“Running On Empty”: Israel’s morals are nowhere to be seen

By Louis Frankenthaler

The Jerusalem Marathon of 2011, which will pass through Sheikh Jarrah, reminds Louis Frankenthaler of an old Jackson Browne song he grew up on

A great song, indeed, I remember it from those good old days, when I was a kid, in Jersey. Growing up in the early 80’s,being tremendously turned on by the music streaming out of the No Nukes movement. Arguing with my Dad about what is better – coal or nuclear energy. He thought nuclear. I thought neither. I was young, and idealistic.

I don’t know why, but one of my earliest memories of television is the Vietnam War. About 1969/1970, maybe it was after the Tet Offensive, I’m not sure. There were so many images. The South Vietnam officer blowing out the brains of the Viet Cong guerilla that was captured in Life Magazine is etched in my head. Not because I saw it happen, but because I saw it after it had been captured and embedded, in an ancient form of hyperlink, in a glossy magazine that covered the evils of that war for so long.

But the images I distinctly remember seeing on TV in Denver are distant, yet close (pick your killing field). Buildings in the background, tall ones, gray looking against a dark gray sky, maybe gray from the weather, maybe from the smoke of war. About 3 or 4 kids, they impressed me as being kids, dressed in loincloths, in a line, trying to stand up yet being grabbed by rifle toting soldiers and being pushed back down.

I swing back to today and I think for some reason of Jackson Browne. I remember his tune, Running on Empty, not so much for the lyrics but for the title. And I think that, yeah, back then I was maybe 5, what did I know about what was going on? And then I flash back again. We had a neighbor, who lived across the street. He was my age. I guess we were friends. My mother tells me that when the kid, Scott, asked where Vietnam was I said, “That is where you go to get killed”. His father was a chopper pilot over there. I don’t know what happened to him. I guess I can try to look for him on Facebook. But I probably won’t.

And still I come back to the title of the song “Running on Empty… looking out at the road rushing under my wheels…” And I travel forward, not yet returning to the kids and the buildings, but to the Meggido Prison Camp, and the first time I witnessed something evil happening. I won’t go into details, in the end it was not a war crime, it was some kid soldier with too much power humiliating and scaring the hell out of a Palestinian kid who was about to be released. Doesn’t matter really what I did. Did I refuse to continue to cooperate further, after I realized what was going on? Yes. Do I carry that image with me today while working for human rights? Yes. Do I pray to God that my kids will not be any of those kids in these images? Yes. Am I confident of my prayers being answered? No.

Let’s go further down the road. To Jerusalem 2011. To Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, where the kids from the TV screen in Vietnam can be found. They too are stripped of their dignity, trying to assert themselves, to sneak past the humiliation and pain. Yet they are pushed back down, over and over. They are pushed by Israeli soldiers carrying out the orders from high above, to protect the Occupation, preserve it at all costs, because it is more precious than human life and dignity.

And then I remember what really got me. Why did I think of the song title? The Jerusalem Marathon, on March 25th, set to run through East Jerusalem and pass by Sheikh Jarrah, where those running on their own empty moral gas tank are now preparing for a new settlement in East Jerusalem. More of the same old images of oppression and evil. I wonder what my kids will remember from today’s news?

Louis Frankenthaler lives in West Jerusalem with his family. He is a human rights worker and PhD student.