Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word

Why I went to work on Wednesday

Image: Isabela de Santos for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.
Image: Isabela de Santos for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.

If you’ve read any of my posts all the way to the bottom, through to the couple of lines of CV, you know I work part-time at Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom (Oasis of Peace, Israel’s first and only intentional mixed Arab-Jewish community). And Wednesday, March 1, was the opening of the primary school’s Language Center, a project started long before this government took power. The opening was not going to be delayed, not for any of the so-called anarchists on either side of the fence.

Most of us live in the village or close by; those of us outside the village left a bit early in case of road closures. The photographer videoing the event was coming from the direction of Tel Aviv, though, and he called to tell us he’d been sitting in traffic for several hours and didn’t know if he would make it. But my boss, Samah does not take no for an answer; she told him she had faith in his abilities. He turned around, got on his motorcycle and made it in time to set up his equipment. The sign for the front entrance made it just in time from the shop, and no one knew it had been fixed in place minutes before.

The adults in attendance were not unaware of what was happening in the rest of the county. News sites and WhatsApps were shared, information murmured about where demonstrators were getting eggs or rocks thrown at them, were water cannons were being used.

But the opening was far too important.

The kids sat through the opening speeches; they cheered for all the people who had worked to make the Language Center happen. They cheered for Anne, who had endowed the building in her will. They cheered the teachers who had worked all year to make the Center a special place.

We need to keep believing a better future is possible, and we need to build that future now

As the children went off to see a film, the adults got a tour from the two coordinators, Lutfiyah and Ilanit. They took us through the interactive games screened on the floor with a special overhead projector. They led us to the reading corner, the corner stage, just big enough for one adult or two children, and more. And then they sat next on one another on a row of colorful ottomans and said: “This is the corner where kids talk to one another. They can talk about their feelings; they can get to know one another.”

And that’s when a sort of golden buzz spread around the room: We do need to resist the actions of the government, we need to protest against a coalition that enables the burning of whole villages. At the same time, we need to keep believing a better future is possible, and we need to build that future now. There is something a bit irrational about insisting on holding onto hope in the face of today’s reality, but hope was there, if I can be sentimental for a second, in the faces of those children and their delight in a bilingual learning center. We had all chosen, despite the call to demonstrate against the atrocity, to show up at our workplace and witness a shred of hope.

And while we’re on the subject of language:

Anarchist: The word has, in the space of a few weeks, been thrown around enough to render it meaningless. And yet, what we’re all saying is that we’re fighting chaos with chaos.

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Pogrom: This is a word handed down to us from our grandparents who grew up in Eastern Europe. We struggled to imagine what it was like for them, and if they were too graphic in their descriptions, they gave us nightmares. Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox, who appeared on television to call for ‘letting the army do their job,’ called the burning of Huwara by Israeli setters a “pogrom.” He said the word twice to make sure we knew he did not use it inadvertently. The images on the screen gave me nightmares, so I would agree: It was a pogrom. But he also used the word to warn us: The sight of Jews burning and smashing, aggressors in pogroms like those our grandparents experienced, should be no small cause for concern.

Judicial reform: The whole concept of reform has become a euphemism for another pogrom, this time against a justice system that has, at times single-handedly, kept the Israeli system technically a democracy. While protesters wave flags outside their gates, our coalition cannot smash and burn the system quickly enough.

Lawlessness: The IDF has vowed to probe “lawlessness” on the parts of the settler mob. You might think this is similar to anarchy; the word sounds almost quaint, conjuring images of a lone sheriff bringing law and order to the Wild West. Don’t be fooled. It means there will be a show of effort, a few arrests, very little punishment. Lawlessness, in this case, starts at the top, and, as the ruling coalition is showing, today’s lawlessness will be perfectly legal tomorrow.

Regime putch, dangerous slope, anarchy and more anarchy, on the road to dictatorship: In the mouths of the opposition, these pretty much amount to: “Buh, buh, buh!” No one has had to explain what’s going on – or what needs to be done – to the high-tech workers, reservists and ex-reservists, farmers, school teachers and students, mothers and fathers who are out in the streets.

Credit rating: Would you invest in Israel right now? Words like “Turkey” and “Hungary” are being thrown around. And undoubtedly a slip in Israel’s credit rating will lead to price rises that will fuel further unrest. But honestly, Bibi is looking less like a strongman and more like one who’s losing control. During his previous terms, even as the wage gap rose and education levels fell to among the lowest in the OECD, he could always take personal credit for our shiny credit rating. When that goes, we might be thinking of Egypt or even Iran, and today’s riots could look like Purim parades compared to the chaos that comes next.

About the Author
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na'am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.
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