Cancer and War
Today is, I think, the sixth day of the Israeli offensive in Gaza. It did not come out of the blue, but many people believe that it is aggressive and disproportional. Some see it as a cynical political exercise at the expense of human lives, and still others believe it is a simple case of self-defense. I don’t intend to talk explicit politics in this blog, but I’d like to talk about how the situation affects me.
I live in Jerusalem, a city that is holy to Christianity, Islam and Judaism, so my area is a low priority for organized hostilities. My neighborhood, however is right on the Green Line, so it is a focus of what I call “street-level nationalistic violence” – violent attacks on individuals or small groups by a person who may or may not be part of a larger organization. These include bus bombings, stabbings, shootings and attacks with heavy machinery, as well as acts of nationalistically motivated criminal vandalism ranging from uprooting entire olive groves to spray painting racist graffiti at sensitive locations.
I have experienced being shot at and life under rocket attack, and I’ve blogged a little bit about my own experience in a bus bombing. Immediately following that experience I was virulently racist and radically right-wing. I’m not proud of that any more than I can take credit for the change that has occurred in me. However, having been such a person, I feel that I am well-situated to understand, at least on an emotional level, the more radical points of view in this conflict.
One thing that strikes me is the extent of “otherization” by both sides. With exaggerated and often false statements, people separate the opponent from their own daily experience by such a huge divide that the opponent almost stops being seen as a person. This is usually coupled with demonization, adding up to disgusting statements that serve only to increase feelings of anger and self-righteousness.
It isn’t unusual in such a situation to hear the word “cancer” bandied about. They are a cancer in the land. We have to cut out this cancer surgically. They are spreading and taking over like a pernicious cancer. I have heard all these statements by people on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I was thinking about that in terms of my own cancer. As you know, I don’t like the bellicose vocabulary of oncology, terms like “fighting cancer”. In “Have I survived yet? Part I” I wrote:
I don’t use the vocabulary of war in talking about cancer because war has a winner and a loser and no one knows which side is which until the dust clears. I prefer the language of coexistence: living with. The cancer and I share space. That doesn’t mean I don’t treat the disease, and I’d have infinitely preferred not to have to share, but it does mean that I do not invest my mental, emotional and spiritual energy in battle and thoughts of destruction.
Is it surprising that I approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the same way? Neither group is going anywhere and it is just not possible for one to destroy the other without being itself destroyed, so wouldn’t it be better (saner, more logical, easier) to find a way to coexist? Coexistence is not easy and it is not without pain, but I have found it infinitely less draining than spending my energy in hatred and struggle. (And there I am talking about cancer and war, both.)
One of the things we know about cancer is that it is a terrible drain on the body’s resources, physically and emotionally. Cachexia, fatigue and depression associated with cancer can be seen as evidence of this. We also know that war is terribly costly to a nation, in both economic and social terms. In fact, I would go so far as to say that is not “the other” who is the cancer on the land; the real cancer is war and aggression.
Okay. I know I sound like the love child of a peacenik and a bliss ninny. Even so, I think I’m on to something here. Wouldn’t it be cool to relate to war and armed conflict as a disease that needs a cure? Would that kind of paradigm shift lead to better results?