Tuesday, 27 January 2009

A Little Story of Shame

It’s a fair walk from the top of Carmel, dropping down almost 500m from the top of the mountain to the main coastal highway running south to Tel Aviv. Just before reaching the junction of Ezel and Hahaganna Avenue, however, there is a small collection of kiosks selling sweets, drinks and flowers. And next to that, on a scrap of waste land, is a small shanty hut, a tent and large home-made banners in Hebrew. Welcome to the home of David Alon and his wife of thirty five years, Rena.

In broken English David tells me their story. In 2001 their son, Shel, was a soldier and, from what I can tell, he was with the Shabak HaBitahon Haklali, or Misrad Habitahon as David called it. This is Israel’s internal security agency, known just as the Shabak in English. While he was on duty in Israel, a Palestinian had attempted to wrestle his automatic rifle from Shel, apparently with the intention of turning the weapon on the people around. During the struggle, the attempt to snatch the weapon failed – a good job since it had three fully loaded magazines with forty five rounds – but Shel suffered a stab wound to the neck. His health has not been the same since. Psychological problems have also led to two suicide attempts since the incident.

As David tells me the story, Rena serves us hot strong silty coffee served in plastic cups. I ask David why is he protesting?

“For my son! They have not given him what he needs to live.”
“Compensation?” I ask.
“Yes, compensation! They give him just a little then forget. For eight and a half years, we try to get what is his by right.”
“How long have you being camped here?”
“For six months. This is now all we have! We camp here so that see us every day. To shame them.” David points out the low office block nearby. “There! There is their office. Where they work.”
“Has anybody come to speak to you?”
“Nobody. Nobody speaks to us. But they see you speaking to us. The is a camera over there.” He points to a little patch behind us where a large black dog is tied up and barking. “There. Maybe they come to talk to you after. What will you say?”
“I will tell them the truth. It’s a free country isn’t it?” I answer sweetly.
David rolls his eyes. “Ha! A democrat!” He then goes on to tell me about the press coverage, or the lack of it. Not one local journalist has decided to run the story.

Posters outlining the campaign, the bottom one showing it has been currently running for six months.

“We sleep here for six months. In the wind, the rain. I was a big man before we come here. I lose twenty five kilos. We have nothing. But we do it for my son. I tell him “Shel, I am loyal to you 100%! They are not loyal. You are family. I do this for you.””
“Why do you think the journalists do not cover the story?”
“Misrad Habitahon tells them not to. From Misrad Habitahon, they get money, they get stories. What can I give them? Nothing!”

"Journalists and TV - Why don't you come here? Are you afraid of the truth?"

David asks me whether I am Jewish or Christian. I am puzzled as to why he asks this but tell him I am a Christian.
“Christ[ian]? Good. I want to become. I am ashamed to be Jew in this country. If a person does bad, they give him medals, everything. If he does good, they walk away from him.”

"Terrorist stab me in the neck. Misrad Habitahon stab me in the back"

During our conversation, David asks me several questions. His English is not great and my Hebrew is non-existent so the conversation is a bit laborious. Rena joins in and they speak in Hebrew, with David returning to me with fresh questions. I make it clear that I am not a journalist, that I am interested because I write a blog. Finally they understand. The Alons are desperate for somebody to pick up on their and their son’s story.
“Tell a journalist to come, and somebody who can speak Hebrew and English. If you could speak Hebrew, I would tell you everything. English is difficult for us.”

The pictures show the banners that are hanging around the camp. The translations are based upon what David has told me.

Finally I bid the couple farewell and wish them luck. As I walk back up the hill I have time to reflect. I am a blog writer and not a journalist. A journalist would have asked tough questions, challenged them about their disillusionment with Israel, asked David if it was sensible to be so inflammatory towards his fellow countrymen. A journalist would have been able to check their story. My next move would have been to speak to the press in Haifa and asked them why they have not given the Alon’s story any space. I would have also gone to the press-office of the Shabak and asked them for their side of the story. I tried looking up the story of the initial attack on Shel Alon and the Alon’s six-month long campaign in the Jerusalem Post, Israel National News, Haaretz.com and Israel Insider but drew a complete blank. It goes to show that the Internet is a valuable resource but is still limited.

The flip side of this of course is what if David is right? That the local journalists won’t touch this story because of vested interests and because, although true, it shows Israel in a bad light. How else can such a story be brought to the world, except through a random meeting between a curious foreigner and a family struggling with an indifferent and powerful state?

Israel is a free country. The Alons are free to campaign and the State is free to ignore them.

 David and Rena Alon, outside the tent that has been their home for six months

*  *   *  

The next day I go to work offshore.  When I return the taxi picks me up and on the way to the airport we drive past David and Rena's camp.  
"I'm sorry," I say to the taxi driver.  "But I can't read Hebrew.  What do those posters say?  Is it some kind of protest?"
"It will be to do with the elections," replies Lulu.  "We have an election on the 10th."  He looks over at posters.
"Ah, they are just election posters?" I ask innocently.

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