Saturday, May 10, 2008

Israel's 60th Birthday

I spent a semester of my sophomore year of high school at Alonei Yitzhak in a rural area near Binyamina, Israel. My arrival was delayed by the 6-Day War, Israel's greatest military and political triumph in 1967, but before the start of the term, a small class of Americans had arrived to join the international student body there. We were trucked and bussed all over Israel to see not only the traditional sights, but new ones like the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest, which had been inaccessible to Jews since 1948 when the Old City of Jerusalem was lost to the Jordanians. Also, we visited Gaza, and were encouraged by Israeli soldiers to climb into and on top of the Egyptian tanks abandoned on the beach during the recent fighting. We went to Hebron and Bethlehem and the Golan Heights as well. Later that year, my parents and brother visited, and we took a flight tour over the Sinai peninsula where we not only were able to see Mt. Sinai--but the detritus of the destroyed Egyptian army strewn between Gaza and the Suez Canal. There were many other wonderful experiences there for a 14 year old, imprinting in me a passion for Israel.

Six years later, a junior in college, the Yom Kippur War broke out, and I volunteered with my best friend to go to Israel and help. We would not be engaged in military work, but would pick grapefruits on a kibbutz to replace the men called up from the reserves to fight. Though not as brief as 6 days, and not a "triumph" (Israel was caught off guard by the attacking Arab armies), I was able to return after about 10 weeks. Not much of a sacrifice performing farm labor with free room and board (however rustic) at a Mediterranean seaside kibbutz adjacent to the lively city of Haifa, this visit nonetheless solidified further my connection to Israel.

In the intervenining years, however, I became, like many others with a love for Israel, gradually disillusioned at the Israeli government policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians who had been uprooted by three wars. No, the Palestinians were not blameless, and I always thought Yasir Arafat was a buffoon (I forgot who said that "he never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity"), and their leadership continued to subscribe to a "destroy Israel" philosophy. But Israel seemed to do nothing but provoke more animosity by tightening its iron grip, fostering settlements on land seized from its owners, and turning a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis among the Palestinians. That did not seem very "Jewish" to me, and as much as I longed to return to visit, I stayed away--for a very long time. 32 years, in fact.

Tomorrow, I will talk about my return and my reasons for it.

Meanwhile, an opinion piece in the Washington Post by the head of the new J Street advocacy group is something I recommend reading.

Until next time...


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