Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Saint or Sinner - You Be the Judge

When Lt. (GI Joe) Gliniewicz was murdered in Fox Lake, Illinois, an extensive manhunt was organized to search for him. Thousands of police from all over the United States attended his funeral to pay their respects to this local hero who had mentored so many and been active in helping the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs in Fox Lake.

After the funeral, many of G.I. Joe’s transgressions came to light. Apparently he committed suicide and had it rigged to look like a murder to hide his crimes. Allegedly, he had been embezzling money from the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs that he purportedly helped for years. In addition, there had been many other incidents and complaints against him involving sexual harassment, drunkenness on the job, and other violations of the public trust. Does the bad erase all the good that GI Joe did? Was he a saint or a sinner?

The whole controversy surrounding Lt. Gliniewicz’ death brings to mind a trip we took to Argentina in February, 2012. Before leaving, I asked an acquaintance who had grown up in Buenos Aires for ideas about places of interest to see. One of her top recommendations was the cemetery in Ricoleta, a very prominent Buenos Aires neighborhood. Another top recommendation was to go to the Evita Peron Museum.

Prior to our trip to South America, I had always thought of Juan and Eva Peron as dictators who ruled Argentina with iron fists from 1944 to 1952 and caused many of their political opponents to be disappeared and/or imprisoned. The Perons-BAD! The Evita Peron Museum painted a totally different picture. She advocated for labor, women’s rights, the decamisados (the shirtless i.e. poor) and women’s suffrage and is remembered for having single-handedly established a women’s health clinic and organized low-cost housing. Eva Peron was adored by her constituents for this.
Eva Peron

The cemetery at Ricoleta is worth a visit to see all its elaborate monuments and could be the blog post subject in itself of many a writer. At Eva Peron’s grave, people are still coming to this day to bring flowers and pay tribute to her. I was surprised to see written on her grave “Don’t cry for me…” I thought it was just a song written for the musical. Does this mean that the Perons were not dictators who had their opponents sent to prison and/or disappeared? Were they saints or sinners? Again, you be the judge.

Eva Peron's tombstone
Eva's grave with fresh flowers left by her supporters 50 years later

For me, the take-home message of that South American trip is that we human beings are very complicated. Few if any among us are all good or all bad. For most people, it is easier to see others in stark black or white than in shades of gray. Yet, that’s who we are. Saints or sinners? Let history be the judge. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Revisiting the Handshake - What Do We Have When It's Lost?

Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat with Pres. Clinton - the historic handshake
Twenty years ago, on November 4, 1995, Yitzhak Rabin, then Prime Minister of Israel, was assassinated at a peace rally in Tel Aviv by a religious extremist. On that day, the chance for peace between Israel and the Palestine territories suffered a setback from which it has never fully recovered. As violence in the Middle East again escalates, I bemoan this lost opportunity.  

In the early 1970’s when we lived in Israel, some of our Israeli friends told us that we were na├»ve. “Don’t you know that the Arabs only want to push us into the sea? You don’t know what it’s like.” At the time, they couldn't imagine Israel signing peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan yet that came to pass. How tragic that they were never proven wrong about peace with the Palestinians. Yet what are the choices if that never happens? Do they continue to have continued rounds of violence forever until they're ultimately destroyed by it?

I’ve often wondered since we returned to America if I would have continued to feel the same way about peace if we had stayed in Israel. Would we be part of the peace movement there or would the events there have caused us to think differently? After all, we’re shaped to a large extent by our experiences.

It’s impossible to know the answer to that question. From the vantage point of living here in America, however, I think that chances are better for peace with a two state solution than in a bi-national state. According to population statistics, if Israel retains the Palestinian areas, the Jewish Israeli population will be only 49% by 2020. Can Israel survive as a haven for Jews fleeing persecution in a bi-national state?

One state hasn’t worked for the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Even the Czechs and Slovaks separated albeit peacefully. And rumblings of separatism from the Flemish and French have been heard in Belgium. Israel can learn from other countries’ historic mistakes. I mourn Yitzhak Rabin’s death twenty years ago and hope that Israelis and Palestinians and those of us hear can somehow revive what was begun and tragically aborted by Rabin's assassination. The future of peace depends on it.