I was interested in politics at an unnaturally young age. I was born in 1969, but I was actively supportive of Jimmy Carter’s campaign for the presidency in 1976. I still remember one girl who voted for Ford in our second grade straw poll, and I never forgot her perfidy. I remained fiercely loyal to Carter when he was challenged by Teddy Kennedy, but I flirted with the candidacy of John Anderson. I actually watched the Republican debates in 1980.

I first became aware of Israel during the Camp David talks, and they were a great success for President Carter. I guess I thought the problem was solved, and I didn’t really think about it one way or the other. I certainly had no understanding of the underlying issues.

The first time I actually had to confront the Israel-Palestine question as a moral quandary might surprise you. Through the mists of time, I might get some details wrong. But I can kind of reconstruct it, I think. It must have been in 1982, shortly after Israel invaded Lebanon. I remember seeing on the news that Yasser Arafat was on the run and might be in the sights of Israeli gunships. The portrait that was painted was that Arafat was in imminent danger of being assassinated.

Now, I had internalized that Arafat was a bad man. He was a terrorist. But I also remembered him smiling and shaking hands with Menacham Begin on the White House lawn. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I guess I figured that the Palestinians must have gone back on their word. I was not inclined to be sympathetic to Arafat, but I didn’t exactly harbor any ill will towards him, either.

So, the next day, I went over to the house of a classmate after school. There I found my friend’s mother in a state of great concern for the well being of Mr. Arafat. She was adamant that the Israelis were committing some grave injustice and seemed horrified that they might kill Arafat. This confused me greatly because my friend and his mother were as Jewish as Jewish people can be. Why was she taking the side of the enemy?

But she convinced me that it would be a terrible thing if Arafat was assassinated and I remember having trouble going to sleep that night because I had joined her in her great concern.

As it turned out, either the Israelis never actually had a bead on Arafat or they decided that it would cause too much trouble to kill him. He survived and I was relieved, even though I still had no real idea why I should be relieved.

This all happened when I was twelve or thirteen years old. I would only really begin to learn about the Middle East when I took a class on the subject during my senior year in high school.

What lasted for me, however, was the idea that proud Jews could be so critical of the Israeli government and so sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. Later on, I’d hear such people pilloried for being self-hating Jews, but I knew them well enough to know that there was no self-hate involved. There were values that were steeped deeply in Jewish tradition, and those values won out over any kind of stunted tribalism.

I’ve been reading a lot about the current conflict in Gaza and I keep seeing references to the way Israel used to be viewed in this country and in most of the West. I read about how they made the desert bloom and how they championed a kind of socialist paradise that was broadly admired on the left. I was too young to be subjected to that kind of propaganda or those kind of sentiments. I had just turned four during the 1973 war. I never had to unlearn my romantic feelings for Israel.

When I first began to become aware of the conflict, I was pretty immediately subjected to a Jewish family validating the Palestinians’ grievances while they deplored the actions of the right-wing government in Israel.

If anything, I’ve moved right on the issue since then, seeing more of the Israeli’s point of view. But, given where I started, that isn’t saying much. I was basically given permission from the outset to call it as I see it without giving a crap if I am seen to be taking sides in favor of one tribe over another.

For that, I am still grateful for that fortuitous visit to my friend’s house over thirty years ago, now.

Update [2014-7-31 9:7:36 by BooMan]: As happens when a 44 year old tries to reminisce about being a twelve year old, I conflated Sadat with Arafat when I talked about the White House lawn. My apologies.

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