Bibi, can you hear me?

“Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu to skip Mandela memorial, citing cost.” After double-checking to make sure I wasn’t reading a headline from “The Onion,” I held my breath hoping this was some sick joke. Nope, Bibi’s done it again. The same guy who famously spent nearly $3,000 on ice cream last year is trying to convince the world that he skipped Nelson Mandela’s funeral because of a tight budget.

We all know this is not about cost, Bibi. So what is it really about? Were you worried that your cheeks would burn and your brow would sweat as leaders encouraged their colleagues to promote peace to honor the legacy of Mandela? Perhaps you were concerned that such an event might lead to some self-reflection. You’d wonder: what have I done to promote peace?

Well I’d like to ask you the same question. I love Israel. I have loved Israel since I arrived there for the first time as an eight-year-old. I loved Israel from far away and I loved Israel through every minute of my voluntary service in her defense. I spent hours at checkpoints, and weeks inside the West Bank. I saw the complexity of the settlement issue first hand, but I also saw the ugliness behind it. I often wondered, is this the path to peace?

Now I’m back in the U.S., finishing my undergraduate education. I try to stay close to Israel, I read the newspaper, listen to Galgalatz. It feels like I’m constantly hearing about expansion of settlements in the West Bank, and a “Price-Tag” movement, which no one seems to be doing much about.

I worked with hundreds of soldiers. Almost every one of them seemed more dedicated and honorable than the last. They wanted to protect their country, their fellow Israelis. I felt encouraged by them; sure that anti-Israel propaganda I’d heard in the states was full of myths. We stood for hours in the intense heat or bitter cold. It was not always pleasant, but I remember feeling part of something bigger.

The first time it happened I was shocked. A woman, a settler, came through the checkpoint and started screaming at me and the other soldiers. We were short-staffed, enough to open just one lane. She, apparently, was not satisfied—howling at us for making her wait so long. I stared at her in disbelief.

Now, don’t discount this as a timid American girl, unfamiliar with Israeli intensity. I’d long learned to use my elbows and voice my opinion when necessary. This was different. Such chutzpa was unforgivable, but how could she be so blind? We were there to protect her. Who knows what kind of life she’d have without that checkpoint. Her complaints seemed outrageous to me, but today, the more I read about settlement policy, the more I understand.

Bibi, you treat the settlers like your spoiled children (maybe they’re the ones getting all the ice cream). You reinforce their bad behavior; they learn time and time again that you are not committed to a real peace process. They build new, illegal outposts and graffiti Mosques because they know you’d puff out your chest towards the rest of the world before doing it to your own insubordinate citizens.

A spoiled child is every parent’s downfall, and they are causing you to turn Israel into something unrecognizable from the outside. Leaders across the world acknowledge that the settlement issue is far from the only obstacle preventing an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Bibi, the in-your-face approach you’ve taken in regard to the settlements has made it more of a central issue than it needs to be. Your preoccupation with proving to the world that you will not capitulate to its pressure is at the expense of the nation that you should be leading into a brighter future, not a darker one.

Bibi, there are people around the world who love Israel. I am one of those people. I want, more than anything to be an advocate. You are making that job very difficult. Your settlement policies have become the dark cloud making it impossible for the world to see what a truly remarkable place Israel is. The Jewish State should always be a light amongst the nations. As Israel’s leader you have more power than most to ensure that this is the case. Honor the legacy of the great Nelson Mandela and be the kind of leader who takes risks for the people and nation he loves.

About the Author
Katja Edelman is a junior at Columbia University in New York. Between her first and second year of school, Katja joined the IDF. She served in a combat role in the IDF’s canine unit, Oketz. Katja studies Political Science with a focus in International Relations.
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