Israel under the knife
“The streets are empty, even the main pedestrian walkways are empty,” my friend Selwyn Gerber told me on the phone from Jerusalem. Gerber, who lives in Los Angeles and is a frequent visitor to Israel, said he’s “never seen Jerusalem like this.” Evidently, the fear of being stabbed by terrorists has spooked the Jewish pedestrians of the holy city.
“It’s all around us,” author and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi emailed me from Jerusalem after I asked him how he was holding up. “We hear sirens, tear gas all the time.”
Halevi, who made aliyah to Israel in 1982 and whose acclaimed book “Like Dreamers” came out two years ago, added: “I’m beside myself about this — the lie of Al Aqsa being in danger, the hysteria in the Muslim world, the stupidity of our own right-wing pyromaniacs, the criminal incitement of Arab Knesset members who in any other Middle Eastern country would be sitting in prison for treason, the outrageous coverage of much of the world media which treats this as one more Israeli crime. Other than that, I’m fine.”
I recall a conversation I had with Halevi a few years ago at his Shabbat table, when we were discussing Israel’s ability to cope with terror. He used a term that stayed with me: “Neurotic Zen,” he called it. It’s the ability to live in the moment and embrace life, knowing that a disaster may strike at any second.
This talent is being pushed to the limit right now with the “knife war” against the Jews of Israel.
“In every generation,” we read at Passover, “they rise up against us to destroy us.” Well, in Israel, it seems to happen even more regularly.
For decades after Israel’s birth, its enemies tried to destroy the Jewish state with standard armies — with tanks, fighter jets and infantry. When that didn’t work, they tried terrorism, including hundreds of suicide bombers detonating themselves amid Israeli civilians.
When Israel rooted out terror cells and built a wall to keep out the terrorists, the terrorists fired thousands of rockets over that wall. When Israel shot down their rockets with the Iron Dome, the terrorists built tunnels under the wall to sneak in and attack Jews.
Finally, having failed with everything else, Israel’s enemy is down to the lowly and lethal knife. In an open country where everyone is free to walk around, how do you stop such retail terrorism?
“There is no missile defense system against stabbings. We can’t lock ourselves in a shelter all day,” Sarah Tuttle-Singer wrote last week in The Times of Israel. “Stabbings have no sirens, so we don’t know when to run.”
Tuttle-Singer is a single mother of two young children who moved to Israel from Los Angeles a few years ago. She writes:
“Stabbings can happen anywhere at any time. Stabbings can happen in a park on a quiet bench. They can happen in the market, with soldiers standing just a few steps away. They can happen in front of a school or in a synagogue or on the street.”
As a result, “Everyone is on edge right now — most of us feel that prickle of fear just below the neck or deep in our stomachs — because when these attacks are random, everyone is a potential target. Everyone.
“The young rabbi at the Western Wall. The barista with the dirty laugh. The soldier who still wears braces. They guy who sells the best pomegranates in the Ramle Shuk. The mother with two children. This mother. My children.”
It would be the height of irony if the only citizens of the Jewish state not afraid of getting stabbed in the back were the Arab citizens. They may be afraid of a policeman asking for identity papers or vengeful Jews aggressing them, but a knife in the back? Not quite.
Sitting here in America, unencumbered by the trauma of daily fear, it’s easy to look at the violent mayhem and wonder whether Israel is partly to blame. After all, it’s the Jewish thing to do, isn’t it? We take responsibility for what happens to us.
It’s also true that violence has a way of obliterating complexity. We see people being stabbed to death just because they're Jews and it's hard to stay calm and balanced.
As much as we want to think straight about the long game, sometimes we just need to vent about the here and now, or at least show empathy for what the Israelis are going through.
The truth is, I can’t pretend to understand what it must be like to walk around never knowing when someone might stab me in the back. I don’t have enough practice in the art of Neurotic Zen.
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.