Thursday, April 07, 2011

Zoo day

I was travelling home from an exhausting but pleasant visit to Jerusalem's Biblical Zoo when I heard the news on radio about an Israeli schoolbus hit by an anti-tank missile fired across the Gaza border into Israel. The driver escaped with light injuries but a a 16 year-old boy was critically injured. Please pray for the recovery of Daniel ben Tamar.

For those outside Israel it was reported as another non-news event, mostly after Israel responded by attacking terror suspects in Gaza, garnering headlines along the lines of "Israel knocks the @#$%! out of Gaza again, (and by the way, they might have been responding to folks in Gaza trying to kill Israelis)"

Nothing new there I guess even though this was an escalation on the part of Hamas and their buddies. Until now most of the fire coming from Gaza has been rockets and mortars, not particularly accurate weapons, not that they aren't plenty lethal, but still, not something you can use for a targetted strike. An anti-tank missile is different. It isn't something one just shoots into the air and hopes it lands somewhere it can do the enemy some damage.

An anti-tank missile is something to be fired when you have your specific enemy target in your sights, some guy was sitting on the Palestinian side of the Gaza fence and watching that school bus and choosing to fire his missile directly at that bus hoping specifically to harm that specific civilian target. Had the bus been more crowded the outcome would have been far worse than today's tragedy.

I couldn't help but contrast events near the Gaza border with my morning in Jerusalem. While an Arab gunman was taking aim at an Israeli schoolbus, scores of Arab schoolchildren were happily strolling along the lush paths of Jerusalem's zoo, giggling and carefree.

My toddler was so taken with one group that he followed them along for a while, quite taken by the cute kids in their red tracksuit uniforms and the friendly children and teachers who very sweetly waved back to him. If my rudimentary Arabic is correct, I think the three little girls at the back wanted to take him home with them.

A lot of people talk about how Israel's hospitals show the country's pluralism and co-existence at work, and that's true, every race, creed and ethnicity can be found among both Israel's hospital patients and the medical staff who care for them.

The zoo though, the zoo is where you can see all these people relaxing together rather than stressing together, or being forced together out of medical need. Jerusalem's zoo is a great place to meet the city's diverse population and multitudinous children. Yiddish speaking Hassidish families, Arabic speaking school groups accompanied by teachers in jilbabs and hijab or clad in neat uniforms and shepherded by nuns, religious Zionist children with their long skirts or oversized bightly coloured skullcaps and tourists from around the world - all walk around side by side enjoying this beautifully landscaped modern zoo.

It isn't just the visitors either. The staff may all wear the same green zoo uniform t-shirt, but it may be worn with jeans or a long skirt, an Islamic or Jewish headscarf, a bare shaved head, a kippa covered head or one crowned with long flowing locks. People every bit as diverse as the zoo's visitors.

While visitors may just stand side by side at an exhibit, these people are working together day in day out. You can see it in the cameraderie as a group walks by or sits down to lunch together. It's a working model of Israeli coexistance in action, down to the sign explaining that a collared peccary is not really a pig, so as not to offend the zoo's mostly Jewish and Muslim clientele.

Every time I hear about "Israel apartheid week" on foreign university campuses I wish I could take those students and transport them here to spend a few days with the staff and volunteers at this wonderful zoo.

Then I'd take them shopping in my local mall or riding a bus in Tel Aviv or strolling on the beach in Haifa. I don't claim that Israel is perfect, sure we have our societal problems and our warts. Sure there is a lot of work to be done. But the reality of living here is also the reality of seeing people who can get along.

There may be Arabs shooting at Jews over the border from Gaza, but there are also Arabs and Jews cooking together at a restaurant in Tel Aviv, shopping together at the mall in Modi'in, giving birth together at the hospital in Afula, feeding the carp together at the Jerusalem Zoo and strolling the beach together in Haifa.

Sadly I've rarely seen the foreign press pick up on this, even though this is a crucial part of understanding the complexity of life in Israel and in the region in general.

I've had some people ask me why my blog is such a jumble, politics and terrorism and childrearing and recipes and arts and nature all jumbled together and my answer is simple - this is life and living in Israel I find that means that a trip to the zoo isn't just a trip to the zoo simply to learn about the animals.

No comments: