This post is inspired by Moriel Rothman’s “10 Things I Really Like About Living in Israel.” I read Moriel’s blog each week religiously, for the honest and reflective quality with which he presents his experiences as an activist for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine, but I have to admit it was a fresh of breath air to read his most recent piece.
Usually, Moriel’s blog depicts the ugly side of Israeli occupation of the West Bank (centered around Jerusalem), and I find myself struggling to remember that I need to know these things and honor them as unhappy reality no matter how much my brain tries to reject them as overexaggerated, misinterpreted, or “negative” in order to stay wrapped in the comfort provided by the Jaffa-Tel Aviv bubble.
The truth is, there really is a bubble of rosy proportions in Tel Aviv, where start-up culture and liberalism abound—away from the black-hat religiosity and boiling-pot pressure of the Holy City of Jerusalem. It’s as if the sea breeze blows away all but the most pressing/heavy of worries of Tel Avivians, and the political climate allows for the easy-on-the-ears rhetoric of “social justice” that—when you read the fine print—only includes populations west of the Green Line.
While Moriel rightly points out that sexism and racism can (and most certainly do) undermine our best efforts to improve society without being as blatantly visible, it’s my personal belief that Tel Aviv—including Jaffa—truly does enjoy a greater level of homeostasis (if not peace itself) than do most places in the country, as a direct result of pleasant environmental climate and current location relatively distant from occupation. Disclosure: I do not consider Jaffa to be occupied territory, but please feel free to disagree.
This chrono-geographical privilege, in combination with my affinity for collaborative & solutions-based activism, have led my particular coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian (co)existence to be quite cheerful in nature. I wasn’t always so optimistic or positive—in college I studied environmental (in)justice and battled every “ism” you could think of with protests, petitions, and direct actions. I struggled with constant anxiety, disappointment, and frustration with the apathy of my peers. Eventually, I checked out from activism entirely—a trend I think they call “burnout,” but really they should call depression because I still had plenty of energy for drinking and escape via travel.
Somehow though, in recent years, I’ve found myself buoyed up by an inexplicable sense that everything is, truly, going to be all right. I don’t know where it came from, (could be the Hub, yoga, volunteering, or genetics) but I suddenly began to feel a constant love so strong that I and compelled to smile at all human beings I come into contact with. While I’ve struggled in the past with claiming a “Zionist identity,” my recent sentiments and positive outlook allowed me to wear it pretty loud and proud during these past 9 months—in addition to showing me a “glass half full” perspective even as I saw difficult things and raised critical questions about the status quo in Israel. (I suspect that being with children in Jaffa also helped me to keep smiling.)
While positivity and optimism are indeed powerful forces for good, there is definitely another side to the coin. In the midst of all my “smile activism,” I may at times be forgetting to acknowledge the need for calling a spade a spade—as Moriel does so well– and thus letting the burden of resisting the Occupation (and all of its associated racism, sexism, classism, environmental-destructionism) fall on the shoulders of my counterparts out there on the front line.
So in the name of clearing space for the planting work (like Safa’s) that needs to be done in Israel and Palestine, I’m going to do a bit of weeding and critical analysis of my own. Ladies and gentlemen, here are the Top Ten Things That Bother Me About Israel:
- Black and White Thinking: As someone who both identifies as a multi-ethnic, multi-spiritual, and overall multi-faceted person, born to the Grateful Dead song “Touch of Grey,” I have a hard time with the frequency with which I encounter a black and white mentality in Israel. People often want to define me as “either” “or,” when in fact I’m both. For example, suggestions that I am not really Jewish because my mother’s mother happens to be the one of all four of my grandparents who was not raised in a Jewish household with Jewish ancestry. Or like my penultimate visit to my mom’s cousin’s family in Hadera found me fighting back tears as my (generally sweet and loving) uncle accused me of traitorously “choosing their (read: Palestinian) side of the conflict.” My pleas of defense that I support both Israeli and Palestinian right to self-determination and peace fell on deaf ears. Or should I say, they fell into the nonexistent grey chasm that sits right between black and white.
- Power Tripping in the Israeli Military: Checkpoint behavior, disdain for and mistrust of Palestinian ethics, house-raids (“Black Widows”) and other pre-cautionary measures taken that violate the rights and dignity of Palestinians living in the West Bank)
- Hummus: Moriel may be a bit more optimistic on Israeli food than I am. No matter how hard I tried to believe (read: my Israeli boyfriend tried to make me believe) that hummus should be eaten at every meal, I simply cannot get behind the belief that hummus is anything more than a nice occasional condiment for vegetables and pita. My stomach hates it, and I am sorry to admit that I think I hate it too.
- Self-Entitlement and Elbowing on Public Transit: I do not find this Israeli characteristic remotely endearing the way I do with the accent, the gesturing, and the shouting. I find it infuriating, selfish, and just plain bad manners.
- Finger-Pointing as if We’ve Already Forgotten our History as the World’ Universal Scaepgoat: Enough said. Between violent riots against African immigrants and anti-Arab legislation targeted at “the demographic threat,” it seems obvious to me that Israelis have a hard time remembering that we’ve been there on the other end of the bullying stick. And by the way, I don’t like or accept the term “arsim,” and arguing that “the stereotypes are so true though” does not make it okay to use a term to denigrate people who dress or speak differently from you—especially when that term has particular ethnic and socioeconomic connotations.
- Mistreatment of Cats as “Street Vermin”: I am an out and proud cat-lover, and it wrenches my heart to see the way the stray cat population is neglected and abused in Israel. Someone should get these poor creatures spayed, neutered, and adopted ASAP. I know of only my dear friend Shimrit who does this with her own money out of the goodness of her animal-loving heart.
- Straw Man Logic & Hasbara: Israeli PR has a serious problem with trying to deflect well-founded criticisms away from itself by implementing a tattle-tale strategy toward developing world countries and its less-Westernized (and usually Islamic) neighbors. But guess what guys, shining the spotlight on the humanitarian abuses in other countries will not make your own problems go away. It’s high-time we face inward to recognize that while criticism doesn’t feel good, oftentimes that’s because it’s poking at a sore spot in our own psyche that needs to be addressed—and not repressed.
- Soldier-Worship & Putting Youth at Risk: I know this a really controversial one, and truly I do not mean to offend or disrespect those who have (or had) children serving in the army. International rebukes of the Israeli military are too-often misdirected at soldiers themselves, and misinformed of Israel’s history of crucial defensive military strategy. HOWEVER, this happens to be one of my least favorite parts of Israel, mostly because I have so much faith in the potential and character of Israeli youth. The children and teenagers I had the privilege to work with in schools in Jaffa blew me away with their warmth, creativity, and talent. I just simply cannot believe that being drafted to the military is the only way for Israeli 18-21 year olds to effectively develop their potential as good citizens that will dream, build, and serve their country.
- Guns, and lots of them: I’m from Berkeley, and the daughter of a Freudian psychologist. ‘Nuff said.
- The Constant Nuclear Threat, 1984 Style: Israeli politicians need to give up throwing the Iranian nuclear threat in the face of Israelis as a means to achieving power to do as they wish in office. This is a flagrant abuse of a society traumatized by fatal attacks from the outside, and it will not help prevent a future attack no matter how good this is for Bibi’s ability to get reelected.
Many thanks to Moriel for his always thought-provoking insight and for inspiring this writing exercise. I hope that the both of us, for that matter all of us, can continue to see the yin and yang in the Israeli/Palestinian homeland such that we carry forward with our fruits and flower planting while not forgetting to weed the garden as we go.