I look at the news, dragging my eyes away from the picture of the adorable baby who burned to death, and notice the weather update: heat wave will reach its peak today; risk of fires.
We burned a baby to death in his sleep, and left his family fighting for their lives. Hours earlier, we stabbed six people marching at the Pride Parade. A few months earlier, we set fire to a Jewish-Arab school. And a year earlier, we burned a 16 year old boy in a forest, alive. Molotov Cocktails and rocks are thrown routinely, and rockets are fired every once in a while. Soldiers are stabbed waiting for the bus. The air is thick with hatred, anger and revenge. We don’t need the weather to warn us about fires: the fire is burning strong as ever, and it is spreading, uncontrolled.
Lehava (LeMeniat Hitbolelut B’eretz HaKodesh – [Organization for] Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land), has been stirring the fire on “our side” for years. They protest against interfaith relationships, call for Arabs to stay out of “Jewish” areas, warn Jews against renting out apartments to Arabs and set fire to an Arab-Jewish school, all the while chanting and writing “death to Arabs.” It is no coincidence that they chose the word “lehava,” meaning flame in Hebrew.
Extreme heat causes fires. Israel’s summer is a thick heavy layer of air, standing still. It’s a sizzling block of iron sitting on our shoulders for months. But Israel’s unbearable heat has another effect: chronic fatigue.
I was marching with my friend Effie at the Pride Parade in Jerusalem the other day. We saw two classmates of ours and walked alongside them, making small talk about exams, until Effie asked me to wait with her on the side for another friend who was on her way. Our classmates kept walking, and minutes later one of them was stabbed, severely wounded. The weight of this encounter didn’t register until last night, when Effie reminded me about the sequence of events. Perhaps it’s because I’ve had that feeling of “it could have been me” so many times before. We are always just a few wrong steps away from disaster.
We were all glued to our smartphones, hitting “refresh” on the news, when we heard about the stabbings, and we all answered worried calls from our families and friends, assuring them we were okay. But within a few minutes, the ambulances and police cars stopped wailing and we continued to march. Terrible things happen here, but nothing really shocks us. We are taken by surprise, we worry, we become upset — but nothing is ever thoroughly unexpected, because we are always expecting the worst. I still think I hear a siren every time a motorcycle revs up. I still wonder if a bag lying around might have a bomb in it. I still try to calculate whether I my chances of dying are higher on a bus or on the light rail. We are always on our toes, so we are always tired.
Every July we lose a little of our will to live. It’s not a war, not a measured period of time in which we have to stay strong, keep our heads high, maintain our sanity. It’s our life. It’s an ongoing chain of death, terror and hatred. It makes us cynical and exhausted. It’s never “can we laugh about that,” but rather “is it too early to laugh about that?”
Last night at the protest, I saw a friend of mine last night who had been with me in my youth movement. She was in two youth movements actually, did a year and a half of mechina, studying about Israel and Judaism and then signed on as an officer in the Education Division in the Army, after which she spent a few months abroad, representing Israel through the Jewish Agency. “It’s so depressing,” she said, and I could see in her eyes a weariness that I’d never seen in her, as if she’d given up all hope. As if all those years of Zionism and hard work had culminated in a house in Duma that had gone up in flames. I was just like her, once. I remember thinking, before being drafted, that I didn’t care in which unit I would end up, as long as I would contribute. I remember feeling a part of something big and great but in trouble — and wanting to save it.
But now, when we ask each other “ma yihye” (what will be), as if we’re eighty years old rather than in our twenties, no one even tries to answer. We share a short, exasperated glance and then move onto a different topic, or crack a joke. To the somewhat less rhetorical question of “what will we do,” more and more of my friends are answering “leave.”
It’s too hot here. The question is only what will kill us first, fire or fatigue.