April 27, 2006

Michael Totten goes to Israel

If you want to understand what Israel is really like, you must read Michel Totten's latest post:

TEL AVIV - After living in an Arab country for nearly six months, arriving in Israel came like a shock.

It startled me from the air. Whoa, I thought, as I looked out the window of the plane over the suburbs of Tel Aviv. If the border were open I could drive down there in a short couple of hours from my Beirut apartment. But this place looked nothing like Lebanon. My Lebanese friend Hassan calls Israel Disneyland. I thought about that and laughed when I watched it roll by from above.

Trim houses sprawled in Western-style suburban rows like white versions of little green Monopoly board pieces. Red-tiled roofs somehow looked more Southern California than Mediterranean. Swimming pools sparkled in sunlight. I felt that I had been whisked to the other side of the planet in no time.

The airport shocked me as well, although it probably wouldn’t shock you. There were more straight lines and right angles than I was used to. There were more women, children, and families around than I had seen for some time. Obvious tourists from places like suburban Kansas City were everywhere.

Arab countries have a certain feel. They’re masculine, relaxed, worn around the edges, and slightly shady in a Sicilian mobster sort of way. Arabs are wonderfully and disarmingly charming. Israel felt brisk, modern, shiny, and confident. It looked rich, powerful, and explicitly Jewish.

In fact, I think Michael's entire site is a must-read. Even with all the journalists in Israel and the Middle East, I have never seen in the press honest descriptions as to what the countries are really like. He talks to Lisa:

She moved from Canada to Israel years ago when Ehud Barak was prime minister. Peace between Israelis and Palestinians looked imminent. Israel was on the threshold - finally - of becoming an accepted and normal country in the Middle East. It was the perfect time to relocate, a time of optimism and hope. A cruel three weeks later that dream was violently put to its death. The second intifada exploded. Israel was at war.

“It was so traumatizing,” she said. “And everybody blamed us. I don’t think I will ever get over it.”

I wrote about that here.

Lisa voted for Meretz in the last election. That's the farthest-left party that's not explicitly anti-Zionist:

“I have Palestinian friends who say things I don’t like at all,” she said. “They say they want to destroy Israel, that it has no right to exist.”

“How can you be friends with people like that?” I said.

“Because I know the difference between rhetoric and reality,” she said.

“Threats from the West Bank aren’t just rhetoric,” I said. “How many suicide bombings did you say you’ve seen?”

“These people will never hurt me,” she said. “They are my friends. They love me. And when I say love, I do not mean that lightly.”

It's true. I couldn't maintain a friendship with anyone who wants to destroy Israel. But I deal with Arabs on a day-to-day basis, and my interactions with them are very friendly. When you meet a person face-to-face, and that person is nice to you, your instinct is to be nice. Nevertheless, every once in a while there's a story about an Arab who kills his longtime Jewish friend. Perhaps he is accused of treason. Perhaps another member of his family is threatened. On an individual level, I have sympathy for his dilemma.

Back to Michael:

Lisa told me the Bedouin in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula speak Hebrew.

“Why?” I said. “Did they learn it during the occupation?” Israel seized the Sinai from Egypt during the Six Day War in 1967 and gave it back when Anwar Sadat agreed to a peace treaty.

“No,” she said. “They wanted to learn Hebrew so they can talk to us when we go down and visit.”

“When you go down there and visit?” I did not know what she was talking about.

“Last year 200,000 Israelis visited the Bedouin during Passover," she said.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at April 27, 2006 09:18 AM | TrackBacks
Comments & Trackbacks

What do you think of the frog-in-boiling-water analogy?

Posted by: Solomon2 at April 28, 2006 11:27 PM Permalink

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