When I was a little girl, among my favourite children’s books were those huge illustrated books by Richard Scarry.
My favourite book of his was Busy Busy World. And of course one of my favourite stories in this book was “Shalom of Israel.” Shalom was a rabbit who had been tasked with building their house (in a day, as you do, of course!), while his wife took the car and went out for the day. She nags him several times before she speeds off, not to forget to put in a door. He breathes a sigh of relief and gets on with it.
And he builds and builds away, all the while thinking there’s something he’s forgetting. He remembers AFTER the house is finished…..but just as he does, along comes Mrs Shalom, speeding like a maniac, so fast that she does not see her husband frantically trying to…..stop her…..BEFORE she drives through the house leaving two rabbit shaped holes. Which of course became the two doors to the house, and at the end you see the two bunnies hugging and the wife has bandaged ears!
Even as a child, I appreciated Scarry’s wry humour, with his obvious, yet endearing, references to naggy Jewish wives and psycho Israeli drivers.
Now, fast forward to 2016. Can you imagine how this story would be reworked? And this is ASSUMING that BDS didn’t get their paws and claws into Scarry’s publishers, demanding that references to Israel be removed immediately, otherwise someone is going to end up with more than just bandaged ears:
1. The story would have to be renamed as “Sholom of Occupied Palestine” (because, you know, “Israel” is a dirty word these days). Or Shalom the Settler…..because, you know, they’re rabbits, which is allegorical to those fertile ultra-Orthodox!
2. In addition to not being allowed to say the “I” word, it is clear that Shalom’s project is a “rush job”, suggesting that said house is being built over the Green Rabbit Line. And since there is no apparent permit from the Ministry of Construction and Housing, it is an almost certainty that this is an illegal outpost.
3. There would need to be a reference to Mossad having introduced myxomatosis in the area in order to kill off the entire resident Palestinian rabbit population before the Shaloms and their friends and extended families came and occupied the land. And in a twist on Mossad’s reputation for employing footwear as a means of intimidation, they left a rabbit’s foot as a kind of “horse’s head” (if you will) as a warning to any remaining Palestinian bunnies.
Now you may think I’m being flippant and somewhat insensitive here, reducing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to my take on a children’s story. But then again the way Israel is perceived through the eyes of those who follow the mainstream media is nothing short of childlike and naive. Be honest, how many times have you just mentioned Israel in a not even remotely political context and heard the same banalities rehashed by people who have not only never set foot in the country, but don’t even perceive it as a nation of human beings? Rather, they frame Israel as an abstract construct, synonymous with “racism”, “oppression”, “human rights abuse”. Like a faraway land in a fairy tale, ruled by an evil king whose foot soldiers stand cruelly beating up their subjects for sport, while these subjects cower, their wide eyes silently begging for mercy.
And likewise, the child in all of us relies on a hero to save the day, and these come in the form of human rights activists and biased journalists who implore their audiences with impassioned and emotional pleas, with earnest voices and studied solemn facial expressions.
But these often well-intentioned heroes have left a price to pay by those who dare think of Israel as a nation of humans. Those who dare defend Israel are treated as committing the worst social faux pas. In some people’s eyes, it is akin to defending Charles Manson. This is how powerful storytelling has become in the digital age and the blurring of lines between “reality” TV and entertainment.
And while I said earlier that Israel has become an “abstract” construct, paradoxically, this construct is very much their reality. The immediacy, the saturation, the “real time” factor. So much so, that the audience comes to believe that they themselves are part of the tale. They have become the heroes, social media is their sword.
Israel is the only country that has not only morphed into a monolithic construct, but is illustrated by scenes of conflict, war and aggression. And too many people rely more on illustrations than content, never mind context. Alarmingly, the word “Israel” has become a trigger for visceral, twisted, knee-jerk hate responses.
I’ll share with you a personal example…..I’m an admin on two Facebook pages relating to animals and veganism respectively. On the first page I shared a feel good story about a well known Israeli animal rescuer who went to extraordinary lengths to save an injured dog. Of course the story was well received by many of the page followers, except one who decided that this story was was an example of “lies and greenwashing”, and that he was going to unlike the page. Boo hoo. But the story doesn’t end there. On the other page, one day, I happened to post a recipe for a very tasty vegan Israeli dish. Same man pops up again, once more proclaiming “Dislike” on the post, and a dramatic exit from the page.
In other words, “Israel” is synonymous with “evil”, and this alleged evil taints everything remotely associated with Israel, from dogs to lentil recipes.
I don’t pretend to have the answer to these misperceptions. They will probably outlive the conflict. However I would one day, like to experience the feeling of being able to mention Israel as freely as I would Australia, France, Japan or Sweden and not feel the instinctive need to brace myself for that someone in the crowd who will cry “Occupation” or “Oppressors”.
And while sadly Richard Scarry is no longer with us, perhaps someone will write a story of two neighbouring rabbits, Shalom and Salaam, who live happily alongside each other, tending their respective veggie patches with immense pride. Preferably with their ears unbandaged.
In the meantime, I’m off to pen my analysis of how the characterisation of “Tweety and Sylvester” alludes to the biased portrayal of the Israel-Palestine conflict……