All-Zionist Girl

Lily Galili shares her experience of falling in love with Zionism, a Zionism which stops at the Green Line and which she feels doomed—in the best sense of the term—to carry with her.

I have a confession to make: I’m primitive.

Yes, I do know the history of Zionism and its different movements, am familiar with post Zionism and neo-Zionism (quite popular in Israel now) and they don’t work for me. I have a movement of my own: the primitive one, one I never really bothered to fully explore.

The answer arrived when least expected. Some years ago, I worked on a series of articles on mixed cities in Israel where Jews and Arabs live together (Akko, Ramla, Lod, Yaffo etc). All throughout this ordeal I felt accompanied by two ghosts: one of my mother, a holocaust survivor dead by then, the other of an old Palestinian refugee. Both stared at me with anticipation; both whispered in my ear: “this land is my land.” I’ve known, by then, I cannot fully satisfy both. I can only recognize the drama and the tragedy of one of them, and try to minimize the damage and the pain of the other. I chose my mother, over and over again. Here came my answer. Primitive, I told you.

My intricate relationship with Zionism started on the wrong foot. As a child growing up in communist Poland, I was madly in love with then long dead Stalin. When my mother announced we were leaving for Palestine (that’s how she referred to Israel), I was less than ecstatic. The fact that I was kicked out of school for being a Zionist, long before I understood the nature of my crime, did not help develop warm feelings towards that obscure ideology.

On top of it, Zionism failed me completely. Having watched Exodus, I expected all men in Israel to look like Paul Newman. It turns out that even the Promised Land fails to produce many of those.

And then I fell in love again. This time with this crazy, pained and pain-inflicting country. Decades of participation in anti-war and pro-peace demonstrations, learning to live with the unfulfilled promise of a safe-haven certainly caused some erosion, but never destroyed my self-definition as a Zionist. Just the opposite, it made me an all-Zionist girl. I’m the liberal “peacenik” at rallies, but also the settler from an illegal outpost. One day I might feel closest to an Israeli Arab and on another day, I might identify with an American Jew.

Ultimately, my Zionism is about shouldering collective burden. I feel responsible for everything that goes wrong in Israel and I rejoice in the little that goes right.

I am the All-Zionist girl. I know it sounds terribly self serving. It’s not. If anything, it’s selfish.

I know, from experience, I could never live again in a place where I am a minority. I’d rather struggle with the often non-democratic nature of Israel , the lack of social justice, the cruelty of occupation, the constant sense of guilt, and do (almost) the best I can to change it. From here, from within. Yet my Zionism stops at the Green Line.

Some years ago, I heard a speech delivered in Jerusalem by my American friend, great expert on Zionism. He made an interesting distinction. Americans, he said, have a contract with their country; Israelis have a covenant with theirs. Something felt wrong. “Not a covenant,” I told him, “even in a covenant there is an element of choice. I feel doomed to live here and doomed to be a Zionist.” Doomed in the good sense of the word. If there is one.