Sunday 27 May 2018

Fear, loathing... and our wedding day

Our reporter on getting hitched in Tel Aviv, an embattled city living on its frayed nerves

Hatred: A Palestinian protester during clashes with Israeli troops near the border with Israel.
Hatred: A Palestinian protester during clashes with Israeli troops near the border with Israel.

John Costello

It was a horrible symphony of sirens. Liat and I had just exited Sarona indoor market in Tel Aviv. The wall of noise that greeted us was immense. Her grip on my hand tightened as what seemed like wave after wave of ambulances and police cars flooded the surrounding roads. The spate of terror attacks engulfing Jerusalem had reached Tel Aviv.

Only about 400 metres away, a female soldier had been stabbed. The assailant then began randomly stabbing passers-by including a 60-year-old and 40-year-old woman, and a middle-aged man. He was eventually shot dead by a soldier and policeman.

An Arab man at the Central Bus Station in Be'er Sheva was more successful. He murdered a 19-year-old soldier and then took his M16 rifle and opened fire in the busy bus terminal on Sunday injuring nine people before being killed. Disturbingly, an innocent Eritrean man, mistakenly thought to be an accomplice of the attacker, was shot by a security officer and then lynched by a surrounding mob. The autopsy several days later concluded he had died from the bullet wounds and not from the attack.

Welcome to my world. Welcome to fear and loathing in Israel/Palestine. It may unsettle you, but having lived here for seven years I sadly have gotten used to it. It has become the status quo.

I remember growing up when the IRA talked about "legitimate targets" to try to excuse the horrific murders it perpetrated. In the minds of the Palestinians carrying out these attacks, mainly focused in Jerusalem, a legitimate target is anyone Jewish. It doesn't matter if you are a 60-year-old women walking along a street or a 13-year-old boy on his bicycle.

The depressing thing is these attacks are being carried out by individuals with no political agenda except despair and hate, who are no doubt aware the presence of armed civilians, police and military officers makes them suicide missions.

Living in Tel Aviv during the days after the stabbing were tense. Walking on the street you try to be aware. You watch your back. You try to assess who is a potential terrorist. You begin to racially profile people. But ultimately you realise how vulnerable you are.

One Irish friend here posted on Facebook a picture of a hammer he was carrying around in his bag for protection. Others recommended carrying an umbrella (not a common item given the weather in the Middle East). A Jewish friend spoke of feeling like "playing Russian Roulette" every time he left his apartment and walked on the street. The fear spreads like a cancer.

Some Israeli friends are talking about leaving. Not specifically because of this wave of attacks, but because of what the future holds. For them the situation is only gong to get worse. They speak about the growing right-wing nature of Israeli politics. They speak about the lack of desire to pursue genuine peace talks. They speak about the high birth rate of the Orthodox Jews and Israeli Arabs. The average, democratically minded Israeli is being further and further marginalised between a rock and a hard place.

While some have criticised the Israeli government's hardline reaction to this cycle of violence, others have had even harsher words for Palestinian politicians.

"Some Arab leaders are keeping a horrific and deafening silence," Lucy Aharish, an Arab Israeli news anchor commented live on air. "They are not trying to calm the situation, not trying to act towards mutual understanding and accepting of the other. They are adding fire to the environment, instead of understanding that once it will calm down we will be the ones to pay the high price. The second Intifada took such a heavy price from Israeli Arabs and the Palestinians. We are not learning from the mistakes."

The Palestinian leadership is sadly more likely to talk about driving the Jews into the sea rather than accepting Israel is here to stay and the need for a peaceful solution to the conflict.

"The Arab leadership in Israel is weak," said Aharish before directly speaking to the Palestinian political leaders: "[You] are inciting thousands of young people to go on to the streets. You are destroying their future with your own hands."

So, here I am, an Irishman abroad about to celebrate my wedding to Liat in two weeks. Thankfully, the attack in Tel Aviv appears to be an isolated event. So any fears I had for people travelling from Ireland have quickly evaporated. In fact, despite everything, I still feel safer walking the streets in Tel Aviv than Dublin.

I joked with an Arab friend of mine that even if I feel safer here I am still at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to trying to identify potential terrorists. "My problem," I told him, "is you all (Middle Eastern natives) look the same to me." He smiled but the weight of what was happening was visible on his face. "If I don't laugh, I will cry," I said to him. But the truth is I am crying. I am crying for Israelis. I am crying for Palestinians. I am crying at the realisation there is no end to this conflict of hate.

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