Events and Life Travel and places

Southern Israel is under attack at the moment. This is what it looks like.

Southern Israel is under attack, again. Hamas and its allies have been firing hundreds of rockets at Israeli towns and cities for the last day or so. Imagine that you were in this situation:

Image credit: Israel Defense Forces, licensed CC BY-NC 2.0

Events and Life Policy issues Politics and government

Explaining terrorism to children

The New York Times has a video feature about how a French children’s newspaper responded to kids’ questions about the recent Paris attacks by explaining terrorism to children. You should watch this if you are a parent:

This is something we deal with more and more here in Israel. Terrorism has become an almost daily occurrence here in recent weeks and months and kids are increasingly aware that there is something going on. There are different ways to respond to kids’ questions and I think this is probably a better one.

“I feel, in a way, like I am destroying the childhood of my children by exposing them to …

“Yeah, but they don’t live on planet Mars …”

Our kids have asked about the terrorist attacks here and we explain it to them as best we can without vilifying all Palestinians (in the context of the attacks in Israel) but, at the same time, they need some understanding of the underlying politics, animosity and dynamics between Israelis (specifically Jews) and radical Palestinians.

It is not easy and I wish we didn’t have to have these conversations with our kids but this is the world we now live in. The world has changed and there is no “Undo”.

Events and Life

Last night my son asked me to explain terrorism

Last night my son asked me to explain why it is unsafe “out there”. I spoke to our kids briefly about the wave of terrorism spreading across Israel a few days ago in fairly general terms so they would have some appreciation of a change in the status quo (the one that counts). Still, I was dreading this question from him. He is old enough to understand more of it but still far too young to need to know what it means.

As I tried to explain to him that there are Palestinians/Arabs hurting Jews in many cities, I realized that while the victims are usually Jews, these terrorists probably don’t conduct in depth research and can target non-Jews too. That doesn’t really matter a lot to them, I suspect. The goal is uncertainty, the sense of an ever-present threat to our lives. The goal is terror.

I told him that it is scary and it means we have to be more careful until this threat subsides and he asked me how that will happen. I remembered an article I read earlier that day titled “Children and Fear of War & Terrorism” and started telling him that our brave soldiers and police will protect us, because that is exactly what they are working to do. Then I told him that our real defence against this sort of distributed terrorism is each other.

Our security forces can’t be everywhere and the terrorists know it. These terrorists don’t wear outfits that brand them as terrorists, they look like normal people going about their business until they decide to strike. Short of Minority Report-style pre-cognition, our security forces can only act if they are on the scene when an attack begins.

This brand of terrorism is a cancer and there are two ways you fight cancer when it manifests: intensive, focused action (usually radiation therapy) and systematic treatments like chemotherapy. Our security forces are working to deter terrorists with their presence and respond to attacks with intensive, focused action designed to swiftly neutralize the terrorists.

That is only part of the solution. The other “treatment” for this cancer is the very community the terrorists are attacking. Rather than allowing these attacks to fragment our community, we Israelis need to (and as the citizens of Ra’anana and other cities affected have shown) unite and protect each other by, literally, watching each other’s backs.

My kids love the arcade game Whack-a-Mole and I wonder if dealing with terrorism isn’t a lot like that? A terrorist steps out with a weapon, attacks and Israelis, Jews, citizens who are able strike back and neutralize that attack. You’ve probably noticed that I’ve used the word “neutralize” more than once. It is, in a sense, a euphemism, and can mean the attacker is subdued and arrested. It can also mean the attacker has been killed. I believe in our shared human rights and the right of an accused person to a fair criminal process. At the same time, when someone picks up a weapon, intending to kill us and attacks, there isn’t time to negotiate and pacify. These attacks are brutal and need to be met with decisive responses.

So I sat with my son in his bedroom and explained these attacks to him in terms I hoped wouldn’t give him nightmares. I told him they are scary for us too and that he should talk to us if he has anything to say about it, ask us questions he may have and not to hold his fears in. As he thought about that I told him we love him and we will look after him just as we Jews, we Israelis should look after each other and protect each other from this terrorism, this cancer.

You see, the one difference between my cancer treatments and defeating terrorism using my cancer analogy is that, unlike chemical chemo, social “chemo” need not be poisonous. It can unite us even more and strengthen our nation just by watching each other’s backs because we are all targets to these terrorists. Why shouldn’t we respond by becoming the collective treatment for this disease and wipe it out each time it surfaces?

עם ישראל חי


Photo credit: Bil’in Riot, Jan 2011 by the IDF, licensed CC BY NC 2.0

Events and Life Politics and government

Religious intolerance threatens Israel’s survival

The recent stabbings at the Jerusalem Gay Pride march are tragic. Aaron Panken makes a strong argument for the Israeli government to take a stronger stand against Ultra-Orthodox intolerance that prompted the attacks in his article titled “An end to Israel’s state-sanctioned religious intolerance“:

Israel was founded to be a homeland for all Jews. Its 1948 declaration of independence defines it as a state that “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,” one that “will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.” The government of the Jewish state must always walk a fine line in preserving both its Jewishness and the fundamental freedoms that inhere in any democracy. Granted, this is not simple, especially in a polarized political system where small parties in coalitions can exert undue influence. Nonetheless, what Israel’s citizens and friends abroad should expect from any Israeli government is straightforward: vigorous protection of the religious freedom of all its citizens so that they may pray, marry their partners, bury their dead, welcome new adherents, study their traditions and observe their beliefs – with respect and without harassment. When one religious group limits, attacks or abuses another, the government is responsible for intervening to curb such toxic and dangerous activity.

Aside from how abhorrent the attacks were (both the stabbings in Jerusalem and every other attack by the Ultra-Orthodox on communities they don’t agree with), how can we expect to defend ourselves against external threats when we are under attack by fellow Jews who don’t believe we are religious enough for them?

One of the factors that helped Israelis fight off attacks despite the tremendous odds against their success in the past was their unity as Jews and Israelis. The biggest threat to Israel’s survival at the moment probably isn’t Hamas, IS or Iran. It comes from within. Religious intolerance threatens Israel’s survival the most because it divides and weakens us.

Photo credit: Western Wall by Premasagar Rose, licensed CC BY NC 2.0

Events and Life Mindsets Policy issues Politics and government

South African anti-Semitism means the country is like most others

I came across the Citizen’s article titled “Alleged anti-semitic attack in Rosebank ” on Facebook today. According to the Citizen:

The assailants allegedly hurled antisemitic insults at the youths and physically assaulted two of the three youngsters.

“[The Jewish boys] were wearing kippah [yarmulke],” said Kahn, who stated that the attack was motivated by antisemitism, as the boys were clearly identified, and the statements directed at them included references to religious and political tension in the Middle East.

These attacks are shameful and, as much as they seem to represent an escalation in anti-Semitism in South Africa, they also seem to point to a relatively new trend in South Africa that I noticed last year during Operation Protective Edge in Israel. Before then, anti-Israel sentiment popped up whenever Israel took action against Palestinians but it largely remained anti-Israel sentiment.

Last year that changed and anti-Israel sentiment became thinly veiled anti-Semitism and then not so thinly veiled. What it signified to me was that South Africa was losing its relatively sheltered status compared to much of Europe which has witnessed violent attacks like this for some time now.

On one hand it seems like South Africa is just following the same regressive trend that has gripped Europe, the United States and other developed countries: it has become more acceptable in some sectors to lash out at Jews if the rage is prefaced by some sort of objective to Israel’s actions regarding the Palestinians (regardless of there being any justification for the rage). I’d say that is just progress except it isn’t. It is, however, not unusual lately.

On the other hand, South Africa following this trend means the culture of tolerance and its embrace for diversity which South Africans began to cultivate after 1994 has withered. Surely South Africa, of all countries, should lead the world with a values-based tolerance for diversity of legitimate opinions and beliefs? Instead politics and sensationalism have done away with any real semblance of an enlightened approach based on Constitutional values and a respect for human rights.

What remains, both in South Africa and elsewhere in the world, is the latest version of a seething and ancient hatred for Jews. Objections to Israel’s approach to the Palestinians by the likes of the BDS Movement is just a cover for a deeper hatred and a much bigger threat that faces not just Israel and the world’s Jews but much of the world’s population.

I don’t think this is the last time people who are visibly Jewish will be attacked in South Africa’s malls and on the streets. Tragically, I suspect this will only get worse in time and the sooner more people realize this and do more to prevent it, the better. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be a politically popular option anymore.

I hope I am wrong.