When I can't find the words | Non-Fiction | Sour Soup
In the year and a half of serving up Alphabet Soup, I’ve tried not to bring Israeli politics into it. There is something very polarizing about discussing national issues, especially in Israel, where terms like “nationality,” “identity” and “religion” are constantly getting mixed up. I wanted this newsletter to be a sort of refuge for pure imagination and emotion, a place that puts pragmatics aside and tries to speak to the world in a different way. In the past two months, since the rightwing parties gained power in Israel and began their attempt to demolish the democratic institutions and restrict individual freedom, I’ve found myself protesting on the streets every day. While I march with other protesters or run in a panic when the police throw stun grenades at the crowds, I keep thinking about the next Alphabet Soup post and trying out new ideas in my mind. This week, in honor of the tenth straight week of protests in Israel, I’m allowing myself to break my custom and share with you a piece I published in Israel following a hate crime perpetrated by Jewish settlers in the Palestinian village of Hawara. It was a horrifying act that most members of the current Israeli government did not bother to condemn, and a few even praised. This ideological Alphabet Soup is a one-off special of the day, and it comes with a recommendation to read up a little on what’s been going on in Israel in the past few months: it’s scary, surprising, sometimes inspiring, and mostly very extreme. Who knows, maybe at the still-unknown end of this painful story, there's a lesson to be learned.
Since the attack on the West Bank town of Hawara earlier this month, I’ve been having trouble sleeping. And it’s not just the grief. Because grief is something we have plenty of in these parts. Heartbreaking pictures of terrorism and murder victims flicker across our TV screens every evening. But this time, something felt different. More ominous. As if the entire earth were trembling under my feet.
When I was a boy, my late father, who grew up in an Eastern European shtetl, once explained to me why pogroms were so devastating and traumatizing. “If your town is raided by soldiers, or your neighbors are killed by a murderer or a terrorist,” he said, “you can still go and buy groceries in the next town over, and when the shopkeeper smiles and says hello, you can smile back. But when you know that the people who attacked your neighbors and burned down your house came from that other town, and that the shopkeeper might have been one of them, you can’t smile back anymore.” According to my father, the hatred at the core of every pogrom does not fade when the last ember in the smoldering ruins dies out—it only intensifies.
I shared this insight with my taxi driver the other day, but he berated me for calling the bloody events in Hawara a “pogrom.” He insisted that the word “pogrom” only applies to riots against Jews; when it comes to attacks on other nationalities, we need a different word. I suggested “hate crime,” but he rejected that because he said the rioters who went to Hawara were driven by terrible pain and fury over the horrific murder of two young brothers earlier that day. “And the terrorist himself,” the driver reminded me, “was from Hawara.” We both rejected the term “pain crime” because it sounds weak and imprecise, nor could we settle on “justified crime” because if it’s justified, then it’s not really a crime. My proposal of “crime against the innocent” didn’t pass muster with the driver either, and the ride ended without us reaching an agreement. I have to admit that, as a man of words, this saddened me.
In these anguished days in Israel and around the world, in an era of conflicts and hatred between opposing camps, if we were somehow able to at least use the same names for things, it would give me a shred of hope. Four-hundred Jewish residents from nearby settlements, accompanied by the Israeli army, tore into a Palestinian town, where they killed and beat local residents and set fire to houses with families still inside. We weren’t able to prevent it, and there are members of this extremist government who won’t even denounce it. But can we at least find a name for the tragedy?
This piece was published in Hebrew in Yedioth Ahronoth
Even if our ministers won't agree , I think "progrom" is pretty accurate. I found your "ideological" lapse in writing about politics not as simply propagandistic (as I find most of the writing these days in Haaretz for example) because you get a touching point across. One about "communication" .I don't know about statistics ,,but I coukd imagine that many couples separate over inability to communicate. This seems to be what is happening now. Anyway, thank you . I have been enjoying your Alphabet soup tremendously. I also loved the stuff you posted here some time ago about your parents from the Berlin exhibition. Is this something you might expand on and will be out into book form ?