I have just returned from a week in Israel. In addition to broadcasting my syndicated radio show, I also brought a crew to make a documentary on Israelis in a time of terror.
I asked Israelis of every background these questions:
- Why do you think that, with the exception of the United States, Israel is alone in the world?
- Do you walk around afraid?
- What is your primary feeling with regard to Arabs?
This is what I heard:
With regard to Israel’s isolation, there were two overwhelming responses. About half of the respondents said that it is ultimately the fate of Jews to be alone. Religious Israelis attributed this to the burdens of being the Chosen People. One pretty, young, religious woman standing at a bus stop in downtown Jerusalem, the area most hit by terror, just smiled and said matter-of-factly, “We are an am s’gulah, a treasured people.”
Nor were religious Israelis alone in attributing Israel’s aloneness to its being Jewish. Many of the less religious and even secular attributed Israel’s isolation to its Jewish nature and the anti-Semitism Israel therefore arouses.
The other half of the respondents said that they could not explain Israel’s isolation. One Israeli after another said that the almost universal condemnation of Israel was utterly irrational. “We are one of the smallest countries on earth. What have we done that is so bad?” asked a middle-aged woman, almost begging for an answer.
Your heart has to go out to this undoubtedly large number of Israelis. I have always believed that the only thing worse than suffering is not to understand why you are suffering.
The irony is that both groups of Israelis are right. The intensity of the hatred toward Israel, a particularly decent country whose good deeds far outweigh its bad, does transcend the rational and therefore the transcendent explanations seem to be the most rational ones.
Regarding fear, the Israelis I interviewed acknowledged it openly. But they cope in a way that will one day become the stuff of legend – analogous to, if not surpassing, Londoners’ strength under Nazi bombing.
Terror is a part of Israelis’ lives that they loathe, but they are more than stoic, most seem actually optimistic. This was not something I expected (perhaps because I am less optimistic).
“It has to end; the only question is when,” was said by so many Israelis that you could almost believe the words were rehearsed. It is not possible to spend more than a few days speaking with Israelis and not recognize that the vast majority would give away just about everything for true peace.
As for Israelis’ feelings toward Arabs, I was again taken aback. Not one Israeli said he or she hated Arabs. And since I spoke Hebrew and identified myself as a Jew, they had no reason to censor themselves.
This does not mean that no Israelis hate Arabs, nor would such hatred necessarily be an immoral reaction to the terror and anti-Semitism the Arab world directs against them. But it does mean that, unlike their enemies, Israeli Jews are not good at hating.
What do they feel toward their Arab enemies? Many actually spoke of the suicide terrorists with understanding – “They are brainwashed from birth” was a frequent response. And anger at Arabs was usually tempered by noting that, of course, many individual Arabs are decent people.
Arafat is universally loathed and held in deep contempt by everyone including members of the peace community. He is regarded as a pathological liar, a gangster who is nothing more than a terrorist. Given these near-universal views, it is difficult to imagine how a peace agreement with Arafat could be reached.
I will never forget this week in Israel. Anyone who wants good to prevail over evil at this time in history should visit this extraordinary little country. Tell them they are not alone.
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