Last week, I started the Israel Trail alongside my girlfriend. We planned on hiking the country and talking to people about the Arab-Israeli Conflict along the way. We thought we would have to bring up the conflict and ask people to talk about it, because it rarely comes up in day to day conversation. Instead, we started the hike just as this recent wave of violence started, and so people are talking about it openly and regularly.
The trail has a surprising feeling of community to it. You constantly come into contact with the same 30 people who started the hike within a day of you. You share tips, food and tea with them. Locals who find out you are doing the trail are even more friendly. they offer you rides, water, and to stay the night. They say “Kol haKavod (good for you)” and tell you to watch out for the Arabs.
The latter makes me cringe each time, partially because of the racism embedded within the comment and partially because I realize that it’s coming from a place of genuine concern. They want to make sure we have enough to eat and that we aren’t stabbed.
Usually, we brush it off and explain that we are fine, because we haven’t come up with a better thing to say yet. I appreciate the concern and simultaneously hate that it’s one that is embedded in the racist fabrics of our society. Yet, while their word choice could often not be poorer, I also recognize that yes, we do need to be slightly more aware.
Even so, while things are heated and stabbing attacks real, I am more likely to die over the next month of a heat stroke, dehydration, or getting hit by a truck while walking on the side of the road. Yet the emphasis from people is not on the heat wave we are currently facing near the Kinneret, but on the wave of stabbings.
Considering I’m currently on a bus returning from Tel Aviv back to the trail after recovering from a minor heat stroke (I’m fine), I wish the emphasis was different and based more on the reality we are currently experiencing.
Times like these are difficult because they instill fear. They also instill an awareness of the Conflict that we Israelis prefer to ignore. As far as we are concerned, the Conflict exists only when we are scared by it, when we are threatened.
A woman we were hiking with said to me “someone just told me that some Arabs are afraid to leave their house because they are afraid of getting attacked.”
“Of course”, I said. “Palestinians are being targeted just as Jews are. That’s not new.”
“Yea, but I never thought about it. I mean, we are the ones being stabbed, not them.”
“Actually, a lot of Palestinians have been hurt or killed as well.”
“Funny that you never hear about it.”
Except, it’s not funny, but purposeful. Because it’s easy to be so sure that the conflict exists only when we are being harmed. Out of sight and out of mind.
Now it’s in our sight and definitely on our mind.
If the conversation was happening in Jerusalem, where most attacks have occurred, it would be very different and quite legitimate.
Yes, I could be a victim of a terror attack, but it is low down on the list of potential dangers I currently face. When I talk to my friends in Jerusalem, I will tell them to be careful, and I will be referring to terror, but I hope they and others will reply “be careful, it’s hot out there.”