Wednesday night was the worst night in Israeli history that I can remember. I wasn’t here during the Yom Kippur War, and certainly not in 1948, when Palestine’s Jewish community buried 1 percent of its population. But I do remember riding in the shocked silence of a crowded bus the morning after Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, when the only sound in the vehicle was the rustle of a plastic bag, a weak but insistent echo of the deep shame inside.
I do remember, physically, the thickly oppressive feeling and the weight of the sorrow pressing upon my chest after the bus bombings in the 1990s, the helicopter disaster, the lynching in Ramallah, the Dolphinarium and Park Hotel bombings and, during the 2014 Gaza war, deceptively dubbed Operation Protective Edge. The war in which barbarity and brutalization reared their ugly heads from teeming Israeli tunnels that no one thought to investigate or deal with. Wednesday night was worse.
“Lamentational op-eds won’t help,” a publisher who was averse to kitsch, and possibly to all emotion, or at least its display, emotion, once told me. After all, the commentator or essayist is supposed to point out failures, name the responsible parties, back up his words with facts and figures and conclude, of course, by saying what is right and what should be done. He or she isn’t supposed to wail about the situation, and he or she should just have drawerfuls of insights and custom-tailored solutions to offer. After Wednesday night, the only thing possible to write is a lament. Yes, it must be written. We must lament if we want to try to remain human.
You see the images of Jews marching in the streets, smashing the windows of Arab-owned shops, pulling a terrified man from his car in Bat Yam, viciously and mercilessly beating him, shedding the layer of shame that distinguishes us from the most killer wild animals. You see Arabs in Acre nearly beating a Jewish man to death without anyone pausing for a moment to stop the repulsive actions and the madness.
You see Lod and Jaffa and Tiberias going up in flames. You can’t even tell anymore which type of thugs you are watching right now, who is attacking whom: Arabs beating Jews or Jews beating Arabs or both at once. And the painful reports keep coming: the death of a 5-year-old boy whose mother did everything necessary to protect him and yet his short life was ended in the reinforced room in a new building in Sderot. The Jewish man who accidentally entered Tamra and was stabbed by a murderous mob. More and more terrible news. Nothing but terrible news.
You understand that your children live in one of those places that you always regarded with shock when you caught some random program about foreign affairs, and then immediately looked away because you wanted to believe that they were someone else’s bad dream, that this was the sad lot of other people whose awful situation came about due to different cultural circumstances that you would never encounter. Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Syria. You realize that you are close to there. You are a neighbor. And now – It is happening where you live. It is happening to you. You are trapped in a hell of destroyers of human compassion.
And your soul dies all kinds of deaths. Death from shame. From grief. From fear. Which sorrow is bigger or stronger – the sorrow over the little boy who died and whose family’s life has been destroyed, or the sorrow over the evolution of Jewish sovereignty to a scene where a Jew beats a helpless Arab with an Israeli flag and the people around him shouting “The People of Israel Lives”?
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And even in these terrible moments, rather than bowing our heads and crying, the argument between the two camps, right and left, continues to thunder like the rockets that are landing on our heads. Bickering about who carried out more pogroms and who denounced the ugly actions of these or those rioters more strongly. And the argument itself becomes a seething well of poison. And you realize that this whole thing is truly beyond repair.
Hamas does not need to fire any more rockets. We’ve already come apart. Now we need to find a way to divorce with minimum damage. We can’t go on living in this house together.