment shushes us, cautions us against criticizing Israeli policy, arrogantly presumes to speak for all American Jews and then kowtows to one faction-ridden government after another in Jerusalem or fetes its leaders here in lavish fundraising dinners. Once, I agreed with that policy, but not anymore.

My wife and I travel to Israel every year. We support a wonderful university where Aliza earned her undergraduate degree. Most importantly, we have our blood invested there in the body of our daughter, whom we love and admire with all our hearts. We want Aliza and Shai Ben Tal to live out their lives in peace, security and happiness. We will not pretend that we were overjoyed to see them board an airplane to return to an Israel that we once thought was beyond reproach. The prospects for peace now are at best gloomy.

As a journalist, I’ve been eyewitness to a dozen wars in my lifetime. I’ve seen and smelled too many deaths on the battlefields of three continents. I stood on the Golan Heights in 1967, believing that it was the conflict that might finally bring peace to Israel. It did not happen then and it will not happen now. The eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth tactics of the present government remind me of a conversation I had in Saigon in 1956 with a French Foreign Legion colonel as the Tricolor was being lowered for the last time in Indochina. As a warning to Americans he told me, “We could go on killing the Vietnamese, but eventually we discovered there were just too many of them willing to die for what they believed in.” It took us 16 years to discover his truth.

How long will it take the hawks in Israel and the United States to wake up to the obvious?

Murray Fromson is a professor of journalism in the
Annenberg School of Communication at USC and a veteran foreign correspondent. He
can be reached at FromsonM@aol.com