Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Happy Yom Ha'atzmaut!

Today is Yom Ha'atzmaut, or Israeli Independence Day. I don't often post about Israel because I have mixed feelings and because discussion too often devolves into bitter argument, but I'll see if I can thread the needle.

As a Jew, being in Israel is a unique experience. In America, I will always be a minority, but in Israel, almost everyone is Jewish. Not only that, but there are more atheists per capita there than here in the U.S. About a quarter of the country could call themselves Jewish atheists.

There is a sense of solidarity, even of family. When you're on a public bus, it feels like you're with extended family. The way people relate to each other, the way they trust each other, and yes, the way they are ready to argue heatedly at a moment's notice. Women will hand their babies to complete strangers if they need their hands for a moment and there is almost no fear of (non-terrorism-related) crime. Kids play outside and walk to school without adults.

I don't agree with many of Israel's foreign policies. I don't want to debate specific points, but I'm troubled by those who bring religion into the Israel-Palestinian confict, by the government's willingness to torture and kill civilians (collaterally) as often as it does, by those unwilling to compromise, by those who simply don't care about the influence of their policies on Palestinian civilians.

However, I'd have mixed feelings about any country. My own country wiped out two cities with nuclear weapons, firebombed hundreds of thousands of civilians in World War II, is torturing Arabs abroad, and has gone to war a few times for bad reasons. We turn a blind eye to genocide and don't provide sufficient health care to our poor and needy. Our country's beginning was far worse than Israel's -- the first Americans themselves committed genocide.

But I still love America, its freedoms, its diversity, its people, the good works it does overseas, its leading science and medicine, its arts, and its promise. Likewise, I am grateful for Israel's very existence. I admire the way it tries to restrain itself in an ugly situation and the way it welcomes all Jews as brothers and sisters. I admire its science and its culture. I am glad it will remain a safe haven for Jews everywhere when, sadly, antisemitism raises its head in the future. I hope that there comes a solution to the matzav (the "situation" -- i.e. the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) which allows both sides to live better and safer lives. I hope that one day, we won't need a Jewish state, but that all people everywhere may live as brothers and sisters. But at least for now, I'm glad it's there.


david said...


Stephen (aka Q) said...

I think Israel is more sinned against than sinning. That's setting the bar pretty low, I suppose. But the general thrust of Israeli policy seems necessary to me, given the realities of Middle East politics.

I think it was the right decision to create the Jewish state after WWII. It's an important symbol — and more than a symbol for those who live there, of course.

Juggling Mother said...

I didn't get that feeling in israel.

actually, it was going to Israel that made me decide I really wasn't very jewish at all.

Random said...

Excellent post. I had similar feelings when I visited Israel myself a long time ago (as an idea of how long ago it was, it was a time when it was not regarded as suicidal to get a public bus from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and hitch hike back). For all it's contradictions, compromises, imperfections and broken dreams Israel is still a unique place and one that needs to exist.

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