A bus blew up in Tel Aviv killing two dozen people. A dozen diners massacred in the Sbarro pizza joint in Central Jerusalem. It is these scenes that jolted my consciousness as a young man. My first political memory was not some revolution or ideal but of Israeli civilians massacred by Palestinian attackers in a random fashion. In a way, it was those scenes from the Al Aqsa Intefadah (2000 to 2005) that imprinted my identity as a Jew under fire to this day.
It did not matter that I was an undergraduate student at the University of Calgary, Canada far far away from actual violence. The sadness and shocking aspect of it all affected me there. Soon, on campus, Israel became a curse word. Few saw the victims: a student eating pizza, a father of children, a mother trying to get home.
They all were “occupiers” in the minds of the Caucasian and Arab intellectual and the “crime” of simply living in the Jewish State was enough to brand them war criminals.
It was enough to jolt me to action and before long was hosting Canadian politicians on campus. As head of one of Canada’s first hasbara groups (“explaining” in Hebrew): the Israeli Canadian Students Association, we took the initiative and changed the dialogue on campus about Israel. As such, it was a success: one could say the word Israel and not be viewed as an occupier and in an ironic twist Arab Jewish relations briefly improved.
Nearly 20 years later living in the Jewish state that many brand as an “occupying” state a new wave of terrorism has begun. The news begins as a bulletin…so and so injured here and there. Then as if a deep bang that shakes you to your core the news changes and the horrifying news is laid bare: several Israeli citizens were killed in an attack, randomly. Some of them are cops, but many are citizens going about their day to day lives. It could be a mother who stopped at a gas station, a Druze border police who stopped to grab shawarma, or a yeshiva student who was walking his two year old son.
The news quickly becomes a sad spectacle and it is hard to concentrate on anyone else. One feels that every one of the murdered had a family, friends, jobs, hobbies, hopes, dreams. Many had a zest for life and their only crime appeared to be breathing the air of Israel. The terrorists also leave behind families, many of whom condemn their actions and one wonders what drove them to such extremism, now, of all times. As it is said to save a life is to save the world, to take a life is to take a world and 11 worlds were shattered this week…and for what real reason?
There is heroism as well. The bus driver that hesitated to shoot the terrorist in Beer Sheva trying to ironically persuade him to lower his knife so he could live, the two slain border cops and police anti terror unit who shot and killed the terrorists within a minute of hearing shots. In Bnei Brak the hero is an Arab policeman and his partner who stopped the Palestinian gunman in his tracks and a father who shielded his 2 year old from bullets leading to his own death so his son could live.
We are in a new reality. Unfortunately there will likely be more attacks. We need to be vigilant not only outside but also against those around the world who call us sub human for living in Israel. What crime did most of the victims commit? Most never hurt a Palestinian in their lives, many worked with Arabs, some were Arabs themselves. Two of the dead are Ukrainian refugees. What crime did they commit?
The attacks come as Israel hosts its first regional summit following the signing of the Abraham Accords, an example of coexistence. It comes as the world’s attention is still mostly focused on Russia and Ukraine and as news has largely put the Palestine issue on the backburner. Iran is in the news ever closer to nuclear weapons…however is it also largely not a major news item.
An overreaction and we may become central news again. The world will see us as occupiers…even the majority who never hurt a Palestinian, and whose lives are focused on growing families and being hard working and industrious.
It is sad that we must always be out there to prove that we are human. However, as is with all these waves, it seems another PR battle is about to begin.
May the 11 victims RIP