Journalist Larry Derfner came to Tel Aviv airport to cover the arrival of international activists. Once in the reception hall, a small Israeli mob turned on him. In a matter of seconds, he found himself in a police van
by Larry Derfner
Anybody who believes the platitude that the people want peace, it’s just the leaders who want war, should have been at Ben-Gurion Airport today. It’s a good thing those Free Palestine activists got arrested; otherwise, the little mob that formed spontaneously would have punched them up pretty good.
Only minutes after I got to the Arrivals hall, a few activists stood in front of the phalanx of reporters and cameramen, help up their little signs and started chanting “Israel Apartheid” and ”Free Palestine!” The cops tore the signs from their hands and started pushing them toward the exit. After the first couple of minutes of watching in shocked silence, people in the terminal started to boo. Men were cursing loudly – “sons of bitches,” “garbage,” and things in Arabic I didn’t understand.
A couple of dozen people, mainly men but also a few women, followed very close behind the tightly-bunched demonstrators, cops and reporters to the police van. “Throw them in the garbage,” shouted one woman. An old man tried to get at one of the activists, but the police stopped him.
I was there ostensibly as a journalist, and I was scribbling notes, but I felt cowardly not saying anything to these nationalist hooligans, so I started telling them in Hebrew, “What are these people doing?” The woman who wanted them thrown in the garbage said, “They’re hurting us!” I said, “They’re talking,” and the little mob turned on me, a couple of the men raised their fists. The woman told me, “Go back home, get out of here,” I said, “I live here.” The cops mistook me for a demonstrator, put me in the police van, but when I showed them my press card, they let me go.
Let me repeat – the police started off arresting the demonstrators, but very shortly their main task was to keep them from being assaulted. They had to hold back the herd = and that’s what these people were, a herd incited by the idea that these protesters, non-violent protesters trying to get to the West Bank, were a menace, an immediate threat to their security.
And I do not buy the idea that these people are helpless pawns being manipulated by the government, the media, the right-wing politicians. Most Israelis, even if they wouldn’t join a mob like the one at the airport, want to hear the belligerent rhetoric the opinion-makers are feeding them. They hate anybody who says anything bad about Israel, and take their words automatically as “blood libels.” The opinion-makers know this, and the ones who are popular and want to stay that way tell the people what they want to hear.
Who’s manipulating whom is a chicken-and-egg question.
Watching my enraged countrymen at Ben-Gurion, I imagined the daily headlines having been distilled into a kind of political methadrine and mainlined into their veins. Few Israelis would join them in physically going after people chanting slogans. But in their insistence that protesters like these be silenced because their words are acts of violence, acts of war, of terrorism, they represent the majority. They are an authentic expression of the national will. Theirs is the loudest voice in the land, it’s joined by the voice of Netanyahu, the government, the settlers and most of the media. All competing voices are drowned out.
Which is why these foreign activists on these flotillas, whatever I or anybody else thinks of the totality of their politics, are absolutely vital not only to the Palestinians, but to Israel. They’re bringing oxygen to a suffocating nation.
Larry Derfner is a journalist and an op-ed contributor for the Jerusalem Post. This post was published on his joint blog with 972’s Dimi Reider, Israel Reconsidered, and is re-posted here with the author’s permission.