Since my childhood in London I have enjoyed being able to read a newspaper that is delivered to my house every morning. In England this was pushed through our letterbox and appeared on our carpeted hallway floor. In Israel it is thrown onto our driveway from the car driven down the road by the delivery person. If I happen to be outside at the precise moment that she passes she puts it into my outstretched hand and we wish one another good morning, but on most days I’m still inside when her car goes by, and I go out to retrieve the paper from the driveway entrance a little while later.
Till recently, being able to sit down in the quiet of the early morning with a cup of coffee, a biscuit and the daily newspaper has always been a moment of leisurely pleasure for me. But at the moment that pleasure is diminished somewhat by the content which I find myself reading. We have been through difficult times in the past in Israel, with terror attacks, political unrest and even wars, and we have come through them all more or less in one piece, but these days the news items, the opinion pieces and even the letters to the editor fill me with dismay. There have been disagreements between various segments of the population in the past, but what has been happening in Israel and in the West Bank recently has gone beyond the concept of simple disagreement. A rift has opened up within Israel, and the tenor of the disagreement has taken a fresh turn, seeming to become an irreconcilable breakdown.
Essentially, what is now accepted as Israel within the pre-1967 borders is a democracy whose legislative basis is currently being undermined by political elements who reject the basic tenets of a democratic system, with the supremacy of the rule of law and the acceptance of the principle of government under a system of checks and balances.
And it is just those political elements who for the past fifty years have been involved in establishing settlements throughout the West Bank, imposing their views on the wider Israeli society, and involving Israel’s military might to maintain their supremacy there. Any Israeli under fifty has never known any other reality in Israel, but I and others like me remember that Israel was once a tight-knit society that was united in its sense of purpose. I remember the events leading up to the Six Day War and the existential threat represented by the Arab countries on our borders, with most of whom we have since made peace. I also remember the way in which the first settlers sought to impose their will on a reluctant government, eventually prevailing (Sebastia and others that followed), setting in motion a series of events that have brought us to the current situation in which resentful Palestinians kill Jews whenever and wherever they can and Jews retaliate, either by means of the official channels of the IDF or through marauding gangs of settlers who destroy Palestinians’ property and persons indiscriminately.
We have reached a sorry state of affairs and there seems to be no solution in sight to heal the rift within Israeli society. The perverted self-righteous indignation disseminated by Netanyahu serves only to exacerbate the situation. I wish that I could soothe my nerves by no longer reading the newspaper or listening to the news, but I refuse to take the ostrich approach.
My one consolation is the knowledge that my children and grandchildren are well, and that Israel’s intellectual and cultural institutions are still functioning. But there’s no guarantee that this situation will persist indefinitely given the current climate of repression and antagonism.