An Is­raeli nov­el­ist on how oc­cu­pa­tion has warped his coun­try’s soul.

Nov­el­ist As­saf Gavron on what the oc­cu­pa­tion of Pales­tinian ter­ri­tory has done to the oc­cu­piers

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - Twit­ter: @agavron As­saf Gavron’s lat­est novel, “The Hill­top,” is out in paper­back.

Iwas an Is­rael De­fense Forces soldier in Gaza 27 years ago, dur­ing the first in­tifada. We pa­trolled the city and the vil­lages and the refugee camps and en­coun­tered an­gry­teenager­sthrow­ing­stone­sa­tus.We re­sponded with tear gas and rub­ber bul­lets. Those seem like the good old days. Since then, the con­flict be­tween Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans has seen stones re­placed with guns and sui­cide bombs, then rock­ets and highly trained mili­tias, and now, in the past month, kitchen knives, screw­drivers and other im­pro­vised weapons. Some of th­ese low-tech ef­forts have been hor­rif­i­cally suc­cess­ful, with vic­tims as young as 13. There is plenty to dis­cuss about the na­ture and tim­ing of the re­cent wave of Pales­tinian at­tacks — a des­per­ate and hu­mil­i­ated an­swer to the elec­tion of a hos­tile Is­raeli gov­ern­ment that em­bold­ens ex­trem­ist settlers to at­tack Pales­tini­ans. But as an Is­raeli, I am more con­cerned with the ac­tions of my own so­ci­ety, which are get­ting scarier and uglier by the mo­ment.

The in­ter­nal dis­cus­sion in Is­rael is more mil­i­tant, threat­en­ing and in­tol­er­ant than it has ever been. Talk has trended to­ward fun­da­men­tal­ism ever since the Is­raeli op­er­a­tion in Gaza in late 2008, but it has re­cently gone from bad to worse. There seems to be only one ac­cept­able voice, or­ches­trated by the gov­ern­ment and its spokes­peo­ple, and beamed to all cor­ners of the coun­try by a clan of loyal me­dia out­lets drown­ing out all the oth­ers. Those few dis­senters who at­tempt to con­tra­dict it — to ask ques­tions, to protest, to rep­re­sent a dif­fer­ent color from this ar­ti­fi­cial con­sen­sus — are ridiculed and pa­tron­ized at best, threat­ened, vil­i­fied and phys­i­cally at­tacked at worst. Is­raelis not “sup­port­ing our troops” are seen as traitors, and news­pa­pers ask­ing ques­tions about the gov­ern­ment’s poli­cies and ac­tions are seen as de­mor­al­iz­ing.

Since the start of last year’s Gaza war, there have been sev­eral in­ci­dents of anti-left­ist vi­o­lence to go along with the at­tacks aimed at Pales­tini­ans: Left-wing pro­test­ers were as­saulted at an­ti­war demon­stra­tions in Tel Aviv and Haifa last sum­mer, dur­ing the war; left­wing jour­nal­ist Gideon Levy of Haaretz was ac­cused of trea­son by a Knes­set mem­ber, a crime that dur­ing wartime is pun­ish­able by death. He’s since hired body­guards. The co me­dian Or na Ba nail os tan ad­ver­tis­ing job af­ter an in­ter­view in which she ex­pressed hor­ror over Is­raeli ac­tions against Pales­tini­ans. This month, peo­ple in Afula at­tacked an Arab cor­re­spon­dent for an Is­raeli TV net­work and his Jewish crew while they re­ported on a stab­bing at­tack. A new bill in the Knes­set en­cour­ages the thought po­lice by turn­ing away vis­i­tors to Is­rael who have sup­ported the move­ment to boy­cott com­pa­nies prof­it­ing from the oc­cu­pa­tion. On Fri­day, a masked Jewish set­tler at­tacked the pres­i­dent of the left­ist group Rab­bis for Hu­man Rights in a Pales­tinian olive grove in the West Bank.

On so­cial me­dia, the gloves are taken off, so­cial cour­te­sies aban­doned, ha­tred rears its ugly head. Face­book pages call­ing for vi­o­lence against left-wingers and Arabs ap­pear fre­quently, and even when they’re taken down, they pop up again in one guise or an­other. Any sen­ti­ment not aligned with the sup­posed con­sen­sus is met with a bar­rage of racist vit­riol. One Face­book group call­ing it­self the Shadow Lions dis­cussed how to dis­rupt a wed­ding be­tween an Arab and a Jew, post­ing the groom’ s phone num­ber and urg­ing peo­ple to call and ha­rass him. On Twit­ter and In­sta­gram, hash­tags like #left­iesout and #traitor­left­ies abound. Film di­rec­tor Shira Gef­fen, who asked her movie au­di­ences for a mo­ment of si­lence to re­spect Pales­tinian chil­dren killed in an Is­raeli of­fen­sive, was flayed across Is­raeli so­cial net­works. “Shame,” a new and bril­liant play by ac­tress Einat Weitz­man, brings to the stage a se­lec­tion of the hate­ful com­ments she re­ceived af­ter wear­ing a T-shirt bear­ing the Pales­tinian flag. One ex­am­ple from the play: “If the baby that was mur­dered was yours I won­der which flag you would put on your­self. Now step on it and get your ugly head back to your tiny apart­ment and bury your­self from the shame

un­til you die there alone and maybe in your funeral we will ask the Ji­had to read verses from the Ko­ran.”

In this lat­est round of fight­ing, the vol­ume has been turned up still an­other notch. While the knife at­tacks are go­ing on, my fam­ily and I are in Omaha, where I’m teach­ing for the se­mes­ter, and what I hear and read from Is­rael leaves me ap­palled. Again led by politi­cians from the right (with the per­plex­ing sup­port of mem­bers of the sup­posed op­po­si­tion, such as Yair Lapid), then cir­cu­lated by the sen­sa­tion­al­ist main­stream me­dia, there has been a uni­fied d em oniza ti on of Pales­tinian sand Is­raeli Arabs. One re­cent poll by the news­pa­per Ma ar iv found that only 19 per­cent of Is­raeli Jews think most Arabs op­pose the at­tacks. This past week, the trend reached its ab­surd peak with Prime Min­is­ter Benjamin Ne­tanyahu’s ridicu­lous claim that Hitler de­cided to an­ni­hi­late the Jews only af­ter be­ing ad­vised to do so by Jerusalem Mufti HajA min al-H us se ini,t he leader of Pales­tini­anArab sat the time .( Is­raeli Twit­ter was full of jokes and memes about the speech, which one im­age in cir­cu­la­tion dubbed “Hit­le­ri­ous.” Even for Ne­tanyahu’s sup­port­ers, ap­par­ently, this was too much.)

There have been calls to kill at­tack­ers in ev­ery sit­u­a­tion, in de­fi­ance of the law or any ac­cepted rules of en­gage­ment for the mil­i­tary. Lapid, for ex­am­ple, said in an in­ter­view: “Don’t hes­i­tate. Even at the start of an at­tack, shoot­ing to kill is cor­rect. If some­one is bran­dish­ing a knife, shoot him.” Min­is­ter of Pub­lic Se­cu­rity Gi­lad Er­dan also gave his bless­ing to that no­tion. And the head of the Jerusalem po­lice depart­ment, Moshe Edri, an­nounced, “Any­one who stabs Jews or hurts in­no­cent peo­ple is due to be killed.” Knes­set mem­ber Yi­non Ma­gal tweeted that author­i­ties should “make an ef­fort” to kill ter­ror­ists who carry out at­tacks.

Such sen­ti­ment has led to in­ci­dents like the death in East Jerusalem of Fadi Al­loun, sus­pected of a knife at­tack but shot by po­lice as they had him sur­rounded. Some­times, it back­fires: This month, a Jewish vig­i­lante near Haifa stabbed a fel­low Is­raeli Jew whom he thought was an Arab. Late Wed­nes­day, sol­diers killed an Is­raeli Jew whom they mis­took for a Pales­tinian at­tacker.

The low point( so far) was last Sun­day night’ s lynch­ing of 29-year-old Eritrean asy­lum seeker Haftom Zarhum, mis­tak­enly iden­ti­fied as a per­pe­tra­tor of a ter­ror­ist at­tack in Beer­sheba. Zarhum was shot by a se­cu­rity guard, then beaten to death by a mob of passers-by in a pre­dictable re­sponse to the in­cite­ment from our own politi­cians to kill as re­venge. And the in­creas­ingly in­tol­er­ant, boil­ing, racist tone of the Is­raeli con­ver­sa­tion is — there is no other way to put this — a re­sult of 48 years of oc­cu­py­ing an­other peo­ple: of Is­raelis re­ceiv­ing a mes­sage (or at least un­der­stand­ing it as such) that we are su­pe­rior to oth­ers, that we con­trol the fate of those lesser oth­ers, that we are al­lowed to dis­re­gard laws and any ba­sic no­tions of hu­man moral­ity with re­gard to Pales­tini­ans.

The cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect of this re­cent mind less vi­o­lence is hugely dis­turb­ing. We seem tobe in a fast and alarm­ing down­ward swirl into a sav­age, un­re­pairable so­ci­ety. There is only one way to re­spond to what’s hap­pen­ing in Is­rael to­day: We must stop the oc­cu­pa­tion. Not for peace with the Pales­tini­ans or for their sake (though they have surely suf­fered at our hands for too long). Not for some vi­sion of an idyl­lic Mid­dle East — those ar­gu­ments will never end, be­cause nei­ther side will ever budge, or ever be proved wrong by any­thing. No, we must stop the oc­cu­pa­tion for our­selves. So that we can look our­selves in the eyes. So that we can le­git­i­mately ask for, and re­ceive, sup­port from the world. So that we can re­turn to be­ing hu­man.

What­ever the con­se­quences are, they can’t be worse than what we are now grap­pling with. No mat­ter how many sol­diers we put in the West Bank, or how many houses of ter­ror­ists we blow up, or how many stone-throw­ers we ar­rest, we don’t have any sense of se­cu­rity; mean­while, we have be­come diplo­mat­i­cally iso­lated, per­ceived around the world (some­times cor­rectly) as ex­e­cu­tion­ers, liars, racists. As long as the oc­cu­pa­tion lasts, wear ethe more pow­er­ful side, so we call the shots, and we can­not go on blam­ing oth­ers. For our own sake, for our san­ity — we must stop now.


ABOVE RIGHT: Rel­a­tives mourn Ah­mad Sharake, who was fa­tally shot dur­ing a con­fronta­tion with Is­raeli forces this month in the Je­lazun refugee camp near Ra­mal­lah in the West Bank.


ABOVE LEFT: A Pales­tinian ar­gues with Is­raeli po­lice of­fi­cers in the West Bank city of He­bron dur­ing clashes on Oct. 10.


Is­raeli sol­diers de­stroy the He­bron home of Ma­her alHash­lam­oun, a Pales­tinian jailed for killing a Jewish set­tler in a knife at­tack late last year.

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