Thursday, June 5, 2014

Gangnam Style

I’ve been to Israel twice. My cousin lives in Maale Adumim, and I stayed with her for a few days. I remember one time she got a call from a friend: apparently, there were a couple of Arabs wandering around the neighborhood. Adina called her kids indoors and phoned some other friends to warn them. Fortunately, nothing bad happened.

I was reminded of this little incident last month when a story surfaced about an incident in Ramallah that got captured on video. It seems a patrol of Israeli soldiers happened on a Palestinian wedding celebration, and some of them were so caught up in the infectious music of Korean rappers PSY’s “Gangnam Style” that they let themselves be hoisted on the shoulders of the Palestinian delebrants, guns waving in the air. The whole thing was captured on cellphone cameras and posted on the Internet.

Is this perhaps a glimpse of the kind of Israel we hope to see in the future? It is not. The official reaction was swift and disapproving. “This is an incident of utmost severity,” the IDF said in a statement. “The soldiers have been called in for questioning, and the commanders of the brigade and the battalion are investigating. The soldiers [in question] will be dealt with appropriately.”

What exactly did those soldiers do wrong? The answer is obvious: they ignored the lesson that my cousin had taught her children, and that Israeli mothers teach their children every day: that the Arabs are dangerous and not to be trusted. The fact that nothing bad happened in this instance is irrelevant…don’t those soldiers realize what might have happened?

I have to wonder if relations between Jews and Arabs have ever been worse, on a personal level, than they are right now? There was a time, not that long ago, when our people wandered the West Bank freely, shopped in its markets and ate in its restaurants. We don’t do that anymore.
I can’t piece together the whole story but if there was one incident that marked a watershed in the Jewish-Arab dynamic, it was surely the lynching, in the early days of the second Intifada, of the two Jews who wandered into the same Ramallah and were apprehended by a Palestinian mob. Believe it or not, I was as sickened and outraged as anyone by that incident, and I wholeheartedly approved of our swift and aggressive reaction. But where are we now?

The problem is that we have crystallized, in the collective psyche, a permanent image of what happens when Jews fall into the hands of Arabs: namely, they are torn to pieces. Obviously, any and all protective and punitive measures are justified to prevent this from happening again. Was the crime of those soldiers in Ramallah really that they let down their guard, putting themselves at risk after all the work we have done to eliminate that same risk as far as possible? Perhaps.

But I’m afraid that the outrage at their behavior has a different motivation. It’s not the fact that they put themselves at risk than rankles. It’s the fact that the outcome of their actions shakes the foundations of the narrative that we have worked so hard to ingrain in our collective consciousness: that the Arabs are dangerous animals who are not to be trusted. All our security measures are premised on that axiom; therefore, to question it is to question the legitimacy of everything we do…the checkpoints, the wall, the arrests, you name it.

It seems in that in Israel these days, there is nothing more dangerous than the idea that the Arabs might possibly be human beings, almost just like us.

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