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When Israelis feel safe and Americans don’t

My friends and relatives in the US were concerned for my safety, but I feel no sense of danger
Illustrative: A playground by the beach in Jaffa on March 6, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Illustrative: A playground by the beach in Jaffa on March 6, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

On Friday morning, I posted the news that my neighbor Fadia Kadis was brutally murdered in her home. Her husband, Gabi Kadis, leader of Jaffa’s Christian community was murdered on Christmas Eve six years ago. I expressed my condolences to Fadia’s friends and family and to Jaffa’s Christian community.

What happened next took me aback. My Facebook feed and message apps immediately filled with the hopeful message that I “stay safe,” and empathetic comments on “how scary” this must be for me.
I sincerely thank those who expressed their concern for me and my family. But my post was meant to reflect sadness — not fear.

I’d woken up in my mixed Muslim, Jewish, and Christian neighborhood on the Friday morning of #PrideTLV2018 to rainbow flags everywhere I looked. The Shabbat dinner Firecracker Thighs I had made for the occasion were already chilling in the fridge. The news hit me like a ton of bricks.

I barely knew Fadia Kadis, of blessed memory. But we shared a moment years ago, when we were forced to stand behind a cyclone fence in front of my house to permit Kahanist protesters to march up and down our street. “This is my house!” I screamed at march leaders Baruch Marzel, Itamar Ben-Gvir, and Michael Ben-Ari. Fadia followed suit. Then we both looked at each other and giggled at the irony of police protecting dozens of hefty men in their 20s and 30s from two middle-aged women. That prompted a conversation between Fadia and me about our shared fear of religious fanatics of all stripes robbing us of our homes and quality of life.

The thought of her children losing their remaining parent to another human hand prompted a sense of loss and nascent rage.

Upon hearing the news, my Israeli mind subconsciously and at warp speed shuffled through the Rolodex of reasons why this could not happen to me or my family. Muslim-Christian tension would probably not boil over in my direction. People in my neighborhood have been caught in the crossfire of drug-related gang violence, but it is extremely rare. And no way, no how would domestic abuse in its ugliest and most tragic form cause someone to stab me in my shower. I felt not a shred of fear.

My American mind had posted what I thought were heavy-handed hints that this was not Israel-Palestine style terrorism. Fadia was Christian. She was the widow of Gabi Kadis, a man brutally targeted by a relative dressed as Santa Claus in Jaffa’s annual Christmas parade. Most of all, she was murdered at home, her home — not mine. That was supposed to signal to my stateside family and friends that I was in no danger.

The news this morning that police had arrested an 18-year-old male suspect and an 18-year-old female relative of Fadia Kadis further bolstered my sense of security.

But I now see that “murdered at home” signaled something entirely different to American readers — a faceless Norman Bates wannabe that could cross my threshold at any moment.

It dawned on me that Israelis are trained from birth to assume that they are safe and to recite to themselves the reasons that they are in all likelihood safe whenever they face danger. I also realized that Americans are trained as children to do the opposite: assume they are in danger, look for risk everywhere, and avoid it at any cost rather than mentally review why it probably won’t/can’t happen to them.

Pandering to that fear has become an industry. Ring app creators sell frightened homeowners on vacation the false sense of security derived from shouting over the phone, “I see you. Leave my driveway now.” Anxious parents keep one eye on their screens at work and the other on their nanny-cams.

Your politicians and more recently ours have won elections and shaped legislation by fanning the flames of this ingrained fear to win elections and shape legislation.

How exactly should I/we “stay safe”? Check my surveillance cameras, double-bolt my doors, and load the AK-47 under my bed? I happily lack all the above, and, as Israelis love to say, life is dangerous. It gets everyone in the end.

Isn’t it better if we all send the Facebook message, “Feel safe,” and teach our children to do the same?

About the Author
Varda Spiegel was Nurse-Director of the Bedouin Mobile Unit of the Negev, later serving as Maternal-Child Health Director for the Ministry of Health Jerusalem District.
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