“Rabin is waiting for Sharon tra-la-la-la-la-la…” That’s what the young man standing next to me sang. I was attending the re-interment of the remains of the bodies of a Gush Katif cemetery into the ancient Jewish burial ground on the Mount of Olives. It took me a few moments for the import of what I was hearing to sink in. The assassinated Rabin was waiting for Sharon, the current prime-minister, to meet the same fate. Was this a prediction? Some sort of sick prayer? A veiled threat? Whatever it was made me shudder.
I asked myself, “What am I doing here?” The simple answer is that I was trying to show some solidarity with the beleaguered community of Gush Katif after the trauma of the disengagement from Gaza. Uprooted from their homes, their livelihoods, and their dreams, they deserved sympathy and solidarity. It was the least I could do, literally…
Shortly after the evacuation I had called up one of the volunteer organizations that were helping address the needs of the evacuees. I offered to help. I have to admit that I was relieved when they told me that they were overloaded with volunteers, and that there was nothing I could do now. They took my name and number and told me they would call if something came up; I never heard back from them and I never made a second effort. A week or so later I heard about the upcoming burial of the last 15 graves from the Gush Katif cemetery that were being transferred to Jerusalem. A representative of the bereaved families explained that the funeral procession was not intended as a political statement, but merely an opportunity to publically express the pain of these horrible circumstances. The procession was to start a short distance away from where I lived. How could I not go?
Despite the proclaimed apolitical nature of the procession, there was a very strong political element amongst the crowd of some 20,000. Many of the eulogies were filled with belligerence towards the government, state, and even the people of Israel. The t-shirts, stickers, pins, dress, conversations, and slogans of the crowd overwhelmingly slanted towards a particular political agenda. An agenda that I didn’t agree with and that I found dangerous and extreme. “Rabin is waiting for Sharon” was the crest of the wave that had been building over the course of the evening. What was I doing there?
Fast-forward almost ten years into the future. A trend of vandalism and hate speech directed at west bank Palestinians and Arab Israeli citizens called “Price Tag” has reached a new peak. Mosques have been defiled, car tires slashed and “death to Arabs” scrawled in Arab neighborhoods. I read the news reports and thought; maybe I should reach out to some of the victims of this violence — call and offer my sympathy. But who should I call? How would I get their number? I wasn’t sufficiently motivated to find the answers to these questions.
Then I read about a demonstration being organized outside the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem to protest against the Price Tag actions. It was scheduled to take place on the same day that I had a class in Jerusalem – only a couple of blocks away. How could I not go?
During a break from the class, I ran over to the demonstration to join in the protest. When I got there, I was taken aback by some of the signs that equated the price tag actions with terror. I was even more troubled when some of the speeches included references to neo-nazis, the Warsaw ghetto, and pogroms. I was not sure what to do with my discomfort but I didn’t have too much time to dwell on all this as I had to get back to class. So, I quickly said hello to a few familiar faces, clapped at the speeches I agreed with, snapped a few pictures and ran back to my lecture.
The next morning I posted the pictures on my face book page and before long, I was challenged by some of my friends for my attendance at the demonstration. How dare Price Tag be called Jewish terror when it is typically limited to vandalism, while terror against Jews is lethal and bloody? Shouldn’t my sympathies lie with the Jewish victims of terror? What was I doing there?
The back and forth with my Facebook friends brought into focus for me a truism of Israeli society (and maybe every society). Our public discourse is often shaped by the extremes. This can make it challenging for those like me who find themselves somewhere in-between. It can feel like we are being presented with a binary choice. Decide! Are you are a jingoistic nationalist who identifies sympathy with Palestinians and territorial compromise as treason? Or are you a bleeding heart liberal who is blind to Israel’s security threats and sees in it only a dark fascist Zionist underbelly.
I am neither one of those, and I refuse to be put in either box. Until our culture allows for more subtlety, I have a feeling I am going to find myself in situations that make both my friends and me uncomfortable. What will I be doing there? — Staking out a middle ground and trying to do the right thing for a change.