Saturday, April 19, 2008

School security

Go to Original
By Seth Freedman

In many ways, my secondary school experience was the perfect precursor to living in Israel and understanding the paranoia that envelops the country’s citizens like a dense fog. Seven years at JFS, a Jewish school in the heart of Kentish Town, gave me firsthand experience of what happens when you fence in a group of people behind a wall and convince them that everyone on the other side is out to get them, and that they will go on the attack the minute they are given the opportunity.

I have to admit, I believed the hype as much as the next blue blazer-clad boy or girl. The dark forces of Holloway Boys, Richard of Chichester, and all the other schools that surrounded us in every direction were, in my eyes, as frightening a prospect as the Syrians, Iranians et al are to today’s terrified Israeli public. The walk from the school gates to Kentish Town station every afternoon was approached with trepidation by us all, fevered imaginations running wild as to where and when the next assault would come from.

On one famous occasion, two infiltrators scaled the fence between the school and the skateboard park and jumped down into the playground. Five hundred startled JFS pupils stampeded like wildebeest for the sanctuary of the dining hall. No one stopped to weigh up the odds - it could have been 250:1, had a fight broken out. Instead, the pre-instilled terror proved too weighty for logic to even get a look-in, and the incident poured yet more fuel on an already brightly burning fire.

Of course, the tales of hate and harassment weren’t entirely apocryphal; there were plenty of occasions when JFS pupils bore the brunt of the violent tendencies of the local thugs and carried the scars into school the next day. However - as the more sane pointed out (although their wisdom usually fell on deaf ears) - there was every reason to believe that the internecine fighting was born of plain, inter-school rivalry, rather than some deep-rooted antisemitic streak common to every uncircumcised male within a five-mile radius.

The net result of all of the tension and paranoia was that, bit by bit, our school was transformed into a fortress, replete with 20-foot high metal fences, CCTV cameras, and a full-time security team headed up by a thuggish skinhead who was as close to a modern-day Golem as it got. Our lot was to be shepherded to and from the tube station by our protectors, who spent the rest of their time patrolling the school’s borders with a zeal all too familiar to anyone who has spent time in the Holy Land.

The grown-up version of JFS which I now inhabit is just that - secondary school all over again. Same fear, same heavily fortified perimeter, same collective mentality: afraid that all who inhabit the surrounding area are after our blood. However, in the case of Israel, the crucial distinction is that our "school" is built on the ruins of a former school, whose dispossessed pupils have every reason to avenge their loss. But that point is completely ignored by those running the show, who prefer to peddle the canard that the reason for their resentment and rage is the old antisemitic gene that can be found in every soul outside the flock.

One of Cif’s I/P heavyweights often makes the point that had it been Catholics rather than Jews who established a state in Israel in 1948, the Palestinians would have responded just as viciously to the injustice they were dealt. Anyone with an ounce of sense would reach the same conclusion - provided they are not under the widely-cast spell that there is an inherent lust for Jewish blood in every Arab. As I argued in a comment on my last thread, belief in such a preposterous theory is as stereotyping and racist as a belief that all Jews are leeches and cosmopolitan anarchists.

Of course there are extremists amongst the Palestinians who want to maim and kill Israeli civilians for no reason other than they are Israeli civilians. Those true terrorists must not be given the freedom to operate. However, perpetually occupying an entire people and keeping them in prison and in penury plays into the hands of radical elements, providing them with more and more fodder willing to do their bidding and put the security of ordinary Israelis at risk. Collective punishment breeds collective rage, and Israel has to recognise this before there is any chance of a cessation of violence.

But beyond the extremists there exists a majority of Palestinians who couldn’t give a damn about the ethnicity of those oppressing them, they just care about the oppression itself. If Israel unlocks its vice-like grip on their collective windpipe, they will breathe again, and with each breath more oxygen will rush to their heads and they’ll be able to think straight once more. Then the Israelis will realise that the Palestinians are no more or less human than the Israelis themselves, and the 60-year fear will begin to recede.

Just as it did for we JFS pupils once we reached the sixth form and were allowed out into the bandit country of Kentish Town during our free periods. Unchecked, we wandered the streets among our supposedly mortal enemies, wondering how we’d been worked into such a state of suspicion for so long, when the truth was far removed from the urban legends that swirled around our penned-in playground.

Even though I look forward a time when Israelis and Palestinians can reside together in peace, it would be foolish to suggest the conditions are sufficiently clement for that to occur today. Clearly, the rogue elements who do wish genuine harm on the country’s inhabitants must be neutralised before any kind of integration can begin in earnest. But that doesn’t mean neutralisation by force, since that route only generates more fundamentalists.

Instead, the Israelis must begin by rebuilding the Palestinians’ lives step by step - economically, socially, emotionally - and demonstrating a clear wish for rapprochement. The Israeli public must be treated like sixth-formers and allowed back into the West Bank (as they were in pre-intifada days), to see for themselves that not all Palestinians are masked gunmen with only murder on their minds. Once that happens, the hysteria will dissipate as it did for we JFS kids. And only then will it truly be possible to move forward to a future of harmonious coexistence.

No comments: