All over the world this summer, thousands of color wars are taking place. Children in summer camps are assigned to teams, compete in tug-of-wars, swimming relay races and capture the flag games. They learn teamwork, responsibility and self-confidence. Older children help younger children and are admired. A kinship is created. Memories are formed. Children learn, have fun and grow up a little.
In Israel this summer, while our children also go to camp and participate in their color wars, another type of color war is going on. I am not speaking of the 17th Maccabiah taking place in which Jewish athletes from the world over are gathering in Israel this summer. I am speaking of a divisive campaign launched using colors and slogans. Unfortunately the lessons from Rabin’s assassination seem not to have been absorbed and have quickly been forgotten: Violent words turn into violent acts.
Last month, after many legal battles, including against the ultra-Orthodox mayor of Jerusalem, the Gay and Lesbian community was permitted to march from Zion Square to Liberty Bell Park, marking Jerusalem’s first ever Gay Pride parade. It was wonderful to have the stifling repressive air lifted from the city replaced by the freedom enjoyed by the participants as they were empowered, marching through the streets, reclaiming the city for all who love it, dancing in a vibrant celebration well into the night.
Unfortunately, three of those who marched under the rainbow flag, symbolizing the inclusiveness of all of God’s creations were stabbed by an ultra-Orthodox man shouting words of hate. The diverse colors created when a single beam of light passes through a prism, were darkened by one who claimed a monopoly on the truth dressed in black, the monochromatic absence of all light.
However, this was just a warm-up both for the Gay community and Israel as a whole. Jerusalem’s hosting of the World Gay Pride Parade was postponed until next year because of Israel’s planned disengagement. And the Disengagement is this summer’s main event in the Israeli color war.
Any one who visits Israel today immediately notices the colored ribbons tied to people’s cars, backpacks and bicycles. There are florescent orange ribbons, opposing the unilateral Israeli withdrawal planned for August. Other ribbons are blue, supporting the Israeli government. I’ve seen an increasing number of cars which hang both blue and orange ribbons from their antennas. Still, most cars do not show any affiliation.
Most Israelis want to see the end of the Occupation, but even those who support the Disengagement, sympathize with those who have built their homes in Gaza and the Shomron with the encouragement of the Israeli government and who are now being relocated due to a reversal in policy. It is hard for anyone to imagine the betrayal these people must feel especially when considering the transfer of large family farms and the graves of loved ones.
These feelings tear apart most Israelis who are used to making sacrifices to build their country, not to destroy homes for the greater good.
The colors have put the country on alert. Vocal demonstrators jump out of crowds disturbing events shouting slogans and holding signs such as “Jews do not expel Jews”. Non-violent resistance, such as locking schoolyards with padlocks, driving in slow-moving caravans on highways and blocking the country’s main intersections have already occurred. While the police have done their best to prevent mass demonstrations using methods which are questionable and undermine the democratic nature of the State, the orange team has certainly been noticed.
Nonetheless, the Disengagement is going to proceed. After a grace period, on August 17th at 7:30 in the morning, police and soldiers will begin knocking on doors to evacuate the settlers.
Israel is still a young country. Each citizen makes sacrifices to benefit the Israeli people. This goes beyond politics, beyond blue and orange, but to the equalizing color of army green – to the reservists who serve their country dutifully. This is Am Yisrael. This silent majority are the same majority of the country who pay the heavy taxes that have drained the Israeli economy to support those settlements which will now be dismantled. We are the civilians who when summoned, answer the call regardless of our personal political opinions. As one of Israel’s reserve soldiers, I recognize that once a democratically elected government makes a decision and the army is charged with its implementation, the discussion turns from “if” and “why” to “when” and “how”. Our opinions as soldiers are irrelevant.
I have been called up to serve my country during the Disengagement. On my first day of reserve duty, as I walked down my driveway to the taxi waiting to take me to the train station, I thought how strange it was. I am the same person I was last night, but now, wearing a uniform, others do not see me as an ordinary person. I am a soldier. Clues as to my political views, economic status, education and ethnicity vanish. Individual identity disappears.
One of the most extreme individual acts in my life was making aliyah knowing full-well that I would be serving in the IDF. I still help those who share this dream and because of my volunteer activities with new immigrants from North America I was recently invited to welcome the first two jumbo jets of new immigrants from North America to arrive this summer.
The six hundred Americans I welcomed were the largest number of people ever to make aliyah from North America in a single day. These were just the first of six plane-loads of new immigrants arriving from North America this summer. These are all people who recognize that the future of Israel is aliyah and that the future of Judaism is Israel.
Next year the 4500-people gap between the number of Jews in the United States and Israel will be closed and the Jewish State will be home to the largest number of Jews in the world. As all different types of Jews come home to Israel, they bring with them different views, customs and cultures. However, what brings us to this place is that we are one people sharing one home and we must learn to listen and respect each other if we are to survive here.
As an American Jew I know what it is to be a minority. In Israel, especially this summer, we must remind ourselves that a democracy is not just the rule of the majority, but the protection of minorities – be they homosexuals, Arabs or even Jewish settlers.