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Monday, June 16, 2008

A taste of my own medicine

This post is directed at those apathetic, self-hating, post-Zionist, latte drinking, draft-evading lefty Tel Aviv Israelis I insulted a few months back.  I've owed you this for some time... and yesterday the check finally came due.

A coworker of mine came into my office yesterday, red in the face and clearly agitated over something.  He and I are good friends and have become quite close while traveling abroad together on business.

I asked him what was wrong and he began nearly yelling at me in a rant that went something like this:

"What's wrong with you settlers?  Why is it that you think the law doesn't apply to you?  Don't you realize that the Arabs are people too?  Are you so simple-minded as to think that by beating up women and children you are hurting the terrorists?  Do you think that acting this way will ever bring peace???!

I was completely taken aback by his outburst and didn't have the slightest idea what he was talking about.  I waited for him to finish venting and then asked him to sit down and explain what had happened to get him so upset.

He didn't want to sit.  He just stood with his hands on his hips and said, "You mean to tell me you don't know about the settlers from Susiya who beat up the Arab shepherds... women!, children!... you didn't hear about it?"

I was still drawing a blank.  Susiya is community along my commute and I consider myself pretty up-to-date on news from my area... but I had heard nothing and hadn't seen a hint of the story in the news.

"Did this just happen?" I asked him, already reaching for my computer mouse, "because I check the news every couple of hours and I didn't see anything about this!"  As I said this I surfed over to the Jerusalem Post site... then Ynet and finally Haaretz. 

Nothing.  Not a whisper or hint about such an incident.

He had finally calmed down enough to take the offered seat next to me and he explained that the incident had happened the previous week but he had been too upset to talk to me about it until now.

That kind of freaked me out because he had been close to throwing stuff when he walked into my office, so I couldn't imagine how angry he'd been a week ago.  Also, it worried me that something fairly serious had apparently happened in my neck of the woods and I had completely missed it.

When I told him I couldn't find any mention of it on the regular news sites he explained that someone had sent him a link to a video on the ISM (International Solidarity Movement... a pro-Palestinian organization) web site.  I did a Google quick search using the words 'Susiya' and ISM and bingo... within seconds was looking at the film of the incident on the ISM site.

The brief 'facts' presented there were as follows:

"On Monday 9 June six masked Jewish settlers from the nearby outpost of Havat Ya’ir, armed with automatic weapons and cudgels, attacked a small group of Palestinians, mainly women, in their tent village in the Susiya location of the South Hebron Hills."

For the purposes of full disclosure I am posting it here so everyone is on the same page with what I have to say about this.  Go ahead and watch it... I'll wait.

OK, so I watched the film with my angry coworker/friend sitting next to me.  When it was finished I looked at him and asked a few questions:

Me:  First of all, there were four men, and not six as stated on their site.  Also, the attack seems to have taken place in a meadow and not in a tent village as the site indicates.   But what makes you so sure these were settlers?  You can't see who they are... They aren't wearing tzitzit (the ritual stringed garment that religious Jews wear under their shirts), no kippot on their heads... they aren't speaking Hebrew. What makes you so sure they are Jews, much less settlers?

Him:  Well, it says so on the ISM site.  I assume they looked into it.

Me:  OK, but if they didn't catch these guys why should we take ISM's word for it.  It could just as easily been a violent dispute between Arab clans, right?  That happens all the time.  Also, it says right here on the ISM web site that the settlers are carrying automatic weapons as well as clubs.  Did you see any weapons other than the clubs the four men were carrying?

Him:  Well no... but they could have left them at home.

By this time I was starting to feel some of my own anger welling up.

Me:  Do you hear how crazy that sounds?  You show me less than 45 seconds of shaky film that could be anyone - including Arabs - beating up these shepherds... and you want me to believe the written commentary on the ISM site about them being automatic weapon-toting settlers when there is no sign of automatic weapons... no sign of them being settlers... in fact, no sign of them being Jews!

Him:  [~silence~]

Me:  Think about it... why didn't something like this make the news?  It doesn't even pass the laugh test over at Haaretz!  Believe me, when it comes to accusing settlers of bad behavior the mainstream Israeli media isn't particular about fact-checking... but the only place I see this story is on sites like ISM, Peace Now and B'Tzelem.  If this had even a whiff of credibility it would have been in the headlines and stayed there for days!  I guaranty you that if anyone did report it in the MSM, it was pulled very quickly because there isn't a hint of it anywhere right now and it is less than a week later.

Him:  OK, but you have to admit that settlers are doing this sort of thing all the time. 

That's about the time I lost my mind.

"Are you kidding me?  You come in here and act as though you've just seen me personally beating up your children.  When I point out to you that there is a lot of room for disagreement about what the film actually shows, your answer is to say that even if it isn't settlers this one time... that the evil settlers are doing this sort of thing all the time! Is that really what you're saying???!!!"

"That would be like me wagging my finger in your face every time some drug-addled teenager gets stabbed in a Tel Aviv night club... or when a grenade gets thrown at a Gush Dan politician... or for that matter, I should have stormed into your office and screamed at you when that lawyer got blown up in his SUV last week in Tel Aviv!  I mean seriously... What the hell is wrong with you secular Tel Avivis... Why is it that you think the law doesn't apply to you?"

He didn't miss a beat before answering, "But those things you are talking about were done by criminals... they don't represent me or anyone else from the Merkaz!"

I immediately made that Israeli 'Ah!' sound that is roughly equivalent to the English 'Ah-Hah' to let him know that his statement could also be used to defend my position.

"Don't you see", I replied, "that  even if that film had shown settlers acting criminally - and you have to admit there is no evidence that it was settlers - they are criminals!  Why would you think it's fair to appoint four criminals to represent more than a quarter million hard-working, law-abiding, tax paying Israeli citizens who just happen to live over the green line?"

By now I was nearly breathless with anger.  But with my last outburst I began feeling the beginnings of a new feeling bubbling to the surface; shame.  As my angry words were still echoing off the walls of my office I began thinking about the countless times I've made sweeping generalizations about secular Israelis from the center of the country... and tagged them as if they were some sort of monolithic Golum.

To his credit, my coworker immediately apologized for his unfair generalization.  He admitted that he didn't have a particularly high opinion of the whole settler enterprise and that it had colored his opinion of settlers.  He also pointed out that since I was the only settler he knew he had unfairly unloaded on me.

We shook hands and went back to work.

Since my coworker was big enough to not only take ownership of his personal prejudices, but to also apologize to me... I figure the least I can do is come clean for some of my past mis-deeds.

So I would like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize for my unfair characterization of people from the center of the country as apathetic, self-hating, post-Zionist, latte drinking, draft-evading lefties.  Statistically we may be part of groups that reside on different sides of many issues.  But I have assigned some pretty unfair things to you as a group, while ignoring the fact that people on both sides of the green line (and those various issues) are good, bad, secular, religious, left, right... and most importantly; individuals.

Please accept my apology.  I'll try very hard not to do it again.

Posted by David Bogner on June 16, 2008 | Permalink

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While I used to live in the Mercaz, I also used to live over the green line and in Jerusalem. While I do not think everyone in the Mercaz is an Israel hating leftist, it certainly feels that way if you are in certain neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, especially near the universities. Your co-worker actually proved your point more than not. He blindly blamed the evil zionists, when proven wrong resorted to name calling and broad generalizations and then ultimately gave up because he saw the argument going nowhere and he probably realized he still has to work with you so he should make it as smooth as possible. Maybe I am misreading the situation, but that is how it appears to me.

That all said, now that I go to an American university, the level of anti-zionism and general anti-semitism doesn't even compare to what I witnessed in Tel Aviv.

Posted by: Seth Levy | Jun 16, 2008 1:30:07 PM

Thank You !!

Posted by: Tel Aviv Zionist | Jun 16, 2008 2:09:39 PM

I think I saw that on the BBC website last week!

Posted by: Dave, UK | Jun 16, 2008 2:12:05 PM

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7451691.stm

Posted by: Dave, UK | Jun 16, 2008 2:20:01 PM

Seth Levy... There are certainly trends in certain areas. But I'm trying to be better about using such a wide brush.

Tel Aviv Zionist... Don't thank me... I'm a giver. :-)

Dave, UK... Thanks. I read the article and it is typical BBC fare. And yes, I think the BBC has earned the broad brush treatment for their biased coverage of the region. As an example, they also claim it was settlers without providing any proof. They refer to the weapons as baseball bats - a veiled reference to the large number of American olim in the settlements - but anyone who has ever seen a baseball bat can tell you that these look more like ax handles. Lastly they make the incredible statement, "Indeed, the rest of the world regards Jewish settlements in the West Bank such as Susia, as illegal, built on occupied territory." Oh really? The entire rest of the world? Even if it is only Micronesia that sides with Israel on this issue, it defies normal journalistic standards to make such a sweeping statement.


Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 16, 2008 2:40:55 PM

This was a learning moment for both of you. Thanks for sharing this experience, because it is important. One of the things that I try to do with my 5th graders is to get them to question whatever they see, read, and hear. Most of the time I deal with minor peer relations about who said this about so-and-so and jumping to conclusions, but I also try to expose them to news and advertising and the bias that is inherent within any media. I believe that they get it, but somewhere along the line we forget, or even don't want to acknowledge the fact that almost all communication serves someone's interest.
In my class I often will make outrageous or absurd statements or proclamations. I use it as a test to see who is thinking critically or just accepts what I say. It is those students who don't question or challenge me that I worry about later in life and who I focus a little more attention on with these critical thinking skills.

Posted by: arrrteest | Jun 16, 2008 4:37:50 PM

Coming on the heels of the Al-Dura report trial,
http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/126266
this is just another example of ...a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest...

Posted by: Barzilai | Jun 16, 2008 4:47:52 PM

arrrteest... Of course, did you ever stop to consider that since most kids instinctively crave favorable attention from the teacher, you may be conditioning them NOT to think critically. :-)

Barzilai... Have you ever noticed that you can quote Simon & Garfunkle lyrics for just about any situation. Either those guys were geniuses (my humble opinion), or we just don't understand what they were really trying to say. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 16, 2008 4:59:11 PM

Hevron Spokesman Noam Arnon was interviewed this morning on IDF "Galei Zahal" Radio by Razi Barkai, and stated that he didn't believe the Susya incident was done by settlers, rather by the anarchists themselves to frame the settlers.

However, I was rather surprised to see the police state the following today:

'Extreme leftists antagonize settlers in the hope that the settlers will attack them,' local police say, 'they have become an even greater threat than the anarchists [and the Hevron settler]'

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3556322,00.html


Posted by: Jameel @ The Muqata | Jun 16, 2008 5:11:09 PM

"...apathetic, self-hating, post-Zionist, latte drinking, draft-evading lefties..."

C'mon, Trep; none of the above are *criminal* acts; why so sad?

And, most seriously, I think your lesson learned (and apology appended) are important to publicize, because -- well, because you for better or worse are fairly widely-read.

Whereas, I can still post like a jackass because *my* audience is only about 10 regulars wide.

;o/

(Actually, our website is built on the ideal of non-stereotypical political discourse between my eldest brother -- the latte-drinking progressive socialist -- and myself. Not that we ever stick closely to the original mandate. But if any of my 10 regular readers chose to look closely, they'd see an undercurrent of respect for individualism; at least I'd hope they would!)

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Jun 16, 2008 5:27:27 PM

P.S. Israel sounds like a fun place, where colleagues and co-workers can get into half-hour shouting matches -- on company time! I simply must bring my New-York-Jew-Yellow-Dog-Democrat-Howard-Zinn-Textbook-Using-Political-Science-Teaching colleague over to your shores and have it out with him! Yowza!

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Jun 16, 2008 5:29:44 PM

Paul Simon, for better or for worse, was in thrall to his poetic muse. People like that can be preternaturally insightful, or bonkers, or both-- like that miserable, sublime, low-life, Ezra Pound.

Posted by: Barzilai | Jun 16, 2008 8:53:10 PM

I must admit I was more at home over the green line than within it. :-)

In other such exchanges, this time with no apologies, someone was dropping it like its hot!

Posted by: Rami | Jun 16, 2008 9:25:14 PM

Yesterday a Canadian news network (ctv.ca) reported that because of this attack, B'Tselem has been handing out video cameras to the local Arabs. I won't be surprised to find a sudden increase of videotaped "beatings".

Posted by: Saul | Jun 16, 2008 9:42:14 PM

http://www.theaugeanstables.com/2008/06/15/pallywood-no-report-on-jewish-attack-on-arabs-in-west-bank/

Posted by: deeni | Jun 16, 2008 9:57:33 PM

Would that apology cover any unfair blanket characterizations of the charedi population as well? I merely ask for information.

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Jun 17, 2008 12:08:18 AM

Looks more like it was staged. Camera rolling...

Posted by: Dina | Jun 17, 2008 3:43:30 AM

A capital sentiment, David. One minor point, though: as other have already mentioned, this video and story did make it to mainstream publications, including Yediot Acharonot. I'm not sure about Ha'aretz (didn't have a chance to read it on the day it happened), but I wouldn't be surprised if they reported on it as well. Doesn't mean it happened (or didn't), but it certainly was reported on in the mainstream press.

Nonetheless, your point stands: the actions of a few criminal nuts on either end of the spectrum hardly constitutes the action of the entire body. Now, though, I have a tough question to ask. Where do we draw the line? You have made the point (quite well in many cases) that among the Palestinian population there is quite a bit of latent support or approval of terrorist and criminal acts, yes? Yet we would all agree that those who are actually involved in terrorism constitute a few tens of thousands of people out of several million. At what level do we separate the responsibility for such actions between those who actually commit and plan the acts, and those who allow them to occur?

Conversely, isn't there a responsibility in each of our communities - religious, secular, dovish, hawkish, etc. - for us to make sure that we aren't falling into the same trap? We cannot let criminals or extremists hijack our name or community as a cover for their actions... but if they do claim membership in our community (as, say, a Hamas terrorist might in the Palestinian community, or an organized crime assassin might in the secular/Tel Aviv world, or one who uses their power to abuse Palestinians might in the settlements), do we not have a responsibility to ensure that they are repudiated and brought to justice?

I agree that charges of this sort are often exaggerated and fabricated, but you and I know that some unfortunate things have been done in the name of settlements or religious Zionism or the 'right wing' (just as with any other community). I think that we need to both understand that the actions of the few cannot be abstracted to the many while simultaneously choosing to take responsibility for the less savory of individuals who are in our community. This will result in a non-judgemental atmosphere when discussing such issues with the 'other' - whether they be a 'latte drinking leftist' or a non-Israeli, non-Jew, or even Palestinian - while at the same time realizing that there is some level of communal responsibility to reign in its most extreme members.

I recently read a number of letters and articles that Rabbi Lichtenstein (of Gush) wrote in the wake of the mess with Baruch Goldstein. I wholly approved of his stance, which was an unpopular one at the time. He recognized that the natural instinct to 'circle the wagons' around any member of a community who is attacked may not be the moral choice. Sometimes we must repudiate a member for their actions and declare that they do not have our support. Even beyond that, we must take steps to prevent recurrence in the future.

It doesn't matter what actually happened in this incident. We know that on occasion a small portion of a number of intersecting communities - settler, religious Zionist, right wing - have done abhorrent things. We've gotten to the point of quiet repudiation (or at the very least marginalizing their importance), but should we go farther?

*shrugs* Just some thoughts.

Posted by: matlabfreak | Jun 17, 2008 8:11:22 AM

It made it to Haaretz here:

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/993346.html

Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | Jun 17, 2008 9:23:21 AM

Jameel @ The Muqata... In light of today's news that two Susiya residents (one a minor) have been arrested in connection to the attack, it would appear that it was 'some of ours'. But that doesn't in any way take away from my statement that criminals are criminals and do not represent a group that they just happen to belong to.

Wry Mouth... OK, I give. You win the hyphen-using throw down by a country mile. :-)

Barzilai... Pound is a perfect example of why artists should not delude themselves into thinking their fame and talent gives them the right to dabble in politics and events of the day. He was a brilliant an talented man who, aside from his not insubstantial work, influenced countless other artists. There are many who won't listen to Wagner for many of the same reasons people revile Pound. I say enjoy the work and ignore the politics. Oh, and no... I don't believe for a moment that he was insane. That was just a ploy to duck the treason charge and a potential execution.

That probably just means you didn't know enough people inside the green line. I have enjoyed some fantastic hospitality on both sides of the green line. The green line is just a mark on a map and doesn't define the people on either side of it.

Saul... No, the fact that this attack was videotaped is a result of B'Tzelem's campaign of handing out video cameras.

deeni... While I don't think this was a typical Palywood production. I do feel that cameras in the hands of people who aren't bound by journalistic ethical codes (did I just write that??) are going to present only half of any story. One never knows what preceded the filmed event or what followed it. One also has no idea what is going on around the frame during the event.

rutimizrachi... If I've given offense with my sweeping generalizations then yes, of course I apologize. But it is worth noting that of all the identifiable 'groups' in this part of the world, the Haredim are most susceptible to being labeled as monolithic due to the control which their leaders have over them. Sadly, not all of their leaders are wise.

Dina... Evidence is emerging to the contrary. Stay tuned.

matlabfreak ... You are only one of several people who have since contacted me to let me know that it has been making the MSM rounds. As I said earlier, that has nothing to do with my central point of blaming 'settlers' (or Tel Avivis) for the bad acts of criminals.

Dave... See above.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 17, 2008 2:13:40 PM

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