An Image from Libya and Israeli Fears

Father and son in Benghazi, Libya.

Part 1. Libya

Today, an unusual and chilling scene was captured by journalists’ cameras in Tripoli.

The scene: a woman, hysterical, burst into a chic hotel filled with foreign journalists, screaming about having been raped by pro-Qaddafi forces. She was quickly and forcefully whisked away by Libyan security officials.

[You can view the video here.]

N.Y. Times reporter Nicholas Kristof tweeted, in response, “This Libyan woman telling of rape and beatings makes the case for our humanitarian intervention.”

Now, the cynic in me would respond, “A bombing campaign cannot be justified by a single incident.” And, of course, this is true. However, the human spark in me – or, as the poet Gerald Stern would say, the Jew in me – knows what Kristof means. There are images so indelible and real that they can stand, on their own, as testimony for everything they represent. To Kristof, this screaming woman encapsulates the will of an entire regime bent on brutalizing and murdering its own people.

For me, the representative image that argues for intervention is the one embedded at the top of this post from Reuters photographer Goran Tomasevic. No need to describe it — the image, the metaphor, speaks for itself.

Part 2. Israel

Yesterday, I heard the following from an Israeli acquaintance: I’m terrified of what’s happening in Libya and Egypt – Israel’s in real trouble if Iran gets stronger from all this.

While I understand her fear, her existential, psychologically-ingrained fear for Israel’s survival, I shudder when my friends and colleagues look at what is going on in the Arab world through Israel-centric lenses.

Israelis and American Jews – two groups that have the great fortune to live in democratic countries – should be celebrating and supporting these struggles for self-determination happening across the region. And I’m not naive about the potential political dispositions towards Israel that might emerge amongst the new ruling classes in, say, Egypt or Libya.

However, none of these stories occurring in the Middle East are about Israel. They’re about Egyptians and Libyans and Syrians trying to throw off the yoke of oppressive, dictatorial regimes.

It pains me to say it, but many Israelis – though they might not articulate it – are really fearful because they know that what they see on the television screens can be mirrored back to them in the territories. Both hawkish and dovish Israelis know that this Arab Spring may just as easily take root in Gaza or the West Bank. They know that Israel plays the part – in a different capacity, but in a capacity nevertheless – of a dictatorial, occupying force.

And perhaps this is one reason why what has happened across the region has been slow to be championed by the Israeli media or the general populace.

For what regime in power in the Middle East has yet to do so?


About David Harris-Gershon

David Harris-Gershon – a blogger for Tikkun magazine and a freelance writer on Israel, the Middle East and America’s role in the region – has recently published work in The Jerusalem Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, AlterNet, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Colorado Review and elsewhere. His memoir – What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? – is forthcoming from Oneworld Publications (2013). He received his MFA from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and has worked extensively as an educator, teaching creative writing and Israeli History / Jewish Studies in university and high school classrooms. Follow David on Twitter @David_EHG

Posted on March 27, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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