I saw the movie “Ajami”, written and directed by Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, several months ago. It’s about an Arab/Christian/Jewish neighborhood in Jaffa, Israel and the daily lives and struggles of the people who live there. “Ajami” was nominated for a ‘Best Foreign Film’ Oscar award but didn’t win; I thought it was a good movie even though I watched it in Arabic with Hebrew subtitles and I don’t speak either language. My friend Aya lives in the Ajami neighborhood and as I stood on her balcony one evening with a glass of wine in one hand and my camera in the other, I snapped pictures of the sun setting over the Mediterranean Sea. The lives of the people in the movie and the lives of the people I know who live in Ajami are as night to day, apples to oranges, two very different realities.
There are many different realities in Israel, from the Jewish reform, to the conservative, to the ultra orthodox, to the secular Israelis, to the Ethiopians, to the Yemenites, to the Druze, to the Bedouins, to the foreigners, to the Muslim Arabs, to the Christian Arabs, to the Christians, to the Russians, to the illegals, to the Kibbutzniks, to the Sephardic, to the Ashkenazi. When we first moved here, I was surprised to find so many distinct groups of people with so many differing views and opinions and most of them seemed to dislike the others. For me, in America, the groups were fairly easy to understand – there were mainly whites, blacks and Hispanics and they were struggling to get along with one another. It was so much more complicated than that here.
As I was living a normal life in Tel Aviv a few years ago, citizens of Sderot, a small town only 40 miles to the south, were fleeing from scud missiles shot at them by Hamas (a Palestinian terror group) from the Gaza strip (this has been going on for the last 7 years, but has subsided as of recently). One of my seamstresses lives in Sderot and occasionally when we were speaking on the phone to discuss the children’s costumes that she was sewing for me, the phone would go dead because a rocket had torn down the phone lines or she had to hang up and run to her bomb shelter because the rocket warning siren had just sounded. As the citizens of Israel live in relative peace as of today’s date (May 17, 2010), the citizens of Gaza and the West Bank live under extreme restrictions and living conditions. Sometimes I try to explain to people that living here can be compared to when I lived in Chicago; you know where the “dangerous” neighborhoods are and if you’re smart you don’t go there. A drive by shooting or a suicide bombing, are we really safe anywhere these days? I think not.
The situation in the Middle East is not easy to understand, follow or come up with a solution. But if I can tell you anything about understanding the situation here, I’d tell you not to believe everything you read and to consider the source of your information. The perception of the situation here is so skewed outside of Israel that it’s clear to me that you must be a very good interpreter to understand what is really going on. It also doesn’t help that no one seems to want to write about non-eventful, beautiful days here, which contributes to the perception that everything here is bad and that the whole country is constantly fighting a war. One of my best friends, Storm has been here 3 times to visit me. The first time she arrived, Israel was experiencing quite a few suicide bombings, so we didn’t go to many public places. The second time she was here there was fighting in Gaza and the calls that Storm received from her concerned family and friends from America were panicky. They asked her if she could hear the bombs exploding and this was all after we had spent a fun afternoon at the mall. The fighting that her family had heard about on the news was about an hour away from where we were. I was relieved that she had left Israel thinking that it was a normal enough place and she felt that my family and I were o.k. here. I thought that her visit gave her the information to have an educated opinion of the situation in Israel. I think it’s all too easy to read an article in the newspaper and formulate an opinion based on the writer’s opinions. But we can’t all jump on airplanes and visit foreign places just to be able to have an educated opinion about the situation there. Sadder yet, most of us don’t really care about the situation in the Middle East or the Congo or Chechnya or anywhere else for that matter because it doesn’t really affect our daily lives (point taken!). But before someone gets on a soap box or starts formulating opinions, they should be correctly informed, very informed.