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September 2, 2014 | 7th Elul 5774

Remembering and forgetting II

Galilee Diary #314, December 3, 2006
Marc J. Rosenstein

Remembering and forgetting II

We will not forget and we will not forgive!

-poster seen around Israel near anniversary of Yitzchak Rabin's death

Who exactly are "we" and what exactly will we not forget and whom will we not forgive?

Without knowing the seasonal context – if you encountered this poster around Holocaust Day, for example – you might assume that it referred to the Nazis and their collaborators, or to the Palestinian terrorists and their collaborators, people who commit irredeemably evil acts. We must remember these acts and their perpetrators, so as not to allow them ever to lapse into a sense of forgiveness by default, for a world where such acts are forgiven becomes an evil world. We vowed to remember the Holocaust, perhaps, to save it from ever being taken for granted, made trivial, forgiven.

However, while the poster resonates with the emotional energy of the Holocaust, it is not about the Holocaust, and it is not about terrorism. So what does it mean?

One possibility is that "we" are the people of the state of Israel, and that we will not forget that shocking and tragic night when Yigal Amir assassinated Yitzchak Rabin, showing us the black depths to which political polemic could descend. And we will not forgive Amir for his act. This implies, I suppose, that we are angry that the court permitted him conjugal rights, allowing him to marry and father a child while in his prison cell. It also implies that we think that there are some in our midst who believe that forgiveness is possible for the assassin – hence, this poster to reaffirm our rejection of that belief.

Another possibility is that "we" are the left wing of Israeli political discourse, "the peace camp," who feel that the bullet aimed at Rabin was aimed at all of us and all we believe in, who know that while Yigal Amir may have acted alone, his act was silently (or not silently) encouraged and supported by various segments of the right wing of Israeli society. Thus, the poster is an ominous threat: we know who killed Rabin and shot down the peace, and we will neither forget nor forgive, and there will some day be a settling of accounts. Amir may have taken the fall, but there are thousands among us who see violence as acceptable in the service of God's will as they understand it – and who don't think Amir is beyond forgiveness.

Still another possibility is that the poster is a leftover from the struggle over the withdrawal from Gaza last summer, when such rhetoric directed by the settlers and their supporters against those who supported and carried out the evacuation was quite common.

In other words, this simple poster is really very economical, and whoever printed it, with a little marketing savvy, should be able to sell one to just about everybody regardless of their political or ideological affiliation. It is kind of a universal expression of free-floating anger; everybody can identify with it. It rides on a powerful cultural theme that flows through us since the Holocaust: memory as defiance, defiant memory as identity. Our answer to those who wanted us to be forgotten – or who wanted their evil to be forgotten - is to remember, to remember, to remember. We remember with all our might – indeed, sometimes I fear that we devote so much energy to remembering past evils, grudges, insults, wounds, injustices, and victimization, that we lose sight of the future. There may indeed be situations in which it is appropriate not to forget and not to forgive. However, when we transform those situations into ideological declarations stenciled on the walls, I feel we dehumanize ourselves.

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