We know how to react.
When right-wing Israeli “settlers” purportedly snuck into a Mosque in Mughayer near Ramallah and set it on fire last November, Israelis reacted – strongly. Condemnations came fast and furious for whomever could commit such an act.
When right-wing extremist Israelis allegedly torched the offices of Left-wing Israeli NGO B’Tselem in January, there was an immediate rush to judgment. The vilification of the right wing, and even of the government and Netanyahu himself, was swift, fierce and extensive.
In both instances strong words were used, by the media and general population, against a whole segment of Israeli society. People across the political spectrum were quick to condemn anyone who might have committed such acts, utterly disavowing the unknown guilty parties.
Except there weren’t any. Guilty parties that is. In both instances the fires were proven to be electrical. Yet in both instances, with no proof whatsoever, too many of us jumped into the fray as a whole segment of the population was aggressively and vocally attacked.
We know how to react. We know how to write, how to speak, how to shout to the world when something is not okay. We know social media. We know how to run campaigns. We know how to tell stories. Yet there are times, for seemingly inexplicable reasons, that we don’t.
Deep in the heart of Judea, about fifteen minutes from where I live, a small synagogue was dedicated not long ago to Gil-ad, Eyal and Naftali, the three boys who were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas in 2014. In fact the little synagogue near Karmei Tzur in Gush Etzion overlooks the area where the boys’ bodies were found, making it indeed a memorial of sorts.
The synagogue, though small and rustic, is stocked with holy books and is used as a place for prayer, a center for youth group activities, and as a tourist stop for backpackers and others.
This past Friday night, the synagogue, which is less than 100 meters from people’s homes, was attacked. This was clearly no accident, but a deliberate attack. Prayer books and Torah scrolls were collected and piled up, and set on fire. Seeing all those charred holy books was shocking to the officials who examined them, reminiscent of very dark days for Jews and for humanity. Police found footsteps leading right from the synagogue to the nearby Arab village of Halhul.
We know how to react. But we didn’t. Netanyahu has called on the world to condemn the torching. Why should they? We barely even condemned it ourselves. It took a day and a half for some of the bigger news outlets in Israel to report on it at all. When the B’Tselem offices were ablaze just a month ago, the damning – and incorrect – media reports went out even before the fire went out. Why was this time so different?
Other attacks have taken place in Israel. When a mosque, a church, an integrated school with Arabs and Jewish children were each attacked, we fell all over ourselves to dissociate ourselves from the perpetrators, shouting from the rooftops how awful such despicable acts are. Because they ARE despicable. Naturally these stories are carried easily to the international press. All the more so, for some strange reason, when Jews are the guilty ones – or the ones suspected of guilt.
So what happens when it’s Jewish symbols that are attacked? Where is the shouting? Where are the protests? Not of the international press… Our own. Are our expectations so low that we don’t even bother trying? Are we incapable of opening our mouths except to apologize, or in our own defense?
A lot has been said about Israeli hasbara (publicity, but not really… Comes from the word ‘explanation’. Once you have to ‘explain’ you’ve already lost any PR advantage…) We’re losing the PR war because we don’t tell our story; we merely explain things after the fact. We don’t defend our story. We don’t own our story. Heck most Jews don’t even KNOW our story. If we don’t say a word until we’re on the defensive then we’ve lost the battle before it even started.
We have to care.
In researching for this piece there seemed to be a smattering of posts on social media wondering if people outside Israel had heard about the arson attack. But really, have people INSIDE Israel heard about it?? Why aren’t we shouting? Why aren’t we demanding justice? This is not 1939 Germany. This is the sovereign Jewish state. Let’s stop acting so defensive and own our right to our land and to our lives within it.
There are rare things that unite us Jews and particularly Jews here in Israel. Left, right and center; religious and secular, can come together about pitifully few things. I dare someone to tell me, regardless of their political or religious positions, that they cannot support the sanctity of our holy books, the sanctity of our very lives.
So we agree, but we also have to care.
Assuming we care, we also have to act.
We have to write, speak, and shout to the world when something is not okay. We probably won’t convince them, but that isn’t the point. It was never the point. We need to convince ourselves. We need to believe in who we are and in our right to self-determination. We need to believe in our right to live as Jews in our land; in our right to fight with each other over every stupid little thing, and in our ability to come together when push comes to shove.
We need to know who we are. We need to respect our differences. We need to tell our story. Anything is possible; but we really, really need to care.