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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Israel’s Dog Day Afternoons

Israel is a happy society. But it’s become a tough job explaining why.

The dog days hang low with sullen menace and all the talk is of war.

Not ‘if’.


We have a surprise visit late one Friday afternoon. It’s almost the Sabbath, but a friend has wandered our way, seeking comfort. Her soldier son, on weekend leave, has been recalled to base and as we sit on our balcony offering sympathy, sipping tea, the jets whine overhead, drowning our weak attempts at artificial chat in misery.

Flashes of hate erupt like bolts of lightning. Would a war cool us down? Concentrate the bad energy making us fight among ourselves?

Would it prevent:

    • ·Women being arrested for wearing prayer shawls at the Western Wall?
    • Men pelting rocks and abuse at little girls for so-called ‘impropriety’?
    • Jews attacking black immigrants?
    • ·Desperate men burning themselves to death?
    • ·The murderous antics of Jewish boys - and girls - lynching Arab kids in Jerusalem’s Zion Square?

We didn’t come to Israel for this or to read that the Prime Minister seeks rabbinical approval before he wages war. I expect our clergy to be men of peace. How naive am I!

Two years ago we left Manchester basking in good will. And when we landed here in Israel we grabbed the generous grants, the wise counsel, the practical help and the enthusiastic cries of ‘welcome home’ from people who at first were just kind and trusting strangers. They, too, became our friends.

Now we must accept the inevitable:

Other people’s stories will become our own and for the black-hole-in-time it takes, we’ll be part of one large family, sharing fear - maybe loss - and understanding at last, that when others had named us ‘brave’, they’d really called us ‘fools’.

When had things been ever ‘happy’?

On another Friday, in another world, I’d seen people on our street laughing, eating, joking.

The social demonstrations had just begun. Their tone was buoyant, good-tempered; the protests were well-managed. This was how right and left would meet, I mused.

At first, all looked good and I told to a friend after a ‘demo’ near home in early September last year:

“At least 95% of the population of Karmiel was there - including Arab residents – with the elderly, infirm and even infants carried in their fathers' arms. The jolly party atmosphere encouraged people to ‘meet and greet’. Many carried flags. It seemed like fun.

“We joined a march in the suburbs, but not caring to wait for the Hebrew-language rally and speeches, we sauntered into town which was also crowded and where people were surprisingly animated; even happy.

“But the real shock came on our return a bare hour later. It was as if nothing had happened. There was little traffic (the police and their barriers had vanished); no mobs, no drunks - and no more litter than usual.

“I believe the secret is thus: Israel, despite its external foes and internal vicissitudes is a happy society, content with itself without being complacent. This is part of the continuing argument; the eternal, loudly declaimed debate. This is why there was - is - so much angst about issues like women's rights; the exchange of one IDF man for more than 1,000 terror-mongers; the execution of a single Nazi.

“Israel is happy because it has a conscience. This is our choice; our 'chosen-ness'. We may not be anywhere near to that precious ideal of being a Kingdom of Priests but so long as we keep fighting to reach it, we will survive.”

But matters became worse. Attitudes hardened.

As we crawled out of Rosh Pina late on another – now joyless - Saturday night, I felt briefly threatened by a man in a placard-waving crowd. His ’gimme money’ gesture against our car window unnerved me and rattled yet more loudly when we learned – almost 12 months later - how Moshe Silman and Akiva Mafi had killed themselves.

Profoundly ‘un-Jewish’ gestures? Universal cries for help?

“He can die for all I care,” snarled a kid involved in last weekend’s anti-Arab lynching in Jerusalem. Even worse, the teenage thug had been incited by a girl.

This is not just playground intimidation. This could be used to start another war – one much nearer to Israel than Iran.

Whatever our choice, it’s our conscience which must cool us down.


Mark.UlyseasThis article has just been published in the September edition of the online international magazine, Live Encounters. Editor, Mark Ulyseas is an Indian travel writer who supports Israel and all matters Jewish. It is a privilege to work with him.

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