Coexistence can be uncomfortable

I’m outraged – but not surprised – by Israel’s internal combustion.

I won’t try to tackle everything about the current spike in the Israeli-Arab conflict, or who’s to blame. But there a few things burning me up inside – based on my experiences as an Israeli Jew. The current violence points to many of the ills that plague us from within our own society.

Coexistence can be uncomfortable. The chaos and violence devouring our streets did not occur in a vacuum. These are flames that have been fanned for years and decades, and have been especially cultivated by Prime Minister Netanyahu. From “Arabs are surging to the polls” to inviting certified racists into the government, our PM has diligently divided Israelis and pitted them against each other, highlighting what’s different among us instead of the many commonalities – all for the sake of staying in power. Obviously, I condemn all violence and don’t justify the violent demonstrations and lynches by any means. But don’t be surprised that people are angry! Racism is acceptable in Israel 2021. Bibi’s government has outlawed many forms or signs of Arab-Palestinian nationalism – those within the limits of freedom of speech. Any Palestinian Israeli citizen who dares to express national sentiment (or sometimes even speak Arabic) is immediately branded a terrorist or a supporter of terrorism. People have forgotten that there are laws against hate speech for a reason. I may not like to hear people say that there shouldn’t be a Jewish state or that Zionism is illegitimate or that they boycott Israeli products. These things do not make someone a terrorist. It may make me uncomfortable but that is the essence of coexistence and freedom of speech and democracy: the ability to express dissent in a peaceful way, without being attacked. People who blow up our buses or attack people in the streets or shoot rockets into residential neighborhoods are terrorists; let’s remember this distinction.

Coexistence is great until the other side says what you don’t want to hear. When Israel’s streets are burning, it’s easy for people to say that they love our coexistence and they want peace. See, I just wrote it. It’s that easy. It’s a lot harder to take a good, long look at yourself and see the harms your country is inflicting on people and realize that you have to make uncomfortable concessions and that these are other human beings who also want to live in peace and security on their own terms. So many Israelis love coexistence when it’s put to the test but on regular days says things like: “I don’t want to go to that pool because it’s full of Arabs” or “I have no problem with Arabs but I don’t want them living in my building” or “isn’t it scary for your husband to work in a place surrounded by Arabs?” These gems emanate from the mouths of normative, non-extreme, non-violent Israelis on a regular basis. These are said without shame and without reproach. Many Israelis like coexistence until the other side says what they don’t want to hear. Just as Trump made it (more) acceptable for Americans to be racist, Bibi has done the same in Israel. We are seeing the results of this right now.

My hypothesis was proven correct on Thursday’s late-night newscast of Kan 11 which was supposed to bring the humanistic side of the conflict to light. For those who read Hebrew, here’s Shany Littman’s accurate account of the spectacle. I hope Haaretz translates it soon. To summarize: a Jewish woman, a reporter, got so upset by what her Arab counterparts were saying (what broke her was when the Arab woman said that children in Gaza are dying … essentially admitting that a Jewish mother’s tears are worth more than a Palestinian mother’s) that she started to cry and left the studio. It’s become so hard for people to hear that they’re not right or that other people have opinions contrary to their own that they refuse to listen to each other. Everyone has their own truth, in which they are so entrenched, that they have become blind to other people. Israel 2021.

Take responsibility – who me? Our government has repeatedly failed to find a solution to the Hamas threat. Residents of the South have been living with Hamas’s rockets for 20 years! Isn’t it clear that whatever Bibi is or isn’t doing IS NOT WORKING?! We need visionary leaders on both sides. We need creative thinking.

Iron Dome is a miracle and I thank those who had the brains and vision to create it every day. It has saved countless lives. But how long will we have to rely on the defensive Iron Dome?

Our government must find a way to break the impasse. What’s most frustrating though is that it seems Bibi thrives on his impasse; it serves his interests. If he goes one way, he’ll lose certain coalition partners, the other, he loses the rest.

This is what has determined his policy for years now: Not the safety and well-being of the citizens for whom he works, not the so-called coexistence which we have no choice but to nurture, but his inane hunger for power. All’s fair as long as Bibi stays PM.

We saw this desperation when Bibi kept us all locked down for much of last year, even though COVID-19 outbreaks were super-pinpointed.

We saw this when Bibi’s government allowed a mass gathering on Mount Meron, despite the clear health and safety risks, because he needed to appease his coalition partners. The result was 45 deaths.

And if it weren’t enough that there is no official investigation of the tragedy underway, the Minister of Public Security, Amir Ohana, posted his first reaction nearly 48 hours after the disaster. “I take responsibility but I’m not guilty.” And if that doesn’t summarize everything about this government and where this country is headed, I don’t know what does. This is the man who is now “responsible but not guilty” for our blazing streets and the vigilante mobs wreaking havoc on our cities.

When will our government start working for its citizens and not against them?

About the Author
Born in Canada and living in Israel since 2003, Melanie Takefman writes about life in Israel, herstory and cross-cultural identity. She is currently working on a book about women and migration.