It wasn’t exceptionally late, but still, the darkness felt like someone had slipped a heavy black bag over the face of the entire neighborhood. In this part of South Tel Aviv, streetlights tend to go out without warning. Roaming brownouts occasionally shutdown the stoplights at busy intersections and the lamps illuminating the crosswalks.
I was walking back to my apartment with a friend from a Hanukkah event we staffed at the local community center when I noticed, on the left side of the street hastily pasted onto a rusted grey utility box, a poster announcing a rally led by Michael Ben Ari. Ben Ari (a former member of the Knesset from the party Otzma l’Yisrael, internationally recognized supporter of terrorism, and resident of a West Bank settlement) fiendishly smiled down from the white background. The bold red letters in the foreground shouted “Banu Choshech Legaresh.” We’ve come to vanquish darkness – words taken from a Hanukkah song celebrating the holiday’s miracle of light. Except Ben Ari and racist colleagues Eldad and Marzel, weren’t referring to proverbial or metaphorical darkness. They were referring to the skin color of thousands of residents in the neighborhood. Up and down the surrounding streets, these posters stared threateningly at the refugees and migrant workers passing by.
My friend and I started to tear the poster down – one less sign of hatred directed at our friends and students. But the person who pasted it had done a good job. I tried to scrape the paper with my house-key. My hands were shaking. We were taking too much time.
“WHAT ARE DOING?! I GLUED THAT THERE!” We turned around. A large man with a closely shaved head approached from behind us. Several more muscled men followed suit.
“WHAT THE FUCK!? Are you part of the extreme left or something? Do you have a problem with my sign?” He screamed and gestured venomously.
Too frightened to inform him that since the poster had been glued onto public property it wasn’t really his, I stared back at him in silence.
“Get the fuck out of here!” He spat, and continued walking down the street. He, along with the others, rounded the corner and was out of view.
I turned to my friend. We both looked at the poster, across which we had only succeeded in scraping a few thin lines, and started to walk away.
They were waiting around the corner. The man and his companions were conversing with a shopkeeper. “That’s them,” he grunted, and gestured in our direction. “Those faggots, there.”
We continued walking.
“You didn’t finish tearing that down, did you?” He taunted. We felt him walking a few steps behind us. It may have just been fear, but I was sure we were being followed. I didn’t have the courage to check and turn back.
I wish this was an isolated incident, but it isn’t. Instead, it’s another of many instances of racist intimidation and violence that have become far too common here. In the past two weeks alone there have been two major instances of racist violence. Last week, in Yafo, a group of Jewish Israelis assaulted an Arab man. In Jerusalem, a group of Jewish Israelis attacked an Arab woman at a train station. The past year has seen an attempted lynching in Zion Square in Jerusalem, a race riot in a mall by Beitar Yerushalayim fans, and a wave of anti-African pogroms in South Tel Aviv, to name only three. It seems the Israeli public has contracted a disease, and it is quickly metastasizing.
For more than two-thirds of Israel’s existence conscripted young people have served in the occupying army, trained to view Arabs living there as the enemy. In the West Bank, the IDF refers to civilians as “uninvolved” – non-combatants, but only temporarily. They could become “involved” at any minute. The effects of this training for an unequal and oppressive reality do not remain only on one side of the Green Line. The relations of inequality and oppression and reproduced within Israel. Non-Jews are treated as outsiders and viewed as threats. Politicians call for the deportation of refugees and annexation of the West Bank. Bands of roaming Israeli youths prey on tired laborers and elderly women.
The source of this disease does not reside within the internationally recognized borders of the state of Israel. It resides outside of them, in the territory seized in 1967; the disease is the occupation, the cancerous apendage to Israel that, after forty-five years, can no longer be viewed as separate from the state itself. The marrow of racism and violence required to control, separate, and subjugate millions of people has fused to the bone of Israeli society.