Monday, February 8, 2010

Mirror, Mirror beyond the Wall

Ok, so 15 Israeli soldiers enter Ramallah at night and arrest two European women in their 20s. The excuse: the two have overstayed their tourist visas. In reality these women were members of International Solidarity Movement, or ISM, a non-violent organization of international volunteers supporting the Palestinian cause.

The two women are then handed over to the loving arms of the Oz unit, the force created through a loophole in Israeli law to replace the old immigration police. The Oz unit is subject to the ministery of the interior and enjoys greater liberties than most policing forces on earth. In fact, it enjoys such unparralleled liberty, that its own people have acted more than once inside Ramallah, i.e. outside the recognized bordrs of Israel.

When the Oz unit or the I.D.F. enter the West Bank in search of foreign volunteers, they perform an illegal act, but legality is of little concern in Israel today. What matters is fear, and the young people who come here with ISM are what we fear.

We fear them because the turn the Palestinians into who we used to be. In the early years of the Jewish state, many Europeans came here to volunteer in the Kibbuzim and give a hand to the Zionist endeavor. A fair haired American girl, picking Bananas by the sea of Galillee, was a symbol of Israel's beauty. Once such a girl is murdered by an Israeli bulldozer, while serving as a human shield to stop house demolition in Gaza, we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and admit: we have become monsterous. This is what happened to ISM activist Rachel Corrie in 2003, this is what happened to us.

We don't like looking at ourselves in the mirror. We'd much rather smash the mirror by arresting and deporting (though we're not completely adolescent. The Israeli supreme court ordered the two Ramallah activists freed). Most Israelis would claim it's a crooked mirror and that ISM volunteers are impressionable kids at best, possibly antisemites.

I know this not to be the case. One night in Hebron I was with a group of Israeli activists. We were watching over an abandoned Palestinian house that the settlers threatened to take over. The watch was to last two nights, only until the Palestinians managed to renovate the interior and make the house livable for a local renter. I spent most of the first night by the fire in the yard, but was catching a serious cold and had to be indoors. Two ISM volunteers escorted me to their apartment, at the foot of Tel-roumeida and made a bed for me there.

I stayed up nearly till dawn, chatting with them and the other volunteers by the kitchen table. They were extraordinarily lovely. Those were good people who have come to build, not destroy, and who took no offence at my nationality. I challanged them, playing devil's advocate more than once. The challenges were met with attentiveness and willingness to discuss.

Later, a bunch of them came to stay with me in Tel-Aviv. I wanted to show them the other side of things and did. They loved it here, especially after having spent two weeks under artillery fire in Nablus. I remember one girl saying to me: "I am so troubled by how much I like Tel-Aviv. I didn't want to like it that much."

I said: "You shouldn't feel bad that Tel-Aviv is in a good shape. That is a good thing. You should wish for Nablus to be in an eqaully good shape. Once that materializes, your work here is done."

1 comment:

eyalm16 said...

welcome back yuval.
it´s exams period in the university these days, and it´s nice to have something to read other than Mark Bloch, Robert Darnton, Kliuchevski and Moshe Zimmereman.
not that they aren´t interesting, but stil...