I do not want to tell you that in 2003 – 11 years ago – I stood outside a polling station in Israel wearing a shirt from Meretz, Israel’s Social Democrat Left Party, when suddenly a cutting knife was held against my neck.
The extreme rightwing activist who held the knife told me he was going to cut my face, supposedly for wearing the shirt. So, a few months before I volunteered for combat duty in the army, I had already dealt with face to face battle.
Though this was the first time that I was physically attacked, it was the thousandth time that my beliefs created enough doubt inside people around me to an extent where the other party could no longer tolerate my existence, or its own reflection.
Years before, I had only a few seconds to breathe before the whole class turned on me when I took out a notebook labeled it with the Israeli flag next to the Palestinian flag, and the words “two states for two peoples” written on it. Israel then was a place where support for a Palestinian State had not yet become the consensus opinion, due in large part to the sequence of Hamas terror attacks that removed the human image from the faces of our Palestinian neighbors and turned them into monsters in our minds. Indeed, their acts of violence were and still are monstrous… barbarious.
I’m part of the first generation who woke up to the images of the intifada, and the last generation that fell asleep to the sounds of Holocaust stories. I’m the generation who at the age of six awoke almost every night to the sound of an alarm with gas mask on his face to protect from Iraqi chemical warfare during the first Gulf war. I went to kindergarten under an existential fear, with the gas mask in my hand instead of a sandwich bag. I grew up with images of exploded buses full of dead innocent Israelis my age and younger.
The one TV channel Israel had at the time consistently showed pictures of war, violence… hell. A deep hell. This reality of constant violence taught me at a young age that there is no power big enough in the world that can be efficient against the weak. At the same time, the stories of my grandmother, who arrived to be murdered in Auschwitz shortly before the annihilation operations were discontinued, taught me that hope, tikvah, has no limit for better or for worse. Even the gates of hell cannot stop hope. And hope has no intent, if it is pure. It is not good or bad. It is just hope, the one thing no force can take away.
Since I moved abroad, I found myself in an environment of personal violence once again. In recent weeks, human rights activists on social networks have told me to shut up. A director in the New America organization publicly named me autistic, retarded and more and even suggested that I’m a mass murderer, just for being born in Israel… I must want to kill all the Arabs she claimed.
“Autistic. Moron. Shut the Fuck Up”. Lisa Goldman, Director, New America Foundation
In another case, human rights activist and artist Adam Bromberg, who in the past expressed appreciation for my work as an artist dealing with Middle East concerns, wrote “Fuck You” to me on Facebook in the moment before he blocked me. He apparently was offended when I commented on inaccurate images he uploaded online.
Artist Adam Broomberg “you fuck you”.
And why all this? Not for presenting the position of Israel (I do not pretend to represent Israel in any way) but simply because I commented on misinformation, inaccuracies, pointed out other options, and in favor of the idea that reality might be more complex than Marxist ideology, and that no single entity or person may have ownership of morality.
At the same time that my individual security became threatened, my sense of security as a Jew and as Israeli-born became threatened too, when the Italian radical left philosopher Gianni Vattimo famously said recently that he would like to “to shoot those bastard Zionists,” himself, when Europe is filled with signs “Jews the end is near,” and a pedestrian on 9th Avenue in New York wears a t-shirt calling for the Liberation of Palestine with a map showing Israel deleted from the Land of Israel.
Ties of the radical left and anti-Semitic ideas are going far back, all the way to the radical position of Marx, and the Jewish question. This is how the link between the far left and terror organizations flourished after the establishment of Israel. Unlike what Marx said though, my grandmother was not a Jewish capitalist pig. She worked as a cleaning lady, even at age of 70, after going through the Holocaust. She used to clean public stairways, not because she had to, but so she could hope to walk with me to the grocery store, and buy me one more chocolate bar, one more day at a time. Today, in stairwells like the ones she cleaned, her grandchildren are now hiding from thousands of rockets fired indiscriminately, and no chocolate will cheer their spirits.
The images of the Middle East have been painful and bruising, but the pain inflicted is not a strategy, nor cure for war. No one feels the pain of the dead, like the ones who lost so many of their loved ones. Both sides have lost a lot and have felt the pain, the suffering.
Instead of telling you a story, I want to remind you, that on both sides there are still people who dream of peace. I want to remind you that without a secure state of Israel, no Jew in the world can be safe, whether he chose his Jewishness or Judaism chose him, and so far the world has done in this conflict very little to make Israel feel safe.
I want to express that the day after the war ends, Israel and the world will have the moral responsibility to give the people of Gaza an alternative to Hamas, and a financial horizon for the future Palestinian State. Just as much as Israel and the world have the full responsibility to protect their citizens from terror at any cost, the people of Gaza, too, deserve to choose between the taste of blood or the taste of chocolate.
Bio: Gil Lavi is a writer and former Middle East news photographer who focuses his work on the research of images, maps and graphics from the Middle East.