AT A RHODE ISLAND STREET FAIR, THE HAMAS TERROR SEEMED CLOSE
NEWPORT'S Broadway street fair, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023
JON JONES and his mother, Judy, prior to his band's performance.
MY WIFE AND I went to a street fair today in our hometown, Newport, R.I., where “We Own Land,” the band in which our son, Jonathan, is a guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, was performing. It was just a week ago in Israel - on a previous Saturday that none of us cannot stop thinking about – that the Hamas terrorist organization, which rules the Palestinian ghetto known as the Gaza Strip, conducted one of the most savage atrocities of our lifetime. So, as I took pictures of Jonathan and his mother; and as Judy and I walked around the fair, then listened to the band, I reimagined one of the most horrible events that had occurred last week, the attack on the “rave,” in which hundreds of concertgoers were slaughtered. What would it have been like if terrorists today swept into Newport’s Broadway on hang gliders, pickups and motorcycles and began machine-gunning people lined up at the food stands, taking my wife hostage as she was getting a gigantic ice cream cone at the Ben & Jerry’s tent, turning their guns on Jonathan and the other We Own Landers, butchering the small children running around to the music in front of the stage? One thing that I cannot get my mind around is how each Hamas terrorist, one by one, individually, could bring himself to do such things, to shoot innocents, burn their houses, hunt and destroy babies? I know that people do such things. Americans slaughtered its indigenous peoples, lynched and otherwise murdered Blacks, tortured and killed gay people; that it’s true that many, maybe most of us, can and do become savages, given the right circumstances. American soldiers in every war commit atrocities, police who are supposed to protect us, shoot citizens in the back and choke them to death while the cameras roll. Still, I ask: Why didn’t you, individually, say, “No, this I won’t do.” It’s a question asked throughout history, certainly after the Holocaust and World War II. And there are lots of answers, none of the satisfactory. We were attacked; we were mistreated; we were indoctrinated; we were impoverish; our mothers wanted us to; we are patriots; we were ordered to; we had no alternatives. The Hamas assault on Israel will stand in history as an unforgettable, inexcusable horrific outrage.
"WE OWN LAND" on stage at the Broadway street fair. Jonathan Jones is the guitarist at the far left
I AM UNCOMFORTABLE writing about this. As a white Protestant, who grew up in Vermont, I have no lifetime insight into what it is like to be a Jew; what it means to be among the most attacked people in history; and I have no real understanding intellectually, emotionally, of what it means to Jews anywhere to have finally established a nation-sanctuary in Israel. Certainly, as the son of an Episcopal minister, I was not raised in the tradition of Jewish religion or culture. There is some suspicion in my family that my maternal grandfather may have had Jewish origins. But he had no impact on my life, any more than did my paternal grandmother, who had German roots, and who, my parents hinted, was an anti-Semite. Growing up, I was thrilled by the establishment of Israel. It took a while for me to learn that it was not as clear cut as saying that the tiny bit of geography that became Israel was “a land without people, for a people without land.” That, a man who’d served as a tank commander in the Israeli army before becoming a non-violence worker in Rhode Island, was a myth. Still, I cheer that Israel exists; and that as a young nation, after it was attacked by its neighbors, who wanted it and every Jew in it, destroyed, fought back, making good on the post-Holocaust pledge of “Never again.” I regard Israel as a place of hope, and believe that its democratic traditions mirror our own severely flawed democratic aspirations. I also believe that Israel’s democracy has soured – as has our own – and that its right-wing government dishonors the idealism of the younger Israel. The treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is one of oppression, allowing its people no real rights, leaving them increasingly without hope; the settlement movement blatantly snatches away territory, undermining a realistic promise of a Palestinian homeland. None of which excuses what Hamas did a week ago. It remains the very definition of a war crime, especially its brutal attack on civilians and the taking of hostages.
SHOULD I HAVE AN OPINION, living so far away, lacking the history that is personal, visceral and immediate to every Jew? Maybe, as a ordinary person trying to fathom evil, imagining the what-ifs as I attended that Newport street fair and concert; and perhaps as a nominal taxpayer of Israel’s greatest champion, the United States. But I’m concerned about what seems - at least to me - our country’s lop-sided approach to what the hideously persistent Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has outlined as a response to the Hamas war crime: Bomb the smithereens out of Gaza; shut off its electricity; turn off its water; starve the Gazans; “warn” them to leave their homes, pending an imminent land invasion to exterminate Hamas, without offering them a practical way to relocate. What Netanyahu is orchestrating is also a war crime. I have no idea what the “appropriate” Israeli response should be. As President Biden says, the country has a right to defend itself. If Israel does nothing, it surely will perish. And every attempt at “peace” can be foiled by terrorists who can do so much damage with just a bit of advance planning. There are Palestinians who absolutely hate Jews, and Jews who absolutely hate Palestinians. And young men can and will do unspeakable things. I’m stuck with this belief: One war crime can’t be cured by a second one. There is always a third way. I just don’t know what it is. All that I know is that today I went to a street fair, and I couldn’t get the Hamas evil out of my head, or the fear that Israel means to do something, perhaps on a larger scale. We left our son’s performance and the street fair early. Not because machine-gunners arrived by hang gliders, pickups and motorcycles, but because it had started to rain.
I'VE BEEN a reporter and writer for 58 years, long enough to have learned that journalists don't know very much, although I've met some smart ones. Mainly, what reporters know comes from asking other people questions and fretting about the answers. This blog is a successor to one inspired by our dog, Phoebe, who was smart, sweet and the antithesis of Donald Trump. She died Feb. 3, and I don't see getting over that very soon. Occasionally, I may try to reach her via cell phone.