I’m spending the year in California, which explains how earlier this week I found myself on a marine sightseeing trip, on a rough sea watching for seabirds. As my first such trip it was a wonderful experience, filled with many exciting species of shearwaters, storm-petrels, alcids, jaegers, and even one black-footed albatross. To the more veteran participants, the experience was mixed. The El Niño we’re now experiencing messes with sea temperatures, and consequently with the patterns of fish schools and the sea birds that feed on them. The avian scene was just not as expected and experienced birders weren’t happy about it.
But even greater trouble waited for me on the shore once I turned on my smartphone and was flooded with news flashes from Israel. As if El Niño, “the child,” finds mysterious ways to avenge us for our reckless behaviors, the relative and misleading calmness in Israel/Palestine had been shattered once again and all Hell has broken loose. While observers semi-intelligently debated whether the long-dreaded third intifada (popular uprising) had begun, ordinary Jerusalemite Palestinians, many of them youths, were taking to the streets to knife Israeli Jews: a sort of a twisted and murderous El Niño Intifada.
Like El Niño, this wave of violence seems like a cyclized and natural disaster. However, its intensity and frequency are very much manmade; it results from the amassing of the incremental effects of our past mistakes (be they environmental or political), as well as the result of our failure to act decidedly and decisively to amend our present conduct. But unlike the first and second intifadas, it is unorganized and amateurish, enacted mostly by youths who are driven to the streets by shattered dreams and hopes.
In one of the more horrendous events, a Jerusalemite Palestinian kid, the age of 13, stabbed another 13-year-old kid, an Israeli Jew riding his bicycle. The Israeli Jewish kid is currently hospitalized in critical condition; the Jerusalemite Palestinian kid’s 15-year-old cousin was shot dead by the Israeli police. Two kids, two victims of a situation of our making: a situation in which those who were supposed to be the responsible grownups from both sides of the conflict turn out again and again to be no more mature than the adolescents.
The El Niño Intifada proves once again, to those of us who still need proof, that the reality in Israel/Palestine is both unbearable and unsustainable. But no less depressing is that it demonstrates that we have no one to count on and no real plan to act upon (farewell my own conditional optimism from March). National leaders, Israeli and Palestinian alike, are forming ridiculous policies (curfews in Jerusalem, employing the IDF in the streets) or, worse still, attempting to ride a dangerous hate-driven beast in a futile attempt to domesticate it. In the meantime, mutual mistrust shatters any chance of coexistence and the two national communities, destined to live side by side (in one state, two states, or no state at all), are emotionally drifting further apart.
My only hope now is that El Niño will be the alarm bell we all need. Globally it should remind us of the irresponsible way that we, as humanity, are facing climate change. Domestically it should awaken us to the need for radical change. While in the depths of despair I have no clue what is the required new course, and surely I don’t know how to stir people towards it. I have only one piece of solid knowledge: Kids should have other things to do in life than to kill and be killed.