Today is the day to write. In the last few months I have been silent on the Internet as I settled into a new job, a new rhythm, and poured myself into a new art project. I woke up this morning with a fire in my mind and it has lit a million beacons alight.
As winter makes way for spring, the daily dose of violence here has become the new norm.
Last night, as I was in yoga class in Jaffa, we heard sirens. One siren, two sirens, three sirens, four. Cars whipped past the windows of the studio and the teacher told us to breathe in and out. Phones began ringing frantically, and having lived in Israel long enough, I recognize the signs of something serious having happened.
There was an attack in Jaffa. A Palestinian man from Qalqilya with Hamas affiliations stabbed 12 people, beginning at the Jaffa Port and then running north towards Tel Aviv. They "apprehended" (read: "shot," "neutralized," "killed") him. As I walked home, I saw that all the surrounding roads had been closed off. And as I read the news, I pieced together that it had been right there, one block from the yoga studio.
I ran straight to yoga yesterday upon returning to Tel Aviv from work in Jerusalem. I literally ran from bus to bus to catch the one that would bring me to this space where for one hour I could find quiet and turn off my brain.
Because all day there had been sirens.
I had purposefully gone to yoga because I was trying to decompress from the imaginings of bloodstained stones near Damascus Gate from the morning when a 50-year-old woman was shot and killed before being apprehended because she attempted to stab Border-Police. The constant sirens rushing towards the Old City framed our morning meetings and were still echoing in my mind as I stood up to give a presentation.
I went to yoga because I was looking to find a way to turn it off and breathe for a moment instead of thinking about how that death could lead a young man (rumors say that it is her son) to responding similarly and going back to Damascus Gate and shooting two policeman in the afternoon. He was also killed.
At the same moment, there was an attempted attack in Petah Tikvah as well. The assailant was killed.
This morning, there have already been two attacks in Jerusalem and one attack in another city. Sitting on my balcony, I hear more sirens. The cracks are showing.
Israel is responding to the recent surge in attacks by closing down the villages in the West Bank where the attackers came from and by declaring that they will officially finish building the Separation Wall and by shutting down newspapers that are inciting stabbing attacks. All this is dramatized and politicized further by the fact that U.S. VP Joe Biden is currently in town.
It definitely feels as though suddenly violence is on my doorstep in Jaffa—but none of this is new. Since October this year, over 200 people have died (at least 188 Palestinians have been shot dead by Israelis. Many were accused of committing attacks, or attempted attacks, which have left at least 28 Israelis dead). This is all framed in the recent domestic political context whereby Arab Members of Knesset have been isolated in the Knesset for visiting the grieving families of Palestinian attackers, where more settlements have been built, and human rights organizations are being ostracized and penalized.
For me, intermingled with last night is all interconnected with having spent a week in the West Bank. I spent last week co-leading an Extend Tour of American Reform Rabbis (I was a participant last year, you can read my observations from that trip here). Every seven years, the Rabbis have a conference in Israel, and several of them decided to “extend” their stay and come with us. We spent 3 days driving on curving roads framed by white and pink blooming almond trees seeing the realities of occupation. We met with Palestinian activists, Israeli activists, Palestinian and Israeli intellectuals and writers, and a settler from the YESHA Council. We explored Hebron with Breaking the Silence—where we were accosted by settlers who screamed and yelled and threatened us. We entered Ofer Military Court with Salwa and Gerard of Military Court Watch and sat in court as a 13-year-old boy was brought to trial. We saw again and again how this occupation is not only an occupation of land, but it is an occupation of the mind.
Upon returning to Tel Aviv, as always, I felt nauseous. The whiplash of going “there and back again” was disorienting. I can’t get the image of martyr posters of the 22 year old student from Qalandiya Refugee camp out of my mind. Or the selfie sent to me by a Palestinian resident of Bil'in with tears pouring down his face after this Friday's protest was met with tear gas. Violence is a daily affair in the West Bank. It only becomes newsworthy when it hits close to home in the center of the country, or when an American is killed.
This is all to say welcome to the Unholy Land. I’ll be unleashing my new photography project in the next few weeks. Subscribe to the newsletter, or follow me on instagram, to be among the first to see it when it is unveiled.