Is this the moment when everything changes?

  • Sifrin Geoff HOME
In every nation, certain events are identified by historians, looking back, as tipping points that defined its character and soul. Israel’s wars – the War of Independence, the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War – are markers that gave Israelis and Jews the feeling that they weren’t doomed to forever be “strangers” in other peoples’ countries. Crucial moments in the Jewish soul.
by GEOFF SIFRIN | May 03, 2018

It doesn’t have to be war in the conventional sense. It could reside under the surface of everyday reality, as it does on this 70th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel.

Anyone visiting Neve Tzedek – the artsy area in South Tel Aviv – last Friday night would have seen the incredible buzz of people, young and old, of all cultures and languages confidently enjoying themselves at cafes and strolling the streets. They might have been inspired by how far Israel has come and by the confidence of its citizens. Israeli flags hung on almost every street pole, from every window and on cars’ aerials. At the crowded shuk’s entrance, a man sang popular 1960s songs amidst the flags.

But if you went into a café and listened to conversations, you might hear talk of the “war” going on just across the border, in the West Bank and Gaza, beyond the privileged Tel Aviv “bubble”.

There is also talk of a new force in politics, not just to do with the shaky coalition Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is holding together amidst scandals. No, this is about a potent recent incident: the morality of Israeli soldiers shooting and killing unarmed protesters on March 30 at the Gaza border during protests there. This started a train of events Israel seems unable to stop.

That event may be what historians will identify as the point when even ardent believers in the justice of the Jews’ statehood could not excuse its actions. This could, in some respects, be when Israel lost something in its soul.

Such markers in a nation’s character don’t have to be bloody. In the United States, the Rosa Parks incident triggered a wave of protests that reverberated throughout that country. Parks was a black woman who refused to surrender her seat to a white male passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955.

The flurry that the incident generated became a symbol of the indignities black people were constantly subjected to, affecting the soul of the nation and its sense of morality. Parks is internationally recognised as the “mother of the modern-day civil rights movement” in America. Everyone knows the name Rosa Parks.

Other tipping points affecting inner, personal feelings in the US include the terrorist attacks of September 11 in 2001, which future historians might one day interpret as the beginning of the third world war.

For the new South Africa, the 2012 killings at Marikana will probably qualify as the tipping point for negative perceptions about the ANC, as the 1960 Sharpeville massacre was for the apartheid government.

Sometimes tipping points are contradictory. South Africa’s difficult situation today regarding rising racial tensions, inequality and poverty may suggest that the much-heralded 1994 democratic elections may not have been the dawn of a new, bright era. In fact, future historians may see it as the beginning of a new decline of South Africa into a corrupt, bankrupt country. What a tragedy, after the bitter struggle that was waged here.

Another glance at the buzz in Neve Tzedek reveals that behind the façade of joy and laughter lies the uncomfortable knowledge that something much more difficult and complex is playing out. How to recapture the moral high ground after incidents such as the shooting of unarmed civilians is no less of a struggle for Israel than winning a war.

  • Read Geoff Sifrin’s regular columns on his blog


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