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From The Vault Of Art Shay: War And Peace

By Art Shay in News on Nov 28, 2012 7:00PM

(Legendary Chicago-based photographer Art Shay has taken photos of kings, queens, celebrities and the common man in a 60-year career. This week, Art and a reader discuss the merits of war.)

We have all received persuasive emails from intelligent strangers either for or against some of our strongest beliefs on war, peace, religion, sex. I start this week's Vault with such a note by one Julian Resnick of New York City. I received it through a smart cousin of mine who has spent her life on causes designed to help Israel. Julian's words and feelings resonated with me and he gave me and Chicagoist permission to use them, along with my answer to him. As you know, I'm a Jewish atheist and have avoided entering the Israel-Arab maze. But as a combat veteran of six years of war, having survived being shot at by Nazis myriad times, I scrupled to answer Julian Resnick's indictment. My words follow his below. My pictures are war pictures.

I have written and re-written something about this past week in Israel many times over the past few days. So much has been said. I have found myself agreeing with people who are disagreeing with each other. I have watched the news constantly; I have checked Israeli news websites every ten minutes; I have spoken with my children, Elad, Maya and Daphne, a few times every day; I have read countless articles, Facebook messages and blogs and so ask myself the question every time I sit down to write something: do I have anything to add?

The answer is probably no, but I have a need to say something out loud, to express these feelings I am carrying around silently at this moment.

I feel guilty being here in NYC, and will feel no better, I am sure, when I land in London Friday morning to meet with my friends in the UK who travel on many of the Journeys I have been involved with over the past 10 years. At times like this I know that I have work to do over here with the young people I work with at the moment, in the communities I speak in at the moment, but on a totally emotional level, Israel is where I need to be.

I feel so angry with those who would destroy us, who have built up a huge stockpile of weapons whose sole purpose is to bring death and destruction to Jewish people because they cannot imagine a world where we too have a place in the sun. Who know who we are and therefore proudly display their strategy for all to see in their slogan, “the Jews believe in Life, we believe in Death.” I hate it when words of anger and violence enter my mouth and invade my mind, but I need to be categorical here so that nobody will misunderstand me, I am different from some of those with whom I have worked over the years. I do not need to end every sentence of support for Israel with a phrase which remembers the loss of life and property in Gaza. I am appalled by the loss of life period, but I want those who are causing it, who are bringing it on their own people to stand up and be held accountable. The Hamas strategy is based on the use of violence against Jews and Israel, waiting for inevitable consequence of a military response (remember that we tried Psalms in the past and it did not work very well), and then using this as a launching pad for the propaganda war. Nobody, but nobody, has the right to launch missiles against us, to bomb our buses, to try and kill my children and myself. This thought does not make me a warmonger, a fascist or hard hearted; it makes me a person who believes that we too have rights, including the right not to be attacked, injured, maimed and killed.

I feel hugely disappointed with those who share many of my opinions regarding workers rights, Health care; who like me are committed to Feminism, Gay Rights, Abortion rights, and most importantly, agree with me that we need a two state solution in the Middle East, based on Israel and Palestine living as neighbors side by side in a new Middle East, and who like myself, would define themselves as a social progressives. How do they find their way to excuse the summary execution of six people suspected of helping Israel in Gaza? No trial, no due process? A body dragged through the streets of Gaza? How can they not notice every Israeli commentator talking with deep regret about the awful deaths of the family in Gaza whose lives were lost by the use of the wrong co-ordinates in a bombing raid (the vicious terrorists lived in the building next door); and the fact that when Israeli civilians are indiscriminately targeted and there is a success, Hamas operatives hand out candy in the streets of Gaza? How can prominent leaders of the progressive community see Hamas, anti-Gay, anti-Women Hamas, as bearers of the torch of the progressive revolution? Do they not realize that these people are the antithesis of progressive politics? That their regime has no respect for due process, Women’s Rights, Freedom of Speech, Gay Rights, Abortion Rights? And a word to my Christian friends from the Friendship Journeys: Google what is happening to Christians under these fundamentalist rulers of Gaza!

I feel secure in the knowledge that many of my friends in the US and the UK have seen what is happening and have immediately reached out to Israel to stand by us in these difficult times. For this I thank you so very much, as feeling alone at times like these, is a very painful feeling.

I feel determined, once we are beyond these difficult days, to continue my work for a just and Peaceful Israel where, notwithstanding the complexity of the situations we live with and the added scars of this past week, we will work for an Israel which reaches out to our neighbors, strives for Peace, works towards social justice for its citizens irrespective of their ethnic background and their religious commitment. We created this State as both a place for us to live out the next chapter of Jewish history and to create something which our civilization can be proud of. We have not been allowed to get on with this historical task by those who prefer a world without Jewish autonomy. The task must be completed and we will not take our eyes off this prize even when the foreground is filled with the images of war.


Julian (Resnick)

At no time during my missions against the Nazis did I forget why I was killing them and offering myself to be killed by them. I soon learned, as you are learning, that wars of hatred—are there any other kind?—are in no way rational. Reason is the weapon all of us warriors carry in our arsenal and find impossible to use--for this reason and that reason. But never to promulgate the logic of realizing that murder never carries a pretty face and, when we go to war, it is to become murderers. I do not believe in God, just or unjust. I believe in the hegemony of flawed men and women in every time who murder with tears in their eyes and with hearts of unyielding iron for a cause largely forgotten in the bloody flummery of war. We warriors are like the insect fighters for their colonies who are driven by the need for victory, not logic. For if we lose, we lose everything for all of us. If we win, we win temporary time and life for all of us-like I did for you and my own five children, waiting to live and breed in some imperfect future, shimmering in the wings. Waiting to go on indignantly. Waiting, in turn, as you have done, to feel now as I did then.

I wish this weren't so, that logic would prevail, but the above is all true and the other side of the Logic Card is Death, grinning, waiting and unrepentant, for killing the best of us and wounding—always wounding—the impossible- to-reconcile future. The logical tack you have tried to maneuver in the Sea and See of Death is, alas, unavailing. We are fighting Man's Fate, his flawed bloodstream awash in the ironic sentience of knowing how it should be lived and, as in a bad dream, never achieving the shores of reason.

The fault dear Julian, is not in ourselves, but in the unyielding stars under which we are underlings—s true for Shakespeare as for us. "This past week in Israel," alas, is the past in every sense of the word. My past, your past, the past of those to come. So we sail on in hope, against the tides of reason and, alas, the winds of history.

If you can't wait until this time every Wednesday to get your Art Shay fix, please check out the photographer's blog, which is updated regularly. Art Shay's book, Chicago's Nelson Algren, is also available at Amazon.