Commentary | Hyde Park: Raising a finger to both sides of the fence

My brother was in southeast Jerusalem when an elderly mother yelled from her window, in Hebrew, “This isn’t a place for you; you should leave.”

He’d been there a thousand times before and so he paid her no mind. Soon after, a group of kids began crowding around his car, laughing, making it impossible to open the door without them getting in. After getting handfuls of pebbles chucked at him, he finally managed to get inside the car, but was trapped since they continued to surround it.

He didn’t dare move the car because if a single one of those kids even so much as skinned a knee and started crying, they wouldn’t be kids anymore. They would be adults – adults with guns and rocks and a cause larger than them – and my brother is just a short brown kid from the wrong side of the West Bank. He finally got out, locked the car, and pleaded with them to let him get home to his family in peace.

It has been about four years since my last visit to Israel, but I still remember riding my bicycle through that neighbourhood and buying fresh laffa at the bakery. I remember going there with a fella’ just like fifties American sophomores going to the drive-in. I remember people playing backgammon on the street and drinking tea brimming with mint leaves and copious amounts of sugar that precipitated out at the bottom of the glasses. Most of all, I remember feeling safe, and as soon as I heard this story I felt like I came face-to-face with the Intifada for the first time.

You see the wall, and you see the security, but you just don’t get the visceral feeling of being in danger until you experience something like my brother did. Those children didn’t see my brother as a person, and as a result of his story, I have a mistrust of the area’s residents, a sense of hurt about our predicament, and a feeling that I am no longer safe. This isn’t because the news tells me so, or the army shows me so, but because I’ve seen the real casualties of war. It is not lives lost, but the children who are growing up, being taught that there are two kinds of people – us and them.

To all of those people spouting on about Palestinian and Israeli conflicts like experts with solutions, beginning criticisms with, “If it were up to me,” and sharing opinions based on books that get published faster than one can physically write them or reports from journalists in bulletproof vests with perfect command of twelve languages; to all of you who think for a moment there is right and there is wrong and that the hands of one are bloodier than the next or that cause and effect can be defined and acted on, I have something to say: While over the years I have sat silently through what feels like eons’ worth of armchair diatribes and Poli-Sci studies activism, I am hereby registering my middle finger to the rhetoric on all sides of the fence retro- and proactively.

The true casualties of war are not necessarily those people killed in traffic by some nut-job with a tractor, or those open-sewer-dwelling folks bombed in Gaza. The real damage is that done by the propaganda and the hate, and the fact that each child born into the ideology that we expound represents 80 more years of burden that the rest of us peace and freedom-loving folks must shoulder. On these terms, each child is a sprout in a fertile ground that will one day be a forest of nettles through which traverse will be impossible and freedom will be stopped cold in its ambling and self-righteous tracks.

I hope that one day we can all forgive each other and ourselves for what is ultimately the persistence of myopic vision. It is not some deep understanding of the circumstance and history that will bring peace, but rather an appreciation of how little we can know and how utterly naive we have sounded thus far.

Elinor Keshet is a U2 Cultural Studies student, and can be reached at eli.keshet@mail.mcgill.ca.


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