A few nights ago, just before the troops went into Gaza, I went to a protest in Jerusalem. It was a last call to try and sort things out without going in. I went because I didn’t want my friends to go into Gaza. I went because there were too many people dying and because there was too much hatred all around me. I went because I still believed there was another way.
For years, I had quietly avoided the organization behind this protest. Not because I really knew anything about them, but just because I had always felt they were a little too far left for me. This time, though, I didn’t question their agenda. Because it was clear to me that if I had to choose between extreme left (and be considered a traitor, naïve, or detached from reality) and extreme right (and heed Feiglin’s demand to “purify” Gaza or Ayelet Shaked’s call to define the enemy not as Hamas, but as the entire Palestinian population), I would choose extreme left. Because around here, you have to choose an extreme. There is no middle ground; there are zero shades of grey.
The police had set up barriers all around Kikar Safra, the municipality square, for the protest. I walked right past them self-assuredly, until a border policeman stopped me and asked where I was going. I cocked my head a little. Was this a wedding where I was supposed to remember both names in order to be allowed in? “To the protest,” I answered, stupidly. “Which?” he asked. “Left or right?” I glanced around me and saw a group of religious boys leaning on the barrier, waving flags and yelling “Od Kahane Chai” (Kahane lives on) into a megaphone. “To the left,” I answered, and he showed me the right (left?) way in. Because it’s either or around here. Left or right. Black or white.
I walked across the square to where the protest was going on. In between the two protests and the barriers, the square was largely empty. Maybe it was the long walk that made the left-wing protesters seem distant, or maybe it was the Tel-Avivian Ashkenazi air about them. Whatever it was, it felt like they were from somewhere else.
I listened to the people on stage complain about the government and about the right. A few people in the crowd walked up to me. First a young woman with long hair and flowing clothes, who looked like she’d just stepped out of a bluegrass music festival, handed me a pink bumper sticker that said “Bus of Peace” in Hebrew and in Arabic. They were planning to get on a bus to Gaza, she explained; I took it and thanked her. Hippies, I muttered to myself, and wondered how much weed they thought it would take to solve the conflict.
Then two guys with red shirts, brochures and no charisma came up and tried to interest my friends and me in socialism. I took slow steps backwards with my friend, as our third friend was left nodding as they complained about our capitalist fascist government and got him to give them his email.
This place wasn’t for me, either, I knew. I looked back at the space between us and the other protesters. I was supposed to be at the Neil Young concert that night; I was supposed to hear him sing about “The Great Divide.” I wasn’t supposed to be here seeing it, the great divide between the extremists on both ends.
Why is the middle so empty, so quiet? Where are the people who think death is sad, period? Where are the people who are horrified both by kidnapped and murdered boys, and by a boy burned alive? Where are the people who cried both about the man who went to deliver care packages down South and died, and about the Gazan children who were killed playing on the beach? Where are the people whose stomachs turn when they see an Israeli post a smiley face about Abu Khadir’s death, and when they see an Arab post happy words about the dead soldiers? Where are the people who can see that we are all a little bit awful, that we all need to question ourselves and our actions, even if we have “the most moral army in the world.”
Where are the people who think that Gidon Levi is annoying, but don’t hope he gets killed? Where are the people who think the occupation is bad, without calling Israel an apartheid state? Where are the people who can disagree with their workers without firing them? Where are the people who think the government is making mistakes, without comparing the country to Nazi Germany?
I am more worried about my friends serving in Gaza than I am about the thousands of nameless citizens in Gaza. I donated some of my groceries to Israeli soldiers, not to Hamas fighters. I care more about my sister being afraid of the sirens than I do about the poor children who have been living with sirens for years. I am not morally superior: I care about some people more than others. But I don’t see why caring about some people precludes recognizing the pain of others. I can care about the soldiers and about the wounded Gazans. I can care about the children in Sderot, and the children in Gaza, and about my little sister. Seeing the other side does not make me a traitor.
We cannot have endless empathy for one side and ugly hatred for the other. We cannot sing “Am Israel Chai” alongside the words “Mavet La’Aravim.” These days are sad and grey. Not black and white. They’re grey.