Blood in Jerusalem: The Conflict in a Conversation

Celeste Marcus, University of Pennsylvania 

Hannah Bladon was on her way into Jerusalem to celebrate Easter when she was stabbed to death by Jamil Tamimi. Hannah attended Rothberg International School at Hebrew University, where I too am a student. I never met her. Those who loved her share a grief that I should not pretend to know.

Today a girl, German and Christian and also a student at the school, sat down beside me and told me what it was like to have lost a close friend and roommate to The Conflict[1]. The italicized words in this article are hers. In this piece I break down her experience, which is familiar to many who live here, and use it as a tool for understanding life inside “ha’sichsuch.”

The System is Programmed to Fill the Vacancy

“Do you know what they did? An administrator sent us an email that said they were going to fill the empty room in our suite now. Can you believe that? They want to put someone in her room”

 

She went on to say that the system just registers a vacancy and then moves to fill it. No one meant to be insensitive, they just didn’t think about it.

That is how the Israeli system, a society under threat, is programmed to operate. The empty slots are filled. Life must go on. I don’t mean to imply that routine obliterates pain, such that residents here are not shaken by personal tragedies. The opposite is the case. But survival means becoming inured to adversity, and learning to contain the sorrow.There are many hundreds of beds in this country that have been emptied because of The Conflict. Others must fill the beds. The system is programmed to do so, and there is a certain rough wisdom in it. Contained tragedy. Managed heartbreak. Tears and logistics.

No time to Philosophize

“It would have been easier if she weren’t sweet and funny – she was so funny….I think I’m going to drop my philosophy class. All that endless talk about ethics and justice. I don’t want to theorize about justice now – she’s dead. What more is there to say?”

 

I admit I have frequently been frustrated by what I consider an Israeli aversion to philosophy and abstraction. Often it seems that there is no time or interest in conversations about concepts of goodness or justice – this in a society that lives the question of their definition every day. But this is an incomplete perception of Israeli society. Anti-intellectualism, and an obsession with practicality and action, is not the whole story. There are thoughtful people and institutions on all points of the political spectrum dedicated to serious philosophical discourse relating to Israeli politics and society. But the important point is that they cannot be ivory towers. Sooner or later philosophy must descend into the troubles. It must have a concrete effect on behavior or perception. The same tensions that make some people indifferent to philosophy make other people appreciate its urgency.

Partner for Peace

“And did you know that the PLO is paying her murderer? Did you know they do that? I knew that before – that they did that – but now HER murderer is the one being paid.”

 

A few weeks after her death, it was reported that Hannah’s murderer is to be rewarded $870.00 a month as a reward for being “a hero who was resisting the occupation”[2]. This is standard practice for any terrorist imprisoned for having resisted the occupation. The salary is paid for by the PLO, which allows Mahmud Abbas, the president of the PA, to maintain that his government does not directly endorse terrorism.

You cannot negotiate with a leader who pays his people to murder yours. Many have given up hope of ever reaching a two-state solution because they claim Israel has no partner for peace. My friend’s roommate was murdered by a man who knew if he committed this crime he would be remunerated. This terror with a profit motive.

The Grimace

As we spoke, a girl in a hijab sat down next to us in the lobby. My friend shifted uncomfortably in her seat and grimaced. There it was: that grimace.

Hebrew University is an integrated campus, I mean between Jews and Arabs.There are few phenomena of conflict more notorious than Israeli-Palestinian hatred, and yet here we all are handing in homework to the same professors and sitting in parallel booths in the cafeteria. How does everyone go about business as usual?

The answer is that they don’t. I have spent the past semester watching knots of people form in hallways next to each other the same way they do in every college in every country, only these groups speak either Hebrew or Arabic. Within a framework of integration everybody practices self-segregation. Apparently, there are campuses in Israel in which the knots merge, but perhaps because we are closer to the West Bank in Jerusalem, the cliques at the Hebrew University remain startlingly homogenous. On this campus, that grimace is ubiquitous.

The university is a microcosm of the larger conflict in which Arab Israelis and Israeli Jews are thrown together and remain apart, interacting when they must and ignoring each other when they can. That grimace is the region’s grimace.

European Response to PLO

“And I knew before I came here that most Europeans are uneducated and just think the Israelis are evil. But I used to be able to control myself about it. Now I can’t. They don’t know anything. They defend the PLO! They LOVE the PLO.”

 

I asked her if her European friends know that the Palestinian people resent the PLO. She guffawed and told me, “I asked them if they know about the protests in Ramalah. I said ‘Do you know against whom they are protesting?’ and they say ‘Of course. The IDF.’ It’s not the IDF! It’s the PLO! They don’t even care about the Palestinians enough to educate themselves. It’s just trendy to hate the Israelis.” [3]

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History intrudes on human lives. The resulting mess is transformed into horror and politics. My friend is a Christian girl from Germany who happened to be in Israel because she is interested in Holocaust studies. Can you imagine a person less likely to lose a loved one to this particular nightmare?  The Conflict is not an abstraction. Those untouched by it must not turn Hannah into a statistic simply because her loved ones share a grief we cannot know. Justice is pondered and studied and debated so that it can be pursued and implemented. If people talk about the Conflict all the time, it is because the Conflict must be solved – because too many beds have been emptied and too many human beings have been met with too many grimaces.

[1] “The Conflict” is shorthand for the Israeli Palestinian Conflict. In a typical day in Israel it is mentioned several times. In Hebrew it is called “ha’sichsuch”.

[2]Sheldrick, Giles. “Foreign Aid OUTRAGE after Claims Taxpayer’s Cash ‘pays for Terror’.”Express.co.uk. Express.co.uk, 24 Apr. 2017. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.

[3] In mid March a series of protests broke out in Ramallah condemning  Palestinian police brutality. These protests were triggered by ferocious retaliation on behalf of the police to protests condemning President Abbas for cooperating with the Israeli government.