Living Normally in Israel in the Presence of Hate

With one dead and 35 injured after a blast in downtown Jerusalem, one gets to ask, “How can Israelis live a normal life when threats from Islamic extremists come from all directions?” For one, this is the first bombing that has occurred in seven years. Authorities see this as something isolated and encouraged their citizens to go on with their normal lives as this will be solved eventually.

In a video prepared by The Israel Project, an organization that is bent on promoting peace and security, Micky Rosenfeld, Spokesperson of Israel’s National Police, said that everything is under control. He said that the National Police force is approaching the bombing situation on two tiers, one, at the operational level, and two, at the investigative level.

However, the question remains the same, how can you lead a normal life when bombing threats abound and when the culprit is turned into a hero? Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, often celebrates suicide bombers, as shahid or martyrs, names public places and sporting tournaments after bombers and terrorists and offers compensation to their families. Palestinian children play games where one of them is a shahid.

“My impression is that Israelis are quite adept at compartmentalizing,” said Alan Elsner, Senior Communications Director of the The Israel Project that has offices in Washington DC, USA and Jerusalem, Israel. “In Israel, you don’t have a culture of violence. In fact, if you look at things like the numbers of deaths by using firearms, it’s incredibly low, much lower than here in the United States.

Elsner said that even though a large number of Israelis, mostly soldiers, carry weapons in public, it’s more likely to be killed in a traffic accident than in all the wars in Israel put together. This “compartmentalizing” behavior has brought stability in the way Israelis see conflict.

“Even at the time of the Second Intifada in 2001 to 2004, when you heard a lot about suicide bombings all over the country, people tried their best to continue with their lives,” Elsner said. “They continued going to restaurants, going on trips around the country, continued taking buses, continued having weddings. And this has been part of the 63 years of life of the State. When you think about it, the Israeli population got used to that. But I would not say that the Israeli people are traumatized by that in any way.”

The violence may not have affected Israelis’ normal way of life, but the threat of a culture of hate still looms over the horizon. When children, especially Palestinian children, are exposed to leaders glorifying terrorist acts, the impact becomes so severe that they carry this hatred as they grow older.

“We have been calling on Palestinians to stop what we call a culture of hate. Our organization has been asking the Palestinians to stop naming streets, squares, schools and other public facilities after suicide bombers as these generate more hatred,” Elsner said describing what his organization is advocating. “We have been asking them to stop giving out textbooks that leave Israel off the map, which depict Israel and Jews in anti-Semitic terms.”

The counter-culture to this hate is a life of long-term efforts to achieve peace. And this peace will not come from one side only. Both sides have to make sacrifices and they are never easy when hate is ensconced at a very early age.

“There are many co-existence programs in which Palestinian youths are brought to a youth camp together with Israelis of the same age,” Elsner said. “There is a program called the Seeds of Peace. It’s a very small program, which has been going on for several years.”

“We want peace through negotiation. We want peace with security for both sides. We want for everyone to be able to bring up their children safely and securely and to have all the opportunities there are in life – the economic opportunities, the educational opportunities. It’s hard to get there, but we should never lose sight of it and we will get there.” – Alan Elsner, Senior Communications Director, The Israel Project