Capitalizing on Fear
The other day as I arrived to my car, I noticed a flier set on the window. I didn’t pay it any attention. It was only a few hours later, after arriving to my destination that I looked a little closer. As I examined the images, I was very disturbed. The ad said:
“Due to the heightened violence it is important to know how to defend yourself… This method works for fist fights, kidnapping, rape, robbery, a threatening non-firearm or firearm, and against one or several attackers. These trainings fit children, youth, women and men from ages 3 to 60.”
Since the ad is written in Hebrew, the target audience for these trainings are meant for Israeli Jews, who are the primary Hebrew speakers in Israel. The fliers were distributed in West Jerusalem (a Jewish area of the city, although both Israelis and Palestinians work here). It makes me wonder if the advertiser is implying that Israeli Jews in this area are or should be threatened by Palestinian workers in the area.
Perhaps I am reading too much into this innocent ad and the organization that is trying to equip children, youth, women and men with self-defense tactics. However, the fact that they began with “Due to heightened violence…” makes me think otherwise. The ad plays on people’s fear of political violence in order to increase registration for self-defense classes.
I agree that everyone has a right to defend themselves, and there is nothing wrong with learning some practical ways to do so. However, using an image of a child protecting herself from another child with a knife portrays a demonized message about Palestinians. I appreciate that they did not do this in the most obvious way, portraying a Palestinian man or woman with a knife attacking an Israeli Jewish child, but the implicit message behind the words and picture is clear to me: Palestinian children are to be feared because they are perpetrators and you, the reader - a Jewish parent or child- must protect yourself from them. In the same way, the implicit message of the ad also portrays the Palestinians as the perpetrators, and Israelis as the victims, which is an inaccurate and incomplete reflection of reality.
My disgust is seated in the choice to play on fears and further embed the idea that Israeli Jews are threatened. Israel demands the right to self-defense and in return uses disproportionate force to counter aggression. By doing so, Israel confuses self-defense with the use of violence. The Israeli mindset of self-defense is triggered by fear and as a result the response only continues the cycle of demonizing and dehumanizing one another. This makes me wonder, what would be the next ad in self-defense? Teaching children, youth, women and men to use firearms in order to defend themselves from others?
There are other ways to address fear. One of the most effective ways to reduce fear is to meet people you might be afraid of in safe spaces where you can address your fears together. There have been cases where Palestinian youth stabbed Israeli Jews. Palestinian youth often live in fear of Israelis as well, as their most common interactions with Israelis are predicated on their disadvantaged status. While self-defense classes can encourage youth by making them less afraid on some level, a much better way to deal with fear is to meet each other. If Israeli Jewish youth could go to a camp where they meet and engage with Palestinian youth, their generation could slowly break the cycle of separation and fear from one another.
I pondered these thoughts while looking at the advertisement. Why are there no peace initiatives where ads are being distributed in parking lots or malls, I wondered? Have peacemakers also fallen victim of fear? There are many peace initiatives taking place in Jerusalem and elsewhere in our region, but why are they so hard to find?
It is normal to be afraid due to violence, but fear is being capitalized on by individuals and governments to maintain the conflict. As a result, both Israelis and Palestinians deem themselves to be casualties of the conflict. This does not need to be the only reality. We do not have to be captives of fear.