Why Israelis Don’t Talk About Peace

Three years after Israel’s social protest movement studiously avoided talking about Palestinians and human rights in favor of demanding cheaper cottage cheese, talking peace is still considered divisive.

Jessica Apple
Jessica Apple
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The tent protest on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard, 2011.
The tent protest on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard, 2011.Credit: Nir Kafri
Jessica Apple
Jessica Apple

Cottage cheese is important to Israelis. It’s easy to understand why. You can have it for any meal of the day, or as a snack. It’s nicely salted, filling, low carb, rich in calcium, high in protein, and packaged in a cute little container that’s easy to carry down to the bomb shelter if a siren happens to interrupt your meal.

Sadly, cottage cheese is not lactose-free. For those of us who have a hard time with dairy, it makes living in Israel difficult. But there’s always hope that things will change. Maybe I will start a movement, like Israel’s social justice movement from 2011, and demand that my cottage cheese be not only affordable, but lactose-free. This is something the Israeli middle class will understand. Perhaps I will start a Facebook page and get 100,000 people to support my right to digestible cheese.

Remember how happy everyone was three summers ago when we demanded cheaper housing (and fairly priced cheese)? My son learned to ride his bike on a Tel Aviv boulevard lined with tents. Young people poked their heads out to cheer him on. The neighborhood homeless had plenty of food and company. So did the elderly sitting on benches with their Filipino caregivers. I was happy, too, because my son had – after many failed attempts – finally learned to ride his bike.

I could watch him going back and forth while I talked to young people who weren’t apathetic. They were raising their voices about the high cost of living in Israel because that was something they could get behind.

“Why isn’t anyone talking about peace?” I asked.

“We can’t talk about peace,” was always the answer. “Peace upsets people. The center-right may not join us in our protests if we bring up peace. Anyway, this is about social justice.”

All we are saying is give cheese a chance.

“How can we talk about social justice – or any kind of justice – while occupying another people?” I argued.

But who wants to think about Palestinians and human rights when you can stand in line at the supermarket, infuriated about the cost of your cottage cheese? I, too, am infuriated. I’ve had three years since the social justice movement’s debut to demand lactose-free cottage cheese, but I’ve done very little. And now with the missiles coming at us, people rarely talk about cheese. We continue to feed it to our children, though, so they can grow big and strong, join the army, and defend us in the fifth, sixth and seventh intifadas.

Maybe I will start a Facebook page demanding better dairy. But even with 100,000 supporting me on Facebook, in the middle of this fighting, I don’t know who will join me in the boulevard to demonstrate for my cheese. Our tents don’t have bomb shelters, so this is another thing we should demand of our government: Better housing with better shelters. In time, the Palestinians will get more sophisticated weapons and we will need more protection.

Peace, whose discussion splinters our society, is too upsetting to demand. An Iron Dome on the top of each building, however, so no Israeli shall ever be disturbed by missiles while eating cottage cheese, is a particularly good idea. Because this is something all Israelis can get behind – left, right, secular, ultra-Orthodox, settlers. We all just want to eat our fairly priced cheese in peace.

Jessica Apple is a writer in Tel Aviv. She is the editor of diabetes magazine ASweetLife.org and cofounder of the nonprofit Diabetes Media Foundation.

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