Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Unreasonable Neighbors

After moving to Israel I find myself attributing everyday experiences far more significance than I ever have before. I have begun to consider many of my occurrences, mundane and exhilarating alike, as a microcosm of the country as a whole. Encounters are scrutinized in search of lessons, and a month ago I learned such a lesson.

I am a college student and I just moved into a new apartment building with two other friends. In the new apartment we have been very mindful of the noise emanating from our walls. As of today we are yet to receive a complaint from a tenant in our building. Unfortunately, as I would come to learn, one need not live in the building to make a complaint.

While watching football one Sunday night (American football of course and it makes me sad that I live in a place where that distinction must be made), there began a sudden heavy pounding on our front door.  I went to the peephole and spied two men, very broad and very tall, slamming their fists against the door and incessantly ringing the bell. I decided that at one in the morning it would not be prudent to open the door for two complete strangers, goliath-sized no less, who were already visibly peeved. After approximately fifteen minutes of listening to our front door being physically abused our power was cut (our fuse box being ingeniously located in the hall way).They waited in the hall for us to come restore the power but eventually tiered and went home.

The next day, at around ten at night, the knocks of wrath began again. This time I decided it was time to face the music. After opening the door I noted that the two men were even bigger than they had appeared in the peephole. The older one asked me in broken English if he could come in. I calmly informed him that I did not think that was a very good idea considering I had no idea who he was. He responded that “he lived in the apartment building diagonal from me” with an Israeli inflection that implied that he should  be granted access to my living room while I get him a beer and a sandwich.  Again I politely denied. He then abandoned his plan to enter and began calmly and collectedly explaining his presence. He complained to me that “his apartment suffers from a terrible echo.” He said that he can see that our apartment does not have a rug or enough furniture, and thus our voices, while not being loud, are echoing directly into his apartment across the way. He concluded thusly that we must keep our main window closed at all times. Israel was suffering from a brutal heat and humidity wave at the time and our front window was our main source of air. After simply informing him that he cannot dictate the window practices of our apartment his agitation began to rise to the surface. He threatened to call the police and I welcomed him to, since I had never heard of anyone being arrested for excessive echoing. He told me through gritted teeth that I “did not understand. I can’t sleep, and if I don’t sleep you don’t live.” After I was finished explaining the irony of threatening me with the police and then threatening my life the young one finally piped up. He told me, with his crazy Israeli short-tempered eyes burning holes into my forehead, “you are very brave now, let’s see how brave you are tomorrow.” Sick of being threatened I bid them a goodnight and tried to close the door. The young’n slammed it open and stormed into the elevator with his partner in crime.

They proceeded to terrorize us the next few nights by sending the police to our building. We finally ended it all after our landlord, who happened to also be a lawyer, explained to them that this could not and would not continue.

The events of those nights bothered me for a long time but not because I was scared or upset.  After some consideration I was able to ascertain what was eating at me. The story was a microcosm of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The unreasonable neighbors were a metaphor for Israel’s…well…unreasonable neighbors.

The cutting of our power was an unprovoked escalation of the situation. The next day they were back but with a smile on their faces. Anyone who has seen Arab MK Ahmed Tibi speak knows that he begins with a Cheshire Cat grin (that can transition into a scowl faster than a Porche goes from 0 to 60). The demand that our windows remain closed at all times was blatantly unfair and was never realistic. It was never mentioned that perhaps if THEY closed THEIR windows the echo would not be so bad. They never owned up to any responsibility on their part. The refusal to acquiesce to the outrageous demands led to threats of violence and eventually harassment.

With the impending collapse of yet another sad excuse for peace negotiations Israel is bracing itself for another avalanche of world condemnation for refusing to meet unreasonable demands and unwarranted harassment from their neighbors. The somber lesson I learned from this Israel adventure is that perhaps there are people in this world that are content to bully and harass others. They may hide behind a mask of calm and reason but underneath they live to badger their neighbors. The chances of making peace with people like that appears bleak to me. Luckily for us winter has finally arrived and we both have closed our windows. Sadly if Israel were to close its window the world would throw a proverbial brick through it.

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