Like all of you, I’ve spent the past few days consumed by the news from France. The terror in Paris – and in Beirut and Baghdad – feel like dispatches from a word careening out of control. And in New York, where I was last week, the blue, white, and red of the French Tricolor lighting up the Empire State Building and One World Trade Center served as a powerful reminder that the world is smaller than it sometimes feels.
And then there is our Israel. For the past couple of months, we’ve watched in horror as the latest cycle of violence engulfs Israel and the West Bank. Today’s events are no exception. There is something different about this wave of terror and retribution. Somehow, knife attacks seem both more unpredictable and more intimate than other kinds of terror. The sense of personal insecurity many Israelis feel right now is hard to overstate. The news is filled with the stuff of nightmares. Terrorists on buses and attacking families in their cars. 13 year olds trying to murder other 13 year olds.
At the same time, it is hard to recognize the Israel we know and love in the responses of some Jewish Israelis to the violence: random attacks on Arabs; the brutal murder of an Eritrean refugee whose only crime was being the wrong color in the wrong place at the wrong time; rising racism and the fear and hate-driven firing of Arab employees.
And from too many in positions of leadership and power, there is evasion, incitement, and distraction. Instead of an attempt to address the roots of the current violence, we hear cynical claims that almost fifty years of occupation and settlement enterprise are irrelevant to the current nightmare, that the Palestinians hate us and have always hated us, that they were responsible for the Holocaust, that there’s no difference between Palestinian activists and ISIS murderers. It is as if, like in a zombie apocalypse movie, knife-wielding Palestinian youth suddenly dropped from the sky filled with religious mania. And instead of looking for a way out of the terrible, seemingly endless conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, high ranking ministers have introduced new anti-democratic bills that would hamstring human rights organizations and ban entry to Israel of people who believe that supporting the settlement enterprise is bad for Israel and Zionism.
But, as always, there is hope. Thousands of Israelis – Arabs and Jews – refuse to revert to angry tribalism. They are standing together beneath the banner “Arabs and Jews Refuse to be Enemies.” They are pushing back against incitement and racism on both sides, offering an alternative vision of what Israel is and could be. And hundreds of organizations in the NIF community are working to protect the vulnerable and pursue justice, even – especially – during these difficult times. Just in the past several weeks, NIF has approved more than $90,000 in emergency grants to support those working for shared society, human rights, and social justice.
Yes, times are hard, but that’s what we’re here for. Yes, it’s dark right now. So let’s light a candle, roll up our sleeves, and get go work.