In the summer of 2015, my cellphone was stolen. This is no unique occurrence in Tel Aviv. If you are not vigilant, your cellphone, your wallet and/or bike will, at some point, be stolen in the city.
At the time, I had just given up my apartment; my landlord had wanted to raise my rent by ₪500 and I thought this was outrageous, as it would severely cut into my brunch and happy hour funds. So at the time when my cellphone was stolen, I was staying at a hotel while I apartment hunted. With my cellphone being gone, I knew it would probably be a lost cause, but still, I reported it to the police. When “Find my iPhone” pinged at 2pm, the afternoon after my phone was pinched, I called the police and told them it had been located in south Tel Aviv. To my surprise, two police officers showed up at my hotel within ten minutes and I jumped in and we headed down to the location. It was like a stakeout from the TV shows of my childhood; me in the backseat, and the two officers in the front seat, as we kept watch over the building where the phone had sent me it’s distress signal. One officer got out of the police car and bought me an iced tea. When I offered to pay him back, he told me it was his pleasure. We weren’t able to get my phone back; although we stayed in position for nearly two hours, no one came in or out of the building. With no warrant to go in, there was not much else we could do. My phone was officially gone. On the ride back to my hotel, I had to ask: “You guys staked out my stolen phone for two hours. You treated it like a high stakes case of espionage! How come?” The officer in the driver seat looked at me in the rear view mirror, his eyes steady, kind but also with a hint of sadness in them. “We don’t want tourists to think badly of Israel. Too many people think the worst of us.” They’d erroneously mistaken me for a tourist because I was brown and because my Hebrew was terrible back then (not to say that it’s improved much since then, but that’s beside the point).
A year later, I had to file a police complaint against someone. Once again, the police went above and beyond. There was the expected professionalism, but there was also the kindness, the gentleness that I’d come to associate with the Israel Police. Two days after I filed the complaint, I returned to the station which used to be on Dizengoff. A female officer came out as I was leaving and asked to speak to me outside. She was the officer who had taken my report. “How are you doing?” she asked. I was a bit nervous; unsure what this was about. “I’m alright,” I answered. She touched me gently on my arm and told me, “You did the right thing by coming to us. Don’t ever hesitate to do that. We are always here to help.”
These two interactions stayed with me; forever coloring my impression of Israel’s police force. While I had had no reason to be afraid of the police prior, my two experiences left me feeling quite tender towards the Israel Police. Seeing them around made me feel protected, safe; I felt as if I had a friend if I needed one.
And this experience and trust in the police continued when the protests began. As I read the news, seeing that there were no confrontations between the protestors and the police, I couldn’t help but feel pride. Pride because I am on the side of the protestors, and pride in the kind police I trusted.
But then this weekend happened.
And I don’t know what to think.
Images and videos of police dragging people, beating them up, a policewoman walking on the arm of a protestor lying on the ground, two policemen leering and telling an 18 year old boy they will rape his mother while they have their photo taken.
This is not my police.
This is Ben Gvir’s police.
The brutality, the sheer level of violence captured on camera of Ben Gvir’s police against the protestors – who are these police officers and why have they become these brutes?
And it leaves me terrified. As a brown Jew, the worry of institutionalized racism never crossed my mind in Israel. But now it does. Now I will wonder when I see a police person, “Is this one of my police? Or is this one of Ben Gvir’s? Is this one who is there to protect me? Or one who may mistake me for Arab, or just hate me for being brown?”
For all of us who love Israel, we want to present it in the best light. And for years, from my personal experience and within my own sphere, there was not much I could fault my beloved Israel on. Today, these images and videos have changed me and left me feeling insecure, and I cannot now sit and not speak up.
I beg of the police: remember your mandate. Remember that these protestors are fighting for a free Israel; one which would benefit you, your children, your grandchildren. I know that sometimes there may be more than meets the eye in these videos and images, but you needn’t go that far. Remember the kindness you gave to me and return that to the protestors. Remember your duty to serve and to protect: not to brutally carry out the orders of an inept and hateful Minister of National Security; rather, remember your duty to the citizens of Israel. Yes, it’s a difficult time. Yea, perhaps the protestors are being as$holes. But see their pain, and do not contribute to it.
Israel is severely divided in this moment; and the last time we were at this juncture, we chose baseless hatred and were exiled from our home for two thousand years. I beseech Israel’s police to become a uniting force while carrying out their duties. To exhibit kindness, compassion and understanding. To not use this opportunity to further alienate the downtrodden and oppressed Israelis who fear the unilateral actions of the sitting government. To allow space for people to vent their anger (as long as that anger is simply protesting and not harming anyone else).
Please, dear Israel Police, do not make us afraid of you. Do not turn our beloved country into a police state.