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.

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3 Responses to “The Bad, the Ugly and the Good”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] patience because I feel powerless to do anything about this endless bloodshed and tragedy. Read my last post about an anti-war demonstration I […]

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    […] continues to drain our resources and plague our morality, we are experiencing real threats to freedom of expression and Arab-Jewish relations in Israel. Even with tonight’s cease-fire, the immediate future of this country looks […]

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    […] Reuven “Rubi” Rivlin, has come out as a strong voice against the unprecedented  racism and incitement unleashed this […]

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