What is Israel?

Israel is love. Israel is apartheid. Israel is peace. Israel is home. Israel is incomplete. Israel is mine. Israel is colonization. Israel is too small. Israel is too big. Israel is not ready to be Israel yet. Israel is jihad.

I could go on much longer but I’ll stop myself there. Let’s just say that Israel is how you look at it.

When I took a creative writing class a few years ago, I was constantly arguing with my teacher over how to look at the texts that we used in class. I wanted to research the author, understand their state of mind, and the motivation behind the text in order to interpret what I was reading. My professor’s approach (which I now understand to be more commonly used) was to put the author aside and focus exclusively on the words. It took me some time to come around and understand my teacher, but her point eventually helped me. My job as the reader was to decide what I should put behind the words, not to play with what the author had left behind. I still shot a few glances at the authors’ biographies on Wikipedia, but ultimately strived to find the meaning between the lines for myself.

I now take the ongoing argument that I had with my teacher and bring it not only to literature, but to people and places as well. Let’s say that I am going on a hike on Mount Gilboa. If I look at the place like my teacher would look at one of her student’s poems, I notice the rounded mountains and the immense valleys that surround the range. I’ll take a break from hiking to sit and watch a family who came for a picnic and enjoy the view of the surrounding farms, towns, and neighboring mountains in the distance. It’s a scene to be enjoyed for its own sake. No explanations necessary.

Now let’s go on that same hike, but with my original approach to creative writing. I see the mountains and the beautiful views, but I’m more taken aback by the geographical boundary that the Gilboa places between Israel and the northern West Bank. I look to the southern side of the Gilboa and see Jenin and its surrounding towns. I think about the Palestinians that live there and wonder how different, better or worse, their lives would be if they lived in an independent Palestinian state. Do they think that Hamas is bold or extreme? When their children grow up will they have a harder time finding jobs because of who they are? I am filled with questions.

A view of the Jezreel Valley from Mount Gilboa (photo credit: Matanya Tausig/Flash90)

A view of the Jezreel Valley from Mount Gilboa (photo credit: Matanya Tausig/Flash90)

I then turn my head north to see the farms in the Jezreel Valley and am amazed by their contributions to the development of the State of Israel. I think about the crucial role they played in settling the valleys of the Galilee. I lower my head for a moment to take in the price that their first pioneers had to pay for their work; fighting malaria that was rampant in swampy areas during the early years and fighting off attacks from neighboring Arabs before and after the War of Independence in 1948. Each of of the farms is a story within itself.

You can’t live in this country and ignore that there are serious problems here. But if you walk around with all of those problems weighing down on your shoulders, you’ll be popping heart medication at each meal just to get through the day. There is simplicity, but there’s also responsibility.

I’ve always admired Mark Twain’s note in the beginning of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

Ultimately, I think Mark’s got it right.