(September 24, 2015 / JNS)
In the first days of the New Year, I received a notification from the U.S. government to avoid certain places in the capital of the Jewish state.
A month ago, I heard rumors that some Jews were attacked over a Shabbat on the Tayelet, which overlooks the Temple Mount and southern Jerusalem, and is a very short walk from where I live. The incident made many of my ulpan friends nervous about walking to and from Shabbat dinners.
Weeks later, Arab stone-throwers hit a Jewish motorist’s car, causing him to lose control of his vehicle and resulting in his death. This occurred in my neighborhood, on the first night of Rosh Hashanah. The Jewish man was a coworker of my friend’s friend.
As if the violence hadn’t already gotten personal enough, over Rosh Hashanah much of the stone-throwing and firebombing continued in my neighborhood, where an Arab shot a border policeman and four others were injured that day. Over the weekend, my roommate and I heard many helicopters overhead. Rockets were hurled from Gaza into Sderot, a city in southern Israel. The residents had 15 seconds to run to their bomb shelters.
Of course, only when the Israeli police started to use tear gas against the perpetrators did the international community and media take notice.
I wish this were the end of the clashes, but I’m afraid more rocks will be thrown, more firebombs will explode, and more blood will be spilled, accompanied by a more visible Israeli police presence, which will invite media scrutiny of Israel’s defense force, triggering even more rockets. Israel may be faced with the question of sending troops to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. Then, more rockets, more police presence, and the cycle will continue to snowball.
How do you stop people from hurling rocks at you just because you’re Jewish? They say they are throwing rocks because the land belongs to them. But with continuous Jewish presence in the land (the only place on earth with continuous presence) and a history of Jewish rule dating back thousands of years, the Jews will never willingly leave. As long as we live in the same land, these clashes will continue, at least for now.
But in all of this, I do see a glimmer of hope. Sometimes, no news is good news. For example, one Arab taxi driver was oblivious to the ongoing clashes, just trying to live his life like everyone else. Other times, good news is great news. The other day, my friend was riding in a taxi driven by a man with an Arabic accent—presumably an Arab Israeli. When they encountered a clash erupting between some men, the taxi driver became protective over my Jewish friend and made sure he was safe as he got out of the taxi.
On the bus today, I sat across from a religious Muslim man and woman. Nearing my stop, as I arose with my bag of groceries, the bus lurched and I fell onto the lap of the Muslim woman! Embarrassed and admittedly a little apprehensive about her reaction, I apologized immediately and profusely. She smiled and said it was okay. Her smile spoke volumes beyond simply acknowledging that she was physically fine from my falling on her—she looked surprised that I was asking her if she was okay. Her smile at me radiated peace not only with the surprise contact, but also with me as a person. I hope this is what we all want from each other—to say we are sorry when we intrude on the other, even if we didn’t mean to, and be forgiving, knowing no harm was intended.
And rarely, one finds hope in the most unlikely of places. Since starting the Israel Girl/Aliyah Annotated Facebook page, I have received pages and pages of private messages. The vast majority of them are from Arab men. Not all of them are creepy messages as you might expect, although I do get my fair share. Many of them introduce themselves or just say “Hi.” I may be naïve, but I believe that many of these men are reaching out in the simplest way possible because it is a private (anonymous) forum in which to connect with Israel. These men would never reach out in public, as any association with Israel could be life-threatening. They reach out simply by saying “Greetings” or even “Nice to meet you.” But if one reads between the lines, many of them are trying to say, “I am okay with Israel and I am okay with you. I am reaching out because I want to form a connection but it is not allowed in my community. I just want you to know that people like me exist.”
I do not respond to these messages, but they do make me curious about the people behind them. How did they find my page and my articles? What are their reasons for messaging? Why does this one man keep asking me if I know this guy named Hussein? And the most important question of all: How can we get more people to express themselves with private messages and greetings instead of rocks and clashes?
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought and the author of the new “Aliyah Annotated” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied International Relations and Jewish Studies. She was published in USA Today and Forbes after writing about her experiences in Israel last summer. Follow her aliyah column on JNS.org, Facebook, and Instagram.