What’s different about the violence this time for me is that the anguish of our reality is not completely real. It’s a bizarre hybrid of actual hell and virtual hell, tainted by fear and despair on all sides.
Here’s what I mean:
A Week Ago: For days, my husband Aharon has been planning a tour to a controversial archaeological site located in a Palestinian neighborhood east of Jerusalem’s Old City. In light of the stabbings in the area, he weighs alternative modes of transportation. Walking is out of the question. Hiring an armed guard, like most Israeli groups, won’t work because their home institute boasts a mix of Israeli, foreigner and Palestinian academics, and it’s not politically correct.
He considers public transportation. Until then, there hadn’t yet been attacks on city buses, the vehicles which were mobile death traps during our last round of violence. But who knows? It’s risky.
In the end, they take taxis.
Real Hell: The day of the tour I work at home. The morning radio show can’t keep up with the terror attacks, one every hour. Stabbings in Ra’anana and inventive combinations of brutality in Jerusalem.
I dial Aharon’s number, but he doesn’t answer. Finally, he calls back. His tour went swimmingly; he didn’t hear about the attacks that took place a few kilometers away from him.
I send him a list of stores that sell pepper spray.
Virtual Hell: My social media feeds are rife battlegrounds. On one side, Hasbara types decry the international media bias against Israel. Leftists of all backgrounds deplore Israelis’ excessive use of force on Palestinian attackers and suspects. Each side is convinced fully of the absolute suffering of their own, completely blind to the other.
My mothers’ groups on Facebook are especially toxic. The topic today is whether a hijab is a security threat. I want to counter those who claim that all Arabs want to kill us but am afraid it will set off an endless debate and eat up my work day. I compromise on a benign comment and log off.
Real Hell: At the supermarket, I run into my son’s friend and his mother. In response to my routine “How are you?” she says, “I’m shaking.” She motions to the Arab employees who pass by us.
“Forget about it,” I say. She gives me a stunned look. I remember the Facebook mothers’ exchange from before. Was I not sensitive enough to her fears?
Real-Virtual-Conversation: “I better get something to drink because it looks like Justin Trudeau is going to win,” my mother says from Montreal via Skype, correctly predicting the outcome of yesterday’s Canadian election. It was an exciting night for Canada and comfortably mundane for me given what was going on here.
“Did you hear about Beersheva?” Aharon interjects.
“What about Beersheva?”
What else could it be? I quickly check an Israeli news site. Two in critical condition after a shooting attack at the central bus station.
Respite: I speak to the coordinator of a Jewish-Arab dialogue program for schoolchildren, organized by a client of mine. The moderators feared no one would come to a meeting for teachers scheduled for last week. But the opposite happened: all of the participants, Jewish and Arab, attended. What’s more, they engaged in meaningful dialogue. They need this exchange now more than ever, they concluded.
Real Hell: One of the victims of the Beersheva attack was an Eritrean migrant worker, beaten to death by a mob who thought he was the attacker. “He was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” a newscaster says sardonically.
Virtual Hell: I attempt to write a short text on the intercultural meeting, but the incessant beeps on my phone distract me. The parents on the Whatsapp group for my kids’ after-school program are debating whether the staff should take the kids to the public park. The conversation is relatively civil. The head teacher says she will take the kids to the park. Then a mother posts that “safety is not a democratic issue,” as if security has a singular definition. That’s how it is when panic supersedes all. A second mother adds that she noticed several “cousins” (a euphemism for Arabs) doing construction work near the park. We must be vigilant, and no, the kids can’t go to the park.
Real Hell: “What’s happening is very disturbing,” Aharon says.
In the 12 years we’ve been a couple, this is the first time I’ve heard Aharon express fear or outrage about the “situation.” When we were dating during the Second Intifada, he would defiantly ride the buses, despite my enamored pleas. He comes from an Intifada-hardened Jerusalemite family. For them, keeping on is a survival strategy. The stabbing of a 13-year-old Israeli by a 13-year-old Palestinian happened a block away from his parents’ home. An hour afterward, my father-in-law went for a run.
“Oh, and by the way, I went to a few stores, and they’ve all run out of pepper spray.”
He considers other forms of self-defense.
When I visit my in-laws that week, Aharon tells me not to walk around the neighborhood with our younger son. But he is overtired and erupts into a terrible-threes tantrum, so we go for a walk in the stroller and look at the snails that have come out after the first rain. I eye the street for objects that could serve as ad hoc weapons.
Epilogue: Panic and fear breed hate. Believe it or not, they’re bad for us, but not everyone here gets that. We need a sustainable solution to end these ebbs and flows of violence once and for all.
I still don’t have pepper spray.