Thanks for turning me from a Zionist into a post-Zionist.
It was late November, 1982. I had been at sea on one tug boat or another since early July. As we pulled into Puget Sound, headed toward Elliot Bay, towing our barge and its stacked and lashed down cargo of auxiliary C-130 fuel tanks, which we were bringing south from the air force base on Shemya Island, I called my closest friend in Seattle on the radiotelephone. He agreed to pick me up in a few hours at the Crowley dock on Harbor Island. I was more than ready for my first beer in three months.
When Jim Acord picked me up at the pier, he said “We’re going to an art exhibit in Fremont.”
I replied, “Is it close to a bar?” This was a decade before Fremont came back to life, and there were only one or two seedy bars in what was then one of Seattle’s most neglected neighborhoods.
Jim was a struggling sculptor, and a couple of Fremont’s pioneer artists, most notably Richard Beyer, were allowing Acord to use their sheds and tools to carve granite.
“Sculpture?” I asked.
“No, kids’ art. Orphans, actually – Palestinian orphans from Beirut.”
“From the massacres?” Even though I had been at sea in the north Pacific, Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas for months, we had kept up with the news via our boats’ excellent radios in the bridge cabin. We listened avidly to BBC, Radio Moscow, U.S. Armed Forces Radio, and NHK.
Jim answered, “Yes. It’s a collection of impressions by Palestinian refugees from Sabra who lost family members or parents. Put together by people in the Seattle area Palestinian-American community.”
“That was fast.” The massacres of thousands of Palestinian refugees residing in the fetid, overcrowded refugee camps in Beirut’s outskirts had occurred in mid-September, just over two months earlier. The massacres had been inflicted during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, that had commenced on June 6th, 1982.
We went to the impromptu exhibit. Here, my close associate introduced me to some of his Palestinian-American friends, who walked me around to others, and to the show’s organizers. I was as warmed by their genuine geniality as I was chilled by the images of guns, blood, mangled bodies, Stars of David, helicopters, tanks and tears. I wrote ten years ago:
This Seattle exhibit opened my eyes to sociological aspects of the growing Mid-East tragedy for the first time. My previous interests in subjects like “Israel’s defensible borders” or fascination with the Battle of the Chinese Farm during the Yom Kippur War were completely overshadowed by developing friendships with Christian and Muslim Palestinian Americans.
Up to the time of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and this exhibit, I had been very supportive of Israel. After this experience, and my gaining Palestinian friends, I ceased to accept Zionist explanations for Israeli actions uncritically.
Sharon was found by the Kahan Commission to be indirectly responsible for the Sabra and Shatila Massacre of over 3,000 Palestinian refugees by Israel’s Lebanese allies, the Phalanges, and was made to resign – although he remained in the cabinet as minister without portfolio. Attempts to bring him to trial in international courts over the massacre went to no avail.
That this unrepentant thug went on, after having enabled such massacres, to become Israeli prime minister says as much about how sick that society is as it does about Sharon’s own relentless drive for personal power.