7/10/15 One Year Since the Start of the War
So, it’s been another strange week in Tel Aviv. This week marks the one year anniversary of the start of the last summer’s Gaza War. Yesterday, FaceBook pushed one of its “one year ago today” images on to my Newsfeed. The featured image was a picture of people sitting at a popular cafe near my house. At first I didn’t remember why I took that picture. Then it came back to me. I snapped that photo during the first days of the war, attempting to show – at that time – how unaffected the people of Tel Aviv were by the war.
Last summer’s war was pretty much forgotten for most of the past year. However, this last week, reminders of the war suddenly sank in and penetrated the Israeli consciousness. One of the major television channels produced a widely watched series on “Operation Protective Edge” – one year later. This week, a memorial service was held on Mount Herzl for the Israeli soldiers who fell during the war. Still, nothing quite reminded Israelis of last summer’s war and its aftermath than yesterday’s revelation that two Israelis were being held by Hamas in Gaza.
The news had been censored until yesterday, when at the behest of Haaretz newspaper, the courts agreed to remove the gag order. The fate of the two captives – an Arab Israeli and an Israeli of Ethiopian descent remains unknown, (with Hamas denying that it is holding them.) However, the story quickly transformed into a controversy over why this information had been kept from the Israeli public for ten months.
Some claimed the ethnic origin of the captives allowed the government to keep the story quiet. Last night the story developed a life of its owns, when Israel’s channel 10 broadcasted a tape of Lior Lotan (the governments representative on the issues of missing Israelis and a member Prime Minister Netanyahu’s staff) warning the Ethiopian family not to criticize the Prime Minister. Lotan further cautioned the family that if they voiced their complaints publicly the Prime Minister would not do anything for their son. By the end of the evening, after a storm developed on social media, Lotan was forced to apologize and Prime Minister Netanyahu was scheduled to meet with the family today.
While past events in Gaza intruded into the thoughts of Israelis, the major topic of discussion this past week focused on economics. A new agreement between the government and the companies that have the rights to oil and gas exploration of the large gas fields off Israel’s coast, (one of the most heatedly debated items among Israelis) has triggered weekly demonstrations in Tel Aviv. The “Saga of Oil and Gas” also resulted in one of the first political defeats for the new Netanyahu government.
Also in the news, this week one of Israel’s largest supermarket chains, (“Mega”), requested protection from the bankruptcy courts. Mega’s owners proposed a reorganization plan that would keep it going as a functioning enterprise. There was a question whether Mega’s reorganization would be accepted by the creditors. It should be noted that Israel does not have a tradition of Chapter 11 reorganizations that give companies breathing space to regroup. Meanwhile, the chain seems to have lost the support of its workers. As one women said to me last night: “They do not care about us. Why should we care about them?”
While workers at Mega were concerned about where their next paycheck was coming from, those lucky enough to have money to invest were more concerned about the state of the Greek financial default and the Chinese stock market. Both Greece and China were the subject of more than a few discussions on the streets of Tel Aviv this week.
Question: What was not a topic of discussion? Answer: The Iran talks taking place in Vienna. I brought up the Iran talks in friendly debates over the major events of the week. Friends would politely shift the conversation to questions surrounding the gas agreement, the Greek debt talks, or even the Chinese stock market.
Bringing up the nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna I was met with blank stares; a reaction I found found fascinating. After all, it is Israelis sitting here in Tel Aviv who theoretically would be the target of a future Iranian bomb. Though I imagine that after hearing about the Iranian threat for nearly twenty years, Israelis have decided that whether or not an agreement is reached in these never ending talks is almost irrelevant to their lives. If an agreement is actually finalized in Vienna in the coming days, or if the talks end in failure, Israelis are likely to pay more attention. However, for the moment, other more immediate events continue to dominate peoples’ concern.