I would venture to bet that most of the world has heard about the attack on Charlie Hebdo’s offices. The attack, while tragic, has spurred an unprecedented unification of people all across the globe. The march of solidarity in France featured over 1.5 million people including over 40 world leaders; following that came the trending Twitter hashtag #JeSuisCharlie, which then sparked the idea for a Je Suis Charlie app, which was expedited through the Apple approval process and in under 24 hours has reached 153,085 “Charlies,” and the number is growing by the minute. The idea of the app is to show the locations of each person who presses the Je Suis Charlie button. All of these things serve as a way for the world to unite and stand with France and Charlie Hebdo and to support free speech.
North America and Europe seem to have the most “Charlies,” but at the same time, Israel is dominating the Middle East in numbers, with Turkey a distant second.
With Europe, it is easy to understand why there are so many “Charlies.” The attack on Charlie Hebdo was an attack at home for them, and therefore it is all the more personal and all the more terrifying. I can understand why the United States has so many “Charlies”—the United States is a country that supports free speech, but beyond that, the United States has strong ties and a good relationship with France, and so when their ally is mourning, the United States steps up to show solidarity.
But the number of “Charlies” in Israel is not explainable for any of these reasons. Free speech is not the most popular topic in Israel. Israel’s current relationship status with France is strained at best. In the last month alone, France voted in favor of the Palestinian Authority’s statehood bid, a move that could only cause more harm to Israel. France objected to Netanyahu’s participation in the solidarity rally after the Charlie Hebdo attacks while they invited Mahmoud Abbas to attend, and while it’s true that France condemned rocket fire from Gaza over the summer, they more strongly condemned Israel for defending itself. And lastly, until now, France has done little to combat the anti-Semitism in their country, thereby allowing Israel’s people, the Jews, to be continually persecuted and attacked.
So if France is repeatedly choosing the Palestinian Authority over Israel, and is ignoring the blatant anti-Semitism in their country, why did Netanyahu insist on attending the rally, and why are there so many “Charlies” in Israel? Why do Israelis feel the need to show such a strong sense of solidarity with France?
It is not because France is Israel’s greatest ally. It is not because Israel is crazy about free speech. It is not because Charlie Hebdo supported Israel, because they mocked Israel in their publication too. It’s not because the Charlie Hebdo attack was an attack on Jews, because it wasn’t. Netanyahu went to the rally and Israel has filled with Charlies for one simple reason: We ARE Charlie.
Violence and attacks in Paris have increased dramatically in the last month and especially the last week. Each attack interrupted the flow of daily life in France and left people traumatized and afraid. But slowly after each attack life returns to normal. The Je Suis Charlie signs are still hanging throughout the country, there are more security guards and police officers on duty, people are nervous to go outside alone, wanted terrorists’ names become household words, and people are canceling flights and vacations to France.
To me, this sounds all too familiar. After each stabbing attack, each car that drives into a light rail station, and each rock that is thrown, life in Israel comes to a brief stop. The country mourns, the country unites, and then the country begins to function again, albeit more cautiously. I am in Israel now, and I see the toll these terrorist attacks have taken on the country. Windows of the light rail trains are spider-webbed from rock attacks. People don’t travel alone at night; there are security guards on every train and soldiers on every bus. There is still a “Bring Back Our Boys” banner hanging at the entrance to Yerushalayim. People avoid texting while waiting for trains, and instead are constantly scanning the people around them while keeping a safe distance away. Now, every person who enters the Central Bus Station or the Malcha mall must go through the metal detector and have their bag searched. Before entering the kotel plaza, everything from purses to pockets is searched. New streetlights have been added to eliminate shadowed corners, customs at the airport takes longer, and with every new attack, flights to Israel are canceled or postponed.
But with all the new security measures, the scars slowly fade and life in Israel goes on. People still take public transportation, still eat at restaurants, still do their grocery shopping at the shuk. And life in Paris will carry on too, with a new appreciation for security and brand new scars that too will slowly fade.
This is why Israel is full of “Charlies.” This is why there is a Je Suis Charlie banner hanging in the center of Jerusalem. And this is why Netanyahu insisted on attending the solidarity rally in France.
Israel knows terrorism better than any other country in the world. Israel has suffered and Israel is scarred, but Israel survives. Every person, every Jew feels the impact of each attack in Israel, because we are all intrinsically attached to the nation, to the land. With each stabbing attack, I am left with a new scar. The rocks thrown at my bus on my way to Efrat left their mark. The shooting at the kosher supermarket in Paris left bruises. And because I know terror, because Israel knows terror, the attack at Charlie Hebdo caused damage too.
I am scarred because Israel is scarred. Now Paris is scarred too. Israel understands the trauma behind these scars, and so Israel stands against terrorism in the rest of the world, even though the rest of the world doesn’t stand against terrorism in Israel. Israel shows their solidarity with France, even when France shows no solidarity with Israel. And because Israel stands with France, I stand with France too.
Charlie was the target of terrorism. Israel has been, and still is, a target of terrorism. And that is why Israel is Charlie. Not because we participate in deliberately offensive humor or because we are advocating free speech, but because we know what it is like to be targeted by terrorism and how terrorism leaves trauma and scars.
Israel is scarred, and because of that Israel acknowledges the scars that have been inflicted on France. Israel is Charlie. I am Israel, and so I am Charlie. Anyone who has known the effects of terrorism is Charlie. In Israel, we have all experienced terrorism. In Israel, We All Are Charlie.