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>>>>> 01.01.2017 Quiet on Israel’s Northern Front; Massacre in Istanbul

I entered 2017 at Kibbutz Malkiya on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon. On the first day of the new year I woke up to the view of snow-peaked Mount Hermon in the horizon, erect with might. The sun shone strong even at 8:00 am and warmed the crisp air. I strolled through the fields towards the Hermon. I wanted to smell the snow.

The Lebanese across the border are simple farmers, my host had said the night before. Outside of Tel Aviv’s urban hum, the quiet of the kibbutz and its surroundings gave me a sense of inner peace. I felt calm despite walking along wires and fences guarding the Kibbutz from Israel’s northern enemies, despite watching tank-like military jeeps patrol the border, despite my knowing that just behind the white snow that graced the Hermon lay the bodies of tens of thousands of people drenched in the blood of the Syrian civil war.

On the morning of the new year, I woke up cheerful, filled with hope for the coming year. “2017 is going to be great,” I hollered towards the snow. It’s going to be great despite the lack of peace in Israel’s northern and eastern borders; despite the election of a chauvinist, xenophobic bigot to the most powerful office in the world; despite the bombs and the killings that have become weekly occurrences in Turkey, my native country.

As the morning rose, I started receiving texts from friends and family about the massacre that took the lives of 39 people celebrating the new year at Reina, a nightclub overlooking the Bosporus in Istanbul’s Ortaköy neighborhood.

As a teenager, Ortaköy was my favorite place in Istanbul with its weekend arts and craft bazaar (no longer) and delicious baked potato stands (kumpir).

When I was 16 years old, my father took me to Reina for dinner. Back then Reina was the newest, trendiest nightclub; the top choice of Istanbul’s high society. Paparazzi stood guard at the entrance with their professional cameras to spot Istanbul’s famed and fortuned. Poignantly named “Queen,” at Reina you could sip overpriced cocktails and watch the city’s lights flicker on the Bosporus. Reina was the place to see and be seen by “Queens” and “Kings” of the Turks.

Ortaköy has always been a symbol of Turkey’s multicultural, multireligious past with its beautiful mosque, synagogue and church that have coexisted side by side for centuries. And it continues to decorate pages written by Turkey’s nostalgic writers.

But the times are different now. Ortaköy’s diversity is nothing but an overused cliché that does not reflect reality. Ortaköy’s synagogue and church still stand but their congregations dwindle every week and pray in fear. Those who insist on celebrating the Gregorian New Year do so in the shadow of demonizing ads on the streets of Istanbul: “Don’t follow the devil, don’t celebrate!” Hatred of the other permeates society like a swarm of bloodthirsty ants.

The ad says: “No to New Year’s and Noel celebrations!”

The symbolism laden with this attack is as dense as it is heartbreaking. Turkey, the country of my childhood, the land of my ancestors has entered a new era divisive politics. After the attacks, social media trolls praised the attackers who killed innocent civilians at Reina: “If they go out to celebrate like infidels, they deserve brutal death.”

Turkey’s old Queens and Kings have been dethroned. And as the Turkish idiom wisely instructs… Gelen gideni aratır… the new is often worse than the old.

Happy 2017 from Israel 🙂

View of Mt. Hermon from Kibbutz Malkiya, Israel on 1.1.2017.

On the first day of 2017, we took a hike in Nimrod Fortress in the Golan Heights not far from Mt. Hermon. We were hoping to climb the mountain and play with snow but so were many others… there was a 2-hour wait just to get through the mountain’s first gates.

A medieval Muslim castle built in 1229, Nimrod Fortress rises on a hill on the southern slopes of Mt. Hermon in Israel’s Golan Heights.