HER STORY #49 - anonymous
I live in Tel Aviv, but a year ago I was still a Jerusalemite. I was born in Jerusalem. I am doing a PhD in Social Sciences at Hebrew University [in Jerusalem].
I was born in Jerusalem District, and then I moved around a lot [within Jerusalem]. I also lived in the city as an adult.
I really like Jerusalem, and I feel like an immigrant here [in Tel Aviv], even after having lived here for six months.
I moved [to Tel Aviv], as I was starting to think about children, and my roommate in Jerusalem, who had moved back to Tel Aviv, suggested that I come to Tel Aviv and live with him, and he would help me have children. This is his home. That’s how I moved to Tel Aviv.
I hope that I will get used to living here, but I think it’s a city that’s not very agreeable, although I like the neighborhood that I live in, but I don’t know exactly why.
First of all, I feel like it [Tel Aviv] is not a nice city. It’s aggressive under the surface; whereas the aggressiveness in Jerusalem is above the surface, and it’s easier to understand what is happening. It feels a lot more like home. I can read people there, and everything makes more sense to me than here.
Last week someone asked me about the neighborhood [that interviewee lives in], and I said that there are three populations here: the elderly, the refugees, and the young people in Shapira, and the confrontations between these three groups are not always pleasant. I read a lot about it on Facebook, but I still really like the neighborhood.
Every time I have to go to the northern part of Tel Aviv [less mixed], it bothers me. Perhaps it’s a Jerusalem thing, where there are so many populations and so many conflicts.
There is something about the bubble in Tel Aviv, where everything is okay, but it’s really not okay. I see a lot of violence. People aren’t nice. I know I can say that it exists on the road while driving. People don’t see anyone else on the road. People don’t mind that they bother others. If someone wants to move in to my lane, he will just do it, not because he is in a hurry, but just because he doesn’t care about me.
I feel that there is a difference, but maybe it’s also happening in Jerusalem, and I just don’t mind it happening there because it’s my home. It’s your family, so you’re used to it. I feel that I can read the situation in Jerusalem much better. Everything makes sense to me.
Concretely I just really hope that I will have children soon, but on the other hand, the idea of raising Tel Avivian children is difficult for me, because I know all the traits of the schools in Jerusalem, and I know what the meaning of sending them to specific schools is. It’s very clear and visible to me, whereas I know nothing about the education system here [in Tel Aviv]. It’s like being in a foreign country and not knowing what will happen with the children in the school you send them to.
The reason why I’m still here now is because I went through the process of entering into a partnership with another man. I will have a child with him, and I committed to staying here in Tel Aviv for a long time, unless he changes his mind of course. It’s a compromise for me, but it’s more difficult for him to move to Jerusalem than me coming here.
I think that my experience in terms of this [left-wing] collective identity is that it’s a privileged one. I live in Israel; I am Ashkenazi, Jewish. I come from a relatively high socio-economic standing. I am from an academic family, and I was born here. Except from being a woman and a lesbian, attributes that make me a minority, I am still in a strong position.
My first degree was in Communications, and that was also during the time that I came out of the closet and I was introduced to a community that wasn’t part of the hegemony. I think that the meetings between the privileged societies and the non-privileged societies interested me personally, and that’s how I started to think about these things.
For many years I was deeply involved with activism within the LGBT community. I’m still very involved with an educational organization that works within the LGBT community and also the Jerusalem Open House, where I used to be the director. I would use my time and skills, but at the end of the day I feel like I’m getting more than I am giving. I’m getting the credit, in my CV etc., and I get a scholarship for being involved. I feel a little bit exhausted by it. It’s all very complex.
I used to take part in demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah [Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem], and at one demonstration they asked that couples with two men and two women would not show affection for each other, as in holding hands or kissing, during the demonstration. Personally I’m okay with this. Although I come to someone’s neighborhood and wish to show solidarity, it’s still difficult.
Someone came to the demonstration and brought the bisexual flag, and someone asked her to remove it. It turned into a physical confrontation, and then she came to us [representatives of the LGBT community at the demonstration] and asked, why we hadn’t protected her. It’s very complex, because on one hand she has her identity, and she is not , but we came to show solidarity with a much weaker population.
I’ve been asked by many people if it’s difficult to be a lesbian in Israel, and my reaction to this is that a lot of other things are much more difficult. For example, it’s much more difficult to be Black or Palestinian, and to be a refugee especially.
Confrontations between minorities happen a lot. Minorities are being put up against each other. That’s what happens here. Refugees are brought here to the neighborhood [Shapira], where the elderly population lives, and then young, Ashkenazi, educated people ask them to stop being racist. It’s very complex and very exhausting, and I don’t feel that my situation allows me to do a lot, because it just becomes even more complex.
In Sheikh Jarrah there have been cases of sexual harassment during the demonstrations, and the questions arise of whether or not to go to the police.
When I was 21 years old, I got out of the army. I babysat a baby boy and would walk around with him in a stroller. Once, a man approached me and groped my breast. I screamed, and then he left, and then he came back, and I screamed again. Then he left again. I was very shocked, as it had happened when I was with the stroller making me unable to do much.
My mother made me go to the police. She said that perhaps the next time he could attack someone more severely. So I went to the police, and in contradiction to the stories of how it’s always difficult to go to the police in such cases, they were very nice. They were hysterical in terms of how I had been with a baby, and how horrible he was, and they were all really shocked by what had happened.
It wasn’t a traumatic experience for me, although of course it wasn’t nice to be touched against your will, but it wasn’t the end of the world.
He was an [Arab] worker at a construction site in the area, and I didn’t think anything would happen [to him]. But a couple of days after it had happened, they [police] asked me to come and identify him. They had sent a detective, a woman detective, who ended up being attacked by him more violently than what had happened with me. They had sent her to the same street, and he attacked her there, grabbed her, etc. There were other detectives hiding in the area, who then caught him.
On one hand, he did something that wasn’t okay, but on the other hand, he got four years in prison. There are army officers that have sexually assaulted their soldiers, who don’t go to prison. He [interviewee’s attacker] went to prison because of me. He was not okay. He attacked me, but on the other hand, if I wasn’t Jewish, and he wasn’t Arab, it wouldn’t be like this. If he had been my army officer, and he had raped me, he wouldn’t have gotten four years, and I would have been treated awfully, so it’s all very complicated.
I was harassed as a woman, and he went to prison as an Arab.
My [political] interest has more to do with connections between struggles and moral accountability.
When will the killing of someone be considered murder? Once, when you killed a slave, it would have been considered damage to the slave’s owner. It wasn’t murder, because the slave wasn’t a human being. Today you wouldn’t say that about a human being, but if you look at what happened in Hebron, where an Israeli soldier [Elor Azaria] killed a Palestinian, then you see that the same thing happened there. If the terrorist had been Jewish, it would of course have been murder.
Then we are talking about the murders of soldiers, the murders of cows (these “crazy vegans”), and we compare them. Where do we draw the line? And if I place the line next to me, and I only fight for being a Jew in the world, or being a lesbian in the world, it’s the same thing.
The same thing happens in the LGBT community by those who aren’t radical (as in being “politically radical”), and it makes sense in a way, because everyone is fighting on the “food chain,” and they will throw anyone else away to remain there.
It shocks me, but then again, you have people like Haim Ramon [former Israeli Minister of Justice] who kissed someone against her will. He is politically left-wing, but here he uses his privilege as a man. And in the LGBT community [in Israel] they use their privilege of being Jewish.
And you have a lot of left-wing people, who serve in the [IDF] Intelligence Unit 8200, and they will seek out Palestinian homosexuals and will threaten them. A long time ago my Palestinian friends told me that Palestinian homosexuals are automatically suspected for cooperating with the Israeli army, as they are afraid of coming out of the closet. The army will threaten to disclose this to their communities if they don’t cooperate, and then they get them to work for them.
This place is a racist place, and Arabs are not human beings. Women are also less human than this, and Arab women are even less.
In a better world it would be the biggest dissonance, but in this world there is so much dissonance.
I am not 100% vegan. I eat vegan at home but not outside, but I know it’s against my values when I don’t eat like this. Most of the world around me is vegan, left-wing and not Zionist, but when I go out of this circle and go to work or to my family, the norm is Zionism and also not veganism.
Couldn’t Hear It
Two years ago during the massacre in Gaza [Gaza War, 2014], I couldn’t speak to my friends about it. Most of them are Zionist left, and in general I think that very few people during that summer were preoccupied with what was happening there.
I think that people were focusing on this narrative of: “They shoot missiles on us. They hide in schools, there are tunnels etc. So what can we do?” Even my good friends, family, and many of those that I know from the LGBT community, who were all left-wing, vegan, feminists, etc. but still thought like this.
I think that there were people around me who weren’t capable of hearing me talk about it – even some of my close friends disconnected from me. They couldn’t hear me talk about it.
One of my friend’s husband was in the army reserves at the time, and I didn’t say that he specifically was a murderer. He also wasn’t a combat soldier, but I did say that what we were doing there [in Gaza] was a massacre. But my friend couldn’t hear it, and a lot of other people also couldn’t hear it.
But as I also became more left-wing [during the war], I also wasn’t able to speak with people, especially when they would say things such as, “It was such an unnecessary war. Around 33 people were killed because of it.” I would look at them, and even though I loved them, I couldn’t believe that they could say something like this. I didn’t know how to answer it.
Some of my closest friends and I would turn off the TV [during that period]. We couldn’t be connected with the world, as we kept hearing the number increase of dead people in Gaza.
It’s difficult, because in a strange way I do have a big love for this place and to the people here. It’s my family. The Israelis here are my extended family.
I also grew up in a very Zionist, left-wing family. They were very involved with Peace Now [non-governmental organization, formed in 1978] in the 80s. It was part of our family ethos. Wanting to divide the land up for two countries as part of the solution and to stop the occupation was a way to care about this place, but there was no focus on how racist Zionism is, and how the focus on Judaism is racist.
They all had to go to the army. There was no question about this. It was a moral thing to do. My father and brother were combat soldiers.
I have thought about leaving, but I’m mostly scared of it, as I wouldn’t feel at home. Once I thought about doing a doctorate, for five years, abroad, perhaps in the U.S. But one of the things that scared me most was if I stayed there for much more than five years.
If 15 years ago, someone would have told me what would be happening here now, I would have said, “Okay, well it’s time for me to give up on this place. I can’t live here anymore.” Since then it has become worse and worse, and I know that it doesn’t make sense that I’m still here, but I really have the fear of leaving and not coming back.
I can’t ignore what happens here, and it’s not okay, but I manage to live here daily in some way.
To move to another country, when it’s already difficult for me to move to Tel Aviv is difficult. I wouldn’t be surrounded by childhood memories, my language, culture, etc.
One of my uncles left a couple of decades ago. He was a pilot. He didn’t want to pay taxes to a country like this. He said, “This country made me a war criminal at the age of 18, as a pilot.”
When he heard that I was going into a partnership with someone to become parents, and that I would have to stay here, he thought it was completely crazy.
But I don’t think I’d be able to leave. It’s really home – also because my friends and family are here. I feel like the foreignness abroad would be a big crisis for me. When I thought of studying abroad, I felt like there would be no home for me anywhere anymore. That’s how I felt. I don’t know if that is really how it would be, but it’s difficult feeling at home somewhere.
I don’t understand people who immigrate here. Someone I work with came from England. His wife is Israeli, but I still can’t understand why he decided to come here. I’ve asked him.
Perhaps if I could take 500 people with me to another place, then perhaps I could leave. For example, the thought of immigrating to another place without bringing my best friend can’t happen. It’s not possible for me. It’s the network of people, the culture, the songs in the radio, the language that is spoken, the larger collective, listening to the things that people say and knowing what they mean according to the tone. It’s home. When you’re abroad you don’t know how to read people in the same way.
I used to be much more positive in terms of this place. I had fewer difficulties with things here because I didn’t see the racism that much. But the more my political awareness grew, the more I saw. Once it felt much clearer to me why I was here. Now there is less meaning for me to stay here, but leaving is just not an option.
I think when I left the hegemony’s center was what made me open my eyes a little. I was 24 at the time.
I went to study something very different, and I changed my circle of friends, and suddenly I was on this other path, which enabled me to see more things.
I also took a year off, where I volunteered with B’Tselem [independent non-profit organization whose stated goals are to document human rights violations in the occupied territories, combat denial, and help create a human rights culture in Israel.]. They had a Jeep project, where they would go to checkpoints and film. I did their course and went there twice. It was horrible.
Once we came to a checkpoint, and there was a very elderly Palestinian man from B’Tselem —a very fascinating, educated man. During the entire drive to the checkpoint he would tell me about all the things that he was doing.
When we came to the checkpoint, we walked towards it, and suddenly I saw that he wasn’t next to me. I looked back, and I saw that a soldier stopped him. The two of us had blue IDs [casing for the identity cards of Israeli citizens and permanent residents is blue], but the soldier told him [Palestinian man] that it was a closed military area. We could continue, but he [Palestinian man] couldn’t.
It was obvious for me that this 18-year-old boy didn’t understand the racism in this, since the two of us were citizens of the same country. I felt so powerless. I didn’t speak any Arabic, and he [Palestinian man] had to stay behind, while I could continue walking.
The second time we went [to a checkpoint], we filmed, but there was a huge line, and we had to wait a long time. Some Palestinians at the checkpoint thanked us for the work that we were doing, but they had to bring bread home, and apparently the moment that we [from B’Tselem] had come, the soldiers slowed down the pace as a collective punishment for what we were doing. So they [the Palestinians] asked us, if we could leave. People had to go to work.
This experience made me exhausted, as it opened my eyes to the level of violence, cruelty, and racism that there is in this area.
At the same time, this was the period that I came out of the closet, and I got to know people from the LGBT community. I began meeting people with more radical views, and I began seeing the connection between struggles. It was also the first time that I heard non-Zionist conversations. All of this came around the same time – when I was around 24-25 years old. I began to learn about other things.
I think that I also learned a lot about myself – my own racism – and accepting certain things. I learned about my own morals in terms of when the killing of someone would be considered murder and when it wouldn’t.
At first it was difficult to understand these things about myself, but it was also a form of liberation. Perhaps, if I’d had to fight against racism against me and fight for bread, then perhaps I wouldn’t have gotten politically involved. This happened from a privileged place as well.
Doesn’t Really Help
I think it’s exhausting [to be politically active], mainly because it’s a combination of horrible things happening at the same time, and I don’t manage to do anything. It doesn’t really help. It doesn’t really do anything, and I feel like it’s only becoming worse. We are becoming darker and less sensitive to what is happening. It’s exhausting.
We have demonstrated so much in Sheikh Jarrah [neighborhood in East Jerusalem], and then they [settlers] built a settlement in Silwan [predominantly Palestinian neighborhood on the outskirts of the Old City of Jerusalem].
If I’d feel and see that there was an impact, it would be different, but I don’t see what my actions can do. Sometimes I think that now we have reached a state where so many horrible things are happening, so now it is about to explode and now we can push the situation over the edge, as the Marxists say. Now the countries in the world will put more international pressure [on Israel]. That is what I thought would happen in 2014. I thought that the world wouldn’t allow for the killing of 2000 people to happen.
I’m not active in BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement]. In the last couple of years, I have felt that it is a non-violent struggle that didn’t help. I see a lot of similar traits in the work that they do though to the anti-apartheid work that was done [vis-à-vis South Africa].
I realized this a couple of years ago, seven years ago or less, when I was taking a course with Louise Bethlehem, who is a South African researcher on apartheid. She made us watch a movie called “Cry Freedom” about the anti-apartheid activist, Steven Biko. The movie is about him and other activists, and you see how the racism during the time of the apartheid was.
I think this was one of the points that changed a lot for me. I couldn’t continue the course because it was very difficult for me. Everything in the course was crude, and she [Louise Bethlehem] said things very harshly. At the same time, I saw the movie and I began understanding what was happening here. I said that I’d come back and finish the course, but I never did.
I support BDS, if it really can change the situation. I saw some of the ways in which it worked. For example, once I wanted to get insurance for snorkeling in Costa Rica. When I called the insurance company, they said that they wouldn’t take any Israelis, and the person who told me this was even Israeli. When I tried to choose the country for the insurance, there was no Israel but there was Palestine. Then I wrote them that I had chosen Palestine, but that my passport was Israeli, and I asked them if it was okay for them. Noa, the [Israeli] girl who spoke to me said that they don’t work with Israelis. I found another insurance company [that would accept Israelis], but I have to say that it gave me a feeling that something works, as in “Wow, someone is boycotting me.”
Also, a couple of years ago I attended a conference abroad. When people asked me, where I was from and I said Israel, I immediately felt a cold shoulder. At the same time, my presentation there was about what was happening in Israel, and when I gave it, and when I began speaking to people more, I felt a change in atmosphere. At the end of the conference people told me, “Now we realize that not all Israelis are so bad.” They even laughed about it. It was funny, because I did hasbara [refers to public relations efforts to disseminate abroad positive information about the State of Israel and its actions.] for Israel for not being “such a bad Israeli.” They realized that there are also people who struggle on the inside.
But it’s still a small change. I don’t see it happening really. I feel that the Jews in the U.S. are strengthening the [Israeli] government, that they maintain the Zionist interests, and that the U.S. government also has a problem in terms of what to do with Israel. There is a small effect caused by the BDS [movement], but it doesn’t reach a significant impact level.
Crazy Luck – Dissymmetry
I think that the occupation contributes to the increased hate towards foreigners and in how Mizrachim [Middle Eastern Jews] have to distance themselves from their Arab identity. It affects them much more than me. It affects me in super privileged ways, rather than how it affects the Palestinians and most of the weakened populations in Israel.
Ten years ago I went to the Memorial Day ceremony held by Combatants for Peace [non-governmental organization] for bereaved families, where they [Israeli Jews and Palestinians] would hold the ceremony together. I have a lot of respect for it, and I think that maybe it’s the farthest that they [Israeli society] can go. In Israel they are even considered extremists. But whenever there is some form of dissymmetry of two sides, I always feel that I am the conqueror, and the Palestinians the conquered.
I gain and lose from the occupation, especially economically. There is abuse of the [Palestinians’] resources, which I benefit from, but at the same time my taxes also go to settlements. I’m still the conqueror, however, and the Palestinians are the conquered.
A year ago, someone was murdered at an LGBT demonstration, and a couple of days later, a 13-year-old Palestinian child, Muhammad Abu-Khdir, was killed. He had tried to stab a Jewish child and was then killed in Giv’at Ze’ev or something like that. Those were horrible days, and I was shocked.
I was studying at the time, and I talked to my Palestinian friend about it. She lived next to the university, and I picked her up because she was scared of walking alone, although she lived five minutes from the university. We talked about it in the car, and in those five minutes I began to cry at some point, and she comforted me. I told myself, “What kind of situation is this? I come with my car, because she is scared, and I cry about the Palestinian boy, who is killed, and she comforts me?” And I look at those kinds of situations and realize that I have this luck, this crazy luck of being born on this side of the occupation. I could have been born on the other side.
Yes, the situation here affects me as a woman, but at the end of the day it’s a small effect in comparison to what my Palestinian friends go through. They live very differently, even those with Israeli IDs.
It has been 15 years since the Palestinian man [who sexually harassed interviewer] got into prison, and there is this feeling of guilt that follows me, although I am the one, who was attacked.
I guess the occupation affects me in how I feel bad about this, and it also affects me in how I was protected [by the police], because if I had been a Palestinian, I wouldn’t have been protected like this.
Not An Option / Gender
I didn’t serve as a combat soldier during my army service, because there weren’t many combat options for me [as a woman]. I served in a place where we would train, as if we were in a war, with lasers. We had these Jeeps that were covered in something to look like tanks, and we shot with lasers allowing us to see, if we had hit or not.
I was first a Jeep-driver and then a commander of others in my group. We would spend four days in a row on the field and then go back to the base. I served for one year and eight months.
At that time, I didn’t really think too much about it. It was obvious to me, and it wasn’t an option to not go to the army. The question was rather what I would do in the army, and I had three options. I could either be a musician with honors, but this had more to do with playing an instrument than serving in the army. I could also work in the intelligence, or be a medic. But I chose this thing [Jeeps on the field], which was like a game. I did go through all sorts of selection tests first, but at least it was still half my choice.
It was also a gender thing. I had a boyfriend at the time. I was straight, and I think that I didn’t feel comfortable in this thing [being heterosexual], so I wanted to be a Jeep driver, to wear this male uniform, and to shower on the field. I really think I enjoyed being there. I also didn’t have to wear makeup or high heels, and it was attractive to me. It was a very good experience.
I’m not happy about it, and today I would have been a “refuser” [refusing to serve in the Israeli army], but I don’t think we [Israelis] have other options. At the time I didn’t have another model available to me. I did have my uncle, but I didn’t really listen to him. I think that I was in a weaker place than I am today.
I was a lesbian in the closet, a girl that fought a lot socially, and I didn’t want to be different than the mainstream. I was struggling with being okay, and this was part of it really.
Today I try to influence my niece and nephews, at least to convince them to do national service [instead of the army service] and to tell them that it [army service] is not necessary.
I think there is a small chance of convincing them [interviewee’s niece and nephew] not to go to the army. It’s not simple here. I’m in awe of the children who don’t go to the army. I think they are very strong children.
I think I’d be much less politically active if I didn’t live here, because I’d be less exposed to violence.
I remember being in Australia, and I saw the people there and they looked less worried. It was almost boring, because everything was okay. I can’t imagine something else [than what happens in Israel].
When I was in Australia, it looked weird. I saw how the people around me had nothing to work on [were more carefree and had fewer social injustices surrounding them], but if I grew up there, maybe I wouldn’t miss it [Israel], and maybe I’d be different. I’d probably go around thinking that the world was a much better place.