Tel Aviv. Monday, 3.49 pm.
Less than an hour went by since I was informed of the bloody attack of last night. I had just taught a class to a wonderful group of mixed Jewish and Arab students who are working together to learn Italian in order to continue their studies in Italy. We finished today watching a very long and beautiful Italian movie, which follows the life of a family through the last 50 years of Italian history (La meglio gioventù, by Marco Tullio Giordana). I had just emerged from this movie when someone in the elevator told me that Israel had attacked one of the pacifists boats in the early hours of the morning. 9 people were reported dead and many missing.
In shock, I rode my bicycle home along the busy, central Arlozorov street. I looked at the face of the people I crossed with desperate intensity. Faces of strangers in the street, parading through in a long, almost cinematic dolly. Take this mother, adjusting her baby in a stroller: what does she think? Does she know? Take that old man standing at the bus stop, polishing his sunglasses lenses: what does he think, what does he feel about what happened? Does he know? Take that couple of young adults ordering pannacotta from a menu: what do they think about the killing of the activists? Do they know?
In this slow, meaningful ride home, I found myself struggling to understand what the colorful, diverse and enigmatic people of Israel were thinking about the facts of the night. I think I saw quite a few lowered eyes on what I perceived as worried faces. But maybe that was just a reflection of my own sadness and preoccupation.
As I got home, I switched on the TV, moved by the same urge to understand. All these men in a tie, reporting from Ankara, Toronto and Ashdod. The language of the commentators is difficult. Words like “interest”, “aggression”, “security”, fill the air. It is clear to everybody that the attack on the boat carrying aid to Gaza will have – and has already started having – heavy consequences for Israel, within and outside its uncertain borders. Politically speaking, it is right and necessary to start worrying. But just before, in the space where the heart reaches out with no political agenda: can there be a trace of bereavement for the 9 people who lost their life few hours ago?
This urgency to understand what – if anything – the people of Israel felt towards facts which happened very, very close to them, is not new to me. I experienced a similar inquisitive attitude during the last operation on Gaza. It is as if, in the event of unnecessary tragedy, traces of humanity were the shelter I was looking for to make life bearable. It is as if I walked the streets expecting someone to plainly say: look, I know what happened is horrible, and I am really sorry for the innocent people who died. Can that be said without shame or fear? Does that feeling exist? Or is it so obvious and shared that it needs not be actually pronounced?
This May 31st, 2010, will probably enter the books of history. The question is how: as the day when the killing of peace activists in the international waters just off Israel led to the end of the Gaza siege, or as the day when the killing of peace activists led to the third intifada, or as the day when the killing of 9 peace activists took place in a general endemic indifference, and things continued on as if nothing happened.