Apparently each country has its own unique character. Moreover, some countries proudly regard themselves as special, as unlike the others. Russia has its “mystical Russian soul”, England with its loyalty to traditions (my first association here, by the way, is not the Queen, but two separate taps for cold and hot water which drove me crazy during my first visit to the United Kingdom) etc. In my opinion, after all my travels around the world, Israel is one of the strangest and most special states among civilized countries, with its 3100- and 64-year histories, with Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv 40 minutes apart, and with Hadash and the National Union sitting in the same parliament. In order to understand this better, special approaches are required.
According to Hegel’s approach, some ideas, which at first look united, and holistic, can have internal contradictions. All the complexity and depth of these ideas can be understood only by dissecting them to the internal contradicting elements; namely thesis and antithesis. The combination of these elements produces a really holistic idea, namely by Hegel’s terminology (who by the way uses it only once and attributed the origins to Kant) “synthesis”.
In this series of articles I would like to dissect some ideas, which finally create great “synthesis” of the State of Israel. Before I start I would like to highlight that despite the fact that sometime I will try to show some objective data to prove my opinion, in general this article just reflects my personal perception and experience after four months of living in this country and I don’t pretend to present here some universal truth.
1. Peaceful armed nation
Let us imagine that aliens one day decide to come to Earth and spend a week in the Holy Land. Let us also imagine that they are a very special type of alien who cannot read or hear news about the Israel-Palestinian conflict: their minds just block out this information. Let’s imagine that before they left the country there was a press conference and somebody asked our aliens to name the main features of Israeli society.
Surprisingly for some people, I am almost sure that in this unique situation the aliens will say this place is “peaceful”.
The reason for my confidence relates to my personal experience. Before I started to live here, I was like these aliens. I had come to Israel seven times previously for several days or a week. And parties, beach and sea after cold, nervous Moscow were much more interesting for me than local politics especially because there were enough problems for me with politics in Russia. However, each time I couldn’t stop being surprised and enjoying the atmosphere of peace, trust, and safety; the kind of atmosphere where you feel that people care about each other regardless of the extent to which they knew each other before. Somebody could argue that except my dear homeland (Russia), in many countries of Europe, in English-speaking countries people also smile and act peacefully. But for me here there is a huge difference between a polite smile and a sincere smile, between helping someone because of the “unspoken rules” of society and helping someone because of an innate understanding of the importance of helping one other.
This is, of course, just my personnel perception, but I would like to also show some objective data.
According to data from the OECD Better Life Index in Israel, nearly 56 percent reported having helped a stranger in the last month, more than the OECD average of 47 percent. 88 percent of the people believe that they know someone they could rely on in a time of need. 70 percent of Israelis feel safe walking alone at night, slightly higher than the OECD average of 67 percent. In spite of the complexity of Israel’s geopolitical situation, 53 percent of people say they trust their political institutions, slightly lower than the OECD average of 56 percent. When asked to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10, Israelis gave it a 7.4, higher than the OECD average of 6.7.
So my thesis here is that Israelis are very peaceful people.
Now let us imagine that there is another planet and another group of aliens. Let us imagine that there is a financial crisis on this planet, interplanetary flights became too expensive and these guys decided just to read news and history about Israel instead of coming to the holy land.
In this case they probably would have something of a different image of Israel. They will know that this young, almost “baby-country” during its 64 years of recognized by international community existence, participated in 13 wars and armed conflicts and won the majority of them. I’m not going to involve myself now in a political discussion of these conflicts, but I want to underline these figures: 64 and 13. It’s an unbelievable intensity.
Every day almost one eighth of the population is serving in the army. Their service is for two to three years. Some of the best years of life, the period between 18 and 21, are given to serve in army, postponing higher education. If they start to compare the situation with other countries on Earth, they will find that Israel is the only nation to conscript women and assign some of them to infantry combat service which places them directly in the line of enemy fire. They will learn that this country takes fourth place in the list of the active military per capita (first three are hold by North Korea, South Ossetia and Eritrea).
They will know that in this small territory of Israel and the West Bank and Gaza the size of which it is possible to compare with El Salvador or New Jersey, during the last 12 years about 5000 civilians were killed (from both sides).
The Israeli army, from some point of view, is one of the miracles of the Holy Land. The army, which was created in such a short period of time, is the army of only 8 million citizens (half the population of Moscow), and has been able to protect them from so many enemies
Although for me, a European citizen, the next statement still sounds unbelievable, the reality proves that the majority of Israelis are used to this kind of stuff. Many will claim that this is one of the strengths of the society, which does not allow the enemy to destroy its everyday life of parties, schools, work etc. I 100 percent agree with this statement and, even more, very much respect the Israelis for their courage.
But there is also another side of the situation. Only now after a month after the end of Operation Pillar of Defense, I understood the real level of my fear during these days. I didn’t realize it properly then because everybody around me was so calm and I remember how I didn’t want to change the atmosphere of “hakol beseder” by answering to the usual question “What’s up?” with “I feel fear, each loud sound reminds me of sirens and makes me nervous. I can’t believe that so many people were killed already.”
By this I wanted to say that Israeli also became more… apathetic. One Israeli said to my friend: “If we don’t continue living our lives, they win”. But for me, continued living as if nothing has happened could be not only a strength, but also a weakness of the society, creating an unhealthy moral environment for future generations. So maybe “they” do win to some extent, because of “their” ability to change Israel’s system of values. That is why I consider supporting the actions of certain NGO-s, developing values of coexistence, and educating Israelis in schools about the importance of separating between the civilians of Gaza and their government as extremely important points of government internal policy.
So, my antithesis is that Israelis are a very strong people, able to act toughly and that they are used to living in conditions of war to some extent.
In the end let us come back to our aliens. Let us imagine that the first group of aliens, who have been to the Holy Land, meet the second group, who just read the news. There is a high probability that after a few minutes of discussion they would start to think that there is some mistake in interplanetary airlines and they are just talking about different countries.
But in reality such a country exists and people who live here are not aliens (although for the rest of the world sometimes they could look like them). They wake up in the morning, read the news about a new accident on the border with Gaza strip, they post in Facebook something like “Israel has the right to protect itself, that is why we are starting another military operation, which could cause the deaths of civilians”, and afterwards go to work, helping some stranger on the way. For me this the reality of Israel. And sometimes I feel that someone needs to be born here to be able to understand this and – what is probably more important – to be able to accept this.
1) Web-site of OECD Better Life Index http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/countries/israel/
4) B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights , http://www.btselem.org/