I went to live in Israel at the end of 1978. I had a lot of reasons, almost all personal and non-political.
- My marriage was over. I wanted to get on with life
- When I was 14, I had read “Exodus” so many times the binding disintegrated
- I had a romantic idea of Israel gleaned from books, movies and Mom
- I wanted to get out of my safety zone and into a wider world
- I wanted culture shock. To live in another place and immerse myself in a different society
- I was bored with my suburban life and wanted to do something big.
I got the excitement if not the romance. It was more interesting than I dreamed, but entirely different.
That’s how come I’m a dual citizen of the U.S. and Israel. I didn’t ask for Israeli citizenship. I lived there 9 years and it was automatic — the Law of Return in action. I haven’t gone back to visit since I left in 1987 (though I was there on business in 2001), but I find it comforting to have a spare country. If I need to gather my family and make a run for it, there’s Israel. How ironic. Paranoia and Jewishness are natural partners.
I learned a lot living in Israel. I discovered how provincial and ignorant most Americans are, including me. I learned the international press does not accurately report news from the middle east. It’s not just Israel. Some press is slanted towards Israel. Most is slanted toward the Arab side … and none is accurate. Everything you read is slanted and much of it entirely wrong.
Israelis — like every other people — are not of one mind. Israelis don’t walk, talk and think in lock-step. If you know anything about Jewish culture, the idea that millions of Jews could live together and agree on anything is laughable. Get three Jews in a room and you’ll have 4 — or more — opinions.
When I am asked about Israel, I find myself speaking in clichés. “It’s complicated,” I say. Which means that the amount of time it would take me to answer your question exceeds any actual interest you have in the subject. Where Israel is concerned, complicated doesn’t begin to cover it. You are right. He is right. I am right. And all of us are wrong.
Pretty much all the news of the middle east you see on television is staged, in whole or in part. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. By definition, the arrival of cameras changes an event. As soon as the crews show up, people line up offering to form an angry mob. Some do it for cash, some to fuel a political agenda … and most do it for fun. Everyone wants to see themselves on TV. Some are regulars. If you follow the news, you’ll see the same faces show up over and over again.
I’d been living in Israel for a while before I realized I didn’t know anything. All the opinions I had before I got there turned inside-out. It is very complicated. It is perfectly possible to agree and disagree with everyone at the same time. There have been more than enough mistakes, more than enough atrocities for everyone to have a good dollop of blame.
For all that, I believe in Israel. More specifically, I believe it has a right to be there. After thousands of years of persecution, Jews need a little piece of planet Earth to call home. The Arab world has plenty of physical space, lots of land. The only reason any Palestinians remain refugees is political, not practical.
Regardless of the myriad rights and wrongs on both sides, suggesting Israel give up being a sovereign nation is ludicrous. Suggesting it give up additional land is ridiculous too and if you’d ever been there, it would be obvious why.
The country is miniscule, barely sufficient to house its existing population. It has no natural resources, not even water. No oil. Erratic rainfall in an arid zone. Crappy soil and not much of it. About the only things it has going for it is the determination of its people to survive, some really great beaches, an impressive community of scientists and engineers. And tourism. It’s not a plummy sort of place, not the rich land of milk and honey suggested in the Old Testament.
It’s the only place on earth where Jews live by a Jewish calendar, where we celebrate our own holidays along with our neighbors, where Jews don’t have to fend off Christmas. Where we aren’t a tiny minority.
We need Israel, need that safe place. Even if it isn’t entirely safe. Even though it’s controversial. Without it, Jews are back to being a people without roots or country.