I am a citizen of Israel. Actually, I’m a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. I didn’t seek Israel citizenship. I lived there almost 9 years and it was automatically conferred on me as it is on every Jew that comes to live there and stays more than 3 years. I have never seen any reason to renounce citizenship … if indeed that were possible and I’m not at all sure that it is … because given the way things are going around here, an Israeli passport could come in handy if I have to gather the family and make a run for it. Ironic, isn’t it that Israel looks safer sometimes than my peaceful little town in the Blackstone Valley?
I went to live in Israel at the end of 1978. There were a lot of reasons, almost all of which were personal, not political. My marriage was over. I wanted to get on with life. I had been raised by a mother with strong Zionist leanings and when I was 14, I had read “Exodus” (Leon Uris) so many times that the binding had disintegrated and I could recite long sections by heart. I had a wildly over-romanticized image of Israel gleaned from books and movies and Mom. But mostly, I wanted to get out of my safety zone and into the wider world. I yearned for culture shock. I wanted to live in another culture, another society. I was bored with Hempstead and my safe suburban life.
I got the excitement … minus the romance. It turned out that dancing the hora around a campfire at sunset was not exactly the way life would be. On many levels it was far more interesting than I dreamed. On other levels, it was so entirely different that it turned my head inside out.
Among the first things I learned living there was the international press does not accurately report news out of Israel. While some press is slanted favorably towards Israel, most is not. None of it is accurate, favorable or otherwise.
Israel, like every other place on earth, is not of one mind. It isn’t packed with citizens who walk and think in lock-step. If you know anything about Jewish culture, the very idea that millions of Jews could live together and actually agree on anything beyond a need to protect the country from enemies, would be laughable. Get three Jews in a room and I guarantee you’ll have at least 4 opinions. We are a contentious, opinionated people. If I had to describe my folks in two words, they would be “hungry (in the sense of food) and argumentative.” Get us together, feed us, let us fight for a while, eat some more, take a little nap, eat a little, fight a little … that’s heaven. Add a game (rummy? bridge? mah jong?) somewhere in the middle and you’ve got a perfect vacation.
We say about many things these days that “it’s complicated,” which really means that “the amount of time it would take me to explain this exceeds any real interest you have in the subject.” Where Israel is concerned, complicated doesn’t begin to cover it. Everyone owns a piece of righteousness. You are right. He is right. I am right. And we are all wrong.
As far as the current disorder goes, Israel, as the British ambassador in the YouTube clip explains, typically warns the civilian population to get out substantially in advance of any bombing. They have always done this. That the warnings are intentionally ignored in favor of making a political statement — despite loss of life — only says that the enemies of Israel love casualties because they can feed the numbers to an eager press corps. That most of the events taped for media are staged should not surprise anyone. As soon as camera crews show up, the extras line up offering to form an impressive mob. Some do it for cash, most do it for the fun of getting their pictures on television. Some are regulars and if you follow the footage, you’ll see the same faces show up in video after video.
I’d been living in Israel for a while, I myself realized I didn’t really know anything. All the opinions I had before I got there were consumed and turned inside-out by reality. It is very complicated. It is perfectly possible to agree with everyone and no one. There have been a lot of mistakes made all around. I tend, for obvious reasons, to believe in Israel. I believe it has a right to be there. I believe after thousands of years of persecution we deserve a little piece of earth to call home. The Arab world has more than enough room for every single person that needs a place. The only reason there remain any displaced people is to use them as a political tool.
So all the history notwithstanding, regardless of the wrongs and rights on both sides, suggesting that Israel give up being a nation is ludicrous. Suggesting it give up any more land is almost as ridiculous, something you would more easily understand if you have visited the country.
It’s so small. It’s miniscule, tiny, 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, a pretty 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.
But it’s the only place on earth where Jews can live by a Jewish calendar, where Jews don’t have to fend off Christmas, be dismissed as peripheral and unimportant because we aren’t a majority or even a large minority. There is one tiny piece of ground in this world where it’s okay to be a Jew and whatever else is going on, we need Israel. We need that safe place, even if it isn’t really so safe. Without it, we are back to being a people without roots and without our country.
That’s NOT okay.