Once upon a time you could vote for Netanyahu or Meretz and move on with your life. Today even a conversation about the occupation can end relationships between loved ones.
Like the very best of internet trolls, today my father banished me to Berlin with the non-Jewish son I never had. In the middle of Tel Aviv’s popular Azrieli Mall, on the second floor, at the cafe where the tables are placed too close to one another. Yarmulka-wearing Israelis sat behind us, while at the next table over two women with Zara shopping bags who ate salads tried their best to pretend they weren’t listening to what was happening at our table.
Once upon a time one was able to make a distinction between conversations about politics and conversations about life. Once, that was 10 years ago. Today the tension can be felt in the air. One can no longer make the distinction. Once upon a time you could vote for Netanyahu or Meretz, the left-wing party, to vote and go on with your life. Once upon a time you could live in the West Bank settlement Ariel and vote for Labor. Strange, perhaps, but it only seems strange today, looking back. Back then it was a matter of political opinion, life itself was what mattered, when one’s character wasn’t determined by the occupation.
What happened over the years that turn these definitions into rigid, violent, and influential? Maybe I just grew up and it was always like this? Maybe, but I look around, even at those older than me, and I just don’t think that’s it. A good friend of mine went on a date a few months ago, she said he was wonderful, funny, good looking. “But?” I asked. “But he votes for Liberman.” That summed up the conversation. There was no need to ask if they continued to meet.
Did Facebook, the press, and the media radicalize the people, or was it the opposite way around? What caused us to turn our political beliefs into unbending self-definitions? For years I told people, “I’m not a leftist, I am sane.”
More than that, even today I know it does not matter how we define ourselves — what side of the political spectrum we are on — everyone wants peace, everyone was quiet, no one wants to endanger more children.
But the fear. Today I saw it more than ever. In my father’s eyes, telling me that everyone wants to kill me. Everyone. The German people who must disappear because of what they did; that there is no Palestinian people; “one state, one nation” is a great motto. And it all came from fear, everything was filtered through headlines — they want to harm us, it doesn’t matter who they are — whoever isn’t us. My father has become more extreme throughout his life, or perhaps throughout the conversation, to the point that he almost never travels abroad. Life is good at home, no one wants to kill me here.
And our argument? It started from a totally different subject, about life. About work and apartments and mortgages. About flying abroad for the summer. It has been two years, I said, there will be another war, there is no other way, people are beginning to forget to be afraid. And at the end, as we were yelling at each other, all I tried to do was to get him to admit that there is an occupation. It doesn’t matter if he believes that it is good or bad for us, or that without it we would be annihilated. Just say it, Dad. Say that there is an occupation, that we’re controlling another nation. Say that 18-year-olds are being sent into the heart of a civilian population to face horrible situations. No. There is no such thing! He yelled at me with his eyes wide, banging on the table. “You are talking like the Nazis. You want to annihilate us. There is no occupation and there never was.”
I was left speechless, the gulf that emerged between us at that very moment caught me off guard. His opinions were always far from mine, but we always loved each other, like father and daughter. And today I felt that a different hand, foreign and violent, encroached on our tiny space and succeeded in destroying another piece of land that doesn’t belong to it.
I got up, placing the bag of lemons that he picked for me in the moshav on the table. I left. At the parking lot two floors underground I sent my father a text message: “Are you still at the mall? I don’t want to fight.” He didn’t respond.
*Su is a pseudonym. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.