Against a dramatic black background, the cover of last week’s Time Out Tel Aviv shows a white dove marked as though viewed through a sniper’s rifle. The caption has two meanings. It could be “say goodbye nicely,” which is how one instructs a small child to bid farewell. Or it could be “say peace is lovely.” Combine the two, and you get “say goodbye nicely to peace”; or, in more sophisticated English, “bid peace a fond farewell.” The sub heading is, “Tel Aviv between Gaza and Sderot.”
According to the polls, 90 percent of Israelis support the Gaza campaign. I find that number quite worrying: public debate and a diversity of opinion are, as Ohad notes in this post, essential characteristics of a healthy democracy; and anyone who has expressed even the mildest anti-war sentiment can testify to the intimidating responses that have, I noticed, cowed many people into silence.
The intimidation ranges from verbal violence (“traitor!” “fifth columnist”) to the threat of being fired from one’s job – as in the case of Channel 2 anchor Yonit Levi. One friend even received death threats – via Facebook, if you can believe it. Assuming, though, that all the people polled about the war know that the Israeli media’s reporting has been controlled by the army spokesman’s iron fist; and assuming that everyone polled is both well-informed about what is really going on in Gaza and unafraid to voice an opinion that deviates from what we are constantly told is the mainstream, that still leaves one person out of 10 opposing the war. In this edition, Time Out Tel Aviv gives them a voice. Below are some translated excerpts.
In a weekly column titled “Reality,” (p.10) Amir Ben-David parodies the wildly popular Big Brother reality TV show that ended last month. (I blogged about his friendship with the editor of of Time Out Beirut during the Second Lebanon War). The hosts of the show were Erez Tal and Assi Ezer. Excerpt:
Erez Tal: And once again we join you, with a show that will have you on the edges of your seat. It’s called “the big boom.” Yes – tonight we have eliminations (from the show). Tension is high. Nerves are frayed. Everyone is biting his nails, especially the handsome young man standing here next to me. Good evening, Assi Ezer.
Assi Ezer: Good evening, Erez. Or, as I prefer to call you, Erez Crossing…
Erez: Ha, ha. Very funny.
Assi: I couldn’t resist. Yes, as you said, tonight is a big night. Everyone is sending SMS’s like crazy, but only one candidate will be eliminated at the end of this evening. Only you, the viewers, will decide who that will be. The lines are open and the decision is all yours.
Erez: Remind us, Assi, who are the candidates for elimination tonight?
Assi: With pleasure. Can you smell the smoke? Three are turning on the rotisserie tonight – Jabalyah, Dir El Balah and Nusseirat Refugee Camp. Our brave air force pilots are already sitting in their fighter planes. The tension in the offices of the higher command is at its peak, and only our viewers, who are SMSing now, are the ones that will decide who the pilots eliminate from the face of the earth by the end of this evening.
Erez: Just like that? They’ll eliminate them? Erase them completely?
Assi: Completely! We won’t leave a single stone untouched.
Erez: Children? Women? Old people?
Assi: All of them!
On page 28, editor Itai Waldman‘s column is about the despair engendered by the increasing frequency of wars in this region, and the sense that a normal life is ever more elusive. Excerpt:
“You sit on the sofa watching TV and you see the parade of politicians, ministers and generals, and all sorts of people that they find in the attic whenever there’s a war, because they wore a rank on their epaulets so they must know something about something, and everyone analyzes the event, and then we go to our correspondent in Sderot who interviews people where a rocket just fell that very second, and you listen to it all, and you simply refuse to believe that it’s happening again. Because the most frustrating thing about wars is that they never ask you. You’re living your life, in the center of Tel Aviv as it happens, trying to be a good citizen and just go with the flow from age 0 to 80, and to have a nice life, without hurting anyone and without being hurt by anyone else, and every few years, one fine morning, they drop a war on you. And you feel like shouting, ‘Hello?! Could we do this some other day? Because it really doesn’t work for me today; I had other plans. Like living, for example.’
But you can shout until tomorrow, because no-one is listening, and no-one really cares. Not in the places where they make decisions, at least. And you think it could be otherwise, and it could even be that you have some good advice up your sleeve, but with the cacophony of words coming at you from every direction you’re pretty sure that no-one will listen to you, and besides, how much does it really matter?
And then the IDF goes into Gaza, and by the end of the day the generals summarize the first day of the ground operation and say that it was a fantastic day and that we achieved all our goals (‘what goals?’ you wonder naively to yourself), and sometime during the news broadcast, quietly and without moving his lips too much, the anchor announces that one of our soldiers was killed. And the subtext is that one dead in nine days is really nothing and we can be happy and go to sleep with smiles on our faces because the operation is succeeding and everything is fine, but it’s 1 a.m. and you’re very cold and you can’t fall asleep so that probably means that nothing is fine.
And all you can think about is that poor boy who last week was hanging out with his friends at the mall, and after that he went to see a movie with his girlfriend, and then they went back to his place, and they made love the way you do when you’re 18, quietly, because you still live at home and your parents are sleeping in the next room. And in the morning they get up together, and he goes to the army and they make plans to meet when he gets his next furlough, in another two weeks, and until then they will speak on the phone, ‘I’ll SMS you when I’m back at the base, so you’ll know I’m okay.’ And then the war starts, and they tell him he is going into Gaza, and she is worried, and he tries to calm her down, and she won’t be calmed, and he has to hang up, and she’s alive, and he’s dead.”
“And now you’re frustrated. And your frustration is so big that you can uproot mountains and make buildings collapse. Frustrated, you watch the news hosted by Raviv Druker and Ofer Shelach, whom you usually like a lot, as they talk with some general from the reserves, and they start with that fascist mumbo jumbo, and Shelach says that the best way to fight in a heavily built-up area is to blow up the whole neighbourhood first and then to fight in an open area, and they laugh, they really, really laugh, and you think ‘How can you laugh? How are you able to laugh?’, and you feel as though you’ll never want to laugh again.
Wars have a certain cumulative quality. When you’re a kid and they bomb you, and your dad takes you in his arms and runs to the shelter, the whole situation is infused with a sort of weird childhood magic. And when you’re in the army and you enter a battle with your unit, you’re so brainwashed that it doesn’t really touch you. And you can even survive your first war as an adult civilian. But one day the moment comes when you just collapse.
And that’s what you feel is happening right now. That you don’t understand what they want from you. That you don’t understand why now. That everything looks so capricious, illogical, unfair. And you’re sad for everyone – the people of Gaza, the people of southern Israel, who didn’t do anything bad to anyone either, but mostly for yourself. You’re sad for yourself because you don’t want to to spend the rest of your life like this – from bombing to bombing, from injustice to injustice, from death to death. You’re sad for yourself because life has taught you that you only have yourself. And the only people you thought maybe you’re not sad about are the politicians, but then you give that a bit more thought, and you’re sad for them too. They’re so contemptible, so impotent, that it would be disgusting on your part not to feel grief for them.
War is something huge. Enormous. And you can look at it from so many different angles. You can talk about the causal factors, and you can talk about the disengagement from Gaza; you can try to understand if this is calculated as an election strategy, and you can talk about the crisis within the political left; you can talk about the wartime induction of the media, and you can talk about pathetic celebrities, that go to perform in the bomb shelters in a cynical attempt to revive their careers. But talking about all that will just make the war continue. And that is why the only subject worthy of discussion in wartime is the people who are dying. The newspapers should be filled with lines upon lines with the names of the dead, and who they were, and what they did, and what they wanted to do tomorrow morning but will never do. People who planned to live here with us, today, and to breathe the air that I breathe now when I write this text, and the air that you breathe when you read this text, and the only thing that touches their cold nostrils right now, is ash.”
On page 30, Elinor Davidov writes about a 40-episode television documentary called Gaza-Sderot, Life in Spite of Everything. Each episode features an interview with an ordinary person on either side of the border, describing daily life. The result is a fascinating combination of drama and banality that makes the series well worth watching. It was co-produced by a staff from Sderot’s Sapir College, Gaza’s Ramattan Studios and the German-French arte.tv (photos and bio blurbs are here). On page 31, there is a sidebar: it reproduces a sad and desperate IM chat that took place between one of the Israeli producers and a Gazan producer shortly after the windows on the latter’s house were blown out by a bomb that fell on the house next door.
“And of course it would never occur to anyone to think that this military operation has actually made life worse for the residents of the western Negev. After all, it’s ‘our right and even our obligation’ to protection civilians. Everything is buried under the rhetoric that deals with the most immediate response – they’re shooting at you, thus you are permitted to shoot back, and you are even permitted to go a little crazy and shoot at everything that is in your way. Is it wise to shoot? Are there other ways to stop them from shooting at you? Not now. We’re shooting now.”
Page 37 has a sidebar that describes the Israeli media’s total silence about the anti-war march I blogged about last week. According to the item, 15,000 people participated in that demonstration. Each of the major media outlets offers an official explanation as to why they ignored the story.
A series of snapshots – mini-interviews, slices of life – from southern Israel are spread out over pages 38-41.
And there you have it – voices from amongst the 10 percent.
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