I have been asked several times recently to write about my views on Israel. This has happened even more since this past June, when my first novel was published.
Too Much on the Inside explores the intersecting lives of four characters, who are immigrants to Toronto. One of the main characters, Nicki (whose real name is Nili) is an Israeli expat. She’s originally from Ra’anana, a suburban town located about half an hour from Tel Aviv. After serving in the Israeli army, Nicki travels through India and the U.K. before ending up in Canada. Nicki has a lot of guilt — for rejecting her modern Orthodox upbringing, for being uncomfortable with her sister’s choices when her sister becomes Haredi, for breaking up with her boyfriend, a kibbutznik from the north who suffers from PTSD from the Lebanon War. Most of all, she feels guilty for accidentally shooting an Arab civilian as a soldier.
It has always been easy for me, as an author, to explain that nothing I write is real. I can circumvent any questions about politics or religion by explaining that I deal with the imaginary. What really interests me, I explain, is human relationships and social observations. This is not entirely true, of course. And after what’s been happening in Israel, I have decided to give myself permission to come out of the religious and political closet.
On Oct.13, I was shaken when I heard a man was fatally stabbed on Ahuza, the main street in the small town in the Sharon region where I spent every summer of my life, and several years in my twenties. My late grandmother was Israeli. Her family dated back for five generations before the establishment of the state. She and my late grandfather owned an apartment in Ra’anana, and I spent as much time there as I could. It is the place of my fondest childhood memories, and the wildest, more exciting highlights of my adolescence. It is full of green spaces and parks. It has great schools and public transit. More than anything it is full of people who know each other and are genuinely invested in each other’s lives. It also has immigrants from France, Russia and South Africa — many who left their native countries because of anti-Semitism.
On Oct. 13, a 32-year-old man was stabbed in the chest while he waited for a bus at 8:45 a.m. Every news article had live videos filmed from people’s phones. Exactly nothing was left to my imagination. Four other people were later stabbed outside Beit Levenstein hospital on Jerusalem St. One was critically injured.
I started frantically calling my friends and family. The first thing a close friend mentioned was that we had gone clothes shopping in a store just behind the bus stop when I visited a few months ago. When one of my brothers called, we talked about how we’d gone for pizza at Borochov 88, a restaurant located about half a block from there.
My friends were worried about their kids leaving the house. One of them said that her bubble had burst. These are not people making a political statement, living on a settlement in disputed territories. These are ordinary families. A lot of the time, the victims of these types of attacks are just regular people. The 13-year-old kid who was stabbed riding his bike in Jerusalem the day before? Just a normal kid. The 25-year-old man stabbed outside the shopping centre in Petah Tikva, and the five people stabbed with a screwdriver by a man who walked off a construction site and attacked them as they walked through Tel Aviv? Just regular citizens going about their days.
The idea behind terrorism is to evoke contagion, a feeling that no one is safe anywhere. In this current wave of vigilante justice, it is too easy to believe that all these actions are spontaneous and unplanned and that they are impossible to predict or control. But believing that is dangerous both because of the panic and anxiety it evokes, and because of the way it interferes with our sense of justice.
Revenge and the murder of civilians is wrong, no matter what the context is. It is a fallacy to believe the simplistic notion that these attacks are just an obvious result of Israeli occupation. Talk to Israelis who were around before the state existed. Many of my grandmother’s and relatives stories of growing up in British mandate Palestine involved daily threats to their lives, and the unprovoked murder of their family members.
Supporting Palestine has become the Free Tibet of its time. Pop stars like Rihanna tweet about it, university students and left-wing bands rally about it, and most of the time, very little research has been done. People’s responses tend to be based entirely in an emotional, misguided sense of social justice or simple regurgitated rhetoric.
It also often disguises anti-Semitism. It is no longer socially acceptable in most circles to hate Jews but it’s totally acceptable, even expected, to critique, and hate Israel’s very existence, which for many Jews is tied inextricably to a sense of cultural and religious identity.
There is also the part of the Jewish community who has tried to distance themselves as much as possible — who started well meaning but naïve movements like Not In My Name, or Israel loves Palestine. I’m not like them, they insist to anyone who’ll listen. I’m a better person because the issue of being Jewish is not relevant to me.
It is my view that anti-Zionist Israelis are guilty of the worst hypocrisy — benefiting from all that Israel has to offer them while being morally or religiously opposed to it. Worse than that, they perpetuate self-loathing because regardless of how they see themselves, the world views them as Jewish.
To be clear: I don’t think that Israeli actions are beyond reproach. I think that the loss of any human life — Israeli or Palestinian is equally tragic. Living in a war zone, and living in a state of terror is unacceptable for anyone, whether a person lives in Sderot or in Gaza.
I also have absolutely no solutions. When hatred and mistrust between two very similar cultures runs so deep, for so many generations, it is the height of hubris to assume that any of us are capable of really understanding, let alone solving the issue.
The least we can do is acknowledge what’s happening, talk about it openly, and respect each other’s opinions biases whether we agree with each other or not. So, hi. My name’s Danila, and I’m Jewish, and Israeli and a Zionist. But like you, I hope and pray for peace among both nations. I hope and pray for a time when everyone can live there, harmoniously and safely. More than anything, I hope we see it in our lifetime.