Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin called the head of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, into his office in 1977 and said to him, “Bring me the Ethiopian Jews.” What followed were a series of missions by land, sea, and air that brought more than 56,000 Jewish Ethiopians through Sudan into Israel over eight years. It was a highpoint in Israel’s history, followed immediately by a massive failure to integrate Ethiopians into Israeli society—a failure that carries immense consequences for today’s young Ethiopian-Israelis who experience racial discrimination and sometimes feel as though they’re not part of Israeli society.
I found something I wrote in February 26, 2002. I was 16 days away from the gibush—a week-long intense tryout—for Shayetet, the Israeli Naval Commando, that includes marches on the beaches of Atlit while carrying bags of sand, and hours of sprinting in and out of the sea. I had been training for the gibush for months (the picture was taken during training).
I was 18 and scared shitless. Not of failing or not passing the test, but of reaching a breaking point and giving up. I was afraid of not being as strong as I thought or hoped I was. Of reaching a wall and not making it through. Of disappointing myself.
This is the pick-me-up note—painstakingly word for word—I wrote myself almost 15 years ago:Continue reading →
During the first week of March this year, students stood on the stairs of Columbia University’s Low Plaza with eight-foot panels calling Israel an apartheid state. In front of Butler Library was a table with the words “Boycott Israel.” On the pathway between the two were panels covered with Israel’s flag. The activists thrust flyers and words at passersby, hoping to win the rhetoric war on Israel and Palestine. This was Israel Apartheid Week (IAW).
I wasn’t surprised that IAW takes place on over 150 university campuses worldwide. I was surprised, however, that many of the protestors were Jewish, and one of the co-organizers of the week was Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), an organization of Jewish students. I wondered why so many Jewish students were turning anti-Zionists and protesting against Israel, and how the greater Jewish community has responded.
The Palestinian who almost killed me in the fall of 2006 was a sixteen-year-old boy named Whalid.
In November that year, I infiltrated Gaza for the last time. I was twenty-three years old and had served in the Israeli Naval Commando for four years. My crew and I were on foot, and despite the heavy equipment I carried, I was relieved not to be in an armored personnel vehicle. One of my greatest fears, always, was burning alive in that tank-like carrier. During our previous mission in Gaza, we left in one of those vehicles and an Israeli tank accidentally shot at us but missed. If I was going to die, even by friendly fire, I’d rather it be in the open air.
When Miss. USA, Nia Sanchez, said women should learn self defense to avoid sexual assault, she was accused of victim blaming, receiving numerous tweets to the tune of “how about instead of woman learning to protect themselves, men learn to not rape women?” When Police in Sussex, UK hung posters in female bathrooms at nightclubs, urging women to remain in groups to prevent sexual attacks, a representative of the national charity Rape Crisis said police should instead use their resources to target young men with messages about consent. When journalist Emily Yoffe wrote in Slate that binge drinking “presented a particular danger for young women because it made them more vulnerable to sexual assault,” she was disinvited to speak at a West Coast college for fear her presence would make student victims “feel unsafe,” and Alexander Abad-Santos, a writer for Vox and The Atlantic, responded by asking, “What about teaching men not to rape?”
Yet we don’t find this sentiment with any other crime. We lock our homes at night and put alarm systems in our cars; we move our wallets from our back to front pockets on the subway; we look both ways before we cross the street. And even though there is not a history of blaming theft victims like there is of rape victims, we still use preventive behavior every day without ever considering it victim blaming.
A warrior of the Hamas Naval Commando drowned during a training exercise in northern Gaza on September 2015. In an Israeli online newspaper’s report on the story, they opened the article with the sentence, “He didn’t excel in his role.” They showed a picture of him which they titled “the schlemiel.” They wrote, “to strengthen the absurdity [of him drowning], his name means ‘ocean.’” They called him an “unskilled fighter.”
As an Israeli and a five-year veteran of an elite combat unit in the IDF, I don’t care about this man; it’s good he’s dead. He was training to infiltrate my country via the sea and kill Israelis. His death is beneficial to Israel’s national security.
But we don’t have to mock him in a newspaper report of his death.
The blood on Akimos Annan Ampiah’s hands wasn’t his own; it belonged to a boy who foolishly told him he couldn’t walk down the street. The boy punched Ampiah in the face. Ampiah responded with a left jab, followed by a quick right cross and left hook that sent him to the ground. Ampiah stopped; he can’t fight blood, he says, it makes him feel bad.
Two years ago, on that day, a spectator saw potential in the 18-year-old Ampiah, took him to a boxing gym in Accra, and paid for Ampiah to train there. Within a year, Ampiah was on the national team. Currently, he is training for the All African Games and the 2016 Olympics.
Billy Bob Thornton was right when accepting his Golden Globe this past January: “These days you get into a lot of trouble no matter what you say… you can say anything in the world and get in trouble. I know this for a fact. So I’m just going to say thank you.”
Being right isn’t the same as being smart.
Justine Sacco was fired from her PR job after a tactless tweet about white people not contracting AIDS. When Patricia Arquette said in her Oscar acceptance speech that it’s time for all gay and colored people to “fight for [women] now,” she came under fire for being white, privileged, and insensitive to minority intersectionality. Journalists and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo were threatened and then attacked for drawing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.
All these are cause and effect. You have the right to say and do anything within the realm of the law, but can’t ignore that words and actions carry consequences, regardless of whether or not those consequences are justified or legitimate. From internet shamers to fanatic extremists, the consequences can include public humiliation, loss of employment, and even violent and fatal attacks, which leads to the intersection of free speech, hate speech, and responsible speech; being right versus being smart.
Out of the 4,500 rockets Hamas fired from Gaza into Israel over the summer of 2014 during Operation Protective Edge (OPE), the western media did not capture a single launch on film.
“You can miss one, miss 100, even 200,” said Ron Prosor, Israeli ambassador to the UN. “But if you’re sitting inside Gaza and you weren’t able to show one missile being launched, that’s very strange.”
That summer, the world saw many images, mostly those of the tragic destruction in Gaza caused by Israel; ruined schools and hospitals, dead women and children. Yet there was a “lack of proportion between representing Israel as causing all this destruction, and no footage of [Hamas] firing from within mosques, hospitals, and schools,” Ambassador Prosor said. “And the amazing thing is that no one asks the question, ‘How come we don’t see these images?’”