By Gideon Levy, Haaretz – 28 Apr 2011
The Environmental Protection Ministry declared this nothing less than a “revolution” – the leaf blower revolution. The Arab world is deposing rulers and we are deposing the leaf blower.
Sometimes I’d watch him, the leaf blower. Making a racket, raising clouds of dust but doing a wonderful job of cleaning our streets. Crouching along the sidewalks of the city, he would never get anything but barrages of curses from passersby. Yesterday his work ended. The new noise prevention regulations went into effect, and with them, the end of the leaf blower.
I loved them, but apparently most Israelis thought otherwise. The Environmental Protection Ministry declared this nothing less than a “revolution” – the leaf blower revolution. The Arab world is deposing rulers and we are deposing the leaf blower. Now they will inundate the streets with thousands of African sanitation workers, who will sweep our streets in a hush and clean up after us ever so quietly with their wretched brooms of twigs, these sub-contracted workers, who earn the very minimum of the minimum wage and do not receive any social benefits or health insurance. But what’s important is that our rest is not disturbed and our tranquility is preserved, no matter the cost.
This is how we are, we Israelis. We love to eat our cake and have it, too. We love the artfully achieved natural “look.” We want someone to clean up after us but without making noise; we want someone to sweep up after us in conditions of near enslavement and without making a sound. It’s not Israeli raucousness, the persistent honking of car horns, and the music blaring out of these cars – all the work of our own hands – that disturbs us. What disturbs us is the leaf blower. It’s not the sounds of the seething environment that disturbs us. Not the outcries of the oppressed among us, not the mutterings of the world that opposes us and not the moans of those under our occupation. These do not disturb our serenity. Only the leaf blower does.
This leaf blower is, indeed, a metaphor. There are many other leaf blowers and brooms out there that Israelis would want to “do their work” for them, to clear away the fallen leaves and the piled up garbage, but they better not disturb their tranquility.
The separation wall is a case in point. They are there and we are here (and also there ), but the main thing is that the Palestinians disappear from our sight – separation and sweeping without any noise. Every time the occupation has the gall to proclaim its existence and make a racket like a leaf blower, we hasten to issue regulations to muffle it and use violent means to silence it.
Like the cleanliness of our cities, we want the occupation to continue but without making noise. We want violent wars and brutal military operations but without a peep from the world in their wake. We want crude violations of human rights but without the clamor of criticism; to preach to the world to boycott Hamas but to be against international boycotts. We want democracy but without the background noises of the minority. We want to live in a near theocracy, one of the most religious countries in the world, and to imagine we are living in a secular and liberal democracy. We want to consider ourselves enlightened and to vote for Kadima – a rightist, nationalist party in every respect, only without the leaf-blowing racket of the undisguised right-wing nationalists.
We say that most of us are in favor of the two-state solution, but we vote for parties that will do nothing to advance it. We vehemently oppose a one-state solution but we live, in fact for decades, in an apartheid state. We favor free access and worship at Joseph’s Tomb but not at Al Aqsa. We remember 1948 but without the Nakba. We oppose returning Palestinian property from before 1948 but we evict Palestinian inhabitants in Hebron and Sheikh Jarrah on the grounds that their homes were under Jewish ownership before 1948. We shoot passengers in Palestinian cars who refuse to stop at roadblocks, but when the Palestinian police do the same, we call it a “murderous terror attack.” We call the Israeli army Defense Forces, while most of its work is occupation. We live without a civil society but believe that tying a yellow ribbon onto our car mirrors for Gilad Shalit is an act of protest. We support Shalit’s release but oppose the release of 450 terrorists in exchange for him. And we sweep and sweep, but without making any noise.
I loved the leaf blower, but not only for his effectiveness: Sometimes it is, in fact, the silence that is rubbish. I, too, love quiet but not imaginary quiet, not quiet that sweeps things under the rug and deceives. If it is necessary to clean, let us do it with the necessary clamor, without disguising anything. Hence this desperate cry that stands no chance: Bring back the leaf blower.