Guest writer: Yuval Orr
It is hard to escape the suffocating sense of violence and despair that chokes the air these days, even as it nonchalantly masquerades as a sense of normalcy around Tel Aviv. But it’s not normal for death chants to ring out in the streets. It’s not normal for people to wish death upon you for holding political viewpoints that are divergent with their own. It’s not normal when the good people you love and know will use any and all means, creative stretches of logic and loopholes in human understanding, to justify the deaths of hundreds of human beings. And it’s not normal when these same people, those closest to you, lash out against you when you fail to close ranks in wartime.
“Pack of hypocritical traitorous autoantisemites.” Those were the words my cousin used to describe me and my co-conspirators, the few hundred people who planned to attend an anti-war demonstration organized by the Coalition of Women for Peace. It is odd to admit, but my cousin’s words frightened me more than those of the stranger in Jerusalem who told me one week earlier, face pressed to the lens of my video camera, “We should kill you leftists one by one. You are despicable.” On that particular occasion, before the latest round of violence in Gaza, I had been demonstrating in favor of calm over cataclysm as calls for violent retribution rang out in Israel in the wake of the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli boys outside of Hebron. In Israel, non-violence appears to attract violence as though through osmosis.
I wonder what about my opposition to the bombing of largely civilian populations (here in Israel as in Gaza) sparked such a vitriolic reaction. Perhaps it was the fact that the demonstration had been organized under the rather controversial title (in Hebrew) of “Enough of the Massacre, Enough Bereavement – The Occupation Must Fall.” I concede that the words “massacre” and “occupation” are loaded ones, especially in Israel. Had I organized the event myself I might have gone with less forceful phrasing or perhaps even a caveat introducing the “both sides” clause so popular in Israel these days, so capable of rallying crowds. “Both Sides have Lost Loved Ones, Enough Bereavement – Whatever it is You Call What’s Happening in the Would-Be Palestinian Territories/West Bank/Yehuda and Shomron Should Probably End Sooner Rather than Later.” Yes, that would have been less hypocritical, less traitorous, less self-hating.
Hours after my cousin berated me and the gang of leftists I roll with for our traitorous ways, a group (in truth, a “pack”) of young men and women attacked demonstrators at the exact protest I was set to attend (I myself never made it because of traffic, go figure). And the first thing I thought of when I heard from friends about what had happened was: if my cousin had been in Tel Aviv last night, might he have been among those swept up by their anger? More to the point: had we both been there, where would we have been when the epithets, fists and sticks started to fly?
Ultimately, it is our capacity, as Israelis, to visit or wish death and destruction upon one another that frightens me more than the rockets that explode overhead several times a day. For we Israelis, in times of war as in times of relative peace and quiet, are unwilling to turn our gaze inwards, to see the ugliness and hatred that has grown up inside of us. We are all too quick to point to the Palestinians as those who understand only the language of violence as we elide the existence of the growing body of young men and women in our midst who speak in the self-same tongue.
There is something deeply sad and ironic about a group of self-proclaimed patriots decrying the right of their fellow citizens to protest as they scream for the anti-war crowd to “join your friends in Gaza.” “Do You suppose they would let you demonstrate there!?” they taunt.
“No, “I would respond. “I don’t”. And as my cousin and last night’s crowds made clear, nor do I suppose that we can demonstrate peacefully here.