Hah-mat-sav. That's Hebrew for "the situation". That is how Israelis often refer to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It was not a subject I could avoid in The True Adventures of Gidon Lev. But where to begin? How to address such a complicated and heartbreaking conflict?
Excerpt from The True Adventures of Gidon Lev:
You may have seen this "situation" on television, represented by images of a smoking crater where a building once was, women keening and wailing, a burning bus surrounded by flashing lights and ambulances, a graffitied concrete barrier wall or footage of young Palestinian men wearing black and white checkered keffiyehs, hurling stones or Molotov cocktails at Israeli soldiers. You've probably seen Israeli bulldozers tearing down Palestinian houses or Israel tactical teams dressed in black bursting down the door of a Palestinian home. Israel and its terrible problems show up on the television news regularly. You may be utterly weary of this story that seems to be stuck on repeat.
During the war between Israel and Hamas in 2014, there was another war, online. While air raid sirens wailed outside and missiles fell down in Gaza, my Facebook feed was filled with fusillades of angry words and memes showing Israelis as evil oppressors or Palestinians as bloodthirsty terrorists.
That these divisive memes and posts were so intensely ugly and one-sided was shocking to me. But what surprised me most is that most of these outraged posts were coming from people who didn't live anywhere near Israel. I found myself bridling and feeling defensive. Did these people think that this was helping?
When I engaged and asked people questions about what they had posted, I was very often met with combative words, hostility, and accusations of being either a warmonger or a self-hating Jew. Those advocating for peace were anything but peaceful.
Something that I found even more amazing was the dearth of knowledge about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians paired with a conviction that weighing in was somehow necessary as some kind of armchair activism. This isn’t helping, I said, over and over. Please.
“First, we must join together,” Izzeldin Abuelaish said, in I Shall Not Hate, “to fight our mutual enemy, which is our ignorance of each other. We must smash and destroy the mental and physical barriers within each of us and between us. We must speak and move forward as one to achieve a brighter future.”
In Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor, my friend and mentor Yossi Klein Halevi writes:
“…we need to challenge the stories we tell about each other, which have taken hold in our societies. We have imposed our worst historical nightmares on the other. To you, we are colonialists, Crusaders. And to us, you are the latest genocidal army seeking to destroy the Jewish people. Can we, instead, see each other as two traumatized peoples, each clinging to the same sliver of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, neither of whom will find peace or justice until we make our peace with the other’s claim to justice?”
Hamatzav. The situation. .الوضع. המצב
What does not show up on television are the thousands and thousands of Israelis and Palestinians who do more than hope and pray but who put their hearts and souls into ending this conflict through their work in non-profit organizations and daily acts of kindness and tolerance. Israelis and Palestinians are not memes on social media. They are human beings with real skin in the game in this part of the world. Come to visit Israel and meet some of the remarkable human beings on both sides of "the green line" and see for yourself the grassroots efforts being made to connect with one another. Yes, we can do better, but I'm guessing that right where you live there are also opportunities to address the problems and injustice in your community.
If you care about hamatsav in Israel/Palestine, come visit and put your money where your mouth is. There are numerous NGOs that would be glad to have you help out for even one day. Read up about the history of this conflict so that you are knowledgable about it. Minimally, just send us all hope, peace, love and faith that one day we can live together in peace.
Check out this incredible video, produced by Koolulam, an Israeli organization that activates peace through song. In this video, shot in Haifa in 2018, a crowd of 3,000 Israelis and Israeli-Palestinians sang Matisyahu's "One Day" in English, Arabic and Hebrew. Look at the faces in the video. These are the humans of this conflict. We believe in peace.