The scariest thing about yesterday’s (27/5) demonstration in Ras El-Amud wasn’t the violence. Don’t get me wrong, the violence was terrible and frightening. Now, I was only dragged away once; there are only a few bruise marks on my skin. Some people were injured for real. And this demonstration, violent as it was against us, wasn’t the most violent one we can remember.
But again, as far as I’m concerned the violence wasn’t the scariest thing. The scariest thing was the hatred.
This hatred was what allowed the settler children, observing us from the lofty balcony of the settlement’s luxurious, brazen compound, to constantly throw bottles and spill water on us, spitting gleefully in our direction, with the police looking the other way just like they knew it would. This hatred was what allowed the private security guards – funded by the government, so really funded by me, by all of us – to shove and kick the protesters. It was what allowed a policeman to brutally step on protesters, just like that, because he could. And it was what allowed the girl in the balcony who was watching me cry shout “Cry, cry, you deserve it. Helping the Arabs!”. The hatred was what allowed the settlers who entered the compound with their car to keep driving as though there were no people around, because what do they care if they run over a few leftists.
And perhaps worse than all of this, worse than the shoving and the violence, worse than the dragging and the physical pain, worse than all of this was a short conversation I had with the Border Policewoman who was standing over me and guarding (guarding a well-fortified building while holding a gun and a nightstick, guarding it against me, a student armed with an overdeveloped sense of justice at best, and even that only arguably). A protester suddenly identified one of the Border Policeman who went to high school with him and called out to him “hey bro.” The policewoman sneered at us and said “Do you really think he’s your brother?” Yes, I told her. We’re all brothers, we’re all one people and look what’s happening here. “You’re not my brothers” she blurted out nonchalantly, without giving it a second thought. You’re not my brothers. “And the settlers?” I asked her. “They’re my blood brothers, in my veins,” she answered in a sentence so simple, frightening, intimidating, clarifying the picture completely. You’re not my brothers. So simple and so terrible. When did this happen? When did this division between us and them happen, among my people? Perhaps I’m just naïve, perhaps it had always been there but I just didn’t know.
In the hours that have passed since yesterday all kinds of pictures have sprung to mind. Protesters being dragged across the floor, the chants we yelled, the beating of the drums. But the picture of this policewoman, apparently much smarter than me, is one I cannot get out of my head. And along with it, an ever-growing, ever-clearer feeling of shame: that I didn’t know this was what my country looked like. That on a day-to-day basis people get beaten up much worse than me and don’t have any options. On their way to the checkpoint and from it, in hundreds of villages not far from where I live.
I’m a lousy political activist and a lousy leftist. Years of terrorist attacks next to my house and of kids I knew from school who were injured in them had turned me into a very small believer in coexistence and in a real solution. The dread I had from each bus during my high school years, life in a town like Jerusalem where every corner is a monument to an attack I remember all too well – these had turned me into a suspicious and pessimistic person. But at least I knew who was on whose side and why, more or less.
Yesterday’s events shuffled the deck as far as I’m concerned and that’s a terrible feeling. I’ve always known that I disagree with the settlers and I’ve always known that it’s a deep and fundamental disagreement. Yesterday I found out that this disagreement is a crack, a proper rift, and I don’t know how you can heal such a thing, how you can bridge the hatred. This isn’t a national or religious confrontation you can understand (perhaps feel regret or anger towards, but understand its roots nonetheless); this is a massive gap in basic human values between myself and my people, who are celebrating my sorrow. Never, not even in those moments when I felt the ideological gap the most, did I ever wish ill on any of them. During the Disengagement from Gaza I was sad for them, never gloated. Yesterday, little kids who were trained to hate (kids on my side, not on the side we enjoy blaming for their cynical use of children and an upbringing of hate) spat at me as I wept.
The only democracy in the Middle East, that’s how our leaders boast. Let’s see them come to East Jerusalem and say it’s a democracy. Let’s see them come to Ras El-Amud and Sheikh Jarrah and South Mount Hebron and boast this title, I dare them.
I’ve spent the last day telling some friends about what I’d seen and experienced yesterday at Ras El-Amud. They were sorry to hear, a few averted their eyes. The vast majority asked no questions, just stood there embarrassed and didn’t really want to hear. I can understand them. Who wants to hear such things? Who wants to see our cops beating a protester who looked at them funny? I wouldn’t want to know either and indeed I hadn’t known for years. My friends also said, “Why are you going there? It’s dangerous and it doesn’t help anything.”
Yes, it’s dangerous and perhaps it doesn’t have any effect on Netanyahu and his statements in Washington or Jerusalem, but these things happen all the time. The police are just one side of the story. We have an ever-growing part of our people which is acting out of violence and hatred, randomly and without taking responsibility. Hatred towards another people and hatred towards their own people. This hatred is becoming a norm and anyone who is stupid enough or foolish enough to stand up and conduct a nonviolent demonstration in the name of justice and moral virtue is deemed a madman and immediately cleared off the road, dragged away and sworn at. Heaven forbid they would disrupt the violent bandwagon as it’s en route to destroying and corrupting what good patches are left here.
My friends are right. It’s dangerous and you need to be careful. But doing nothing is far worse. Compliance through silence, ignoring, not knowing or looking the other way – these are all a thousand times worse than beatings and spitting.
So I’ll keep coming to demonstrations and I’ll keep fearing the hatred, but I won’t look away from it anymore. And I will continue to be shocked by it with every fiber of my being, each and every time, because I am not willing to let hatred and violence become routine. I refuse to get used to hatred.
The Beauty of Defiance: Solidarity in Ras al-Amud / David Shulman ;
Police Violence Against Solidarity’s Activists in Ras El-Amud: A report;
The largest government-supported extreme right-wing settlement in East Jerusalem, or: Why is it important to come to the demonstration in Ras Al-Amoud?