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Faith, Freedom, and a Jewish Homeland

Okay dear reader, full disclosure. Last year, previous to my employment at Broadside, I had the honor of attending Students for a Democratic Society and the Student’s for Justice in Palestine’s Apartheid Wall event. If you attended that event, you may recall the person handing out short articles titled “Congratulations, You Are an Ignorant Git.” Unsurprisingly, this year’s repeat of the event made me weep for certain George Mason University students’ ability to learn. Further disclosure, I am a lifelong liberal who is embarrassed to be grouped into the same side of the spectrum as those who created the Apartheid Wall event. The replacement of apathy with ignorance is not a pretty sight to see.

Perhaps the most memorable portion of my counter-protest was at the end of a debate with an SDS member. After being unable to counter a single factual point, he had pretty much given up. I asked him, “Where do you get your information from?”
“I went to a lecture on the middle east conflict, once,” to which I replied, “Really? Because I’ve actually been to Israel.”

As a Jew, I consider Israel a home and, despite everything that happens there and whatever pressure may come from other nations, I still support Israel. Not the “my country right or wrong” type of support, but the support that makes the place mine, no matter what mistakes it might make. Israel is my country and it absolutely deserves to exist. As a people, have we not been through enough? Is Israel the country that Jimmy Carter describes it as? An apartheid state? No.

In the Middle Eastern region Israel is a shining light of everything that we are supposed to support. It is a bastion of Democracy. According to Transparency International, Israel is the least corrupt nation in the area. The nation is far more progressive than any others in the region in preserving human rights, rated as best in the Middle East for economic competition by the World Economic Forum as well as Freedom of the Press by Reporters Without Borders. Israel is ranked number 23 out of 177 on the United Nation’s 2006 international Human Development Index. (For reference, the U.S. is number 8, U.K. is 18 and China is 81.)

Of course, Israel is not always pretty. When I traveled to Israel, our group spent most of the time accompanied by soldiers, for our own safety. During the time I spent in Israel I rarely felt unsafe, though a month before my trip Lebanese missiles fell only a few miles from one of the kibbutzim we visited and, the week after I left, a café only a few blocks from the hotel my Taglit-Birthright group had stayed at in Jerusalem was shredded by a Palestinian suicide bomber.  

None of the casualties were active members of the military.

Despite all this, when I found myself standing on the top of Mt. Masada, surrounded by ruins, a tear came to my eyes. Far below on one side was the sapphire water of the Dead Sea, on the other a combination of land and modern buildings. Above me, the sun was just beginning to rise, white and blue seeping into the sky. It was a beautiful sight, an amazing moment in which I stood up, faced the flag, and quietly sang the Hatikva. There are some moments when one can’t help but to recite their nation’s anthem. This was Israel, where the old meets the new and the result is beauty.

The country might be small, but its contribution is large. From voicemail to instant messaging, many a microchip user owes a debt to Israel, which had a hand in the invention of both. That doesn’t count the many innovations in other fields, including medical and agricultural; anyone aided by an MRI has Israel to thank.

Not every technological advance here has been positive; Israel has also invented some of the most deadly elements of modern warfare, including the now ubiquitous Uzi. However, this is not without reason. One cold morning in Israel we rode jeeps along the muddy path through the border of the Israel-Lebanon conflict zone. On either side of the path were fences blocking off access to huge swaths of rocky terrain. Every few feet along the fence were signs to warn about the presence of mines. The only things on the other side were cows, fenced into certain zones, lazily grazing in what had been a war zone. War, or the threat of it, is a constant. Israel has been embroiled in wars against its Arab neighbors, a number of whom once allied under a leader whose mission was to push the Jews into the sea.

But even in war, Israel pursues peace, not continued conflict. The Six Day War was a notable instance. Previously, Jordan had taken East Jerusalem. They kicked out many of the Jewish residents and then proceeded to destroy all the significant synagogues under their power and finally destroy an ancient Jewish cemetery. Israeli forces moved rapidly from the beginning, quickly marching into Jerusalem. Colonel Motta Gur fought his way to the Dome of the Rock. Behind him, many of them at the Western Wall, soldiers cried and prayed, thanking God for their victory. Beside Gur stood General Rabbi Shlomo Goren. Goren cut an impressive figure, standing atop Temple Mount, the wind blowing through his beard, a Torah in one arm. He blew a long note of triumph on the shofar, declaring Jerusalem reunited. However, when the Rabbi went to plant a Jewish flag in front of the Dome of the Rock, Gur reached out a hand and stopped him. They would not stoop to that level and the order came down to “not touch anything. Especially in holy places.”

Even in the midst of their victory, Israel thought of freedom, respect and unity.  War and peace, religion and law, external and internal, attempting to maintain balance, that is the conflict that drives Israel.

Israel is the most important step in the Jewish people’s continuing attempt to make their own fate. We are told on Passover to remember the Exodus from Egypt as if we lived through it. It is one thing to say that, another to try it. Try hard. Think of the Jewish people. Standing on the edge of the Red Sea, the approaching chariots of the Egyptians thundering behind you, the very ground vibrating with their numbers and might. The ocean lies before you, stretching on forever. Every thought of freedom and life on your own fading as you wish that you had never come. Slavery has come to feel like security. All that you can do is turn to Moses, standing there, seeming little more than a man with a staff and a stutter, the Jews rushing him, held back by Aaron, the man who will be high priest, and Miriam, the women who is Moses’ sister. You call out with all the people around you—“Surrender!” And Moses says, barely audible, a “no.” He knows that we must be a people. He kneels at the water’s edge, the cacophony of a panicking nation behind him and the aggression of the enemy behind that. He prays. Panic sets in to the crowd, some move to turn back, others try to scatter, but then there is sound. The Red Sea parts into two huge walls of water, towering before you with fish and whales alike staring out of the water in amazement.

In part, Israel has always been a leap of faith analogous to crossing through the Red Sea. But any American will ask the question, what sort of Democracy are you if you are based around faith? If there are wars that mark the identity of Israel, surely one of the most important is the Yom Kippur War. The Egyptians invaded Israel on the day they thought it would be most vulnerable: Yom Kippur, the most holy day of the Jewish year. They rolled into Israel with their troops and their tanks. At first, there was no opposition. There was no resistance. It was either a miracle or poor planning because they stopped in their tracks, sure that they were walking into an ambush. There was no ambush, the reason there was no resistance was because every Jew was in a temple, praying. But our problem became our solution. Every temple passed on orders to the Jews within their walls and everyone rushed out, almost everyone over 18 was in the army, or had been, and they were all trained. They went home, grabbed their guns, and ran to the front. They fought and they drove the enemy back. Israel is not a government based on faith, but a government for a people who have solidarity in their belief.

The Red Sea, the Colonel and the Rabbi on Temple Mount, the Yom Kippur War, these are part of Israel. We are about more than survival. Israel is about faith, freedom and home.

Israel is a blessing. The Jewish people have suffered oppression, hate and genocide. We deserve to have our own nation and to make our own futures and we earn that right again every year that Israel succeeds.
Written in reaction to an Apartheid Wall event. Previously published in the GMU student paper, Broadside.
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:iconfraterm:
fraterm Featured By Owner Dec 1, 2007  Hobbyist General Artist
Interesting take, good to see your experientially based opinion and perspective. I'm still not a supporter of what was done to Lebanon in the name of self defense, especially that the US government allotted a significant outlay of weapons inventory to support it. I think of the excessive slaughter and infrastructure damage to a fragile adjacent democracy (of a sort) and events like it contribute to the nation of Israels problems in public relations.

Ultimately, I have to ask you to convince me, is the Apartheid wall campaign completely based on lies and distortion?

Thanks.
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:iconfraterm:
fraterm Featured By Owner Dec 1, 2007  Hobbyist General Artist
(not indicating that Lebanon has anything to do with the specifics of the Palestinian issue wholly)
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:iconfraterm:
fraterm Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
And I note the silence.
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:icondave-hoghtoncarter:
dave-hoghtoncarter Featured By Owner Nov 19, 2007
Very interesting read. :handshake:
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:iconphifty:
Phifty Featured By Owner Nov 22, 2007   Writer
Thanks!
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