6/30/2016 Tel Aviv Celebrate White Night in Shadow of Terror

Tonight Tel Aviv residents are stepping out to the annual celebration, known to locals as “Laila Lavan”, literally, “White Night” – a uniquely Tel Aviv event featuring concerts, open air shows, lectures by University Professors (as Tel Aviv University celebrates its 60th anniversary this year), art exhibits, and street dancing going on at locations throughout the city – all night long. In this city that rarely sleeps, tonight, night easily transforms into day (inspiration for the name “White Night”.)

On White Night nearly half of the country seems to congregate in Tel Aviv (at least 90% of those under 25) to celebrate life and summer. In the hour before events were scheduled to begin, police were forced to rethink security in the city; as the second terror attack of the day took place this evening – this time, in the seaside town of Netanya, 20 minutes north of Tel Aviv. Two people were stabbed, none critically. It’s only been a few weeks since terror struck in central Tel Aviv, and tonight the police will need to be especially vigilant.

Earlier today tragedy struck an Israeli family living in the West Bank, (from the town of Kiryat Arba, outside the city of Hebron), when their 13 year old daughter Hallel Yaffa Ariel was stabbed to death – while sleeping in her bed – by a 17 year old Palestinian terrorist who had written that “dying was good”, before setting off to commit murder. The Israeli news has been filled with the stories of the terror attack in Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, an airport well-known by most Israelis (as the Turkish Airlines flying into Israel have the largest number of flights in and out of Ben-Gurion Airport, second only to El Al, Israel’s national carrier.) Ataturk Airport is a favorite transit point for Israelis seeking reasonable travel fares.

The attack in Istanbul occurred one day after the signing of Israel’s long awaited reconciliation agreement with Turkey, which took six years to reach. Israel’s relations with Turkey have been extremely strained, as a result of an incident in which the Israeli Navy intercepted a Turkish flotilla, led by the Turkish ship, named “Marmara”, traveling to the Gaza Strip to break Israel’s blockade there. During the interception of the vessel 11 Turkish citizens were killed, after attacking the Israeli Naval commandos – who initially were armed only with paint guns.

For many years, Turkey had been one of Israel’s closest allies in the Middle East – a non-Arab secular, nation, with whom Israel maintained closed ties. The rise of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and with it Turkey’s transformation from a secular state into one whose state-religion is clearly Islam, began to strain Israel’s relations with Turkey, even before the Marmara incident. Under the terms of the reconciliation agreement Israel will pay compensation to the families of those killed on the Marmara. Israel has also agreed to allow Turkey to send food to Gaza via the Ashdod port (something which, in fact, Turkey has always been free to do). In return, full diplomatic relations will be reestablished between Israel and Turkey. This was supposed to be a hopeful moment, instead, the next day terror struck the Istanbul airport, killing 43. Sadly, the attacks in Turkey help reestablish the connections that have been lost in the last decade between Israel and Turkey.

While Israelis wonder where the next terror will strike they were hit with comments from the Head of the Labor Party in Great Britain, Jeremy Corbyn, asserting: "Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel, than our Muslim friends are for the self-styled Islamic State.” An equivalency has been established between Israel and the Islamic State. At the same time that Corbyn spoke, a Jewish Member of Parliament, Ruth Smeeth was verbally attacked at a Labor Party gathering. Smeeth later stated:
"This morning, at the launch of the Chakrabarti Inquiry into antisemitism, I was verbally attacked by a Momentum activist and Jeremy Corbyn supporter who used traditional antisemitic slurs to attack me for being part of a 'media conspiracy'. It is beyond belief that someone could come to the launch of a report on antisemitism in the Labour Party and espouse such vile conspiracy theories about Jewish people, which were ironically highlighted as such in Ms Chakrabarti's report, while the leader of my own party stood by and did absolutely nothing.”

Smeeth then called on Corbyn to resign.

The worldwide rise of antisemitism during the past few years has surprised many residents of this city. While much of Israel tends to harbor tribal attitudes, Tel Avivians pride themselves on their cosmopolitan outlooks; their sense of being citizens of the larger world. That ‘larger world’ seems to have become a much darker place in these past few weeks; as the world staggers under the burden of terror attacks and the yet to be determined implications of Brexit.

Israelis have been living with terrorism since 1968, when the Palestinian Liberation Organization launched the modern age of terror, with hijacking attacks on Israeli and other national aircraft. Terror is a part of our day-to day lives. Many hope it might end when we finally reach an agreement with the Palestinians; others believe the terror will likely never end. Tonight, as Tel Avivians turn the night into day, they will do their best to push away whatever dark thoughts they have recently had out of their heads, and enjoy the moment. There really is not much choice.