By Coren Feldman
On Thursday my roommate and I attended the Jerusalem pride parade, marching from Independence Park to Liberty Bell Park. This was not the Tel Aviv pride parade. There were not a hundred thousand people marching, there wasn’t loud music blaring and people standing on balconies cooling you off with water, cheering. In Jerusalem the parade is a lot smaller and a lot quieter. Any music was being played at a reasonable volume. There was one drag queen on a makeshift float shaped like a big shoe being pushed by two friends.
We were reaching an intersection close to the ending point of the parade, where the festivities were going to take place, when everybody stopped moving.
We saw someone fall, heard screaming, and suddenly everyone was running in all directions.
My roommate held my arm and led me backwards as security rushed past us into the intersection.
Information was scarce for the next ten minutes while medics and police officers made their way through the crowd, but slowly it became clear that an ultra-Orthodox man had stabbed six people.
We went home, shaken by what we saw and how close we had been to that knife.
The next day I woke up to more devastating news – Israeli settlers had firebombed a Palestinian house and burned a baby to death.
These are not isolated incidents, and to regard them as such is doing a great disservice to the truth.
On Thursday the organization Lehava (stands for “the prevention of intermarriage in the holy land” in Hebrew) was protesting the parade. These are the same people who beat up Palestinian men who talk to Jewish girls. These are the same people who marched through the Arab quarter on Jerusalem Day chanting “Arab watch out, my sister is not trash” (roughly translated) and “Muhammad is dead”. These are the same people who set fire to a first grade class at a Jewish-Arab school.
Israelis like to think that Jewish extremism is practically nonexistent or mostly harmless. In reality, it runs rampant through the streets, it posts publicly on Facebook without shame, and it burns churches and mosques.
Last year after three Israeli teens were kidnapped and killed, a Palestinian boy, Muhammad Abu-Khdeir from Shuafat, was burned alive in the forest on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
That day I was in a cab on the way to work when the news came on the radio. The cab driver said, “It wasn’t Jews who did this. It can’t be.”
This line of thought isn’t unique to Jerusalem cab drivers. It’s very common among Jewish Israelis. While the second the boys went missing, everyone I knew immediately blamed Palestinian terrorism before any evidence was found, most of those same people were urging me to remain patient until we found out the whole story about the death of Muhammad Abu-Khdeir. Some people told me that this boy was gay and maybe he was killed by other Palestinians for that reason. They didn’t know him. They had no evidence for this. But in their minds, “It wasn’t Jews who did this. It can’t be.”
But it was and it still is. It was a group of Jewish teens who murdered Muhammad Abu-Khdeir in cold blood. It was an ultra-Orthodox man who stabbed six people on Thursday.
And this isn’t anything new. Looking back at my early teens I can see where the seeds of this hatred are planted. When learning history in a religious school, I don’t think I heard the term “Palestinian” once from my teachers. I’ve heard classmates say that Rabin’s murder could be considered halachically permitted if you took into account that the Oslo Accords endangered the lives of many Jews. Or that the Palestinians could be the descendants of Amalek, the nation that ambushed the Jewish people in the desert on their journey from Egypt, and whom God commanded be slaughtered – man, woman and child.
It’s not just one class or one school or one community. This is an example of rhetoric you could come across all over the country.
We’re far past the point of, “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat.”
It’s time we admit we are not morally superior. We can’t keep pretending these are isolated incidents and waive our part in them. We can’t bury our heads in the sand and act surprised when violence strikes again. As long as we allow this discourse, we are all partially to blame.
We have fringes in our society, just like in every other society. If we don’t take them seriously, they will grow and do more damage.
So the next time you’re about to share an article about ISIS with the quote, “Islam is a religion of peace”, do some major soul searching.
Coren Feldman, 22, is a product manager at an Israeli startup and a junior facilitator at Heartbeat, an Israeli-Palestinian program promoting dialogue and acceptance through music.