Monday, October 12, 2015

The twist is in the headline

It is stunning to watch the foreign press report on Israel, headline after headline screams that Israel is killing Palestinians, apparently for no reason, just because. Any time an Israeli is killed or hurt the headlines read that they were mysteriously "attacked" or "killed" or "hurt" but some entity, never actually identitfying who is doing the attacking, killing and hurting, it just happens, like a force of nature. 

A particularly egregious headline appeared in today's British "Independent" newspaper: "Israel kills pregnant mother and baby in revenge attack" - you know, Israel just went out and found a pregnant woman and her baby and executed them in revenge, as one does, when what actually happened was Jihadi folks in Gaza launched missiles at Israel, Israel responded by attacking a Gaza munitions factory making rocket parts and just plain bad luck meant that the explosion triggered a civilian house collapse nearby, killing the poor woman and her child inside. Very different story. Yes she is still dead, but there is a big difference between a "revenge attack" intending to kill her and an attempt to stop the manufacture of rockets being fired at Israeli civilians.

God Dies by the Nile and other stories

I first discovered Nawal el Saadawi in my early teens when I came across her novel about women in rural Egypt "God Dies by the Nile", and I was instantly fascinated, delving in to whatever books of hers I could find translated in to English.

Probably not the way most Orthodox Jewish teenage girls discover modern political feminism. My poor mother had no idea what I was reading - boy do I sympathise with her trying to keep up with the stacks of books I brought home from the library. Incredibly well read in several languages she encouraged me to read widely, though I suspect she didn't quite mean her young teen to read quite that widely.

Nawal El Saadawi taught me the harsh realities of life in rural Egypt, especially for young women. If until then I had some idea that there was extreme poverty and subjugation of women in rural areas across the Middle East her writing brought it in to stark relief, complete with graphic details that once learnt could not be erased. I was at once horrified and impressed by her courage and openess. Having both grown-up in these areas and returned to them as a doctor she was more than qualified in conveying just was it like to be a woman living in such circumstances.

Her work in promoting womens' health and education in Egypt, her fight against FGM, her campaign for womens' most basic and fundamental rights under such difficult circumstances, including imprisonment and threats against her life, made her one of my heroines alongside Hannah Sennesh and other Zionist icons I had grown-up with. I felt that she was one of those women who could change the Middle East for the better. Her story inspired me. 

El Saadawi is unfortunately no friend of Israel, her radical Marxism putting her on the side of the extreme anti-Israel camp, but as a young teen I always hoped that her zeal for justice and compassion might one day change that view of her Jewish northern neighbours.

She is still going strong in the new post-post Arab Spring Egypt, hoping that the leadership of General Sisi will bring the greater freedom, modernity and positive change that she has always hoped for.

Reading Nawal El Saadawi led me to other regional feminists and writers, like the writings of Lebanese/Egyptian/French author Andree Chedid, Palestinian feminist and PLO activist Raymonda Tawil (Yasser Arafat's mother-in-law) and a selection of women authors from the Maghreb countries and Lebanon.

What I discovered was a world full of unfamiliar and strange concepts, of incredible brutality, mindblowingly strict tradition and hard hearted men, but also full of women with the vision and hope to try to create something new, though in practice often running up against a very high and thick stone wall, sometimes quite literally.

It wasn't all feminism and theories of the patriarchy though. There were descriptions of the Westernised decadent middle and upper classes in Egypt and Lebanon, clashes of identity among the Francophone educated classes of the Maghreb, beautiful rural retreats and villages where the illusion of freedom could be reached just beyond the last house or among the circle of female relatives within the secure confines of the enclosed courtyard.

Very cliched sounding I know, but a huge eye opener to my teenage self, a window on places I could likely never visit, people who I would likely never know because along with their quest for freedom within their own societies and their rejection of many of the supposedly sacred truths of the Arab world, they generally still embraced a very firm hatred of Israel, be it framed in terms of the Marxist struggle against Western colonialism or the cultural/nationalist insistance on maintaining a united Arab front across the Middle East.

Most of these books were written in the revolutionary cultural fervour of the 1960s, 70s, even 80s, barely broaching the Islamist revolutions that were just starting to ferment in the region, replacing the secular Socialist and Marxist Arab nationalisms that had held sway among the revolutionary classes.

Looking at the post-Arab Spring Middle East it seems that the only perhaps Egypt and Tunisia have had revolutions that in any way matched the aspirations of these authors. Looking out over the broiling burning early 21st century Middle East I think often of their books and feminist ideals and I wonder if any of the women dashing off to join Da'esh may have read them too, and if not, perhaps they should. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Fifteen years later - The song remains the same (or at least similar)

I'm having a weird feeling of deja vu at the moment thinking back to events exactly fifteen years ago in the autumn of 2000 when I first started writing this blog. Can it be a coincidence that pretty much fifteen years to the day of the start of the Oslo War/Second Intifada a new Palestinian terror campaign has begun?

Back in autumn 2000 all hell was breaking loose, apparently random attacks on Israeli Jews by our Arab neighbours, riots in Arab Israeli neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, Jaffa and parts of the Galilee, some so severe that their Jewish neighbours were effectively under siege, cut off from the rest of the country by attacks on their roads. All this aside from violent confrontations in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. 

Israelis were stunned by the ferocity of it all, the hatred from people they had worked with, shopped with, ridden the buses with. Suddenly then, as now, you found yourself looking at each Arab you met in a different light. 

Was the nice hijabi woman next to you on the bus going to blow you all to kingdom come or or coo over your baby? If you stopped by a local Arab village to eat some of their excellent hummous or to buy some value furnishings would you get lynched? Could you trust the Arab sales clerk you worked side by side with in a local clothing store or might he or she suddenly knife you in the back? How safe was your Arab dentist or the Arab electrician doing repairs at your kids' school? 

How does society continue to function under such pressure? How do people manage to continue working together when one side is terrified of being murdered by their colleagues, their neighbours? 

Somehow Israel made it through that one, resisted the Palestinian terror war and despite all the pain and suffering, people started to trust each other again. Not as completely as before, few Israeli Jews resumed visiting or shopping in Palestinian areas, but little by little Jews began visiting Israeli Arab communities again, the tension subsided, coexistence remained a fixture of Israeli society.

The daily terror onslaught is back again now, in a slightly different format, less severe riots, many more stabbings and car rammings, but still assaults with the same dizzying frequency, Arab attack on Jews in towns and on roads across Israel, many concentrated in and around the Israel capital, Jerusalem. Parents have been killed in front of their children, and Israelis young and old have been wounded in grisly attacks. 

I wasn't a mother back in 2000, I am now, and it is a thousand times harder to negotiate this frightening uncertainty when you have to worry about your kids' safety as well as your own. Social media is abuzz with anxious parents trying to figure out how to carry on their lives without being reckless. 

In a country where kids are usually independent from a young age, walking to friends houses or to school alone, parents are suddenly insisting on driving them, even if its just around the block. Other parents are accompanying their kids on the buses, just in case. Youth groups have changed their outdoor meetings to enclosed spaces protected by armed guards. Kids aren't being allowed to hang out at the mall or in the park, certainly not without watchful parents armed with pepper spray. 

The latest wave of attacks on Israelis are sudden and seemingly random, Arabs who seem like ordinary people, a repairman, a law student, a graduate of Israel's prestigious Technion university, even a 13 year-old schoolboy, suddenly knifing Jews or ramming them with their cars. These aren't last summer's rocket attacks where we at least had a minute or so warning and sirens telling us to dash for cover, all the warning you get is someone lunging at you with a knife or charging their car at you. 

I hate the way I suddenly have to think twice about where the kids are likely to meet Arabs in our small town. Should I have them avoid the mall with its many Arab employees and shoppers? What about the park tended by an Arab gardening crew? The Arab doctors and nurses at a nearby urgent care clinic? Do I have to be nervous about the Arab construction company doing renovations in the building nextdoor? What about Arab bus drivers potentially ramming people walking in the streets? What about all our decent, law abiding Arab neighbours caught in the middle of this madness?

My heartbreaks from the horror of having to live this way, any of us, all of us. 

I don't know what the answer is, I don't know when it will end, if it will escalate, if someone somewhere will manage to calm the situation - it certainly doesn't seem as if the Palestinian leadership is that interested in doing so. 

Friday, October 09, 2015

Considering the massive international press presence in Israel you'd think one of them would have noticed that there seem to be rather a lot of our Palestinian neighbours trying to kill Israelis lately, rather than, you know, just those wicked Israelis randomly deciding to shoot people and all this disembodied "violence" floating around making mischief.

I realise the concept of Palestinians running around Israeli towns stabbing Israelis is a revolutionary and unprecedented one, but perhaps someone in the foreign press corps should investigate?

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Righteous neighbours

With all the horrific insanity of recent weeks, especially the bloodcurdling video of local Arab shopkeepers taunting the critically injured young Jewish mother and her baby in the Old City,I just wanted to mention an article I read recently, can't remember where.

It was the story of a Jewish family living in Hebron during the 1929 pogrom against the Jewish community there by their Arab neighbours. One family was saved by an Arab friend of the family. She hid them in her house. It turned out that her husband was one of the rioters out massacring Jews and he realised she was hiding a Jewish family. An Arab mob besieged the house and demanded that she hand them over. She responded that they'd have to kill her first. The mob relented and the Jewish family were saved.

More recently a car of visiting American yeshiva students took a wrong turn in Hebron and they too were set upon by a mob. A local Arab man rescued them from the bloodthirsty crowd, sheltering them in his home until Israeli security forces could arrive to take them to safety.

Our Arab neighbours are being egged on by their leadership to glorify the murder of Jews, to go out and perpetrate more acts of terrible bloodshed and scores of young Arabs have heeded this call in recent days.

In these times of once again feeling like we have to second guess every Arab we meet to see if they have a knife it's important to remember that there are also many good and level headed people among our Arab neighbours, though tragically not among the mainstream leadership, be they from the Palestinian Authority or even Arab members of Israel's Knesset.

Even with new campaign of attacks sowing terror in Israeli towns there are courageous men and women among our Arab neighbours who are trying to make their voices heard, continuing interfaith dialogues and peace prayers with their Jewish neighours, or speaking out on public television, like the mayor of Nazareth, pleading for calm and berating the rabble rousing and hate mongering of so many Israeli Arab politicians.

The decent and righteous among our Arab neighbours are the hope that one day the madness will end.

I pray that speedily and in our day their voices will be heard loud and clear.