Black Panthers and Bombs: Travel Desk volume 4

This post is probably going to get me in some crap. I'm fine with that. I've been away for a little while and wasn't sure how to return to the blog, let alone my own head after the events of the Purim weekend. I was waiting until something really cool happened I think to balance out the good with the bad. It's been an interesting month in the Holy Land since I last wrote and now I think it's time to share some of it.

Good: Meeting a member of the Israeli Black Panthers yesterday. More on that later.
Bad: What many around these parts have characterized as a "real Israeli" experience, by which I mean rockets.

This map shows the range of Grad Rockets that are sometimes launched from the Gaza strip into the Negev region. The rockets of course come with a reason, and this particular attack was no exception. Early on the Friday after Purim, the IDF targeted a Gazan resistance member, blowing him and an associate up. There were rumors, not definitive proof, but rumors that these two men were involved in planning a major assault. We will never know if these intelligence reports were valid or true, but that is hardly the point. When one's supposed sovereignty is breached, one has the right to defend it. This is a concept that applies on both sides of the security fence. The IDF felt the preemptive assault would protect Israeli sovereignty and security; the Gazans felt their security had been breached and so then the rockets come. That's life in the region. That's how it goes. I am not going to place blame or inflammatory comments up today; you the readers can do that on your own, and that's cool, but I know that our 9 readers come from diverse backgrounds, some political, others not, some Jewish, others not, others still simply hockey fans who are getting progressively more bored with the way I've hijacked their 6th favorite Oilers blog on the Inter webs.

Anyhoo, if you look at the map, you can see a city called Be'er Sheva, a rather famous place historically and currently the largest metropolitan area in the Negev. It's also the home of a very good friend of mine, his wife and their very young child. I decided to go down and visit them again because I needed a break and they're just damn fine people. Plus, my friend always has really nice scotch, we eat well, and it was Purim! (For those that don't know, Purim is basically Jewish Halloween and its an actual Mitzvah to get so drunk you don't know right from wrong on this holiday. True story!) At dinner that night we saw on the news that something happened in Gaza in the afternoon, a couple of militants were targeted and killed so I was told to brace myself for the potential for retaliation. OK, sure. It seemed unlikely to me that anything would happen. Wrong.

1030 PM and we are sitting around having a perfectly normal conversation when the siren goes off. I hadn't heard it before but I knew exactly what it was. Stunned, I look towards my friend and without even a trace of irony say "so this is actually happening?" as we are running down the stairs towards the bomb shelter. A few minutes later we heard the new "Iron Dome" missile defense system engage and do its thing. All is quiet, then suddenly a large rumbling boom off in the distance and the whole building shakes a little. Then 3 more. On the outside I was trying to look and feel as calm as possible. On the inside I was screaming and cursing and trying not to lose my dinner. We return to the apartment, I grab the scotch and down 2 shots in succession without blinking or batting an eye. I ask if its over. I'm told hopefully, but probably not. And because its Shabbat, the buses aren't running so I can't even flee in the night back to Jerusalem where its safe. It was a long night to say the least, 1AM, 330AM, 7AM and then again the next evening around 530. That's when it ended for me. It continued well into the next week for the residents of the South, not to mention the residents of Gaza who also endured precision tactical strikes until a ceasefire brokered by Egypt came into effect several days later. A real Israeli experience. Just what I always wanted.

While I was inside of it, clearly scared and wondering what was going to happen next, my friend asked me if this changed my perspective, altered my political position at all. I assured him it hadn't, but at the same time there was a part of me that was feeling a kind of anger I had never felt before. I wasn't angry at the Gazans or the Israelis per se; I was angry that such an existence has become normal. I was angry that my friends had to live like that. I know they choose to live in the south, but they don't choose to live under threat of violence. I know the Gazans don't choose to live under threat of drone planes and precision tactical strikes either. The craziest part of it all was knowing that while the rockets were being blasted out of the sky and the mortar shells were falling, there were 1000 Israelis at the biggest club in town, partying like it could be their last night of party well into the next morning, all in costume and engaging in the most holy of holy drunks. Normal life, right? Yeah, welcome to the new normal.


So for a few days after I had to try and wrap my head around that anger and not let it consume me. On of my supervisors told me I had been decolonized. In a sense, he was right. I had to sort out my own position on all of this and could now express the lived experience and still I am on the left, perhaps even more convinced of the need for new strategies of resistance and redefining the peace process and the problems of nation-states defined by ethnicity, the politics of exclusion and the use violence as a form of bio-political control. As my fear and anger faded I came to accept the experience as a part of me, a new normal. Innocence lost in a way I never expected.

This experience lead me to try and take advantage of the other sorts of sociopolitical opportunities available to me in this country, ultimately leading me to the neighbourhood of Musrara yesterday, right on the seam of the 1949 armistice line, down the hill from the newly developing  and predominantly Ashkenazi and middle class Jewish West Jerusalem and directly under fire from the (then) Jordanian controlled East Jerusalem. This neighbourhood was a former Palestinian community that was eventually settled by African and Arab Jews who actually have more in common with their neighbours to the east than they did with their fellow Jews up the hill. At least that's the narrative according to one of the neighbourhood's long time residents and few surviving members (due to age, not violence) of the Israeli Black Panthers.

They borrowed their name and were directly inspired by the Black Panther movement of the United States, recognizing the importance of the intersection of race and class in the struggle. Mizrachi Jews were brought into Israel from their former homes in the Middle East and Northern Africa and were settled in the interior, far from the almost exclusively Ashkenazi (at the time) cities along the coast. They were almost always placed in areas closest to the borders, on a macro level in cities along the various armistice lines between 48-67 and on a micro-level in terms of civic planning in neighbourhoods. Musrara was no exception, and since there were many abandoned homes, it was a place for cheap housing for the unemployed and undereducated non-white Israeli Jews in Jerusalem.

The Panthers wanted change for their social conditions, access to schools, health care and infrastructure that had been denied to them; they wanted a voice in Israeli society and were sick of being pushed to the margins, labelled as backwards, primitive and incapable of integration. Eventually they bulled their way to a meeting with Golda Meir in the early 1970s. Not much came of it other than the discovery of a common love of smoking. Meir characterized them as "not very nice." The 1973 war ended a bit of their momentum, but their early work created quite a storm in Israeli society and paved the way for the protest movements of future generations. Without the use of social media, the Panthers managed to mobilize more than 8000 disenfranchised and disaffected protesters in the early 1970s, the strongest and most organized protest movement in Israeli history until the housing protests of last July.

Reuven made an argument that I found particularly compelling. He claims that the peace process won't really happen until the Mizrachi Jews are given an equal role in the power structure of the nation. He believe that due to the shared ethnic backgrounds, marginalized class position, linguistic and cultural affinities, that it will be the coming together of the Mizrachi Jews and the Palestinians (regardless of religious affiliation) that could create a lasting peace. Call me crazy, but I think he just might be right.


The Oilers have points in their last 6 games and DD looks like he might have found a path towards consistency. Who knew that all it might take was letting him get the majority of the starts?! He made an absolutely brilliant save last night, coming out to his own blue-line and stacking the pads to take away a potential breakaway opportunity, was dynamite in the shootout, and is playing with poise and confidence. Hemsky and Gagner are playing wonderfully together and Harski is a beast. These stray observations are about all I have for the Oilers these days. They're playing for pride, and regardless of the way the draft lottery goes, I would really like to see them end the season strong. I don't care if they don't finish 29th; draft position shouldn't be the objective, learning how to win consistently should be.

Go Oilers



Anonymous said...

There is no moral equivalence between the Israeli's and Arabs.

Arabs put down their weapons there will be peace
Israel put down their weapons that will be the end of Israel

Anonymous said...

I really think you are "jill" in this article

shepso said...

@ Anonymous 2: Interesting article you've linked to, albeit a dated one. I am actually a very different type of Leftist Jew than the "Jill" in that piece, one who never claims to be Zionist in any way, and one who has tried to live in the experience as well as possible. The idea that someone is trying to potentially kill me is more real to me now than ever before. However that doesn't take away my feelings of disgust for the blindness and raw emotion and hate on all sides of this conflict, in this incredibly diverse and divided country. Whether a Palestinian Israeli, an Ashkenazi Jewish Israeli, a Mizrachi, a Russian immigrant or an Ethiopian, Druze or Bedouin racial inequality is a real problem here, both historically and today. There are major social and systemic problems in this country that I am learning about more and more as my research continues, and it is a much more complex situation than I ever imagined it to be in the west.

In any event, I imagine we will have to agree to disagree on this point, but I appreciate that you took the time to drop by and to share that article with me. Thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply, I have 1 more article from a man of the left.

shepso said...

Another really interesting piece. Thank you! I have been trying to do these sorts of posts as a bit of a clearing of sorts, to take some of the less substantive and more experiential details of my research and test drive ideas (although ostensibly this is a hockey blog first and foremost) before they end up as parts of my dissertation. Its nice to receive such links. Feel free to drop in more often, and if you want, maybe opt for a non-anonymous log-in!

Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Go Oilers!

Phil Dog said...

I think your supervisor said 'you're getting unsettled and that can be part of decolonization'. At any rate, now he wants to point out that decolonization is multiple and relative, as there are master narratives all over the place. Take a certain distance from one, and you encounter another. Or as I've just re-read in a piece by CrimethInc. that I'm using in my first year class, "Proselytizers seek footholds to claim territory
within you, salesmen grasp for handles to jerk you around ... from new-age prophets to advertisers, from pornographers to radicals, everyone exhorts you to'pursue your desires,' but the question remains: which ones are the 'real' ones? Who decides which those are? It's a war for your soul on every front."

Anonymous said...

Check out this one. Barry Rubin is well worth reading