A friend of mine asked me to write a letter for Letters From Israel. She is a Ukrainian-born Israeli who came to Israel as a teenager. I got to know her well while volunteering. She knows that I am a writer and wanted me to contribute to the site. She wanted me to write ”something positive.” That was her request. I hope when all is said and done she will approve of my letter, but I certainly can’t guarantee it.
I should say that legally, I am not an Israeli. I did, however, live for a year in Israel volunteering as an English teacher and learning all about Israeli culture. For those who have no experience with Israel I can tell you honestly that it’s an incredible place. I thoroughly enjoyed the kind and caring treatment I received in Israel. The people are uniquely intelligent and motivated and extremely physically attractive (though that last part is not especially relevant). It is a true melting pot, where people from all over the world can come together. My friend’s story (moving to Israel as a teenager who doesn’t speak Hebrew) is a remarkably common one. A million and a half Jews have arrived from Russia and eastern Europe in just the past 20 years and all of them are welcomed with open arms. In my first week in Israel, a man on the bus I had never met invited me (in broken English) to his house for a home-cooked meal.
Now if you’re reading this, you may wonder why I’m worried about this letter not being received positively. So far all I’ve done is complement and humanize Israelis. Well, my fear comes from the extremely complex feelings I have about the place.
Not everything in Israel is good. When you hear that Israel is mistreating their Arab population, I cannot deny that that is true. Arabs do not have full rights in Israel. There are radicals among Israel’s religious who go to bizarre extremes: some religious believe the country of Israel is not a legitimate State and protest it’s existence. Most religious are extremely unfair to women and some are even abusive. It is true that the Israeli government is launching missile strikes against Palestinians in Gaza.
But there is something missing from this picture of Israel, and that is context.
Israel, for lack of a better analogy, is a battered child. Even ten years before the creation of the country, the people faced regular raids by their Arabic neighbors. The very moment that Israel declared it’s statehood, it was attacked by every surrounding Arab country. Israel has fought a number of wars between then and now and there is almost constant strife between the land and it’s neighbors.
Imagine if this happened to you, personally.
Imagine you live in a government-built housing complex in the bad part of town. Your neighbors are foreigners. You do not speak their language. They do not like you.
Imagine if you only lived in that government housing complex because your parents were gathered up and sent to jail because they had no home.
Imagine if those neighbors attacked you periodically; not the neighborhood adults, but the neighborhood children.
They throw rocks at you and call you names. They even threatening to kill you or blow up your house.
How would you react?
I don’t know about you, but I would be terrified. I would fear for my life. I would do whatever I could to keep my family safe.
This is how every Israeli feels. Point blank. They are afraid. Let me say that again, because it bears repeating. Israelis are afraid. How many of the conquerors you know from studying history conquer their neighbors because they are afraid? How many colonial powers allow themselves to be governed by fear? I know of none. Israelis are not conquerors. Israelis are not warmongers. Israelis are forced to defend themselves by force from attacks from the Palestinians in Gaza.
By the way, let’s talk about the Palestinians. In the 1940’s, they had exactly the same opportunity as the Israelis had to form a government and claim a part of Israel. They did not. Instead, they called on the other Arab countries to attack Israel. Their government still believes in public executions. They build rockets underneath school buildings and in residential areas. They send children to harass soldiers, then only show the world what happens when a soldier responds with violence. They do not allow the free exchange of information to their citizens, and worst of all, those in control of Gaza bribe average citizens into strapping bombs to themselves and blowing up Israeli civilians along with themselves. Gaza is a terrible place to live under Hamas control.
I will not tell you that Israelis are a completely righteous people. I don’t believe they are. The state of Israel does a great many things I do not support. Still, I can’t see any way to look at the situation in Gaza and believe that the Palestinians deserve the benefit of the doubt. Between Israel and Gaza, Israel is the more free and more righteous country. Israel’s actions are not all virtuous, but Hammas’s actions are indefensible. I won’t insist that anyone advocate for Israel, but I will insist that Israel be allowed to defend themselves.
The Israeli military, should they so wish, could kill thousands of people in Gaza without any trouble. The associated press says that 27 civilians and militants have died in Gaza. The purpose of the attacks are not terrorism, they are military. Hundreds of bombs have been fired against civilians in the past week. This is what led to the Israeli air strikes on Gaza.