Friday, June 4, 2010

Divided between Turkey and Israel: the Days following the Gaza Flotilla Incident

During the last few days I have been emotionally bombarded by the wave of reactions to the Gaza Flotilla Incident. My facebook page seemed to reflect my multiple personalities of living in three cities: Istanbul, Tel Aviv, and New York. One facebook friend placed a Israeli flag, with the star being replaced with a swastika, while another Turkish friend called to condemn all expression of anti-Semitism. One Israeli friend praised Israel’s actions as “self-defense,” calling his friends to join a protest in front of the Turkish embassy, while another Israeli friend called Israelis to demonstrate against the Israeli attack of innocent civilians. My Palestinian friends expressed their solidarity with the Turkish victims. My American friends were divided.

In Turkey, personal reactions were similar to those I witnessed during the Second Lebanon War. In general, it is strange when friends start to tell you to keep a low profile (due to being an Israeli citizen among other things). However, at the same time it is comforting since it was done with good intentions. While I did not poll my Jewish and other non-Muslim friends, no one could deny the tension; however, some of my Turkish friends (both Muslim and non-Muslim) thought that this was preposterous to think that the Jewish community would be attacked in retaliation. However, clearly it was not baseless with Prime Minster Erdogan numerous times reminding Turkish citizens of the need to protect the Jewish community, and in one speech he even went so far to make it clear that all Israelis whether consulate workers, tourists, or businessmen should be treated with the utmost respect and not be targeted. Lastly, it should be noted that as usual in such times, one Jew wrote an apologetic letter to his “Turkish brothers,” explaining to them about how Turkish Jews have far stronger ties with Turkey than Israel.

In the midst of all of this, I was interviewed by Israel private Channel Two station about what it was like being an Israeli in Turkey, together with an Israeli woman who is studying in Istanbul. As I have lived in Turkey off and on for years I experienced less pressure to leave the country. However, this student was bombarded by family and friends pleading with her to return home immediately, as if at any one moment she would be lynched. The truth is that this is the last thing which occurred to me and as individuals the threat seemed limited. However, in my opinion, there is no doubt that “official representatives” of Israel were in immediate danger and thus were wise to leave.

Arriving to Israel yesterday (Thursday, June 3) to participate in my daughter’s school program, I had to make clear both in Israel and in Turkey that I was not “packing my bags” and escaping with what I had. Here in Israel, while many are defending the IDF’s right to defend themselves on the ship, most people when asked agree that it should have never reached this stage, and that simply isolating the ship in the ocean without engaging in any physical contact with the protestors would have been ideal; in other words, it seems that most Israelis are silently opposed to this government’s lack of experience in dealing with issues of defense and public relations. I imagine demonstrations against Israel’s reaction and the Gaza blockade will be held on Saturday evening and will report to all if I take part. Then there are those who are demonstrating for Israel’s right to defend itself across from the Turkish embassy. There is a limit to such audacity (hutzpah) and like some of their Turkish counterparts who do not understand why at all they are demonstrating, I will relate to this phenomenon in a separate blog hopefully.

Lastly, I wanted to end with two people who I thought really provided me with a glimmer of hope. One was a Turkish man I met on the flight to Israel who decided to attend his friend’s wedding in Israel despite the situation. Clearly, he was against Israel’s actions but did not find it proper to boycott his friend’s ceremony. Second, there was a fellow who I met on the bus going to the northern Tel Aviv region. He was working on a project to bring Turkish students to Israel, which unfortunately fell victim to these events. However, even while hesitantly supporting Israel, he seemed determined to continue to work to strengthen ties between Turkish and Israeli citizens. For me this was important to see. In the end, we are all human and it is in the worst of times we need to struggle to go against the current and to retain personal ties even when our nations go to war, or in this case a virtual war on the screens of our televisions.


  1. It amazes me what is being reported now how the people on the ship were not so peaceful and others offered to get the supplies to where they needed to go but where turned down. I hate to see this happening but also hate to see Israel made out to be the bad guy when they are just trying to protect themselves.

  2. It is the most balanced text that I´ve read since the events. But I think that when you said "Israelis are silently opposed to this government’s lack of experience in dealing with issues of defense and public relations" you are slightly wrong.
    First of all, because many israelis citizens are brave enough to exercise they freedom of speech in despite of the social pressure and censure. And second, because the Israeli politicians are one of the most experienced dealing with international public relations; and the military is very well trained, active and experienced.