December 19 – An Opportunity Not to Me Missed

Much has been written about the current situation, but one aspect has gone unnoticed: how useful the situation is for teachers, especially history teachers. These hardworking people, who strive to describe the past in an interesting and colorful way, to explain the complexity of events without flooding the students with superfluous details. Now, dear teachers, you are fortunate to have a golden opportunity for showing a critical historical process, while it is actually happening.

Often while teaching about horrifying events from the past, about especially low points in history - when all the humanity in human beings was lost, and things bordering on the unimaginable were perpetrated - the students asked you: But how did people let this happen? After all, they were human beings like you and me. How come no one got up and cried out? Is it really possible that everyone lost their sense of humanity?

And you take a deep breath, attempting to explain the difference between the wisdom of hindsight, where everything is clear and simple, and the vagueness when events are actually happening. To explain that in real time, everything is much more complicated and more difficult to understand: the manipulations, the fears, the desire not to know, the hiding behind closed doors, the forgetfulness.

But never again. You won’t need to dramatize and liven up examples from the remote past in faraway lands. Right now under your noses, there is an outstanding example that is very handy and known to everyone. Now you can say to your inquiring students: look around you, look at what is happening these very days, not in some distant and exotic land, but right here, in our own country, the Holy Land. From now on you can tell them how an enlightened and civilized culture deteriorated into one of the worst tyrannies, how millions of people had been turned into fair game, how an intelligent and moral army starved and punished an entire nation, including women and children, and how the good citizens just sat and watched in silence. Not because they were evil, simply because they were fed up, they had ‘no choice’, because “Barak had agreed to give them everything”, because “Great Britain and France wouldn’t act any differently in our place”, and “anyway we already have enough problems of our own”.

Don’t haste. Try and explain the process slowly, step by step. In the beginning tell how the enlightened people, over the course of a generation, got used to the reality of human beings who are not really human beings. People living only a few kilometers from here, but are different, people with no citizenship, lacking any rights.

Don’t be enticed into telling graphic horror stories, (the students are liable not to believe them) rather, concentrate on the banal, how an apartheid rule was established, how it was made into law and upheld by the courts. Tell how it became completely normal, a daily reality. How an impenetrable border between two worlds had been slowly created in our consciousness. A border between the enlightened, lawful country, monitored by its Supreme Court, and the other side, a lawless world where there are no rights. How the lives on the other side of this virtual border had lost all their value.

Continue by explaining how the enlightened people got used to going once a year, only for a few weeks, to maintain the Occupation. How they left their workplaces, their offices and their schools, equipped with a lot of pride, camaraderie, and purified morality, and with a gun in their hands went over “there.” How these good people stood at checkpoints, enforced curfews, carried out house-to-house searches and arrests. The good people learned how natural it is for human beings from “there”, to stand for hours every day, morning and night, at checkpoints, just to bring (maybe) some food home. And lo and behold, it is possible there to enter any house, to delay any person and humiliate them with impunity. Our own good people have seen how the people from “there” had lost their identity, and became a faceless mass. Don’t go into every terrible detail, have mercy upon the children, don’t pretend to summarize these horrifying 35 years in class sessions. Tell only in general, about a military Occupation that becomes a habit, about a habit that becomes a second nature.

Tell about the part when “they” began to revolt, and how the good guys “took care” of the revolt. Talk a little about Oslo and the great dreams, or perhaps jump directly to the assassination of a Prime Minister who attempted to bring true peace, and the bitter disappointment brought about by the one who pretended to follow in his footsteps. Then you can tell how the good people ousted that second chap because of a “lack of choice”, in favor of a man craving for war, and how this man managed with his wit and determination, to destroy any chance of an agreement, or even of a partial or temporary calm.

Talk about the terror attacks, about the fear that seized the streets, about the dread from going out to the malls, and how politicians and generals used the terror in order to perpetuate the situation and even deteriorate it. Tell how they waited for the next terrorist attack as a pretext to destroy another village. Tell how the good people had come to use the fear from terror as the ultimate excuse for all the vile deeds done in their name in the past, present and future.

Describe how politics gradually became a free-for-all, wild and reckless. How the endless string of curfews, targeted killings and incursions became the routine. How state terrorism evolved. How the reality in which hundreds of thousands of people are locked up in their homes for days, weeks and months, without the ability to see friends, visit doctors, earn a few cents, or even buy a piece of bread – how this reality had become completely normal, receiving a minor headline on the inside pages (“The Closure Continues”), and over time had ceased to be mentioned at all. Try and describe a state of no accountability whatsoever. Where it is possible to pass any decree, even the most lunatic one, completely unhindered. Tell how the good guys got used to uprooting orchards, shattering walls, destroying houses, shooting kids for violation of the curfew, and bombing streets full of people, without thinking twice, without thinking at all. Try to explain that we are not talking about a group of sadists, but about a bunch of great guys: lawyers, accountants, students (but please don’t tell the kids “your father, your big brother.”)

Don’t overlook the political and civilian context, it is necessary in order to allow the students to understand how this happened. Explain how the judicial system continued to validate everything, how all the crimes received sanction from the Supreme Court. Tell them how the few who tried to go against this flow, were harassed by the Attorney General for being dangerous inciters and troublemakers.

Talk about the silence of the media. How people became sick and tired of hearing about events from “there”, until the media simply stopped showing them. Try and tell the kids how easy it is to hide away the despair, the poverty, the hunger, the misery and the destruction that are getting worse from day to day, and leave them be on the other side of the checkpoint. Don’t forget to describe how the few journalists who kept on reporting the reality from over “there” were called traitors, and how the media employing them were intimidated. Say something about the television broadcasts too. How, as the situation became worse and the number of corpses increased, TV filled with escapism - comedy, cooking and entertainment shows.

But most importantly, talk about routine. How the killing of 14 people, all of them innocent and four of them children, on a clear autumn day in a square in Gaza, did not interest anyone, and how the army spokesman all but yawned as he gave an improvised half-excuse. Tell about the callousness towards families weeping over the ruins of their homes, about the hostile indifference upon hearing that the rate of stillbirths over “there” has risen six-fold.

The insularity, the degeneration, not out of evil, not out of malice, simply out of habit, because of a ‘lack of choice.’

Explain, so they will understand, so that we will all understand, how such a thing has come about.

Ishay Rosen-Zvi