Boycotting the True Heart of Israel

Hila Betzaleli and Achinoam Nini are the true heart of Israel, the heart which needs support and protection and recognition. The heart that is the reason that there's still an Israel to love.

MEVASSERET ZION - It was cold enough on the eve of Memorial Day that at one point the muscles of my jaw cramped shut. It was cold enough and dark enough that something in the specifics of the pain and the paralysis made sense. It was a night to say nothing. To listen and to feel. To feel for one family. To take in anew the awe and the horror in an entire country struck mute by its own air-raid sirens.

The people of this town facing Jerusalem had gathered to recall the more than 100 loved ones Mivasseret has lost to war and terrorism. But they were there in particular to mourn its most recent tragedy. A soldier we killed by ourselves.

Hila Betzaleli - IDF Spokesperson - May 1, 2012
IDF Spokesperson

Everyone in town, it seemed, had known Hila Betzaleli, who as a youth had volunteered for ambulance duty with the Magen David Adom rescue service, later becoming a senior medic and a mentor for other medics in the army. They knew the kind of person that she was. The true heart of this country. The sort of person who explains why and how this country continues to exist. The sort of person this country was built on, and survives because of, and seldom if ever pays attention to. Until nights like this one, when it is already too late.

Near her base in the Jordan Valley, Palestinians knew that if relatives needed urgent medical attention, they could come to where Hila served. "In the last case," her mother told a local paper a few days after her death, "Hila phoned and told me that people had left a four year old girl, burned all over, at the gate, and disappeared. Hila wasn't the duty medic at the time, but she ran there, of course, and began working to save the girl's life. Human life was her holy of holies, it made no difference if it was the life of an Arab or of a Jew, whatever their politics."

We killed Hila. We killed her on Holocaust Memorial Day by not taking minimal responsibility for this life which took so much responsibility for others. This is the New Israel which privatized and profitized even the central ceremony of Memorial Day and Independence Day. This is the darkness and the coldness of this New Israel, incapable even of keeping warm lights in the air long enough to keep them from falling to earth and killing Hila Betzaleli

It was this New Israel of ours, the dark side of the start-up nation, shorn of its kid leather executive driving gloves and the thin permanent film of a smile. This is the darkness which takes the best that Israel has, its young people of warmth and goodwill and talent, and chews them up and spits them down like so many dishonored contracts.

That same day, down the mountain from here, Achinoam Nini, known internationally as Noa, another Israeli woman of rare love of country, was working to make this a more human, a better place for the people – the peoples - who live here.

She sang for the tens of thousands who gathered in Rabin Square to commemorate fallen soldiers. And she sang, as well, for the thousands of Arabs and Jews who took part in the Alternative Memorial Day service organized by the remarkable Combatants for Peace movement, founded by Israelis and Palestinians who once bore arms against each other.

Remarkable, and yet necessary and, in fact, thoroughly natural. We are all of us bereaved. We are all of us combatants. We are all of us victims and heroic and flawed and human and deserving of peace, of respect, of hope, of life. Of healing. Healing is what Hila Betzaleli's life was about. And Achininoam Nini's as well.

In the end, the efforts to boycott and ban and ostracize Achinoam Nini - the terrible slurs hurled at her in recent days by people who believe that to support Israel is to keep your hand cramped into a fist - have this to teach us: There is no weapon on earth more powerful and more dangerous than the human voice. When a human voice becomes a vessel in the service of change, a lever in the service of good, stand back.

That is why there is so much passion and, often, so little sanity, in efforts to silence it. Something is about to move. And when it does, someone will be threatened.

The hard left and the hard right want you to believe that the true heart of this country is the firebrand with the gun and the gospel and the jones for what is, in deed, someone else's land.

But it is Hila Betzaleli and Achinoam Nini who are the true heart of Israel. This is the heart which needs support and protection and recognition. This is the heart which saves rather than savages. This is the reason that there's still an Israel to love.