My word: Dark dances in burning fields

If you still see the car rammings, knife attacks, rockets and acts of arson as the heroic feats of Palestinians desperate to break out from Israeli oppression, you might have smoke in your eyes.

AN IDF soldier runs in a field near Kibbutz Mefalsim, which was set on fire by Palestinians in Gaza on May 14 (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
AN IDF soldier runs in a field near Kibbutz Mefalsim, which was set on fire by Palestinians in Gaza on May 14
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
I clearly remember the first time I saw a group of men spontaneously dance the debka. Druze soldiers on my IDF base on the Golan Heights received good news regarding one of our comrades and almost wordlessly they found a way to express their relief and joy. Less than two years in the country, it was one of many “not in Kansas anymore” moments, or at least “not in Kenton,” the small London suburb where I’d spent the first 18 years of my life. British men, particularly tanked up on beer, might burst into some kind of song at a football victory – I’m sure some were singing this week when England managed to ensure a spot in the World Cup quarterfinals – but grabbing each other for a well-crafted dance goes well beyond the English comfort zone.
I was reminded of this typically Levantine experience this week when a Facebook friend and former colleague shared a video showing “Gazan youths dancing the debka near the Gaza fence and Israeli snipers.” The men, most of them using keffiyehs as masks, and one young girl, were swinging chains in a Palestinian version of the dance. They put on a great show. Talk about smooth moves.
I admire the way people can make folk dancing look easy. In photos from friends’ weddings and bar/bat-mitzvah celebrations I’m guaranteed to be moving the opposite foot to everyone else in the circle. And while I have friends who are excited by the fact that there are now official choreographed steps for Netta’s Eurovision-winning song, “Toy,” they’ll have to permit me to sing along rather than move with them. In a pinch I could possibly do the trademark chicken imitation.
The video by a group called Gaza Now made a searing impression on me, but obviously not in the way it was intended. Writing on the distinctly leftist +972 site, Orly Noy said: “Since the above video was published online last Friday, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head: a young Palestinian girl and a handful of boys dancing the traditional debka along the Gaza-Israel border against a backdrop of plumes of smoke. Perhaps it is because the video manages to encapsulate so much of the story of the occupation and the siege in two-and-a-half minutes: the power dynamics between the occupier and the oppressed, the clenched fist of the former and the determination of the latter...”
The “plumes of smoke” wouldn’t get out of my head either. The smoke wasn’t from the “occupation forces.” (And as I have pointed out before, there are only two IDF soldiers in “occupied” Gaza, Lt. Hadar Goldin and St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul, both dead, their abducted bodies being held by Hamas.)
The thick black backdrop to the video came from the burning fields and nature reserves the other side of the fence. For more than three months, as part of their March of Return campaign, Palestinians have been gathering along the border, igniting tires as a literal smoke screen and, in a new abomination, sending incendiary devices attached to kites, helium balloons and even condoms to cause as much damage as possible to southern Israel.
Aware I was about to get dragged into a frustrating Facebook argument, I couldn’t stop myself from commenting on the video: “Beyond the dancers you can see the thick smoke of environmental terrorism being carried out against Negev communities. Imagine for a minute what you would think and write if you saw a video of Jewish Israelis dancing after having set fire to Gaza. This is great dancing, brilliant Palestinian PR, but it is not a message of peace.”
The response was swift and predictable, including comments such as: “It’s a specious question. One group of people is being tortured in a cage. The other group... well, it’s obvious to the world.”
“I think the Palestinians are dancing to assert their national character in the face of feeling like an enemy is trying to obliterate them,” someone else responded. “It’s a statement: we are here and you can’t kill us as a people. Knock us down and we will stand up again.”
The burning tires, by the way, are used to hinder the vision of the IDF snipers deployed to try to prevent terrorists reaching and breaching the border fence. Hamas itself has declared its desire to abduct more soldiers and civilians and to kill Israeli citizens.
One of the incendiary balloons launched into Israel this week carried the photo of Yesh Atid MK and former Eshkol Region head Haim Jelin with the message in Hebrew and Arabic: “Leave our land or you’ll have nothing green left on it.”
Yet again I thought how much Palestinian energy and initiative is being invested in trying to destroy Israel rather than build up a viable, stable and safe state of their own.
Negev resident Adele Raemer is behind a Facebook group called “Life on the border with Gaza – things people may not know (but should).” Recently, that category includes the huge number of arson attacks which have destroyed farmland and nature reserves, killing wildlife from tortoises and gerbils to gazelles and their newborn fawns, and, of course, burning the fields of flowers for which the region is particularly well known. The Environmental Protection Ministry is now monitoring the high levels of air pollution caused by the smoke, a potential health hazard especially for the old and young.
Raemer’s site features a Google Map updated to show the daily toll of kite and similar arson attacks, one red dot next to another. On July 3, for example, there were 22 such fires. The red dots run all along the border and further into the Negev region. For the phenomenon is spreading.
Last weekend, following deliberately set fires in Jerusalem and elsewhere, police issued a warning to keep a lookout for cases of arson and to stress to children that they should not touch balloons they might find.
How sad is that? Innocent childhood being burst by booby-trapped toys.
Almost all Israeli children over the age of four have already experienced war and rocket attacks; all were born into a world of jihadist terrorism. I was reminded of how when my son was young there came a day – a terrible day – when we could no longer enjoy watching bulldozers at work à la “Bob the Builder.” It came in July 2008 when someone I knew was killed in the country’s first “ramming attack.”
At the time, friends outside Israel could not appreciate the fear I developed whenever I had to pass by bulldozers and loaders. Now nearly everyone in the Western world realizes that trucks and other vehicles can be used as weapons.
The use of incendiary balloons and kites, too, could travel far beyond our borders. Two months after a wave of fires in Israel – many of them suspected terrorist arson attacks – the January 6, 2017, issue of the ISIS publication Rumiyah carried an article in its “Just Terror Tactics” series describing the blazes as an effective way to “impose terror on an entire country.”
If you still see the vehicular rammings, knife attacks, rockets and acts of arson as the heroic feats of Palestinians desperate to break out from Israeli oppression, you might have smoke in your eyes: It’s a narrative smoke screen being spread with all the innocence of a kite bomb.
In the lyrics of an old Fred Astaire hit, “I won’t dance, don’t ask me.” But I do sing: Lately an old Ehud Manor song is rivaling Netta Barzilai’s “Toy” for a place in my head. “Ein li eretz aheret”: “I have no other country even if my land is burning.” You can’t do a debka to it, but I know my former Druze comrades-in-arms appreciate the sentiment as much I do.