Thursday, May 19, 2005

#119 From the Frontlines

Musings #119
May 18, 2005
9th of Iyyar

Report From The Frontlines
Or Off the Couch!

I finally started moving myself from my comfortable office chair and onto the frontlines of the Anti-Disengagement Movement. Last week I went to the big rally in the Jerusalem Hyatt.

When I was a teen the worst insult was to call someone “an armchair liberal.” We were hypersensitive to anything that even hinted of hypocrisy. Honestly, that’s one of the reasons we made aliyah so young. How could one be “an American Zionist?” What an oxymoron! Either you’re a Zionist and live in Israel, or you’re not a Zionist. So how could two young idealists stay in America? And when we made aliyah we moved straight to the Old City of Jerusalem, which wasn’t the upper middle class neighborhood it is today. Today the building we were in is considered a convenient and desirable part of the Jewish Quarter, but then, thirty-five years ago, there was no “Jewish Quarter,” and it was surrounded by Arabs and accessible by mud paths.

I must admit that it was a bit too much, so we moved to a more conventional Jerusalem neighborhood, straight from the maternity ward, after the birth of our first child. But the yearning to live in a part of Eretz Yisrael liberated in the Six Days War of 1967 didn’t leave us. Ten years later we moved to Shiloh.

Personally, I find living in Shiloh rather effortless and am constantly amazed anew when people think that we’re doing something admirable or that visiting us would endanger their lives. When people do come here they’re amazed at the pastoral beauty and calm. Unfortunately, I haven’t made it to Gush Katif recently. No excuses.

When I got a call about the big rally over a week ago in Jerusalem, I knew that I had to attend. It was a long day, beginning with testing over twenty students in Ulpanat Ofra (girls high school) and the rally only in evening. The enormous room in the Hyatt was set up with hundreds, maybe even thousands of chairs. A half an hour after the official start, people were still milling around. Then it began.

From my vantage near front center, I didn’t notice hundreds more arrive; a short while later I turned around, and it was full. We listened to a large variety of speakers, who spoke short and to the point. There were almost no politicians, just activists. MK Arye Eldad was given a standing ovation, but I consider him an activist, not a politician. He’s one of the world’s best plastic surgeons, specializing in skin transplants for burn victims and left his profession to save our country.

The theme was totally optimistic. Various speakers, very logically, pointed out how Disengagement is losing momentum and how the government’s goals can’t be met. Nomi Ofan, wife of Neriya—the first Administrative Detainee, standing with their four children, told the crowd how proud she was of her husband and how jail isn’t a deterrent. That was definitely one of the main themes. Certificates of Honor were given to government employees who wouldn’t cooperate in the expulsion of Jews from their homes and to people who had already been arrested or detained. Arrest is seen as a way of choking the system. It’s a badge of courage against an unjust regime.

After it was over, I was determined to do more than type. So when a neighbor called asking me to speak at a local information rally Saturday night, I was surprised at his request, but agreed. I told the story of my son’s Bar Mitzvah during the Oslo nightmare. Most people have forgotten that according to the Oslo Accords, we were supposed to have been thrown out of our homes before Passover 1994. We were scheduled to be homeless refugees at the time of my son’s Bar Mitzvah. I couldn’t plan anything; for months I was paralyzed in terror. As you all know, we’re still here in Shiloh, but Disengagement is a direct descendent of Oslo. And just like our community wasn’t destroyed, G-d willing Gush Katif will continue to flourish.

And so this past Monday, I traveled with a neighbor to a major intersection to photograph and participate in one of the demonstrations. Apparently we missed the big excitement at the beginning, when some neighbors, fathers of large families, walked into the streets, hands high, tied in orange, stopped traffic and were arrested. There were people from a number of different places, not just Shiloh. The police were there in numbers, but much less than the demonstrators. The junction was very large with at least eight traffic lights, and the mostly good-natured cat-mouse choreography went on for a couple of hours. Every once in a while, there would be a shout, and everyone would run after the police who were dragging someone away. There were many photographers, including the police taking pictures of us. One demonstrator spent his time trying to talk to a policeman, convincing him to refuse to carry out immoral orders. All of us with cameras kept focusing on the tagless (those without name tags) policemen. In general, where we were the atmosphere was “civilized.”

Simultaneously there were dozens and dozens of demonstrations at various intersections all over the country. Some groups really managed to stop, rather than just slow down, the traffic, and some of the police were a lot more violent than the ones I encountered. On the whole it was a success. This was just a rehearsal, a bit of practice. In the courts, some of those arrested managed to be freed without paying or promising anything, because their lawyers were able to prove to the judges that the police had just rounded up demonstrators who weren’t doing anything illegal.

It’s sad that we have to demonstrate against the Israeli Government, but the government is made of people, and people sometimes make terrible mistakes. We must stop the Disengagement before it destroys our country.

Shabbat Shalom,

Batya Medad, Shiloh

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Akiva said...

Can you share some pictures with us?

Batya said...

G-d willing, but it may take a couple of days. didn't take the digital.

Esther said...

LOVED the report. Thanks so much for telling us all about it.

While I wish disengagement wasn't happening (and I'm praying it doesn't), I'm not sure I agree with stopping traffic to make a point. When I see a protest on our Los Angeles streets and the people stop traffic, it makes me late for work and then really angry at the cause that's being protested. That's my own rather superficial response. On the broader view, doing anything to make the lives of the police, who are only trying to earn a living to be able to help support their families, more difficult isn't something I can feel good about.

I wish there was a better way.