I have kept my gob very shut about Gaza. Very. I’ve not been phoning my friends to tell them what I think unless they’ve called and asked, my facebook status does not tell you how many Qassam rockets are hitting Israeli towns and I’m not engaging in any ‘online debate’. Still, this is not necessarily about the current situation, its more about my time in the Middle East over the last four years and my experiences with the conflict.
First, a little about me. I’m Jewish, but not that observant, and I’ve spent about 11 months of my life in Israel, 9 as part of a gap year which I mostly spent teaching English in the North by the Lebanese border where I had the good fortune of being bombed by Hizbollah waaay before it became trendy (November 2005) and learning various leadership skills regarding a Jewish youth organisation which, until last week, I was fairly involved in. I am also involved in the Union of Jewish Students and am currently attempting to co-ordinate their LGBTQQ campaign ‘Bagels’. I love the country of Israel and its people, I have, for years, been concerned with the actions of the Israeli government as regards military action and various other things it lacks. Notably civil marriage and the way Israeli Arab villages’ schools, which are not Druze or Bedouin seem to get less funding.
When I first arrived in Israel to stay long term in September 2005 just after the withdrawal from Gaza when I was vaguely shy and retiring (yes, I really was) and fairly shy about being ‘out’ the first part of my gap year involved a 3-week ‘ulpan’ or Hebrew school session. It was awesome; we got taught Hebrew by weird old ladies, chilled in our abysmal rooms, which seemed to crumble around us, and watch Samurai Jack on cartoon network. In the evenings we’d smoke nargilla or hang on the beach. For those of you that care enough this was also where I got my eyebrow pierced. OK, none of you care enough… The following quote is from the blog I was writing at the time, which I updated whenever I got near any functioning computer for long enough.
Written January 2006 about events in September 2005 – ‘One of the more harrowing experinces at Ulpan was that the facility was half occupied by those moved from settlements during the disengagement. These people generally moped around the Ulpan, letting their dogs run everywhere, taking what they wanted, sticking together and generally being bloody miserable (not that you can blame them). Sean arranged for one of them, Ogan, to talk to us about his experiences during the pullout. I spoke to Ogan a few times after his talk, Tiff liked to call him Ugah (cake) due to Ugah being our favourite word during Ulpan breaks, ahh, the notorious havsacat ugah (cake break). Ogan was a private detective by profession and did not look like a chap to be messed with; when I asked him how active he was in protesting the disengagement he told me he hospitalised three soldiers who pushed him, meaning they were both battered and sent to military prison for a brief stint ‘But’, he assured us, ‘I am nice.’ And I’d have to agree he was the nicest bloke who ever beat up a bunch of people and almost shot the defence minister…..a story he didn’t share with the whole group. Still, whatever my own views on the pullout it was hard not to feel incredibly sorry when the Jerusalem Post (crap paper, Ha’Aretz is so much better) came in with the pictures of Gaza riots on the front.’
With regards to that last sentence, I can still remember that so vividly. Coming into the main reception at Ulpan, seeing these people opening the paper and the front image being a young Palestinian man in Gaza holding a banner in glee whilst all around him was burning in the initial riots after the pullout. It was probably the only time I really questioned myself on being pro-disengagement. I shrugged it off and hoped that those living alongside us in temporary accommodation would, with the allowances given to then by the government, be able to rebuild their lives elsewhere. I can’t help but feel that these events seriously damaged the moderate-left in Israeli politics; the downfall of the Meretz party (the only party calling for recognition of Reform Judaism and same-sex unions) is perhaps testament to this. This was still back when, especially in cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, people had ribbons everywhere, cars, backpacks, bikes which were orange (anti) and blue (pro) the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and a few of the West Bank settlements. There was a lot of hope for peace, the second intafada had died down, the barrier was halting major terrorist attacks (well, most of them) and recent polls had shown around 70% of Israelis in favour of a two-state solution. After Sharon ended up looking like a cabbage patch president Olmert had been banging on about sorting the final borders of the state and ending it all and moving on with other national issues. Israel used to be 11th in the world for education; this figure has been in freefall due to the defence budget. I could bang on about my experiences working in Israeli schools but I’m not sure this is the place.
Obviously between Olmert’s election and my leaving Ulpan Hamas were elected as the main party in Gaza. When I did exit polls for the 2006 elections not one person answered that Hamas running Gaza had changed their vote. I’m one of the few, I guess, who thinks Israel should negotiate with Hamas. In a situation like this I think you talk to whoever’s listening. I do recall, however, the sort of confusion that followed the Palestinian election. The editorials about the largest protest vote (against Fatah) ever going slightly gonky or something. Id’ve thought it was a bit of a coverup or overcompensation but I’ve always found mainstream Israeli media to be quite centre-left and very willing to criticise the government.
I guess, what I’m trying to say amongst the rambling, is that until 2004, there had been years of the bloodiest terror attacks and retaliation ever. There had been mass violations of the sanctity of human life on both sides. And somehow, for a brief little period in late 2005/early 2006, after all that, after the withdrawal, there was so much hope for peace. The government was on about it, the papers were on about it and the people wanted it. With regards to the current conflict, I no longer care who instigated it, I’m not going to play the numbers game with human lives lost and I don’t care about the political ruminations. Not anymore. Because somewhere in amongst this is a silent majority, who are scared shitless of what’s either going over or coming from the walls next to them. Who in Jerusalem, won’t get on a bus or go near a bulldozer, or in S’derot hear the rocket alert dozens of times a day, who in Gaza have seen their mosques politicised, their homes invaded by both Hamas and the IDF, and who in the West Bank fear an internal civil war. I hope that when the rockets stop flying, the troops withdraw and when the dead are buried, we can remember how we felt in 2005. That after years and years of pain we could see a future.
This post was written by Alex Wright, BULS member