Dany Bahar

At 64, it’s time Israel acted its age

At 64, it's high time we took responsibility for our fate and acknowledged that the root cause of our problems is the occupation

Until our early twenties, we are young, inexperienced, financially dependent and often reckless. Later in life, we go on to specialize in a profession, settle down, build a family and grow financially. During our thirties, forties and even fifties, we have many responsibilities — a demanding job and young children to take care of – leaving less time to deal with issues outside our immediate sphere. In our sixties, things start changing. The kids are older and have set off on their own path, and it is time to set the stage for our peaceful golden years and worry about things we couldn’t get to before.

This is all true for Israel. We were a small, poor country for many years; later we were busy building our society and defending ourselves from existential threats. Eventually we became a rich and productive country. Now, at the age of 64, we are past some very important challenges. Yet, there are a few ones left, and they require maturity on a national scale.

In 2010 an IDF soldier uploaded to Facebook pictures of herself mocking Palestinian prisoners. These pictures were later published all over the Web, and, rightly so, irritated many around the globe. The soldier, Eden Abergil, was interviewed by Israeli TV a year later and asked whether she understood why the world had criticized her actions so severely.

“Yes, of course I do,” she replied. “It’s because they hate us.”

Eden Abergil poses with bound Palestinian detainees in this photo uploaded to her Facebook wall in August 2010 (via Facebook)
Eden Abergil poses with bound Palestinian detainees in this photo uploaded to her Facebook wall in August 2010 (via Facebook)

Let there be no doubt: As Jews, we have an indisputable right to our own country, a Jewish-democratic country. Some will say that many people out there disagree with that statement. I would say that they are an insignificant minority. Yet, their existence does not allow us to use them as an excuse to justify our mistakes, instead of acknowledging our wrongdoing.

Teenagers often do not acknowledge their own mistakes; 64-year-old mature adults do.

There are other instances in which our behavior is more reminiscent of that of a kid than of an adult. In March 2012 a debate between representatives of Peace Now and My Israel took place in Bar Ilan University. The crowd went crazy, yelling at the speakers without letting them express their points. They didn’t even make an effort to listen. Moreover, they wished out loud that the grandparents of Peace Now’s Yariv Oppenheimer — who arrived in Palestine as pioneers from Europe — would have stayed there, a statement that Rav Kook himself would probably have condemned as anti-Zionist. The crowd behaved even worse than reckless kids fighting during school recess — without giving any thought to their words or actions.

Sixty-four-year-old mature adults do not behave like that.

As a country, we are often perceived in the international community as the little kid who cries when things don’t go his way. Israel has occupied the West Bank and Gaza since 1967. We can give these territories any name we want, but the fact of the matter is that they are occupied. Not only do I (and pretty much the rest of the world) say so, but so did Ariel Sharon. We keep trying to improve our “hasbara” because we feel the need to explain ourselves, and tell the world that, among other things, the territories are disputed. We keep claiming that people do not get this because we have to improve our PR strategy. There is nothing worse than a blind person who does not want to see.

A kid will claim our problem is in the explaining; a 64-year-old would understand the root cause of our problem is the occupation.

When we are not perceived as a child, we are often perceived as a grumpy old man. We claim nobody understands us or cares for us. We don’t want to listen to advice and we self-medicate without prescription. Old people unfortunately often get addicted to medication regardless of their doctor’s recommendation. We keep building settlements, knowing that this is a bad medicine – we are just addicted to it.

A 64-year-old would understand that taking non-prescribed medicine can lead to an unfortunate outcome: death.

A word to the unwise. An elderly man walks on the sidewalk in Jerusalem (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
A word to the unwise. An elderly man walks on the sidewalk in Jerusalem (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

True, we have done and are doing many excellent things. We have contributed to the world in many ways. We are a liberal society in many respects. And, of course, I know that regarding the conflict, it is unfair to blame everything on ourselves. The Palestinians have made, and are still making, many mistakes. They also behave immaturely. However, national maturity is not about focusing our achievements, but about focusing on what we can do better. It is about behaving maturely, regardless of whether others are doing the same. We need national maturity to understand that we must deal with the conflict now. Indeed, we are in the midst a crucial time in the history of our already-not-so-young state. A critical moment requires us to arrive at important decisions.

Kids are usually unable to recognize critical moments; 64-year-olds do.

The dilemma for us is clear. After 45 years of occupation we are left with two — and only two – options: Either we annex the occupied territories and give Israeli citizenship to all Palestinians, creating one state for two people (and declaring an end to Zionism); or we separate ourselves, in two states, in peace and security, and start enjoying our golden years.

What would a mature 64-four-year-old do?

About the Author
Dany Bahar is a fellow in the Brookings Institute in Washington DC. He holds a PhD in Public Policy from Harvard University.