Israel is being demonized and a pariah state and Jewish students are experiencing a rise in acts of intimidation and bullying. The cause is the Palestinian issue, the means are based on ignorance, intolerance and stirring of emotions with little regard to the facts. Israeli supporters are being prevented from speaking, while Israel is being portrayed as a racist radical nation. I will be transferring to UCLA in the fall, and would like to do the best I can to bring a different perspective to the campus. Why do I qualify? Why do I think I can bring a credible message? Why would people listen to me?
I was born and raised in the US by Israeli parents. I have deep roots in the US, and strong ties to Israel. My older sisters live there, I have childhood friends who grew up with me in CA and have moved back. I have visited many times; I even spent half my freshman high school year in Israel. I want to share the experiences of my last visit with you, to show you the side of Israel that I think more people need to see and hear about from people who have been there.
I just got back from a month in Israel, where I visited my sisters. One of them asked me to join her for a weekend where she and a group of college students run a house for handicapped children and teenagers. It is called Beit Hagalgalim (the house of wheels). The house is located in Kibutz Urim, between Beer-Sheva and the Gaza Strip. From hearing the news you would think it’s the war zone, but life is completely normal. I have to admit that at first I was surprised to see that the shelter is open to Jewish and Arab children. To them being together is no different than the melting pot that my high school in Sunnyvale California was. Why do our campuses have to be different? We played soccer carrying the children on our backs. Muhamad or Nurit – it did not matter. It did not matter when I helped them feed themselves or when we huddled around the circle, the kids cuddling close to us. Just children, teenagers, Jewish Israelis, Israeli Arabs, Bedouins, so close, so similar, was there any difference worth speaking of? They all needed help getting into their beds at night and getting out of bed in the morning. Their parents expressed the same gratitude, and we felt just as gratified – a child doesn’t seem to have a race – is that so hard to accept? The counselors I worked with are students in Israeli universities. They have served in the military and could be called up to serve at any moment. Does that make them war mongers? They hardly talk about their military service, but its part them, part of serving their country, part of defending themselves, assuring that we have a place we can call home without the risk of prosecution. It is ironical how this wave of blind rage and hatred, which is seething in the campuses could be used to illustrate this point.
During the week I spent my time in my sister’s apartment in Jerusalem. Looking from her porch I could see the southern neighborhoods of Jerusalem which border with the city of Bethlehem, where the church of the Nativity is located. In the evening we would walk down to the pubs along the old railway. The night life is lively, loud and peaceful. There is no sense of danger, except maybe losing your parking space if you are not quick enough to claim it. The restaurants are busy, the food is wonderful, the waiters mind your own business, telling you what you should avoid – not a word about conflict, or war, just life, making the best it can of hot summer night. If anything it’s the calm that unnerving in a way. Doesn’t anyone care about what Israelis call the ‘matzav’ (situation)? This is how Israelis refer to everything that is happening in the Middle East. ‘Sure we care, but how many times can you say that two states are the solution, when you have people like the leader of Iran whose agenda is to annihilate Israel?’ Makes you wonder, how far should a nation go, to put its own citizen at risk for the well being of another people? How far can Israel move back from the Jordan valley before the international airport is within range the simplest mortars and short range missiles? Is there anyway that Israel can allow the West Bank not to be demilitarized? Will Californians living in the Silicon Valley allow a hostile nation put artillery batteries in the Santa Cruz hills? Why should Israel give back the Golan Heights, back to a ruthless dictator who is now slaughtering his own people because they want to be free?
Jerusalem is old, more than three thousand years. You can see its age in the tunnels beneath the Wailing Wall. All the world sees are the Mosques which were built on top of where the Jewish temples stood, when history that preceded them by more than one thousand years is hidden from site. Yes, Jerusalem is old, very old, so it needs to go to sleep at night. Tel Aviv is another story, known world wide for being a twenty four hour city that never sleeps. Yet somehow people are back to work in the morning building some of the world’s most sophisticated high tech inventions, at Intel, Microsoft, Oracle, Google, SAP and many more. Is this the face of a warring nation? People talk about work, curse each other on the road, use only two cell phones simultaneously because the second hand is holding the ice coffee. They take their children to school in the morning, rush home from work to spend some time with them in the evening and somehow find the time to enjoy pubs and nightclubs and museums and theaters and concerts and movies and restaurants or just a midnight stroll on the beach front.
Yes, there are bigger issues. The question of two states for two people – but how many people know that there are peace plans which have worked out the streets and the side of the border where each will reside. Why isn’t the discussion about these plans? There are questions of international law – but most people have no idea that Israel did not conquer the West Bank because it never belonged to Jordan. Few people know that the West Bank is no different from other disputed territories in the world, and should be discussed as such. The dispute does not make Israel a rogue state; it does not nullify its right to exist. Israelis are not a nation of war mongers and Israelis do not hate Arabs. People just want to live and let live. Ignorance is acid eating away at public opinion. There is a lot of work that needs to be done, and I would like to help. I have first hand experiences; I can bring credibility to the table. I want to hold my head up high on campus, and make sure that no Jew or Israeli has to hide because they believe that Israel has a right to exist, and the only genocidal states in the region are the ones calling for Israel’s annihilation.