So many versions of Israel’s national anthem are being sent on social media during these times of trauma. Its title, Ha Tikvah: Hope. The lyrics, written in 1886 by Galician poet Naphtali Herz Imber, to Samuel Cohen’s melody based on a theme from Bedrich Smetana’s Moldau, focus on two stanzas: To be a free people in our land/ The Land of Zion and Jerusalem.
Yes, the words surge with hope. But as the images of Jewish suffering in Israel two weeks ago swiftly morph into the scenes of shattered Gazan widows and orphans streaming into our devices, you would need a heart of stone to remain unmoved by their cries of pain and grief. They, too, long for a safe homeland.
“There are two rights in Palestine,” Israel’s first president Chaim Weizmann asserted. “But the Jewish right is stronger.” We rarely speak of comparable rights today. It’s not in our current vernacular. But this long, harmonic stress on the five syllables of Yerushalayim in Ha Tikvah brings the question, with all its evocation of grief and thwarted longing, bubbling back to the surface.
Two rights. A two-state solution. Jerusalem; divided or shared. Israeli soldiers began a ground offensive on Hamas. It is an almost biblical image of warring nations who can only settle their scores by violence; that fight to the death which never achieves an elusive peace. Today that peace – any peace on any terms – could not seem further away. As I watch the news with my usual avid intensity, it is hard – even though I am Jewish – to separate the tears of one from the other. What would peace look like if ordinary citizens, without political or military demands, sat down to work it out? Of course, it’s like asking the lion to lie down with the lamb. But I do wonder what most of us, if unscarred by doctrine and historical pre-determinism, would do if simply asked the question of how would you live peacefully in Israel or Palestine? It is the heart of John Lennon’s Imagine. Or the Beatles’ refrain – There will be an answer. Let it Be.
Would we share the land with all its religious differences and affiliations, synagogues, mosques and churches, and together form an apex of spiritual understanding? A kind of Let it Be. Or would the Jewish state crumble into nothing under the weight of a growing Arab majority, as most Israeli Jews fear?
And what now of the two-state solution? Has it all but disappeared under the blast of gunfire and the acrid pall of destruction? And would the geography of the land itself actually be sufficient to host two states in awkward geographic positions, each able to live in harmony with each other? Or would it be like asking King Solomon all over again to settle the score over the two widows and one disputed baby? To me the broken heart of every bereaved mother is equal. The anguish incomparable. Eternal as a hole cut deep into the heart. When you see images of such anguish on our screens, this pain is what makes us all equal. But peace, that symbolic dove, shimmers like a waking dream on the edge of a nightmare. Looked at another way, the words of the Ha Tikvah – The Hope – can be read as reassurance, if only we would put down our weapons and come to meet each other and embrace – two bereaved mothers calming each other’s pain.
Our hope is not yet lost/It is two thousand years old/To be a free people in our land/The land of Zion and Jerusalem.
Can we still dare to hope?