Feeling at home & the demolished Palestinian villages in Tel Aviv

Dinner on the roof

We made our way to our friends’ house. We had spent the afternoon at the beach because our friends were not able to receive us until dinner time. It was now approaching dinner time.

My wife was very excited. We were going to be staying with Eitan Bronstein, the founder of Zochrot. Their paths had crossed a few years ago and now they would be able to catch up. I only knew of Zochrot from searches on the internet and what various people had told me about their work. Ah, their work, to raise the awareness of the Nakba within the Jewish public including the destroyed villages and the displacement of Palestinians.

Eitan had said he would be able to take us to see destroyed Palestinian villages in Tel Aviv. This was something our last guided tour guide in Tel Aviv  had left out. During that visit we were taken on a walk through the neighbourhood around the bus terminal, down Neve Sha’anan Street and through Levinsky Park. It was a poorer neighbourhood where African migrant labour and asylum seekers lived. Then it was off to the Bialik House to learn about Hayyim Nahman Bialik, a Hebrew poet and early Zionist, pre-state of Israel. The visit to Bialik House was followed by a sit down behind a Shul with a gay activist-lawyer from within the Orthodox community. Most of the discussion centred around gay life and the acceptance, or lack of, within the religious community. We also learned about the finer points of a same sex couple adopting, in this case men, and Halacha. While this visit to Tel Aviv was interesting, it was heavy on the Jewishness of everything. It failed to mention, a failure repeated over and over during our stay in Israel, Palestine. Our visit with Eitan promised to change that.

Eitan and his wife lived in central Tel Aviv. We found their building and were buzzed in. We were greeted warmly; shown the guest room where we deposited our luggage before returning to the living room for coffee and conversation. It was refreshing to be with people who were not only willing to talk about Palestine, but fully understood that there was no contradiction in being Jewish and having a love for Palestine.

Our coffee chat turned into dinner on the roof. We sat around a makeshift dinning room and talked the night away while we ate and drank under the stars lighting up the sky above Tel Aviv.

We talked about many things including what we would do over the weekend. However, there were two things that I was very interested in learning about. I wanted to hear from an alternate Israeli voice as to what it was like to live in Tel Aviv during bombardment of Gaza. My wife and I had argued over the changes in Israel to public discourse while we sat in the safety of Canada. But neither of us, having not been in Israel during the war, could speak authoritatively, so I turned to our hosts.

The first thing I wanted to know was if it was true that it was dangerous to be on the street showing opposition to the attack on Gaza. Eitan and his wife responded that it was indeed dangerous. It became a standard practice to make sure people did not travel to or from the demonstrations alone. It simply was not safe. Both Arabs and “Lefties” became real targets of the nationalists. Jews who opposed the war were “Lefties”, regardless of their reasoning.

The second thing I was curious about was the actual reaction to the rocket fire coming out of Gaza. We had one friend who lived in Tel Aviv who had ended an online chat with “Sirens are going off, but must get to the pub to watch the soccer match. See you later.” We took this to mean that it was life as usual and that perhaps the State, by virtue of the sirens, was playing up the actual danger. Instilling in the population the fear that it needed to ensure patriotism. We thought that there might be some truth to this given the minimal damage that was being caused by the rocket fire.

 Eitan’s wife explained that the real fear was the nerve wracking regularity of the sirens.

“The truth was that you could never be sure if a rocket was on it’s way or not. You could never be sure if a rocket might actually land in the stairwell you were standing in. Being human, we all feel stress, we all feel and experience fear.”

I had never really given this much thought. We all feel fear. We can’t help feeling fear even if we know it is unfounded. Uncertainty can eat away at all of us. We are after all human.

The evening drew to an end. We disassembled our dinning room. Returning everything to its proper place before turning in for the night. We laid in bed whispering in excited anticipation about our next day’s plans that would take us to see demolished Palestinian villages in Tel Aviv.