How does one “remember” ongoing trauma, continuing crime? Can one remember proleptically? Can one begin to atone in advance? Both Israeli and Palestinian peace activists are embedded in cultures that are obsessed with linear history, past remorselessly generating future; they thus continuously imagine what will be said (someday) about today even before today passes into tomorrow. We witness the cruelties of the Israeli occupation, we pit ourselves against them, knowing how futile our gestures are, and how necessary. Can a futile gesture be so soaked in meaning that it marks and shapes a memory that does not yet exist? But creative retrospection is also unfolding in the present. An Israeli peace group, Zokhrot, is dedicated to recovering and preserving the memories of a Palestinian life that has been erased. There are also cases of evolving atonement, such as we see in the villages of Budrus and Bil’in, where the villagers have taken their fate into their own hands and Israelis have come to protect them, with their bodies, from the soldiers. Perhaps atonement at its fullest is far from retrospection. Think, perhaps, of Palestine today as a domain for far-reaching moral experiment that can be articulated by participants caught up in ongoing pain.
David Shulman is Professor of Indian Studies and Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, where he has been teaching since 1977, after obtaining a Ph.D. in Tamil Literature from the University of London. He has held visiting appointments at the University of Wisconsin, Johns Hopkins, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Chicago. He is an elected member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and from 1992 to 1998 directed the Institute of Advanced Studies in Jerusalem. He has been a Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow, among many other distinctions, and most recently was awarded the Emet Prize. He has published over thirty books as author or editor, including works on numerous aspects of Indian culture and comparative studies in culture and religion. David Shulman is also a peace activist and a member of a joint Israeli-Palestinian grassroots movement for non-violence called Coexistence. His book Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine was published in 2007 by the University of Chicago Press.