First you felt the hate.
You've never felt anything like it. Even in this country, in this place of heirloom hatreds, when you think you've felt it all, felt it singe your eyes raw and clench off your blood and sear through your skin to where you can suddenly feel bone, this was something new.
It wasn't supposed to be like this.
On the outskirts of the city, on the memorial day for the fallen of Israel's wars and for victims of terrorism, thousands of people, many of them bereaved of loved ones, had come together to grieve in their own way, to remember in their own way; somber, quiet, respectful. Inspiring.
For two hours, you could feel the future. The pain involved in a change of heart. The hope in it. The humanity in it. The beauty in it. The healing in it.
The annual memorial, organized by the Bereaved Parents Circle and Combatants for Peace, joint Israeli-Palestinian groups actively working for reconciliation and peace, has resonated so deeply within this society that after a dozen years, even the Tel Aviv-area basketball arena in which it was held this year, proved too small to contain all those who wanted to take part.
And this was even after Israel denied entry permits to hundreds of West Bank Palestinians who wanted deeply to attend.
But for those people who did take part, to come together to recognize nightmares they had experienced in their lives, a whole new nightmare awaited.
The worst of the worst of Israel, the very ugliest of us, an organized, street gang of Kahane worshippers wrapped in Israeli flags and personal heat waves of rage, waited near the entrance to terrorize anyone who tried to go in.
They shouted sexually charged misogynistic curses, and hailed their heroes, murderers of Palestinians.
And when the participants came out, the level of curses only intensified. They got personal. Bereaved parents of Israeli soldiers were branded traitors. As our family walked through the parking lot, a young woman wished cancer on us. Young men yelled "Amalek" at us, branding us members of a tribe the Bible identifies as arch-enemies of the Jews, to be hunted down and killed, down to the last infant. They called us terrorists and sluts. They screamed at our family that our mothers were whores.
My wife, a daughter of Holocaust survivors who as a nurse had saved lives both Jewish and Arab, guided us out of the lot with a sharp U-turn that avoided the youths trying to advance on our car.
After that it got worse.
Social media exploded, led by one of Israel's princes of racist incitement, rapper Yoav Eliasi, known as HaTsel, the Shadow. "Believe it or not," he posted on Facebook, "even soldiers in uniform came as guests to the extreme left's ceremony desecrating Memorial Day."
"With God's help, may a suicide terrorist blow himself up among them," one of Eliasi's followers responded.
Others wrote of the joy they would reap at the violent deaths of traitors - soldiers who attended the memorial - including a woman soldier, whom one called "whore daughter of a thousand whores."
Why was it so important to these self-appointed saviors of the Jewish race - and these self-appointed defenders of the honor of fallen soldiers and of Memorial Day - to spend their Memorial Day going out of their way to abuse bereaved families?
Because in the furious blindness of their hatred, they saw the people in front of them as a danger.
And, in a sense, they were right.
They saw the 4,000 people in that arena, and the 400 more taking part in a companion Beit Jala ceremony for those denied entry from the West Bank, and the some 15,000 who watched online, as a threat to the reality in which all of the Holy Land is enslaved, a reality in which only they - Kahanist supremacists - can do anything they damn well please. To anyone.
Underneath their foul language, the Kahanists are scared to death.
The groups who organized the memorial, and the people who attended, did what the extremists fear most: They created a safe space for both Israelis and Palestinians. For two hours, Palestinians and Israelis both felt free to tell the stories of the depths of their loss, without sugar coating. Without ideology. Without lying.
The Kahanists outside needed to lie. The next day they needed to tell the press that the memorial had glorified terrorists. An absolute lie. They needed to tell the press that the memorial had compared soldiers to suicide bombers. An absolute lie.
They are the nightmare.
In their land, in their minds, there's no place for Arabs at all. And in this country, in their minds, there's no place for Jews like us, either.
They wanted to hurt people. They wanted to hurt Jews. Most of all though, they wanted to stop people from coming.
And they failed.
Try to imagine what it was like. I was there, and I still can't quite imagine it. First you felt the hate, then you felt the future.
In a place where nothing seems to change - in one night, in one small place, for two hours - everything seemed different.
If things are ever going to change, we can now be sure that things will get a lot uglier before they get at all better.
But there's a light down the road. We saw it. You just have to make the U-turn.
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