Friday, October 22, 2010

Reclaiming Zionism

"Fighting Racism, Return to Zionism

"Fighting Racism, Return to Zionism

Last night, on the eve of the 15th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s murder, more than 1000 people gathered at Kikar Zion, in the heart of Jerusalem. The rally wasn’t a Rabin memorial but its date is significant and even metaphorical. While Rabin’s legacy looms larger than any of his actions- the moral from it is also clear: democracy and the quest for peace. It is over these principles that the rally was convened. Called, ”נאבקים בגזענות חוזרים לציונות”- Fighting the Racism and Returning to Zionism, the rally was sparked by the controversial loyalty oath, yet this wasn’t the main topic, rather the question was: how did we get here? What has our Zionism become?

Yes, the loyalty oath is serious, (as serious as Gideon Levy’s suggestion that we will become The Jewish Republic of Israel… I don’t know about that) but serious enough because it reflects the path we are taking and what our Jewish state represents. There was a time where many believed that Zionism was beautiful; Jews were returning to their ancient homeland to create a democratic state. Today all I hear is that Zionism=racism. To me, Zionism is just as beautiful as it was when Herzl first came out with “The Jewish State”- the problem is rather that my conception of Zionism is being hijacked. The Zionism presented to me today is reflected by ofracist policy and politicians, the neglection of peace, and lack of equality for all its citizens despite race or religion.

My Zionism wasn’t born out of exclusiveness, but in defense of being excluded. It was created in order to provide the threatened Jews of Europe opportunity to reach their potential, away from antisemitism in an effort to create a beacon of modern civilization in the Jewish ancient homeland. In many ways we have lived up to this, and become this beacon. We have provided to the world medical, scientific, agricultural and technological breakthroughs. rally We have a an amazing and unique culture. And we are the only democracy in the Middle East; and while we have our mistakes, we are still learning and growing.

While it is true that our country was born in a moment of war and therefore survival meant defense, we have never stopped letting ourselves be the victim and on the defense. (Not just militarily) We are the oppressors in occupied land, we claim we want to provide for peace, yet we keep onto this land for 43 years. We claim to be a democracy but we continue to worry about the rights of our majority, and neglect the rights of our minorities- these very same minorities that we have a duty to protect. (Rule of majority means defense of minority). After years of foreign rules, the persecuted Jewish nation is given their own land… and wouldn’t you think that the moment they received a non-Jewish minority, they would say to the world, “this is how you treat your minority”… yet we fail to live up to this. (The treat your neighbor the way you’d like to be treated principle) Instead we have chosen to alienate them, instead of bringing them closer.

So what is my Zionism? My Zionism is a Jewish state in the land of Israel. My Zionism is justice for Palestinians and Jews. My Zionism is democracy, equality and freedom within the state. My Zionism is peace. But most of all, my Zionism is the belief that we can make all this reality. When 1000 people gathered last night they weren’t just complaining about Lieberman’s bill, they were asserting the need to reclaim our Zionism. We need to step forward and preserve it… not by defending it, but by showing what it can be through our actions.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Dangerous Areas

View from Hebrew University of East Jerusalem and the West Bank (including the wall)

View from Hebrew University of East Jerusalem and the West Bank (including the wall)

When I first moved to Israel I lived in the student dorms in Mount Scopus, at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. For those unfamiliar with the area, the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew U is located in north-east Jerusalem. Therefore there are many Arab neighborhoods around the University.

The location never much mattered. However, soon many people began to think otherwise. The news was first announced to the overseas Undergraduates on a trip up north. They were told minimal news; only that 2 boys had been beaten up by Arabs near campus right near campus and student dorms. Rumors spread quickly. The next day there was a security meeting: I was sent e-mails about the emergency meeting and my roommate was even sent a text from the administration. Everyone was concerned.

So what happened? Two boys were walking to a nearby synogogue on Friday night. They looked Jewish- wore kippas. They were walking through the parking lot of a gas station when a group of young Arabs approached them. They were far outnumbered. In English they warned the boys that they could not pass, this wasn’t their place, and then they jumped on them, while they were talking. They hit one of the Jewish kids on the back of the head, and the other boy ran in the opposite direction. A large number of the Arab boys followed him, and the rest went after the other. The Jewish boy pulled out a pocket knife and the Arab boys ran away, he continued to run until he got to the security at the front of the student dorms. The other boy ran into the road, in front of a car and plead for help. They helped him, and the remaining boys ran off. However damage had been done, the one hit on the head was injured and spent some days in the hospital. All this happened only a few minute walk away from the front gates of the student dorms.

It was no wonder an emergency security meeting was adjourned. The University warned all the students (students from oversees who are Jewish, and non-Jewish) to be aware and careful walking through Arab neighborhoods- they were dangerous- as was obviously shown.

Sheikh Jarrah, an Arab (dangerous?) neighborhood near Hebrew University

Sheikh Jarrah, an Arab (dangerous?) neighborhood near Hebrew University

But what does it mean to say that this or that any area is dangerous? Are we saying that Arab areas are inherently dangerous because they are Arabs? Why is there no mention of Jewish areas? After the meeting they issued a warning to not walk through east Jerusalem- especially during Ramadan, when religious fervor is high.

Speaking with my fellow students from the Univesrity, I asked them how they felt: did they perceive Arab areas as dangerous? Did they feel the same about Jewish areas- like Haradi neighborhoods such as Mea Shearim? There was a clear consensus: as long as they followed the Jewish rules; dressing modestly or keeping the laws of Shabbat on Shabbat, they felt safe walking through Jewish areas. However, the same line of thought did not follow from Arab neighborhoods. My friend said she walked through East Jerusalem to get to the old city, and although dressed modestly, she still felt uncomfortable: receiving cat-calls and looks the entire walk.

So what am I supposed to take from all of this? Jews are good. Arabs are bad. Have we all become racists? We can all so easily brand areas? Or is there truth here? Talking about the situations to one of the boys who fell victim to the Arab boys, I asked him if he felt like a racist after the situation. He said he didn’t hate Arabs, although he hated those that beat him up. He, like everyone else I spoke to, agreed that Arab neighborhoods were dangerous, and he had no problem admitting it, despite my question of racism… he after all had found out the hard way of what it means for an area to be dangerous.

This kind of branding is common all over the world. Like Harlem in New York, or Jane in Finch in Toronto. Yet we don’t attribute fault to the residents, but the conditions of the residents: because they are poor, or immigrants with low education. But the tone in Israel is different. The areas are dangerous because they are Arabs, not because the Arab neighborhoods are poorer than the Jewish ones, or that they are treated differently in a Jewish state.

Just last week, me and my Israeli cousin were driving home from a hiking trip up north. On the drive home a car irrationally and incredibly fast tried to pass by a car lineup and cut through traffic. My cousin said that he must be an Arab. I asked why, and he said because the car was shitty and he was driving too fast and dangerously: only an Arab would do that. I asked him if he thought this characterization was a little racist. He responded no, and that after all he was only telling the truth.