On Friday, Oct. 7, Erev Yom Kippur, vandals desecrated Muslim and Christian cemeteries in Jaffa, the city where I live. They broke tombstones and graffitied clichés such as “Death to the Arabs” and “Tag Machir” (i.e. Price Tag, a Jewish anti-Arab extremist organization in Israel, based in the West Bank settlements). This was less than a week after a mosque was burned in the north of Israel, an attack also labeled by Tag Machir.
Saturday night, after Yom Kippur, we found out about the attacks on the cemeteries and word began to spread about a possible rally that night in Jaffa. I never thought I’d say this, but thank goodness for Facebook. We finally found the Facebook event–posted in Arabic and Hebrew: “Jaffa Against Racism – Protest Against the Desecration of Cemeteries.”
As it turned out, the rally was just up the street from our apartment. So at 9:00 p.m., after we had just finished atoning for our sins and the sins of our community, we made our way together up the block to show our support and solidarity for our fellow residents of Jaffa. We, the Jaffa participants of Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, went and stood together against racism; one more step in the way of atonement.
There were more than 200 at the rally, a mix of Arabs and Jews. There were signs in Arabic, Hebrew and English: “Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies,” “Jaffa Against Racism” and others. There were speeches in both Arabic and Hebrew. There were chants in both Arabic and Hebrew. Passersby cheered, and hundreds of cars honked their horns as they drove by. There was a sense of togetherness, of unity. We, the residents of Jaffa, weren’t going to let a few vandals challenge our co-existence.
In the news, the president, the prime minister, the mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa and others condemned the attacks. Leaders of the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities in Jaffa called for calm and urged residents to respond peacefully to the acts of incitement. Community leaders, policy and municipal leaders met to address the incidents and work together to build unity and prevent further acts of hate. The media reported the attacks, the rally and the meetings; they talked about the “tense” situation in Jaffa. Friends and family called out of concern.
“Tense” situation? I didn’t feel it. A few punks had defaced our holy sites. Hundreds of us gathered to protest it. People were upset, people were angry, people were determined stop these hate crimes lest they continue. People were angry at the police, the government, the country and society for not having done enough to prevent hate crimes and racism against Arabs. People were fed up with the general racism that persists across Israel. And legitimately so. But after an hour or so the protest wound down, we went home, each of us seeking out our own way to pursue Tikkun Olam, or each simply back to our own existence, side by side — that is to say, coexistence.
The rally wasn’t perfect. When the speeches and chants were in Hebrew we all chimed in. When the speeches and chants were in Arabic, the Arabs among us chimed in, a few of us Jews clapped along supportively, but others got bored, started schmoozing. We had to switch back to Hebrew, then Arabic, trying to keep everything in balance in a world that is far from balanced.
The leaders chanted “Jews and Arabs together against all the racists!” I chanted along, though I personally am really more against racism itself than racists — that is to say people who harbor racist thoughts and act upon them. It’s that “Us and Them” mentality again that bothers me. There’s a little bit of racism in all of us. If we hate all the haters, then what are we? It’s easy to point the finger of blame outside of ourselves, to point, to essentialize, to over-simplify, to turn a world of color into black and white.
It’s important — but also easy — to stand up together against racism, but I think we all also need to take a good look inside, to seek out and stand up against the racism inside ourselves. (Have I already mentioned Yom Kippur?) It seems that Israel is still learning the language and the sensitivities of race. She’s got a long way to go but I hope that, at least in this new year, she’s heading in the right direction.
Elliot Glassenberg is currently participating in Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, one of Masa Israel’s 200 programs.