Updated: Aug 25, 2021
Zohar Avigdori, a member of Kibbutz Eshbal and a teacher in Haifa, shares an experience he had in the last few days during all of the violence in Israel.
The center of the city is a five minute drive from Kibbutz Eshbal. 20 meters as the crow flies between the last house on the Kibbutz and the first house in the city.
Convenience Stores. Bakeries. Gardening shops. Butchers. Handsome men on Tinder. Traffic jams. Restaurants. The pharmacy. Muezzins. Ice cream. A stadium.
"We'll make a quick stop to buy something in Sakhnin”, “I’m on my way to Kibbutz Ravid. I’ll stop in Sakhnin to pick something up, cool?”, “I don’t have time to do a big shopping trip so I’ll stop in Sakhnin to get a few things”, “We ran out. I’ll hop over to Sakhnin”, “Can you put it on the Kibbutz Eshbal tab?”
Friends who work there as educators, our kids’ friends from the Galil School, repairmen who come to Eshbal, meetings of the Shared Existence program.
For 20 years it’s been like this. Neighbors. Always there. A part of life. A world that is different and yet familiar, constantly beside you.
Suddenly - and in one fell swoop, in the dead of night - there’s a border. A transparent and impassable obstacle beyond which lies the most horrible monster of all: "Them". On Sunday you went shopping there, but by Tuesday there’s a checkpoint and alerts.
Suspicions. Concerns. Fear. Taking the long way around. Don’t leave Eshbal after dark. Worrying what will happen.
The voices inside my head are fighting each other. The voices of cynicism and racism say “We always knew it would come right? What were you thinking? Really, you always knew that "they" were backward, screwed-up, primitive, homophobic, misogynist, violent. So here it is.”
And the second voice, not whispering but roaring, “These are people you know! Recognize! They’re human beings! It's the salesman and the driver and the pharmacist and that cute guy from Tinder and the doctor and the principal of our beloved Galil School, and tons of other people who you’ve never been afraid to be around.
This cannot start now. It cannot last.
On Wednesday evening I came across an ambush... Jews who were looking to hunt, perhaps to kill Arabs. A barrage of stones and hatred hit the bus I was riding, shattering windows and with them my heart. The understanding that Jews, my people, went forth with hatred burning in their eyes to riot and harm innocent people - it devastated me . After we escaped the attack I stood in front of the 4 other passengers and the driver who stood next to me embarrassed, frightened and ashamed. I didn't know what to tell them. Should I apologize? In whose name? And for what? What could I say to a woman whose hijab, glimpsed through the window, excited the crowd enough for someone to throw the first brick at her, sending her screaming hysterically to the floor of the bus? What could I say to the driver after they blocked his path with cars, waving Israeli flags, while the crowd smashed the window panes of the bus, closing in on him and preventing him from escaping?
What could I say? What could I do?
Today I returned to Sakhnin. Not without concerns. In my day-to-day I'm an educator - I believe in long processes and in small effects that are built over time. This time I felt the need for something immediate. To be something different within this crushing reality that is imploding all around us. To prove to myself, to my neighbors, that there is another way, that we won't give in, that we won't give up. Find the racial hatred inside my soul and smash it to bits.
Like the last of the hippies I bought a bouquet of flowers and walked into the businesses I visit regularly. It was uncomfortable. I didn't know how the gesture would be received.
The first business - a convenience store. As it happens, an unfamiliar clerk sits there. Embarrassed and ashamed I hand him a flower and say "this is so we remember that we're still neighbors and friends". I don't know what I look like in his eyes, through the barriers of culture and language and through the roadblock of the past days’ events.
He gets up immediately, smiling, excited. Shakes my hand, offers me coffee. He calls me "my brother," emotionally recounts the cheerless holiday they had, at home in front of the tv, without the normal events and outings of Eid al-Fitr. He assures me that everyone in the government are imbeciles and that we will always remain brothers and friends.
A minute, maybe two in total. And my heart is flying. I can suddenly breathe again. Smile. Believe.
I walked around for over an hour. People smiled at me, excited, happy, asking for selfies. Said over and over how sorry they were for what is happening, how much the demonstrators are idiots who are just there to mess everything up and don't represent anything at all. They gave me coffee, cola, more coffee, borekas, water, coffee... asked me to come back.
As if there was a knot there just waiting for someone to come and press on the right place to release it.
So many walls that are so easy to build.
I don't think the Middle East will be different because I handed out some flowers.
I don't think the disgusting Jewish chauvinism will stop or be weakened.
I do think there are some people today who know for sure that not all Jews hate them, that there are those here who want to be their neighbors and friends.
I do feel more human.
I do feel that small things can make a change.
I do feel that I was given some air and some strength to keep going.
So you too, everyone in their own area, you too can share your flower.
Hopefully this will work. We must believe in ourselves.