On Friday the 1st of April I decided to attend what was called a Freedom March hosted by Combatants for Peace and Standing Together. It was a monthly march, but this one was “special” since it fell out two days after Palestinian Land Day. I was extremely hesitant to join the march in general, and particularly because I wasn’t sure about this Land Day. It felt as if it took it from a march of equality to a one-sided march of Palestinian victim-hood. Regardless, I wanted to experience it.
A friend, with similar hesitancies, decided to join me and we embarked Friday morning to Tel Aviv to catch the chartered bus to the march in The West Bank on the main road from Jerusalem leading to Gush Etzion where the march was to take place.
On the bus an announcement was made about some logistics and an important addendum of “no matter what happens you all stay peaceful. No matter what anyone does or throws at you, never raise a hand or throw anything back. After the march we will come back home to Tel Aviv”. Me and my friend laugh at their stereotypical usage of coming home to the Tel Aviv bubble after their do-good march. Being a religious kippah-wearing non-Tel Avivi amongst a bus of secular Tel Avivim made me feel disconnected from the community.
We get off the bus and I instantly see some people, both Israeli and Palestinian, I know from my trips on Tiyul Rihla making me feel a bit more comfortable. Another person who I met at a joint Israeli/Palestinian iftar was at the march. I still had the feeling of being disconnected from the crowd, although we were all marching for similar things. Ironically, I felt comfortable seeing the soldiers my age protecting us since I’ve done what their doing hundreds of times.
One of my hesitancies about the march was that it wouldn’t be a “pro-coexistence” or a “working together” march but rather a “pro-Palestine” or “working for Palestine” march. To ease my fear, I brought an Israeli flag with me and told myself that if there are any Palestinian flags flown, it’s only right that I should wave my flag too.
Off the bus they handed out signs (as shown in this picture) with both Israeli and Palestinian flags. I happily took one and walked with it.
During the march, on the other side of the street, there was a single protesting Israeli with a large Israeli flag yelling obscenities and giving us the finger.
A bit later, I got wind of a Palestinian flag being flown. It was being proudly displayed and leading the march. Great. I was waiting to be able to take out my flag and show my proud colors. I took out my flag, unfurled it and started waving it in the direction of our protester trying to say “look! We’re pro-Israel too! And proud!”.
I almost immediately get pounced on by an organizer of the march saying to put it away saying that their official policy is no flags at all aside from the signs with both flags displayed. I started arguing with the organizer; “so enforce that rule with the Palestinian flag!” I went on a tirade how if we have rules against flags, then I’ll abide, but I’m uncomfortable that they only make an exception for a Palestinian flag, and the only Israeli flag being flown is flown in protest and comes with obscenities and anger.
I was told to be sensitive to the feelings of others and that the Israeli flag symbolizes bad and uncomfortable things. I responded saying “Standing behind a proudly waving Palestinian flag isn’t easy for me either. Part of these marches are to get comfortable with each other and get comfortable with each others national symbols. I’m proud to be Israeli, I should be able to wave my flag and the people who are offended by that at this march should come to me and we can talk about it”.
As I was arguing about my flag to an organizer, another organizer of the march, this one Palestinian, grabs my Israeli flag and starts waving it excitedly and proudly at our protester and yelling into his megaphone “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies”.
I was standing their in shock wrapping my head around the fact that I just witnessed a Palestinian proudly waving my Israeli flag at an Israeli waving the same flag. One flag being flown by a Palestinian with messages I believe in and the other being flown by a fellow religious Israeli Jew with messages of anger and obscenities. I was just watching the scene and happy my flag was being put to good use.
I got my flag back from the zealous Israeli-flag-flying Palestinian peace-activist and hid it in my bag giving up my fight for my flag for the day happy it got used at all.
The march turned from road 60 onto road 375 towards Beitar Illit. The whole time we were being yelled at by Israeli drivers who thought it was more important to stick their head out of the passenger’s side window than to keep eyes on the road. I just responded with “Shabbat Shalom” to their curses and the Israeli soldiers tried their best to keep traffic moving.
The march ended at a junction between the entrance of Beitar Illit and a Palestinian village where the march was going to plant a tree in honor of Land Day. Since I wasn’t really sure how I felt about Land Day and already did my Tu B’shvat duties, I was standing at a distance and felt a bit awkward and disconnected.
I started talking with a women from Hong Kong and I mentioned my army service and how I used to live right around here. “You were a settler??”. That conversation didn’t help me in my sense of belonging so I sought out the people I felt most comfortable with and naturally found the kids my age in uniform protecting us.
It was an interesting dynamic between us and the soldiers since they were their guarding us and urging drivers to keep driving when they started harassing us, but it wasn’t so clear what the march’s view of soldiers were. The un-nuanced assumption was a negative view.
Regardless, while they were planting their tree, I went over to a soldier and asked which corps he was in. He seemed a bit taken aback I was talking to him, but answered. He was in artillery. As someone who was in similar situations to him many times, we started a menial conversation. “Damn it sucks you have to spend shabbat on duty”. He asked me about my service and was surprised when I told him about it. I mentioned I used to be lone-soldier and he was surprised that an oleh chadash (Jewish immigrant to Israel) who chose to join the army would be at a march like this. It’s not the first time I’ve gotten confused looks when I tell people I was a lone-soldier and I attend these types of events.
At some point I shifted and asked what he thought about the march. “Listen, I don’t fully understand what you guys are marching for or against, but you guys do it really peacefully and without any issues. As long as that’s the case, do whatever you want”. Being that I came mentally prepared to be dealing with tear gas, I was pleasantly surprised.
I’m not sure what I got out of this march aside from confusion. The marchers were confused about how to deal with flags; some told me to hide it and some proudly wave it. I don’t relate with the general “peacenik” left community and rather gravitated toward the comfort of my fellows in arms; the same arms that we are rallying to get out of the region. Confusion of people towards me rallying against the occupation wearing a kippa and having lived two hilltops over.
Rallies and marches are great, but nuance is hard to deliver in such a forum. This blog is an attempt to create a space where Josh, Benzi, and I (and anyone else) can discuss our left-leaning Israel-loving religious perspective with the nuance we need. A place where we can talk about The Left’s relationship to soldiers, national symbols, and the religious community. Maybe I’ll end up a little less confused.