During my five months in Israel, I had fallen in love with the harsh landscape–from every craggy hill to thorny bush, to the poppies which came after the spring rains. I embraced the terseness of the Israeli people, and I immersed myself into the culture until I experienced their uncompromising warmth and hospitality, in addition to their bluntness. While hitchhiking* across the country, I was offered food, lodging, and showers (maybe I smelled). I was adopted by an Israeli family, who fed me until I had to protest. When I thanked them for treating me like family, they exclaimed, “Why you are family.”
Despite, my love, I am not blind to the problems of Israel. With my own eyes, I can see the Wall. I have been to East Jerusalem and I have witnessed trash heaped on sidewalks, since there is no public trash removal system. I can see the buses and trains which are crammed with Israeli soldiers, to me they were children carrying automatic weapons. I was affected by these sights, but I had grown accustomed to them.
I also underwent countless moment of conflict and discomfort while traveling. I was searched without warrant by Israeli police, which is quite a shock for Americans, harassed by guards at bus and train stations, I had rocks thrown at me by Arab children in the Old City, which I might have provoked by wearing jeans. For me, Israel represents the very epitome of change and conflict and yet has the utmost potential for peace and harmony.Â This is what spurs forth my love. I then throw in a little extra, simply because Israel seems to need it.
I left Israel for three months, to explore Thailand. Immediately, I sensed Thailand was trying to impress me with its lush greenery and its sparkling coastlines. I was wary after giving my heart away to Israel, as my senses were affronted daily by banana and coconut trees, mango orchards and flowing canals. Thailand is almost too easy to adore, too accessible, too available. Where was the challenge? Mai pai ren, as the Thais say, which means, “No worries.” And on the surface there are none.
The ultimate challenge for me was interacting with the numerous Europeans that I met while traveling in Thailand, who are hostile to both Israelis as a people and to the country itself. Of course, it hurts to have one’s beloved so besmirched. It was difficult for me to remain neutral during debates, as I noted that I was forced into a position of defending Israeli politics. It is very unnatural for me to defend Israel, especially given my pacifist beliefs which inevitably clash with realistic policy choices.
What I crave now is a space for discussion between both sides, and no unilateral support. It is the silence, and hidden accusations which sustains more than tension. I believe that the current government does not represent the desires of the people of Israel. In fact, no government ever does. I do not feel represented by the American government, nor did I feel that the current Thai administration, as they shot at protesters, represented the peaceful northern villagers. Furthermore, there is a wide breadth of political opinions which needs to be acknowledged by Israeli dissenters. There is no single political voice, which inevitably leads to so many of Israel’s problems. This is also reflected in the numerous politics parties and the need for the unlikely and unsustainable party coalitions.
There is, I must admit, a tendency among some Israelis to not reflect at all on the current situation. Or worse, a tendency to flee. To stay abroad after the mandatory military service, to escape the harsh realities of Israel. I met an Israeli who was raised on a former kibbutz. While kibbutzes are experiencing a mini-revitilization in Israeli, they still represent to many a failed experiment. So this Israeli was slightly bitter and carried a cloak of sadness around him. He offered that there are only two ways ofÂ interacting with Israel. The first way was disappointment; disappointment and disillusionment with the state, with the collapse of kibbutz life, with clashes between Jews and more. The second way was easier; it was resignation. In this way, he had found some peace with his country.
At this moment, I feel a chasm, an unending void of argument, but this is only a blog. A few simple words to try an explain a complicated subject. In sum, I hope to offer you a mere glimpse of the Israeli life that I have had the joy of experiencing. More than this, perhaps naively so, I can offer it so simply. On both sides, people are deserving of a voice, a chance to be heard without preconceived judgments.
* MASA does not encourage, support or like that I write about hitchhiking. Or tremping, as it were.