“And I’ve grown accustomed to the way you hurled us into space, now we’ll never make that trip.” – John Hiatt (performed by the Wailin’ Jennys)
Today as I drove out of town for a hike, I saw a new billboard, “Stop the blank check to Israel,” which is linked here: http://www.stoptheblankcheck.org/index.html#.UIxh0vk5ydE. That may be John Wayne looking thoughtful about unchecked U.S. aid to Israel, but I couldn’t tell you, and I digress. At the same moment that I got really excited — the controversy sparked by similar ads is being brought closer to where I now live! the struggle continues — I got immensely sad. Alex never did make it to Israel and Palestine.
There is much that depresses me about a future without my brother. In some ways, the most truly tragic part is the groundswell of progressive change that he was involved in but will never see come to fruition. Alex was involved in so many progressive causes, so much movement-building, and while he saw some of it bring returns he knew as well as anyone that it’s a long haul. Around a decade ago, both of us got involved with Israel and Palestine issues. I got deeper involved, but he may have been the first one involved in the family; it’s hard to say at this point and it’s mostly irrelevant anyway. The point is, by the time either of us was ready to “come out” to our parents as Jewish kids critical of Israel, we were a unified front. (Turns out our parents were already struggling with the issues on their own and were receptive, for which I am eternally grateful.) And the first protest I went to at home, Alex came with me. When I left for Israel and Palestine a few months later to do human rights work, my parents also started going to the protests.
My brother’s thesis, a bound tome which I still have not read but which sits on my bookshelf, was about the hypocrisy of South African Jewish anti-apartheid activists’ attitudes towards Israel. Alex remained supportive, informed, and thoughtful on the issue of Israel and Palestine, although his work found broader and more national scope. He somehow managed to work in coalitions of people who remained willfully ignorant about Israel, but never failed to state his opinion clearly and unapologetically if pushed. He once stopped a polite and pained discussion I was having at a wedding party with someone who was pleading that the situation in Israel and Palestine was “complicated” with a curt, “No, actually it’s quite simple.” Activism requires passion and moral clarity, and moral clarity requires a conviction in positions that are black and white. Alex got nuance, but there are some things you just can’t half-ass and there are just some crimes you have to call out — Alex got that, but he also got when it was more utilitarian to not push the point at that moment, something I still struggle with. Although I would say that Alex even had moral clarity and conviction in his strategic decisions of when and when not to push points, since he always thought he was working for a larger issue.
Alex was always a bit extreme. As a small child he did flips and headstands on sudden whims. He would acquire more stitches and broken bones in a year than I have gotten in a lifetime. When he went to college he threw himself into radical activism, leading die-ins, getting arrested, getting beaten by the police, and getting his screaming mug on the cover of the local newspaper. He totalled 3 cars in the time I have owned one. Although he made informed decisions — Alex was a vast repository of information, being the most voracious reader I have ever met — he never made measured ones. He hurled himself, and pulled others with him, into space.
In the ten years since I have been working on peace and justice in Palestine, we have come a long way. The vocabulary we can use has changed, and most people now accept that Israel commits human rights abuses with U.S. weapons, even most diaspora Jews. When I first immersed myself in this issue I thought that a just peace would not happen in my lifetime; now, I am hopeful that it will happen in the next 20 years. Alex, who immersed himself in the history and struggle against Apartheid in South Africa, knew well the long course that struggle took. Thinking about the tireless work that Palestinians and allies have done to push this movement forward, and hoping that we will win, makes me well up with appreciative tears. Alex not being able to see where all this work takes us, however, brings me more sadness. When that day comes, I will wish Alex could visit with me and our Palestinian friends, and I will wonder for the way to tell him: see, we were a part of this.