The following blog first appeared Friday, January 26, as an email update from Keith Krivitzky, CEO, the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey.
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Just back from this amazing Interfaith Clergy Journey to Israel, with 20 Christian, Moslem and Jewish clergy. An amazing experience. I want to share another reflection with you.
When does a story really begin?
With the, “Once upon a time there lived….?”
Or is there a prologue or a context before that?
One of the things that became clear during this Interfaith Journey to Israel with the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey is that there is an antecedent to everything. In the Holy Land, something always comes before and casts its shadow on the present.
Rachel Korazim, a scholar and storyteller, highlighted this before our visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum. The Holocaust is part of the story of modern-day Israel, even though it took place more than 70 years ago. It’s not that the Holocaust is a justification for the creation of the state of Israel Jews have plenty of historical and legal ties that stand on their own but rather there needs to be a strong state of Israel so that Jews will never again be so vulnerable and at the mercy of others who don’t really care about us.
If you want to understand the story of Israel, or just about anything in the Middle East today, you need to dig into the history and context that informs the present reality. The anxiety people in Israel feel because of the Holocaust is sort of a proof text for why Israelis behave the way they do.
And just how do Israelis behave? They behave like they are a bit paranoid. They constantly worry about enemies who seek to them harm or take advantage of them. And they have to deal with the most intense scrutiny of their actions and behavior from all over the world along with many double standards that get applied.
When we visited the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, considered by many to be “occupied” territory, we learned that there were thriving Jewish communities here that were wiped out by invading armies and local fighters during Israel’s war for independence in 1948. Why wouldn’t Israel rebuild these communities when they got the chance? Same with the Jewish community in Hebron, an integral part of the biblical heartland, whose Jewish community was killed or kicked out in 1936. Yet that’s not the framing of the story that gets told by people on the outside looking in.
Or, what are Israelis to think of the opposition within the Palestinian community to the creation of a brand new Palestinian planned city, Rawabi, which we visited during our trip? In theory, this is a chance to stimulate business and investment that could benefit a growing population of young Palestinians with limited economic or professional opportunities. Better yet, this city could provide homes for some of those still living in refugee camps if they, or their political leaders, wanted them to move out of those camps. Up until now, this city has had difficulty getting people to consider moving in in part, because there is resistance to “normalizing” the occupation and coming to terms with Israel.
It’s easy sitting far away and without this context to think that Israel is the unreasonable and intransigent party. We don’t experience first-hand the sting of a boycott of almost all things Israeli by neighboring Arab states most recently of Wonder Woman in Lebanon, because the actress was born Israeli. We are also not the direct target of a movement encouraging the de-legitimization of Israel through boycotts, divestment and sanctions. (Except, btw, all those life-saving and incredible inventions that come from Israel buried within other products, such as the iphone, cancer-fighting drugs, and computer processors. Shhh…don’t tell).
Many who only look in on this story from the outside ask why can’t Israel make more concessions for peace; why can’t people who live there leave their baggage behind and be more flexible in their approach to moving forward? Meeting Israelis and Palestinians and seeing the realities on the ground during the course of this trip frames this question in a different light.
It’s easy for people who don’t live in Israel to make pronouncements and prognostications. A story can’t just be understood in the present, and unless you know the history and different narratives at play, any conclusions drawn are likely overly simplistic and liable to do more harm than good. Those who live in Israel recognize that danger and destruction could lurk just around the next corner. And they recognize that just because they’re paranoid, doesn’t mean that others aren’t out to get them.
Want to experience Israel for yourself?
Join us on our Four Corners of Israel community trip Oct 14-22 and celebrate Israel's 70th with friends from the heart of New Jersey!