“When we were young,” my Israeli colleague told me “we lived in an apartment with both Jews and Arabs.” This is around 1993, after the first intifada in Israel and my colleague was about 9 or 10 years old at the time. He told me that the house superintendent was an Arab and, for the most part, an amiable friend to the families living in the apartment together. One day, alone with my colleague, the older man told the boy “if this were my country, I would kill you.”
Regardless of what you think of the the ham-handed responses of the Israeli government, even if you’re sure the Israeli army has waged war on innocents in southern Lebanon, and although Israeli’s themselves will admit that Arabs in their tiny nation are not always treated fairly, one thing remains clear. It’s easy to criticize, without having to experience living there.
Has Israel treated the Palestinians with fairness and respect? Perhaps not, but imagine living within rocket firing distance from the Gaza Strip. Israel is slightly smaller than New Jersey. What happens at the borders is local news! Even rioters in the streets of Los Angeles aren’t equipped with rocket propelled grenades or suicide bombing vests. Can you imagine an American, brought up with American exceptionalism and rugged individualism, not to mention liberal freedoms to possess guns, even considering just leaving things up to the government? Who knew? The average Israeli is the picture of moderation!
I’ve sometimes wondered why Israel doesn’t exercise its superior military power to simply eradicate its neighbors. Of course this would make them an international pariah for some time, but couldn’t the country, arguing it’s very existence, justify such a vehement reaction to the threats that surround them? I put this question to my colleague. He brushed it aside. In Israel, military service is obligatory. “We don’t want more war. People will die on both sides.” “But, Israel is certainly stronger than its neighbors,” I protested. “No one wants more people to die” he simply insisted.
Remember, this is the same man who, as a boy, was threatened by his neighbor. Can you imagine yourself reacting with so much restraint?