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Notes from the newsroom: The day my leftism changed

10 years ago today my leftism changed. On October 12 2000, two IDF reservists, Vadim Nurzhitz and Yossi Avrahami, were killed by an angry mob in Ramallah after taking a wrong turn and crossing a checkpoint that should have stopped them – but didn’t.

It was at the beginning of the Al Aqsa intifada, and at the time I was working as a chief night editor at Haaretz. Those were some of the most intense days in my career in journalism.

I remember the images shown over and over again on television. The body being thrown out the window, and then being stomped on. And of course the bloody hands. Those red hands and the smile that came to symbolize so much more.

Until then I was your typical leftist, the guy who voted Meretz and wanted peace with Palestinians and an end to the occupation. The Ramallah Lynching was a trigger for me and for many Israelis to start shifting our stances, a process we went through as the intifada gained momentum over the years.

The lynching really brought it home, how deep the hatred was. The people in Ramallah behaved like animals. There was something primal there. It was hatred that had taken over them, that totally blinded them. You couldn’t be indifferent to it. And nobody was.

My leftism split in two. I turned more to the left, because I saw even more urgency in ending the occupation, the cause for such hatred. But I also went a bit “right”, as if saying to myself back in those days: “Fine, I don’t want to be your friend either.” And I really didn’t. I was angry. And as the intifada snowballed, I began to think that the only people more screwed up than Israelis were the Palestinians themselves. I still do.

Those were hard days for everyone. It goes without saying that the Palestinians had it (and still do) the hardest of all. But it was hard to live in Israel too. The tensions were amazingly high. People you knew were dying in suicide attacks. Buses passing too close could send chills down your spine. And people smiled less. There seemed to be an “intifada frown” going around.

It was hard for soldiers, it was hard for paramedics, it was hard for ZAKA personnel who gathered body parts at terror sites.

Working at the paper back then had its toll, too. I’ve always thought that journalists never received enough attention for what they themselves were going through at the time, covering the bloodshed and bombings. I don’t want to sound like a weakling, and certainly not indifferent to the pain of the real victims on both sides, but it was traumatic for us, too. For me, that period was one of the most nerve wracking things I’ve ever been through.

Me at the Haaretz desk

Every night I prayed an attack wouldn’t happen on my shift. We’d joke, black humor style, “Let it happen early this time, not two hours before the deadline. We can’t take any more cliff hangers”. But the militants didn’t care much about deadlines. And each time an attack came when I was heading the night desk, I felt like I aged a few years.

Send out the reporters. Change the layout. Get the editors ready. We waited for our copy like the nurses at the ER were waiting for their wounded.

Then the pics came in. I had to decide which ones were publishable, or too graphic. But we had to show the site.

And then we had to get the mug shots. Send the reporter or photographer to take a picture of the loved ones. If there were over 10 it was hard to get them all on the front page, or at least above the fold. So I had to think of creative ways to get around it. “Maybe some on the front page, or some inside”? Should I stack them horizontally? Vertically? What if I can’t get them all up over the fold? I don’t want anyone thinking their loved ones are less important.

And there I was sitting in front of the Mac, swerving the mouse and dragging one dead guy to here, one dead woman to there. “Nah, this doesn’t work. Shouldn’t the pregnant woman be above the old guy? And should the soldier be below the citizens?”

And then came the nightmares. I started seeing the mugshots in dreams. In fact, I still have some of those faces imprinted somewhere on my brain. That’s when I knew I had to take a break from the paper. And I did, eventually.

But between all those mugshots, I still see those bloody hands from Ramallah.

I don’t want to shake them. I just want to get rid of them. Not for their sake. For mine.

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    1. Extremist Zionist

      Thanks for the honest words. Your feelings are understandable. The only problem is that they won’t let us “get rid of them for oursakes” because they don’t want to do anything to help us. They don’t want us here and they will keep up the pressure, either through terrorism, rocket attacks, international boycotts, meaningless “peace negotiations” until we leave…..which isn’t going to happen. We are stuck together. They do not recognize the pre-67 “Green Line” as a border and they view the existence of a Jewish state of ANY size as a threat to their idea of an Arab/Muslim Middle East. When they talk about “illegal settlements” they don’t just mean Ofra and Beit El, they mean Tel Aviv.

      I don’t mean to sound pessimistic. I think there can be peace, or at least a modus vivendi, but it will take time and it will only occur once they see that we will not give in. Giving up territory and promising to destroy settlements only makes them more determined to keep up the pressure. The fact is that, since the Oslo Accords were foisted on us, the worst violence occurred at times of the “greatest progress” in the so-called “peace process”, because the Palestinians thought that more violence will bring more concessions. That’s why the unilateral flight from southern Lebanon brought the suicide bomber war you described, and why the flight from Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip brought TWO wars….Lebanon II and “Oferet Yetzukah” (Cast Lead). The time has come to stop this folly and tell the Palestinians and the world that although we want to help them live a better life, there will be no more withdrawals.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Thanks Extremist (sounds funny, huh?)

      Of course, I don’t agree with you on so many points. You may be right about the sincerity of their intentions – but I feel Israel has been just as insincere over the years.

      They might still try to kill us when we leave the territories. I don’t know. But at least I know our soldiers will stop occupying another people. I believe this is the only way to go.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Sara

      Well said, Ami. You speak for many of us working in the news at that terrible time. The nightmares, the inability to ever escape the situation, the endless horrific images. Actually, I don’t think we ever swapped war stories. We must do that soon – before round three starts.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Thanks Sara 🙂

      Indeed, we should hurry. Round 3 seems to be right around the corner…

      Reply to Comment
    5. Karen

      Brings back so many (un)happy memories. Walking on Dizengoff that day, with the pictures playing over and over again from every single TV screen in every shop, kiosk and cafe.

      The day I decided to quit the paper? When I was actually “relieved” that an attack happened because I had a hole on the front page….

      Those years turned us all into sick and twisted beings. Is it any wonder that it’s so hard to reach a deal?

      Reply to Comment
    6. Yeah, I think you really got it right there Karen. It turned us into something ugly, and numbed our senses.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Extremely well written. Thanks.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Thanks a lot, Yossi

      Reply to Comment
    9. Shelly

      I understand more than ever before why you used to tell us that you had to put together
      “another bloody paper.”

      An accurate and touching description that vividly brought back those terrible times.

      Walking around Haifa, my hometown, doing routine “seedorim” thinking of and whispering “BOOM!” -in anticipation of the next attack.

      Reply to Comment
    10. @Shelly – Yep, hard times. And Haifa was hit pretty bad those days.

      Reply to Comment
    11. David

      Though we never saw eye to eye on this, I so appreciate the simple clarity and integrity that comes through in all your writing, particularly the above piece. You give a perspective that is illuminating on a subject that all too often devolves into the same tired old arguments – both left and right. I suppose if in the end we don’t agree, there are few I’d rather disagree with more. Thanks for making me think.


      Reply to Comment
    12. David, you made my day with that comment. 🙂


      Reply to Comment
    13. Sinjim

      As a Palestinian, I don’t understand what you wrote about. I think that’s to be expected. But I also don’t want to understand. I don’t want to invest the emotional and psychological energy into understanding why the occupiers had it rough, too.

      Yes, occupation isn’t easy. It requires a lot of resources, material and otherwise, to maintain. It creates intense hatred among the occupied for the occupier, and that hatred will manifest itself in (sometimes gruesome) violence against the occupier. The fact that you had no idea what Israel had created in the Palestinian people over the past 40 plus years demonstrates how even Israeli leftists turn(ed) a blind eye to was done and is being done in their names.

      The comment by Extremist Zionist further demonstrates what I’m talking about. Even though the Israeli army maintains an occupation of Palestinian territory, decides which Palestinians may and may not enter and leave their land, and creates and builds up fully functioning towns in areas which deliberately choke out the Palestinians in the same areas, it is the uniquely hateful and dishonest Palestinians who ignore the Green Line.

      I debated posting this comment. It is a visceral reaction to your post and may even be counterproductive. But on a website called +972 Magazine yet devoid of any Palestinian voices, I felt I ought to share this. My intention is not to diminish your own experiences, but to frankly express my own (and, what I suspect, that of many other Palestinians).

      Reply to Comment
    14. Dear Sinjim,
      First of all – your comment is far from being counterproductive. It is an attempt, as you said, to share your feelings and your voice and I thank you for it.
      I feel that many readers, particularly those ho commented on this post on The Huffington Post, ignored a very important sentence in the article, where I write: “I turned more to the left, because I saw even more urgency in ending the occupation, the cause for such hatred.”
      The occupation is a crime. And I take responsibility for it, even though I was born an occupier, nobody asked me. I also agree particularly with your words about ho the left, myself included, were blind to the level of rage and hatred we created.
      But I have a problem with the usual Palestinian response to Israelis being moved by Palestinian violence. As if to say: “What did you expect. We’re victims, we can do anything we want, any means to end the occupation, however bloody and gruesome it is. There are no red lines. And when you Israelis see this violence, it shouldn’t affect you”.
      To me, this attitude is also turning a blind eye to me. I know it is the occupation that triggered the Ramallah lynching – but Sinjim, if you thought I would just sit back in my chair and say to myself “Well, what do you expect, I deserved that” – then you’re just as numb to my feelings as you claim I am to yours.
      I don’t think you should invest any energy into why I had it rough. You have every right not to want to understand the other side and its fears. But yes, even I, the occupier, have fears.
      You don’t have to invest the energy. But how far will that get us?….

      Reply to Comment

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