Travels through Israel with Stefan
I met Stefan (a 30 year old Slovak) 5 years ago when we both worked in Northern Ireland. He moved to Norway, where I visited him and we road tripped across that country. A few months later I was back in the states and he was again road tripping this time across the USA, so he stopped by St. Marys for a few days. Then we lost touch until I noticed some pictures from Jerusalem he had on Facebook. I immediately got a hold of him, and he invited me to join him on a road trip through the North of Israel. After arranging to get some early vacation upon my return to Hebron we set out for four days of hiking, sight seeing, penny pinching, and living out of a very small car.
It wasn’t until we were on our way out of Jerusalem that I realized I had never spent more than a few hours in Israel proper; all my time was spent in the occupied Palestinian territory. This was going to be an adventure for me, but of a far different kind then I originally thought. Although we saw many Biblical sights in places like Nazareth, Cana, Magido, Tiberius, Jish, and the Sea of Galilee; and some beautiful scenery like the Golan Heights, Mount Tabor, and sunset over the Mediterranean Sea, these were not the things I’ll remember most from my trip. What I’ll remember most is that I was confronted with some disturbing realities about myself, and the place I was living. This blog is in large part my processing of these realizations, and therefore may be a bit more random then usual.
Israel is a first world Westernized nation. It is prosperous, clean and modern. I mean it was literally created out of nothing in 1948. When one has the opportunity to engineer a society from scratch some pretty cool stuff can happen. A prime example are the kibbutzim. Further, Israel was created as a safe haven for refugees. Stefan was there researching what happened to Jews from his town in Slovakia during and after WWII. He actually found two Israeli villages started by Jews from his home town. There were malls and movie theaters all over (there are no movie theaters in the West Bank). There is also a strong outdoors culture helped by free camping sights, which we utilized on our trip. All this to say Israeli society has some appeal.
But every time I saw something positive within Israeli society I also remembered the harsh realities that this society created. First and foremost in order to create this safe haven for refugees Israel ethnically cleansed the land of its existing Palestinian population creating the largest refugee population in the world. And according to even liberal Israelis allowing those refugees a safe haven in this ‘land of refugees’ is incompatible with the very idea of ‘Israel’. Further while it is a thriving democracy for its Jewish population the minority of Arabs remaining in Israel are treated as second class citizens. Israel’s malls and movie theaters are part of a lifestyle that is unsustainable for the land they are living on. For example an Israeli uses over three times the water a Palestinian uses. This is in a water-scarce region, where Israel must use its military dominance to secure (steal) the natural resources, so Israelis can enjoy the lifestyle they have become accustomed to. More Info
These two views of Israel wrestled within me. I had just finished a speaking tour in the US, in which I often reassured my audiences that none of the views I shared or held were anti-Semitic, or anti-Israel, they were merely pointing out areas of Israeli policy which were wrong and harmful to Palestinians, Israelis, and the hope of peace. But as I sat down in the food court of a mall that looked like it was right out of Mid-West America, I couldn’t help but think “This shouldn’t be here.” As I looked at the Israelis eating their fast food lunches I couldn’t help but think, “How do you sleep at night, in a home stolen from Palestinians?” And as I looked out over the beautiful landscape, I couldn’t help but remember my Palestinian friends who used to live there and are now not even allowed to visit. I soon realized I was looking at every Israeli with disdain, and looking at everything within Israel with the worst attitude. I clearly had some resentment I had to work through.
I was in a daze for a good part of the trip trying to navigate in my mind what were legitimate critiques and what were blind prejudices. I’m still struggling through that, but I’ve learned a few things through this process.
One major observation is that Israel is not unique. Every nation has ideals that are much higher, and often contradictory to its actions. I mean I’m from a nation that created a revolutionary new society on land it ethnically cleansed of its indigenous population, which predicates its dominance through military means. What is unique about Israel is that I’m now living in the ‘wake’ of that society. I live with the lives turned upside down and uprooted by this revolutionary force. This makes me more sensitive to contradictions between the internal ideals and the external actions purported to protect it. Further my outrage should make me more understanding to those who have ever been trampled upon by the powers that be. How hard it must be for them to ‘move on with their lives’, if it’s so hard for me just to witness it.
Another observation is that I shouldn’t blame people for not wanting to know the evils their country is doing. It is human nature to want to think the best of your group, sports team team, second floor dormitory, or nation. This does not mean that one should not confront another’s ignorance, but should come at it with a level of understanding. I never understood what causes someone to stand on a street corner with a bullhorn yelling at people until I went to Israel. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs “Good people, there is evil being done in your name! Hear the plight of the Palestinians and change your ways!” This desire came from a feeling of “How could they not know?” But it’s easy to not know something you don’t want to know. (This is just as true about myself as it is about anyone else) A main part of my job in Hebron is figuring out how to get Israelis as well as Americans, and people all over the world to want to know what is happening. This is precisely because I genuinely believe that Israelis, Americans, Palestinians, and all other people are good. And when good people are lovingly confronted with truth they will follow it.
So what do I think about Israel? It’s a country filled with good people with high ideals that are blind to the pain they cause. My hope is that they will be confronted with their nation’s incongruity, and then maybe they can invite the Palestinians to live in a great society as well.
Pray that I continue to process this positively and maintain hope.
Pray for the refugees (Palestinian and Internationally) that they may truly find Home.
Pray for those living in the Firing Zone, that they will not lose their homes.
Pray for peace.