Sometimes you must state the obvious, particularly when the obvious must serve as a moral compass. So here is the obvious: Most of the people who live in the Gaza Strip are civilians. Civilians who are not involved in hostilities directed at Israel, otherwise referred to as “innocent civilians.”
Duh, you might say. Is that even debatable? Well, it is being debated, and not only by social media keyboard warriors but by elected officials on Capitol Hill. Even by Israel’s president Yitzhak Herzog, an otherwise moderate dove.
As a child in a Jerusalem apartment building, my neighbors and I had an Independence Day ritual. We used to watch the Mount Herzl ceremony on black-and-white television (color broadcast started only in 1983). Minutes before the MC officially ended Memorial Day and launched Independence Day, we ran to the roof. We cleared cobwebs and pigeon drippings, slid aside several dusty red tiles, stuck our heads in the window we created, and through the pine canopy, saw the modest firework show lighting the sky in multicolor. We then walked to downtown Jerusalem to join strangers in dancing circles, street snacking, and silly pranks.
We celebrated into the night, and once we were teens we celebrated through the night. It was my favorite holiday, a secular holiday that expressed unity and strength, communality in grief and celebration, taking pride in collective accomplishments and common purpose.
Over the years, Israel changed, and with it the character of the holiday. And so did I.
In recent years, many have depicted the Israeli public as politically apathetic, as dormant. And in some way that was correct. Much to our chagrin and concern, Israelis have not been turning out in droves to protest the Occupation and its woes. But the public protest of the past ten weeks in Israel proves that political indifference does not characterize current Israeli society.
For the past ten weeks, large segments of the Israeli public have protested in the streets against the anti-democratic policies of Benjamin Netanyahu’s extremist, ultra-nationalist government. For ten weeks, both on Saturday night and on weekdays, hundreds of thousands have turned out to protest, often clashing with police forces. Members of Netanyahu’s cabinet assumed that the protest would subside just as it had erupted, but the opposite happened.
On recent Saturday nights, in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem Haifa and other towns, the overall number of demonstrators reached 400,000 or 500,000. If the same proportion of Americans took to the street to demonstrate, there would be almost 18 million people protesting in US cities. According to some estimates, 20% of Israelis have participated in some act of protest against their government’s legislative coup in the past three months. This coming Saturday, protest action is planned in 170 sites across Israel.
There is a fox in the henhouse. Benjamin Netanyahu let it in.
In the course of the Israeli government coalition negotiations, the Religious Zionism party’s leader Bezalel Smotrich foxed his way to a position that would allow him to implement his plan to become the settlement tsar in Netanyahu’s government and de-facto annex the settlements and the settlers to Israel.
Israel’s incoming government seems likely to escalate the already alarming violent instability in the West Bank.
Senior Israeli security officials are reportedly warning the politicians – both outgoing but mostly incoming – of further decline in the security situation in the West Bank, urging restraint and self-discipline.
Well, good luck to anyone trying to restrain and discipline Itamar Ben-Gvir, Bezalel Smotrich and their fellow travelers, as well as thousands of Israeli soldiers policing the West Bank, who see the November 1st election results as a license to brutalize Palestinians and Israeli anti-occupation activists.
For many Israelis of my generation, even more than spiritual reflection, Yom Kippur evokes political reflections on war and peace.
Every year since 1973, Yom Kippur takes me back to that dark period in Israeli history, when a disastrous war drove Israelis to question their leaders, the power of their military, their sense of invincibility and the very ability of their national home to survive. Israel won the war, but the loss was immense. Some 2,200 soldiers died and 7,250 were injured. It caused one of the deepest political crises in Israel’s history. It forced a painful collective introspection and drive to overcome the hubris and sense of complacency in the wake of Israel’s spectacular victory in the 1967 Six-Day War. That complacency and hubris was known in colloquial Hebrew as the “conceptsia” (conception).
Twenty-two years ago, then-head of Israel’s opposition Ariel Sharon, escorted by a thousand Israeli police officers, provocatively visited Jerusalem’s Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, igniting the second popular Palestinian uprising (the second intifada). This protracted armed conflict, which included brutal Palestinian terrorist attacks and ruthless Israeli operations to re-conquer the West Bank, caused more than 1,000 Israeli fatalities and more than 2,700 Palestinian fatalities. Thousands more were injured and hundreds of thousands traumatized.
Twenty-nine years ago this week, the leaders of Americans for Peace Now stood among the many dignitaries at the signing ceremony of the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn. APN has worked behind the scenes in the years that preceded Oslo to push the vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace, advancing the dialogue between Washington and the PLO, and helping induce the détente in relations between the Israel and the Palestinian leadership.