Fear in Israel

By Spencer Dorsey | Section: Feb 5th, 2010 February 5th 2010 Print Edition, Issues, Views

This past winter break I traveled to Israel to have a firsthand educational experience in a land I had heard much about but didn’t understand.

I traveled with a group of 18 university students involved in their campus’ student media organizations with Project Interchange, a group that connects leaders and policymakers from around the world with Israel.

While almost everyone knows about the Middle East conflict, I had no idea that so much conflict existed within the Israeli society itself.

In Jerusalem, New York Times Israeli correspondent Ethan Bronner told us that no absolute truths exist in Israel and generalizations are difficult to make. It’s not just a matter of Jews versus Muslims. A large chunk of the Israeli population is Muslim.

He is puzzled by why Israelis have treated a 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine vote so sacredly when countries violate U.N. accords regularly and many years have since passed. He lamented the lack of investigative journalism in Palestinian society, courtesy of Middle Eastern governments’ media censorship.

I was fortunate to listen to Israelis from diverse backgrounds who each had their own opinion about Israel’s strengths and weaknesses. A rabbi said the most serious flaw in the Israeli democratic state is the absence of civil marriage. He thinks it’s a paradox that  90 percent of American Jews are not recognized by Israel and cannot get married there. True progress, he believes, lies is Israel’s court system. When asked about how soon this needs to happen he said, “Time is not on our side.” With powerful enemies that surround Israel, Arab countries could take over easily.

When we asked Israeli soldiers to describe their stance on the mandatory military service in Israel, they said the question 18-year olds are asked is, “Where do you want to fit in the army?” Young people there do not have a choice not to be armed. They have to be defensive and ready. They said the biggest threat to Israel is external, like the regular bombings in Sderot and Iranian funding of anti-Israeli supporters.

Soldiers are happy with the current state of most of Israel. One soldier cited the cosmopolitan Tel Aviv and central Israel as safe, growing places he hopes will populate the Israeli-Palestinian border. Another reminisced about spending his childhood going to Gaza on weekends and playing on the beach and going to the market there. Just two decades later, his family’s kibbutz was bombed.

We also went to Sderot, a city in southern Israel less than a mile from Gaza. Eight thousand rockets have hit the Sderot area since the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000, but the violence has declined significantly recently. Sderot citizens suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and have mere seconds to stop what they are doing, find their children and hide in bunkers when missiles are fired.

On the other hand, Israeli soldiers are trained to brutally murder their opponents. For every Israeli who dies, many more Arabs are killed in retaliation. While Israelis will point out their lack of retaliation against the Sderot bombers, soldiers can’t claim such innocence elsewhere.

After having seen the cruel reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I realize it’s not my position to judge which group deserves this holy state. I can only hope that both Israelis and Palestinians coexist in the best way possible. While a wall may provide peace for now, I hope that one day no walls will exist in Israel. It doesn’t seem, however, that this will happen anytime soon.

The most resounding statement came from a political science professor who said that Americans cannot impose peace in the Middle East. Change must come from within Israel to manage its relationships with other countries. Fear is still the currency in the Middle East —not love.

Spencer Dorsey is the managing editor of the Hullabaloo. He can be reached for comment at .

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