Thursday, July 5, 2018
"Dibs" is an odd phenomenon, usually remarked upon during the long Chicago winters. Those parking spaces on residential streets dug out after snowstorms by neighborhood residents, then reserved for their exclusive use by setting out kitchen chairs and sawhorses and other handy objects to mark their claim.
The logic, as much as there is logic, is they "earned" those spaces by digging out their own cars, through sweat equity. With a hint of threat—anyone who moves the boundary markers and parks in the cleared space does so at their own risk.
Every heavy snow, TV stations like to show the various hodgepodge dibs markers, and take up the debate anew. A bit of Chicago color.
Yet dibs are not confined to cold weather. In summer, there are parade route dibs, such as the ephemera set out on Cherry Street in advance of the July 4 parade in Northbrook. Here the claim is more tenuous. There is no work involved, no snow to shovel. This property is often not on a residential block, but, the case of these photos, the public parkway in front of Greenbriar School. Yet if I showed up a half hour before the parade, kicked these chairs aside and set up my own, those who had set them out, sometimes days in advance, would show up and obviously feel ill-used.
Because their claim was first, I suppose. They got there and mapped out the spot, sort of like getting in a line. You get in line, you can leave and return, provided a friend remains to back up your claim. These lawn chairs and caution tape are place holders. Their reward, not for street cleaning work, but for planning ahead and undergoing a minimum of effort.
More importantly, society seems to recognize this claim. Dibs could just as easily be seen as selfish and futile—it's certainly the former—and youths would rush to see who could scatter the markers first.
But we don't. It is a claim of little consequence, so is respected, this temporary seizure of public space. I live a block from the route, show up as the parade is approaching, my folding chair slung over my arm, and never have trouble finding a clear spot to park myself.
But that is not the end of it.
For some reason, walking the dog past these markers earlier this week, I thought of the Israeli-Palestinian stand-off.
That too, is a matter of claim. The Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, and across the globe, insist they have a right to occupy Israel because they were once there or, rather, their ancestors were, a few generations back.
Because of that pre-1948 presence, they believe they have a right to return to land that many have never seen—even "return" is a misnomer, since you can't go back to a place you've never been.
That's the half of the puzzle that gets bruited about periodically usually when the Palestinians contrive a protest, or action of some sort that gets a sufficient number of them killed to draw fickle international attention. They fling themselves against the Israeli state, are killed, then the survivors wave the bloody shirt, insist they have been wronged. The world notices, clucks, then moves on with nothing changed.
This has been going on for half a century.
As with dibs, society somehow respects the Palestinian claim, to some degree, and the obvious question is "Why?" It can't be they were there "first"—Jews were certainly in the Holy Land too, thousands of years ago. The Palestinian claim isn't enjoyed by other groups. Native Americans controlled the entire continent of North America, 500 years ago, though neither they nor anybody else suggests that, because they were first, they have a right to get the whole thing back. They lost, history moved on. That is usually the case.
But not with the Palestinians. Part of it has to be that, like parade dibs, it is a claim of little consequence to those giving it support. The far left liberals and college students who turn out passionately for the Palestinian cause have the benefit of something easily-understood to be indignant about, and are required to give up nothing. It isn't their land.
If you grab those U.S. supporters and ask them what other displaced peoples they support—say, the Kurds—they will just look blankly at you. The Palestinian situation is the only injustice in the world. If you asked what about all the Jews who, for instance, were kicked out of Egypt, Iraq, Iran, etc., in the 1950s, as revenge after the formation of Israel, where Jews had lived for millennia, again the blank stare. When do they get to return to their homes? Who cares? Never. Those situations don't matter.
I think this is where anti-Semitism comes in. Germany did not believe the Jews who had lived there for centuries belonged there either. Ditto for many other countries. The Jews' homes are always in doubt. The simple solution to any society's problems always seems for the Jews to go somewhere else. We see that today in the United States, with a small but real and growing anti-Semitic presence at the highest levels of government. It would look exaggerated in fiction, but there it is. The hidden solution that's discovered again and again by a certain type—anti-Semitism is philosophy for stupid people. Oh! Look! The answer!
That's what made the founding of Israel in 1948 so important, such a miracle, a miracle that resonated around the world for a couple decades until, after 1967, the Israelis moved from being the underdog to being the top dog in the area, with the strongest military and the most vibrant country. The Palestinians began to look like victims, and there is a certain sort of squishy heart that automatically goes out to a victim without too much thought of extenuating circumstances. Who never worry that the Palestinians never seem to have a plan, either for thriving in what territory they have or interacting peaceably with the permanent reality of Israel. What they have are dibs on the land of Israel, because someone they knew lived there once. It's a stretch, and yet the Israelis are damned for not respecting it.
This isn't to say that the 4 million Palestinians in the occupied territories aren't in an awful situation, nor that a solution can't be found, nor that Israel has not mismanaged its control of the territories and shrugged off its responsibility in recent years. All that is true. While most people approach this situation as a 0 or 1, this side or that, Palestinian or Israel, there is plenty of blame to go around. I see no reason to be hard-hearted toward Palestinian suffering. Jews, of all people, should recognize the wrongness of that. The question, "What happens now?" is met with equal silence by both sides (or, more accurately, each offers up its own brand of nonsense, the Palestinians saying "Now we march on Jerusalem," the Israelis saying, "Now we do nothing while nibbling away at Palestinian land.")
The irony is, the best way for outsiders to help the Palestinians resolve their situation is to withhold the false sympathy they periodically show toward them after their ritual self-immolations make the news. The Palestinian plan—Israelis vanish offstage and the country falls open to them—would be a catastrophe if it actually happened, though that is moot, since it's never going to happen. What is happening is the Israelis are hardening into the same right wing nationalist disease that is afflicting half the world, our country included.
I should wind this up—weighty musings for some plastic chairs on the side of the road. But claims to the property of others are social constructs, as rule bound and time specific as a minuet or Virginia Reel. The 70-year claim that the Israeli people and government have on their own nation is only questioned by many because it is a Jewish nation, and denying Jews a place in the world is one of the oldest fall-back positions in history.