The roar of jet planes thundering over the city silenced the chatter in our local café‚ last Thursday morning. “Off to bomb something in Syria?” I shouted at my husband in a gap between the roars. Many people at nearby tables ran outside for a look. My husband, who once flew with the Royal Air Force, declined to raise his eyes from the New York Times. “They’re practicing for Independence Day,” he said.
He was right, as the next day’s newspapers reported. They wrote that the air force had caused “alarm” in Tel Aviv, as many took the cacophony to be a war cry. The reports of “alarm” were an exaggeration. Far worse has failed to rattle Tel Avivians, who would endure anything to keep sipping their cappuccinos. Scud missiles, rockets, the din from Rabin Square demonstrations, foul-tasting tap water – they’ve taken it all in their stride.
There were signs heralding the 70th Independence Day other than screaming jets. The soundtrack of the week was a radio promotion for the celebrations intoned by Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev. “There’s much to be proud of,” she concluded.
Yes, there was “much to be proud of” in the previous action-packed week. There was an Israeli Air Force strike in Syria (according to those all-knowing “foreign media”). The Americans, British and French followed up with missile strikes on Syria’s chemical weapons. Closer to home, Bibi Netanyahu and his coalition cohorts continued to undermine the High Court of Justice. Their proposed unconstitutional laws would violate equality and human and civil rights.
The government also tried, again, to deport African asylum seekers to “third states”. Israel had claimed to have agreements with the states, which it didn’t. It then transpired that it was also giving the deportees fake Ugandan entry visas.. (Haaretz, April 4, 2018). Ugandan officials said the visas, with official insignia, looked nothing like their state documents. “Complete fakes,” they added.
A few days earlier Israel refused to allow two wounded Palestinian youngsters from Gaza to enter a West Bank hospital. They needed treatment after being shot during Gaza fence demonstrations. As a result, their legs were amputated. The authorities conceded that the youngsters met criteria for getting medical treatment. But, because they had been demonstrating, Israel wouldn’t let them cross the border.
Israel also stopped 110 bereaved Palestinians from attending a joint memorial with Jewish families. The memorial is an 11-year tradition held before Independence Day – except for last year also. Then, no Palestinians were allowed to enter Israel following a terror attack. The main speaker this year is author and Man-Booker Prize winner David Grossman who lost his son, Uri, in the Second Lebanon War. Grossman is to be awarded the Israel Prize two days after the memorial.
Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the Palestinians weren’t barred entry for a security reason. It was because he would “not allow the desecration of Memorial Day.” Lieberman said the joint memorial for loved ones was “a show of bad taste and insensitivity.”
If all that weren’t enough, soldiers again fired at unarmed demonstrators along the Gaza border fence. It was the third consecutive Friday, this time the shooting targeted a medical aid facility and journalists. They killed one person and wounded 233 with live ammunition. (Rubber bullets and gas wounded another 700).
In the three Fridays of demonstrations, live fire killed 34 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,000. It seemed strange that America, Britain and France could fire more than 100 missiles at Syria, without a single (reported) casualty. Yet Israel can’t cope with civil demonstrations without killing and maiming so many.
All this happened during the week when every year we look back at 20th-century history and wonder how human cruelty can be so unspeakable.
If Netanyahu has his way, there may soon be a law that compels us to be proud. We saw last week what happens to anyone who admits their shame at being Israeli, as Kobi Meidan did.
So, yes, it was nice that the air force was rehearsing its flyover to entertain us and make us proud for Independence Day. I used to watch it from my building’s roof – not high enough to see all the way to the beach, but with a clear view to the hotel line along the shore.
But now, I can’t do that anymore. A monstrous building, several floors higher than ours, has sprung up beside our apartment block, blocking views to the west. No more sunsets, no more flyovers. There’s just another wall where a skyline used to be.