Archive | July, 2014

The Bad, the Ugly and the Good

29 Jul

Sometimes reality is like a bad dream come true.

I’ll leave the actual war aside for the moment. Today, I’m writing about our internal war, a war between worldviews and social groups that has become anti-democratic and violent. Once the real war is over, I’m afraid the secondary war will have a greater impact on our daily lives than the other one.

The chain of events that started with the kidnapping of the three teens shredded whatever remained of Israel’s fragile coexistence. Hate and incitement burst through the growing cracks in our society, and it’s out of control. Tolerance is a long-forgotten afterthought.

On Saturday night, I went to an anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv. Thousands called for a long-term diplomatic solution so that people on both sides can live peacefully.

The protest in Tel Aviv, July 26, 2014.

The protest in Tel Aviv, July 26, 2014.

At previous anti-war protests, there have been verbal and physical clashes between anti-war protesters and counter-protesters (“ultra-rightists” or “nationalists”). As such, the police presence at Saturday’s demonstration was heavy. The media reported a “sterile” area of 200 metres separating the “left-wing”(anti-war) and counter-protesters (“extreme right”).  Read more here about violence at previous protests.

Because I knew the chances of violence were high, I considered precautions. First, I deliberated whether to bring my expensive camera. I read that some counter-protesters try to break cameras because photos don’t lie and gain wide and instant exposure on Facebook. Aharon advised that I should, but to stay in the middle of the main protest area. away from the violent types. I also considered bringing pepper spray. I don’t even know where to buy such a thing, and in the end I didn’t.

I never imagined I would have such thoughts about attending a demonstration, a basic right which I have exercised many times. Yet, so many things that have happened in the past few weeks have surpassed my fears and expectations, and have made me question the basic values of my society and the decency of people in my midst.

Both Arabs and Jews unabashedly rejoice in the deaths of Israeli soldiers and children in Gaza. Similarly, several Palestinian citizens of Israel have been fired or expelled for writing despicable statements on Facebook, including a psychologist in the Lod Municipality, who posted on Facebook that she hoped more Israeli soldiers would be killed. Such a statement is inexcusable, but the mayor of this mixed city of Arabs and Jews handled it in an exceptionally distasteful and populist (and illegal) manner. In a widely publicized statement he mentioned her name and claimed that “the era of one hand taking [suckling] and receiving a nice paycheck from the State…and the other hand betraying and wishing for the downfall of the State which owns those same public funds, is over.” However offensive and distasteful the psychologist may have been, the Municipality presumably hired her because she had the right qualifications. In other words, no one did her a favour. The Mayor clearly abused his power, and sent a terrifying message to all citizens of Israel: you can be punished for your beliefs.

Because Arab citizens, who make up 20% of our population, are victims of systematic discrimination in times of peace as well, it’s not surprising that only extremist Arabs are being witch-hunted for such behaviour. Extreme Jews make parallel statements, but they are not fired or expelled to the same extent.

One of my online parenting  forums has become a fertile ground for this witch-hunt, with many calls to boycott companies who employ Arabs who write offensive things. When I challenged the worth of such an initiative, I was accused of defaming our fallen soldiers and having a moral double standard (it was a relatively civil debate).

Today, the Knesset Ethics Committee suspended Arab MK Hanin Zuabi from participating in the plenary and committees for offensive comments, including that the teens’ kidnappers are not terrorists. Notwithstanding that her comment is incorrect, I’ve heard much worse.

On the other side, the slogan “death to Arabs” is no longer shocking. According to Haaretz, counter-protesters at Saturday’s demonstration chanted, “”Why is there no school in Gaza? Because no more kids are left.”

Even empathy for the other side has become taboo. The Israel Broadcasting Authority banned a radio advert by the human rights organization B’Tselem in which names of children killed in Gaza were read out.  Read this blog post by journalist Ilene Prusher for more on the reaction to virtual empathy in Israel.

What depresses me most is that friends and relatives whom I consider sensitive, rational people, accept the status quo.  They chide me for going to such a protest, and many Israelis question whether there should be protests at all during a war. What about the Hamas? They use children as human shields. You think we can trust them? What about the tunnels?

I tell them it’s not contradictory to condemn Hamas and care about the security of Israel’s South, while also calling for an end to the killing.

The protest itself was uneventful for me, but the media reported that counter-protesters attacked a few “leftists”. As I walked back to my car alone, I placed the protest’s official sticker “Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies” on my chest, bit my lip, and hoped for the best. I got away with “your mother is the daughter of a whore” and some guy yelling something about the “Right” in my face.

Amidst this all, a silver lining: Israelis know how to  help others in times of need, and this war is no exception. The same parenting forum overflows with initiatives to send care packages to soldiers, buy from merchants in the South, and organize activities for children and families from bombarded areas.

It’s this same society that within a few hours mobilized 20,000-30,000 people to attend the funerals of two lone soldiers, Sean Carmeli and Max Steinberg. A week later, I still cry every time I see images of the funerals and think of how tens of thousands of people traveled far to ensure the newly bereaved families were not alone, to show they appreciated their sacrifices.  I think often about these soldiers’ decisions to come to Israel alone, as I did 11 years ago, and how that decision sealed their fate.

"Strong Together, We love Israel and trust the IDF."A sign outside Max Steinberg's shiva in Jerusalem, with building cranes in the background.

“Strong at home, We love Israel and trust the IDF.”A sign outside Max Steinberg’s shiva in Jerusalem.

I went to the shiva for Max Steinberg. Twelve hours after people posted on Facebook that his family was alone, strangers flooded the room.  It’s heartbreaking when a life is cut short, and as I stood before his grieving family I couldn’t stop sobbing.

On better days, I relish this paradox that is life in Israel. Yet, today and for the past six weeks, the bad has strongly outweighed the good. Even worse, I feel we are heading to a point of no return. I am scared for the moment this is all over, when we inevitably realize we have to live together again, without any excuses.

More Mundane Details of War

17 Jul

After 10 days of war, I don’t have any new insights to share.

Things have been quiet for the most part here, thankfully. We are eternally grateful for the safe room and iron dome. Yet, the kids have meltdowns because of anxiety they inevitably usurp from us and everyone around them.

Despite the occasional fit, my 5-year-old says he likes the sirens. Before he went to bed one night, he said, “maybe there’ll be a little siren.” It was a variation on “I want just a little chocolate”, or “I want to stay in the park a little longer”, when this savvy negotiator bargains for something he can’t have.

Why? During one of the sirens, when he was dragged out of bed, not yet asleep, we found his favourite cartoon for the first time in English, “the Octonauts”, including lots of new episodes. We could stop watching the same four short ones in Hebrew, joy! I congratulated myself on my sharp maternal instincts: what else can one do with two sleepy kids in a safe room? Sometimes we skype with Bubby in Montreal. This has a dual function: it occupies the kids and calms my mother because she can see that we are safe.

Our safe room, ready for action

Our safe room, ready for action

Our 22-month-old didn’t fare as well. He didn’t fall back asleep after the sirens and the intensity of his vociferous toddler tantrums has amplified exponentially since then.

So, I try to stay calm and cling to routine. Only when they’re asleep, I watch the constant Israeli news reports, which are informative but skewed and depressing. It’s addictive. It’s hard to turn off. Then, there’s Facebook and the endless debates among who’s right and who’s wrong and who’s moral and who’s not – as if this war didn’t have two sides trying to kill each other, too blind and weak to find a better solution.

We have not experienced the intensive barrage of rocket fire that residents of the South and now also Tel Aviv have been enduring. Still, I plan every outing meticulously, determining in advance where to hide if there’s  a siren. Our pool has two safe areas, and miraculously, while other public events have been cancelled, this week my kids enjoyed an outdoor performance there of the Jungle Book.

Our regular hangout is the park next door because I estimate I can grab the little one and his bimba and run with the older one to the bottom of our building’s staircase (i.e. safe space) in 90 seconds.  The older knows he can’t bring his bike these days because I’m alone and that would upset the balance of carrying and running.

A surreal moment to conclude: It’s Saturday night and I’m hanging laundry on our balcony overlooking Israel’s southwest. The TV news inside tells us that Hamas is threatening to launch a massive attack on Tel Aviv right then. Aharon has been away on a dig for the past month, so when he joins me outside it could have been the most romantic moment we’ve had in a long time.

“Look!”

“What?”

“It’s the iron dome!”

And there it was. A thin light rising into the sky, a small splat of light and some booms. Two over Tel Aviv and one over Ashdod.

Aharon cheers as if we were watching the World Cup game about to start. The news tells us what we already knew: Interceptions over Gush Dan and Ashdod.

Then there was a siren, and we rushed two sleeping kids into our safe room.

Hamas must have been listening to Elton John.

 

Now, I’ll sign off to take advantage of the humanitarian ceasefire to buy groceries.

The Routine of War

10 Jul

We have returned to the routine of war. That’s how the past two days have felt.

Everything about this latest war is familiar: the Homefront Command’s instructions on how to act when a siren goes off in our town, the news broadcasters’ urgent tones, the reports of hits and misses in Israel, the body count in Gaza, the patriotism, the generosity among strangers, the “us vs. them” rhetoric.

This routine of ours, which we have lived several times over in recent years, is anything but routine. It’s terrifying, awful, depressing, aggravating. With rockets landing in the Jerusalem area and south of Haifa, much of our populace is faced with life-threatening dilemmas every minute. What to do with the kids? It’s summer vacation; in the South camps and other programs have been cancelled. If we’re lucky enough to have a nursery or camp with a shelter (as do my children, thankfully), we debate whether we should take them at all. Should we take them to the park after camp, should we risk it? Where is the closest shelter? What do we do if the sirens go off at night?

As I set up our safe room with a portable crib and mattresses as well as diapers, snacks and other essentials, I am infinitely grateful that I am far from the violence. I am grateful for the relatively large size of this room, which is in our apartment and not communal, so I don’t have to see our neighbors in pyjamas in the middle of the night. I am grateful that our lives have continued as normal, and that Israeli ingenuity has created the Iron Dome system to intercept rockets. This unique and innovative system is a true miracle, having minimized damage and injury immensely during the last few wars with Gaza.

In the mainstream Israeli media, we hear mostly about hits on us, which is essential and logical. Yet, we hear little more than sterile numbers about the immense damage and suffering on the Palestinian side.  Israel always claims it doesn’t want to harm civilians, and I believe this intention is sincere, but it inevitably happens because of the nature of Hamas warfare.  Moreover, our leaders justify this widespread destruction, claiming the attacks weaken the Hamas and destroy their ability to harm us.

Yet, here we are again. We repeat this war routine over and over, air strikes on our side, and rockets from theirs. Death and damage. Human suffering on both sides.  Each successive war has not changed the situation.

I wish our leaders would realize that when war becomes routine, our strategy needs to change. We Israelis cannot continue living like this. By we, I refer especially to residents of the Gaza border region and the South, who have lived from siren to siren for nearly 15 years. We can’t afford to raise another generation in bomb shelters.

In Gaza, air strokes have already killed dozens of Palestinians, including civilians and children.  I can’t start to understand the immense suffering they endure.

Many Israelis think that Palestinians value death over life, while we as Israelis value life. Thus, according to their reasoning, Palestinians drag themselves into these wars, and it’s their fault. Though there is some truth in this, exemplified by widespread incitement against Israel and the culture of suicide bombings among Palestinians, I refuse to believe that most Palestinians don’t long for quiet and security, like everyone else in this world.

Israel’s Channel 1 News showed this (serious) excerpt last night from a Palestinian satire show: [loose translation from the translated Arabic to Hebrew]: “We tried the way of peace, and that didn’t succeed… We tried resistance, and that didn’t succeed….there is a nation here that wants to live, and there are leaders who must find a solution – on both sides.”

Enough said. It’s time to go back to the drawing board. This war routine is not sustainable. We need a better, more creative solution.

Let’s hope that Bibi, his ministers and coalition members will prove their worth and invest in the future of this country. Let them break the cycle of violence for good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where are our Leaders?

5 Jul

Morale in Israel is very low. Tensions are high.

Because there is so much going around the Internet and media about this latest “escalation”, I hereby provide my humble viewpoint to shed light onto the violence – both verbal and physical – that has once again overtaken this land.

As if the news that the three kidnapped teens were dead was not horrible enough, things have devolved dramatically since then.

The night of the teens’ funerals the authorities released the full version of Gilad Shaar’s brave call to Police, in which their murder is documented: his hushed but clear words “I’ve been kidnapped”, the kidnappers yelling at the three, screams, shots, the kidnappers congratulating each other.

Yet, despite this, the police and army did not act until seven hours later, even after the parents contacted authorities several times as well. They thought it was a prank. In a call by Shaar’s father that was also released to the public post-mortem, he politely begs the army to get involved. The woman on the other side dismisses him outright, saying usually these things resolve themselves in the morning.

Hello!?! Kidnappings happen here. Relatively often. This is not a far-fetched scenario. I simply can’t get over the complete incompetence that led to a 7-hour delay in our well-oiled military machine getting into action.

That being said, the army and government, as well as the media and the families knew early on from the call itself that the chances of the boys being alive were extremely low. I can understand the families’ need for optimism. I can even sort of understand the need for gag orders and the military to do their work, but we, as a public, were misled big time. Many of us feel duped.

Since the media announced the grim news of the  killings on Monday, Israel has exploded. Our Facebook feeds and other media overflow with explicit racist comments and calls for revenge. We’re talking  incitement to murder, not freedom of speech.

In a Jerusalem protest march, wild-eyed demonstrators called for revenge and “death to Arabs.” Some physically attacked Palestinian passersby.

The day after the boys’ funeral unknown perpetrators kidnapped and murdered Muhammed Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian teen.  Many, including the Palestinian authority and the boy’s family, allege that Jewish terrorists are responsible.  The authorities have not yet found the culprits.

Things are very bad. Violence has returned, and spirits are as low as I can remember them.

Read this excellent column in Haaretz by Sayed Kashua for a Palestinian citizen of Israel’s perspective on things.

What upsets me almost more than the acts themselves is our leaders’ silence. Though our Prime Minister, ministers and dozens of other public figures made a grandiose show of visiting the parents’ of the kidnapped teens and attending their funerals, they are noticeably silent in the aftermath.

Why has there been no official public condemnation of the racist photos, posts, and actions going around the Internet? And if there has, why haven’t I seen it on the news or Facebook feed? Why are people not afraid to post these things?

I’m not talking about prosecuting the offenders (though this of course should happen too). I am talking about a clear, public statement, telling the people of Israel that these are not our values.

bibi

(Courtesy the Prime Minister’s Office)

Yes, Binyamin Netanyahu meekly condemned the murder of Abu Khdeir. Why doesn’t he address the nation and call for tolerance and calm, encourage us not to repeat the crimes of our foes? We know he is articulate. He spoke at the teens’ funerals. Where is Bibi now?

Yitzhack Aharonovitch, our Minister of Public Security, and top officials at the Israel Police have done their best to downplay both the ignored kidnapping call and Abu Khdeir’s murder. Why isn’t he or Netanyahu promising to put the same efforts into solving this murder as they did to find “the boys”?

In the past two days, while East Jerusalem and other Arab towns are ablaze in riots, Aharonovitch appears on TV, urging the protesters to keep calm and promising that Police will act against anyone who breaks the law. Why is he not openly condemning the hundreds of Israelis inciting to violence and threatening revenge?

I am deeply disheartened by our leaders’ silence. They have missed a golden opportunity.

In the wake of this week’s events, Israel’s leaders had the chance to prove that despite the occupation, the ongoing violence, and many other problems, when push comes to shove Israel strives to treat people equally, is a moral and democratic country, and condemns murder and racism in their most explicit forms.

But that hasn’t happened, and Israel’s leadership has revealed its true face more than ever. Now, we are forced to watch the results unfold. We can be appalled but we can’t be surprised.

 

 

 

 

 

An Emotional No Man’s Land: Between Death and Life

1 Jul

Once again, it is a day of national mourning in Israel.  Yesterday we received the devastating news that the army found the bodies of the three kidnapped teens, Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel.

The news confirmed our worst fears. And thus, heartbroken, we as a nation begin the familiar process.

As I sat down to watch the news last night, part of this collective mourning, I received an SMS from a good friend announcing she had given birth “with love” to a girl.

I was expecting this news, and of course was very happy to hear it. Yet, it wasn’t real happiness. It was superficial. I couldn’t feel it. Stuck between this amazing, essential, life-sustaining news and TV images of West Bank fields, army troops, and vociferous politicians gesticulating and threatening, I didn’t know what to feel.  I wasn’t overwhelmed by two conflicting emotions; I was blank. I was in an emotional no man’s land.

I imagined my friend in the hospital with her husband, on a post-partum high, receiving the evening’s grim news. She should name her daughter after one of the boys, I thought immediately. Will she? What would I do? I wouldn’t. Why should I tie an innocent, newborn life irrevocably to national tragedy?

This isn’t the first time I have celebrated a life-cycle event while at the national, political level Israel mourned. In 2008, on the eve of another friend’s wedding, a Palestinian ran over several people and vehicles with a bulldozer, killing three before a bystander shot him. Back then, I thought how sad it was for my friend that her wedding was taking place on a day of national tragedy. However, Israelis more than anyone know how to carry on; the beautiful wedding went on as planned.

I also went to a wedding the night of the Mavi Marmara incident, feeling deep shame at my country for carrying out such a deadly and disproportional attack on the passengers of that boat, while revelers danced to happy music around me.

In fact, my friend who gave birth to her third child last night was married at the height of the Second Lebanon War, in a lovely ceremony, as soldiers died many kilometers to the North.

Today, though, I feel different. I am fed up with this emotional war. I used to think that I felt more alive in Israel because I experienced all the range of emotions in a dense and acute manner. After 11 years of living here, I am in emotional burn-out, unable to feel even the most basic, private joy of  a close friend on a day like this.

Enough. I want this to end.

This is a particularly vulnerable time for me; June is a month of mourning. My family and I mark my father’s sudden and untimely death 14 years ago in a laborious slew of depressing dates: the Hebrew anniversary of his death, the “real”anniversary of his death, my parent’s wedding anniversary, Father’s Day, the day of his funeral, etc.  Perhaps it’s because I have suffered premature grief that in the past I have empathized deeply with victims’ families, both Israeli and Palestinian. Untimely death is destructive and painful and unnecessary.

The boys’ murders are heinous and unforgivable. I extend my deepest condolences to their families, which will never be the same.

At the same time, the kidnapping was not unexpected. The Palestinians have lived for 47 years under Israeli occupation, in the midst of a complicated and bloody conflict.  Their lives are hindered and often destroyed by constant military operations, violence, and restrictions on the most basic daily acts such as working, going to a doctor’s appointment, or enjoying a good night’s sleep.

With the Israeli reaction underway, this latest round of violence will only push us deeper into the pit of death and mourning. When will both sides take the brave step of saying “enough”?

When will the national mourning ritual stop? When will we be able to rejoice about the important things in life?