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Resilient Tel Aviv Looks for Answers

Hillel Schenker
June 12, 2016

by Hillel Schenker

WEDNESDAY NIGHT, on a bus on my way back from having a rocking good time at the Brian Wilson Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” Tour show at the Ra’anana Amphitheater, I heard the news about the horrible murder of four innocent Israelis at the Sarona Market in Tel Aviv by two Palestinian terrorists from the village of Yata in the West Bank. Suddenly, there was a tremendous letdown from the good vibrations of the show to the harsh reality back home in Tel Aviv. I couldn’t help but thinking about the song Wilson didn’t sing, “Love and Mercy,” the theme song of the extraordinary biographical film with the same name.

“I was lying in my room
And the news came on TV
A lotta people out there hurtin’
And it really scares me.

“Love and mercy. That’s what you need tonight.”

I reflected about the terrible series of suicide bombings during the Second Intifada, and back to 1991 when Saddam Hussein fired Scud missiles at Tel Aviv, and those of us who didn’t leave the city for the duration placed black masking tape on the windows and donned gas masks when the sirens sounded.

The day after the murderous rampage at the Sarona Market, I met a young Argentinian at Cafe Bialik who was just finishing a five-month internship with a Tel Aviv-based security firm and dreaming of entering the Argentinian foreign service, who had asked to interview me about my view of Israeli and Palestinian needs. “I was just at the Sarona Market having coffee on Wednesday afternoon!” Marcos exclaimed, as we looked around us at the fact that life goes on, flows on in Tel Aviv.

Lunchtime at one of the Sarona Market cafes (Photo: Times of Israel)

Palestinians and Israelis Rejoice at Tel Aviv’s Misfortune

According to Amira Hess in Haaretz, who spends most of her week in Ramallah, there were Palestinians in the West Bank suffering from all of the restrictions of the occupation who “feel some satisfaction with the disruption of Tel Aviv normalcy, just an hour’s drive from the zones of personal and national despair and poverty in Gaza and the West Bank.”

Meanwhile, Ben Caspit (who grew up in a rightwing home and has seen the light) wrote in Maariv that the rightwing Israeli social media was filled with celebration and laughter, with posts that competed with each other with disgusting bad taste -- vile posts about “the hated, Arab-loving Leftist Tel Aviv.” Some examples: “The main thing is that it was Tel Aviv. What joy!” “They deserve it, those leftist maniacs. They should all die. Amen.”

BUT TEL AVIV doesn’t give in. On Friday, the free open-air Jazz on the Boulevard show on Ben-Gurion Boulevard corner of Dizengoff Street near the sea went on as scheduled, guided by Dr. Shlomi Goldenberg. “We’re here to celebrate life!” he exclaimed. The show must go on. And so it did. No super patriotic songs. No “Kol Haolam Negdeinu” (The Whole World is Against Us, a popular Israeli song from the late 60s). Just great jazz, blues and soul, with a duo called Rega (Moment) singing wonderful versions of Aretha Franklin’s “Say A Little Prayer” and asking the crowd to join them with “You’ve Got a Friend,” and an incredible performance of Afro-Pop by a very talented group of students from the Rimon School of Music. They sang Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” --

“People keep on learning
Soldiers keep on warring
World keep on turning
Because it won’t be too long

“Powers keep on lying
While your people keep on dying
World keep on turning

“Gonna keep on trying
‘Till I reach the higher ground.”

They also sang songs by Sly and the Family Stone (yes, Woodstock was in the air), with the leader/arranger/teacher Doron Raphaeli saying, “You may not know this one, but just dance, or at least smile” -- and there was a virtuoso “Oh Sinner Man” and Fontella Bass’ “Hold on This Time.”

Particularly relevant was a performance of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” by the only male singer in the group:

“I’m starting with the man In the mirror,
I’m asking him to change his ways,
And no message could have been any clearer,
If you want to make the world a better place,
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.”

That’s what Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai asked the Israeli leaders to do. In an interview on Galei Tzahal (Army Radio), he said: “We are probably the only country in which another people is living under occupation without civil rights. You can’t hold people in a situation of occupation and hope they’ll reach the conclusion everything is all right. I know the reality and I know that courageous leaders need to aspire to take action and not just pay lip service. The fact that we are tolerating this misery will not lead to the change that needs to be made.”

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai outside the Sarona Market (Photo: Times of Israel)

And the father of Ido Ben-Ari, one of the victims murdered at the Sarona Market, said at his funeral: “The leaders we elect at democratic elections are supposed to find a strategic solution, which demands far-reaching vision, concessions, a creative solution, and not mantras and laundered words.

“Last night, after the attack, the prime minister and two of his ministers arrived and yet another security cabinet issued decrees — not to return corpses, to put up barriers, to destroy houses, and to make lives harder. These solutions create suffering, hatred, despair and [lead] to more people joining the circle of terror,” he said. “What’s needed is a solution rather than saying all the time that there’s nobody to make peace with. We chose you to stop the cycle of blood, already forty-nine years you’ve been trying to solve things tactically and you haven’t succeeded. The time has come for a strategic solution.”

Dr. Shlomi Goldenberg, who organized the jazz program, is also a lecturer at Ben-Gurion Universtiy in Be’ersheva. One of the four murdered victims on Wednesday evening was Prof. Michael Feige, who was head of Ben-Gurion University’s Israel Studies program. In 2010 he won the annual Shapira Prize of the Association for Israel Studies for the best book published in Israel Studies: “Settling in the Hearts; Jewish Fundamentalism in the Occupied Territories.” His random murder was a terrible loss to his family, to academia, and to the study of the challenges facing Israeli society.

THE TWO BROTHERS who committed the atrocity came from the West Bank town of Yatta near Hebron. According to research by Israel’s second president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, the residents of Yatta are assumed to have been originally Jews who converted to Islam. One wonders if this isn’t also a case of trying to be “holier than the pope” to demonstrate their Palestinian identity -- though the fact that their uncle is a Hamas member being held in an Israeli prison is also a factor. Hamas celebrated the “Ramadan attack,” while the Palestinian Authority officially condemned it.

Just as there was no justification for any Israeli celebration of the shooting by the IDF soldier of the neutralized Palestinian assailant in Hebron on March 24th, I see absolutely no justification for any expressions of Palestinian joy at the “success” of the murderous attack in the Sarona Market that have been reported in the press. Both Israeli and Palestinian societies are in danger of being ground down into mutual inhumanity.

We should listen to the Mayor of Tel Aviv, and to the father of murder victim Ido Ben-Ari. And to Michael Jackson.

Hillel Schenker is co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, and lives in Tel Aviv. This article is republished with his permission from his blog at the Times of Israel.