Israel: The Best Horrible Place in the World to Live

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The car in which Rabbi Michael Mark and his family were riding on July 1, 2016 near Hebron when a Palestinian gunman opened fire, causing the car to crash and flip over.
The car in which Rabbi Michael Mark and his family were riding on July 1, 2016 near Hebron when a Palestinian gunman opened fire, causing the car to crash and flip over.Credit: Judea and Samaria Rescue Services

"How do you stand this?"

It's a simple enough question, and achingly deep. It came in the course of a birthday gathering last month, asked by someone who has wholly thrown in her lot with this dazzling and impossible place. 

She has put in ten years trying to make this place better, more just, freer, less impossible. She shows no tangible sign of letting up. But still she asked the question. Because, sooner or later, we all do.

It doesn't make sense. To anyone, in this, the best horrible place in the world to live.

It's been an awful time here, and, as of the last few days and weeks, it's only getting worse. A 13 year-old girl, sleeping in her bed at home, is butchered to death. A 15-year-old boy, riding in a car with four friends after swimming in a pool, is gunned down and killed. A father driving with his family, comes under assault rifle fire in a drive-by shooting, and dies at once.

Mourners carrying the body of Mahmoud Badran, 15, during his funeral in the West Bank village of Beit Ur al-Tahta, near Ramallah, June 23, 2016.Credit: Abbas Momani/AFP

How do you stand this? How does anyone?

And then there are the people we call our leaders. Instead of seeking peace, reconciliation, solutions to injustice, or even answers to pressing social problems, the best they can come up with is new forms of collective punishment – which, in translation to concrete reality, actually mean revenge.

You can get used to almost anything. Or, at least, numbed to it. To the collective punishment of terrorism and rockets. Or to the "accidental" or "incidental" killings of innocents by the hundreds in preventable wars.

But, if you do, the horrible in this place — or, more accurately, the extremists who ruin it even as they run it — have defeated you.

"How do you stand this?"

When I heard the question, my first thought went like this:

One day, a generation of young people will arise here, as it does everywhere, strong young people who will come to realize, all at once, that their parents were stark raving idiots. 

Those young people will be right.

I don't believe for a second that I will live to see this place become what it should. But I believe that my children will, and theirs. Maybe because of theirs.

In the meanwhile, I know this to be true: Every single thing we do here, moves the needle. Every day, there are people who move the needle here just a bit in the direction of good, the direction of better. Even if they are vilified for it, or marginalized for it, or endangered because of it. 

And every move of the needle, in enormous numbers of nearly imperceptible small events and interactions, makes a real difference for our future.

You just have to look. 

Last Friday, Dr. Ali Abu Sharkh, a physician from the West Bank Palestinian village of Dahariya was driving north toward Jerusalem, on his way to holiday prayers at the Al Aqsa Mosque, when he suddenly saw an overturned, partially crushed car ahead on the highway.

It was the family car of the Mark family of Otniel, a Hebron-area settlement not far from the doctor's village. Dr. Abu Sharkh pulled over, and he, his wife and his brother, rushed to give first aid to the four family members they found trapped in the vehicle.

They were unable to save the father, Rabbi Michael Mark, who had succumbed to his wounds. But they saved the life of his wife, Chava, and treated and calmed their two children. 

The first rescue crew to reach the scene was also Palestinian, an ambulance of the Red Crescent Society, who helped treat the injured.   

"As a doctor, it's my duty to save lives, and it does not matter at all if they are Jewish, Muslim, or Christian," he told Israel Channel Two. 

"The girl [Tehila Mark, 14] was in shock. I tried to explain to her in English that we wanted to help them, but she didn't understand me. My brother spoke to her gently in Hebrew, and explained to her that I was a doctor and that we would help them."

How do you stand this? I'll speak for myself. 

I know too well that one way to stand this, is to take on blindness in one eye.

Blindness, that is, to one side, the side that, for whatever reason, doesn't merit your sympathy. 

I have it. I suspect that we all do. And the worse that things get here, the stronger the urge to give in to it, to decide that one side is composed of human beings and the other, animals.

To move the needle, though, I need to open both eyes. Look both ways. 

I need to realize that if I feel only the pain of one side, then I can't trust my senses at all. If I am outraged only by the killings of one side, I am complicit in the killings of both.

I need to think less about the Big Fool in charge and the Great Muddy he oversees. 

I need to think more about the grieving children of the Mark family and how, when a few mourners shouted calls for revenge, one of the sons said:

"Whoever wants to scream nonsense should leave. This wasn’t what Aba wanted. We are focusing on his memory and on doing good. He had Arab friends.” 

I need to think more about the grieving parents of Mahmoud Rafat Badran, the 15-year-old killed by soldiers of the IDF's Kfir Bridade, while Mahmoud was on his way back from a holiday visit to a water park. 

“If this is the last crime, which prevents the murder of other children," his father said over his grave, "I’ll feel relief."

How do you stand this?

You just have to look. 

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