Coffee instead of Conflict / by Sophie Schor


I traded my past frantic  life of running around Jerusalem and the stress of the conflict for a new life of coffee.

I now work at a neighborhood café and, for those of you who know me well, it is a dream come true. I come home from work smelling like Ethiopian dark roast; I have already learned to use the espresso machine. Next up—making hearts in  my cappuccinos. 

The café is a minute walk  from my new apartment, tucked away amongst quiet streets and facing a little square and playground. The place is definitely the community hub; neighbors who come daily victoriously receive the honor of the “Neighbor Cup” with their own name on the bottom and their own spot on the venerable shelf of glasses. A familiar face walks past the glass window, and the barista has already begun to make their drink. Keys are left at the counter for someone else to pick up, and kids run in and ask right away for one of the jelly filled, dusted with powdered sugar, flower-shaped cookies.

A bubble has begun to envelope me as my daily rhythm shifts. I wake up early, go to work, drink two, three, four coffees, and then come home and write papers (4 down, 5 to go!), or go to the beach. All in all, this is not bad at all.

But, it’s weird. While I’ve been learning Hebrew words to describe the taste of coffee (with a hint of cocoa, smooth, bitter, acidic, full-bodied), Jerusalem has been erupting in a renewed cycle of violence. (See this article that lists all that happened over the last few weeks). Notably:

  • “Israeli police armed with stun grenades and tear gas clashed on Tuesday with Palestinians throwing rocks and barricading themselves inside Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque.” More here at NYTimes.
  •  “Thirteen Palestinians, including children, and four policemen were slightly injured in violent clashes which erupted over the weekend between settlers and Palestinians in the neighborhood of Batan al-Hawa in the Silwan area of East Jerusalem.” Read more at Ha’aretz
  •   An Israeli died after a rock was thrown at his car in East Talpiyot, a neighborhood in the southeast of Jerusalem. Here at Times of Israel.

The Old City of Jerusalem feels really far away. Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, which I used to see every morning cresting over the walls as I rode the bus to university, feels really far away. Rocks thrown at the train, (I used to trace the cracks they made in the train windows as I sat in my seat) feel really far away. The Qalandiya checkpoint connecting Jerusalem to Ramallah, which was only 20 minutes from home, feels really far away. Tel Aviv is only 45 minutes from Jerusalem,  but it is truly a bubble; people even call it the State of Tel Aviv, noting its exceptionality from the rest of the country. People living here live in a completely different world. And I’m falling into it. All my focus has turned westward to the sea, and my back is towards the West Bank (in the East).

I made the conscious choice to move to Jaffa because I wanted to be further from the conflict. I was burnt out, exhausted by the constant interactions, the inability to hide under your covers and ignore the scary political mess unfolding all around you. Living in  Tel Aviv/Jaffa, I can instead choose my dose of anxiety about the occupation in the West Bank and the  violence in Jerusalem as it suited my own mental health. I am learning to create a world where I can take care of myself and be recharged with enough energy to give back to the work I am engaging in. In doing so, I am turning a blind eye to the processes of gentrification happening in Palestinian areas in Jaffa, to the crises in South Tel Aviv with the asylum seekers and foreign workers, all in the name of living five minute walk from a yoga studio. Occupation doesn’t stop just because you choose to ignore it. The luxury of being able to turn on or off oppression is a privilege, yet one that I am grappling with how to handle it.

Elia Suleiman's The Time That Remains: Chronicle of a Present Absentee (2009)

There’s an addictive quality to conflict: the high adrenaline of constant events, political tension, and stress. I’ve begun to replace it by watching all the documentaries and movies about Israel and Palestine that before I couldn’t even glance at for fear of overdose. I spent a good few days re-watching and analyzing the incredible film The Time that Remains, directed by Elia Suleiman, for a paper. Think Wes Anderson whimsy, absurdism, quick dialogue and fantastical attention to details mixed with the history of the 1948 war and the psychological effects on a Palestinian family in Nazareth.

And I also spent a night watching The Gatekeepers, a chilling documentary that features interviews with six heads of the Shin Bet (or the Israeli intelligence agency) as they recount the Israeli policies since 1967. Powerful and moving to hear a retired intelligence man say that the current policies of occupation are untenable and corrupt everyone, or to hear that the future is dark unless Israeli politicians begin talking with anyone from the other side. Both films are highly recommended.

 What's incredible is how in so many places, whether it's Jerusalem or Tel Aviv or Ramallah or New York City or Paris or Denver or Ferguson, reality and perceptions can change so quickly based on location. It's easy to get caught up in a world that is all consuming and difficult to extract oneself far enough away to gain perspective of conflict and oppression in the face of lived realities.  I don't know if by living in Jaffa I have gained distance and perspective, or if living on the southern border of Tel Aviv, I'm just living in a world that pretends that these other realities don't exist. 

Neither Jerusalem nor Jaffa is perfect, the question now is, where is the best place to gain a vantage point in order to understand the nuances?

Several events are coming up in the next few weeks. On September 29, there is a learning tour in Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem that has been the site of many home demolitions and evictions. Then on October 1, Breaking the Silence is taking activists on a learning tour to the areas surrounding Ramallah. I’m also looking forward to the next few weeks as the Jewish high holidays end and my dear friends in All That’s Left: Anti-Occupation Collective return and we get booted up for plans for future actions. The least I can do is bring the coffee to our next meeting.