I love Israel. My spouse can testify to this: After my last trip, with a group of doctoral students and faculty from Michigan State University, I talked about it (and especially the hummus) for months after. I want to go back. Just yesterday, I put mint I cut from my yard into my water bottle, like I saw Israelis do. I have a camp stove that I bought when I first traveled to Israel, when I was 18, that I used less than a month ago on a camping trip. I have friends and I have family there.
I also criticize Israel. After my last trip (with Michigan State), a feeling built up in me over the course of the trip that something wasn’t working, there. The Palestinians, I remember thinking - and saying - were occupied by the Israelis. It was plain to see (and to read about). When we traveled to Jerusalem (the day I learned that my spouse and I were expecting a baby - an unreal and a bit of a magical day), I walked on my own through the Old City, up to the dividing line (and soldiers) separating the West Bank from East Jerusalem. I was turned back; it was clear that I was a tourist and I wasn’t getting through there. But, friends from my trip did travel to the West Bank. The pictures they shared have stuck with me and have haunted me since I saw them. I don’t know how to describe them - and can’t include them here - but, it was terrifying. Imagine watch towers, cameras, barbed wire, and homes. This cemented in me the feeling that had started to build up earlier.
Since the trip, I’ve criticized Israel on social media, in conversations with family members (my own and my in-laws), with neighbors, and with friends. I love Israel but I also criticize Israel.
Something I learned during my first trip was that Israelis are referred to as a Sabra (yes, the name of the … pretty average hummus for sale in grocery stores), a cactus that is spiny on the outside but is soft on the inside. Israelis are prickly from the outside.
I thought that being a Sabra was a wonderful thing. I don’t have a ton of prickly-ness, but, I do have a soft side. Perhaps my clearest memory from growing up was camping in Michigan. My Dad pointed to the stars in the night sky and told me that there were more than we could count. I don’t remember how (or why) he brought it up, but, he said that around 50 years before, six-million Jewish people died in the Holocaust. I heard repeatedly from my parents that because of Jews’ history, Jews have a responsibility to stand up for peoples being oppressed and prejudiced against. This was a message I heard from the Hebrew school I attended (Wednesdays and Sundays - but, there were bagels on Sundays) and at the Temple we went to when I was growing up. I learned from my Grandpa that he had to wear military dog tags that said he was Presbyterian, rather than Jewish, in case he was shot down over Europe (he was). Jews, Israel, and Palestine have a long history, something that people on both “sides” of any debate about Jews and Palestinians and Israel and Palestine don’t acknowledge enough. I think some on the left don’t see the soft side, sometimes, of Israelis. They don’t see the fear Israelis have, for historical reasons and for those in the present, and don’t fully appreciate what it means to Israelis to hear that Israel shouldn’t eixst. It’s complicated. Maybe it’s not meant to be appreciated; I’m okay if that is the case.
So, I love Israel and I also criticize Israel. It’s because of my experiences growing up and as an adult, especially one from the position of being an American Jew. It doesn’t mean I’m disloyal. It also doesn’t mean I think Israel shouldn’t exist (I do). But, right now, what is needed is a little less prickly-ness, I think, and a little bit more softness, on the inside - with respect to how we talk about how Israelis and Palestinians live together - is needed.