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August 8, 2014

The blackbirds of Jerusalem Forest sing a marvelous song. Each blackbird’s melody is different. The songs are consistently an inspiration. They are richly varied, blending staccato runs that would have left Charlie “Bird” Parker in awe, and then looping and leaping intervals. On my morning or evening runs, I nearly always encounter one of the birds, as they serenade life. I run in place, I lamely whistle responses, I stop other runners on the path to draw their attention to the free concert.

Mohammed Abu Khdeir was on his way to Ramadan prayers when he was snatched near the mosque in Shuafat and driven to Jerusalem Forest. A gentle 16 year old, studying to be an electrician, Mohammed was beaten with a wrench and burned alive. Since Mohammed’s murder on July 2, I have run at least fifteen times. I see the blackbirds, but they no longer sing. Not once have I heard them, not a note.

As the ceasefire falls apart this morning, the rockets scream into Israel and our planes renew their bombing, the war has returned. But in the meanwhile, what is happening to us? A dark cloud, an ominous wave of Arab hatred is washing over Israel. My friend Fulla had just gotten off work yesterday at Hadassah Hospital where she works as a medical clown. She was speaking Arabic on her phone when a Jew approached her and spit in her face…… A social worker, Yasmin, boarded a crowded train last week. People were standing pressed together in the aisle and grasping handrails as the train lurched. Yasmin, wearing her hijab, boarded early and found a seat. But the three seats around her remained empty for the entire journey…….. At the entrance to Sderot, someone painted graffiti for the sake of those who might question the high number of Palestinian children who fall victim to our bombardments. It reads: “Hitler, too, was once a little child.”

What is happening to us? People are losing their jobs and professors receive reprimands from their universities for daring to mention the suffering of the Palestinians. An impatient Tel Aviv driver honks insistently at me from behind when I don’t move fast enough. At the next light we are side by side, and I roll down the window to find out what his problem is, and he pulls his handbrake and begins to get out of his car, while his friend holds him back. I realize he has identified me from the peace stickers on my back window, and he is boiling mad. I move on.

What is happening to us? Who are we becoming? The Israeli press does not show us the reality of Gaza. I have to go to Al Jazeera to see what people are enduring there. It is difficult to watch twenty minutes of footage from the streets of the Shujaiyeh neighborhood. But I force myself to see, to hear the anguished voice of the man who describes watching his wife die minutes before, as his daughter weeps on his chest. Gaza looks likes Dresden.

Somewhere inside, I know that all of us are appalled at the reality of occupation and, now, of this war. 1,800 Palestinian dead, 8,000 wounded. But we cannot look, we cannot face ourselves. So we vamp up this righteous hatred, and it stands as a buffer between us and our better selves.

We have become stupid. Our leaders and generals talk about annihilating Hamas. “We are destroying their infrastructure,” they proclaim. How can they not see that the real “infrastructure” is the people who will hate us and fight us until they have a decent alternative? How can they not understand that every dead Hamasnik will be replaced by three more?

Tomorrow we will march in Tel Aviv to demand that our government seek a political solution to this conflict. Gaza is a prison, and until the Gazans are free, we jailers will also remain imprisoned. We cannot delude ourselves for much longer. Our peace and freedom depend on theirs. We at “Sulha” will hold a tribal fire next week to bring our Palestinian and Israeli supporters together, so that we can share our experience of this war, so that we can hold each other and express the love and empathy that war and occupation seek to destroy. Perhaps we will even sing.

But when will the blackbirds sing again?

Yoav Peck


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One Comment
  1. Your voice is important, Yoav. Thank you. Judy

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