Often, when I tell people in the United States that I am going to join the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) as a lone soldier, they are stunned and speechless. Through years of experience, I have become familiar with the attitudes and beliefs of people who demonstrate anti-Israel bias. Their bewilderment holds many questions: “Why aren’t you choosing peace instead of war? Why aren’t you choosing human rights instead of oppression?” When I face these reactions, I feel sad. I trust that most people mean well, but the ignorance of their judgment hits me hard. They do not understand that the very reason I am joining the IDF is to protect these exact values: freedom, equality, democracy, and human rights. Israel is the only beacon of those values and thus the only beacon of hope in the darkness of a region torn by endless tribal wars, religious extremism, terrorism and hatred.
Vladimir Lenin, who was an expert propagandist, once stated the following: “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.”
From the time we are young, we are fed stories of good and evil, right and wrong, oppressor and oppressed. This pattern shows up in our fairy tales, in our Disney movies, in our children’s books. The media uses this exact story frame to tell the story of Israel, and because we are so used to the structure, it ends up being an easily convincing narrative to consume. It informs us of a classic chronicle, one of strength and weakness, of colonizer and indigenous, of evil and good. The individuals writing our news stories and creating our documentaries report “facts” within a dominant paradigm that vilifies Israel and does not allow for complexity or countervailing narratives. We do not question the words we read, the footage we watch, the pictures we see. Of course we root for good and protest evil.
The indoctrination against the sole Jewish state in the world is, quite frankly, horrific. There are decades and decades of propaganda and double standards built up against Israel coming from official world organizations, such as the United Nations, as well as countries and well-respected individuals, reported uncritically by the media. While the media can be nuanced, sophisticated, and reveals complexity with other situations, Israel is consistently held to a double standard. These falsities have been ingrained into our collective psyche to such an extent that digging up the truth can feel akin to going on an archaeological excavation. However, the truth is often found hidden amongst real-life experience, untainted by the media’s gaze.
There is no acknowledgment of the facts that not only are the Jews the longest-standing inhabitants of this tiny piece of land, but that if the surrounding countries had put down their arms and ceased their efforts to obliterate Israel and the Jews in any point in history, there would be immediate peace. If Israel dismantled the army and ceased the defense of her borders, there would be no Israel, and the birthplace of the Jewish people and the Christian faith would be completely wiped off the map.
Golda Meir, a former Israeli prime minister and one of the first female prime ministers in the world, once said that “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.” This has proven to be true time after time when it comes to the leaders and governmental structures of the surrounding Arab countries. The record of persecution of the people of most of these countries by their own governments, particularly in the form of violent xenophobia and sexism, is staggering. If Israel was destroyed, there would be no safe haven for Jews, nor for many other groups persecuted in surrounding countries in the Middle East, such as Arab and non-Arab Christians, Bah’ai, Syrian refugees, people with differing sexual orientations, and women. Israel is the only country in the Middle East that provides safety and equal rights for these groups. It is the only country in the predominantly Arab Middle East in which Arabs are able to participate in truly democratic processes.
Contrary to what is found across the Middle East, Israel is a country teeming with religious and ethnic diversity. The Muslim call to prayer can be heard reverberating throughout Israel. Church bells ring in Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Haifa every Sunday morning. Students wearing hijabs and kippahs sit next to each other in class. I have lived in both the United States and Israel, and the level of coexistence in the United States pales in comparison to that in Israel. In the classrooms in which I taught in Israel, I had students whose families were from Arab countries, from Ethiopia, from Russia, from Somalia…the list goes on.
I have been to the Palestinian Authority (PA) many times. I have seen how people have suffered, but not at the hands of Israel; rather, at the hands of the kleptocratic government which steals money from their own people. Mahmoud Abbas, the current leader of the Palestinian Authority, lives in a multi-million dollar mansion, and the late Yasser Arafat, the previous PA leader and convicted terrorist with the blood of thousands of people on his hands, has dedicated to him a multi-story museum located in Ramallah, complete with a wading pool, armed guards, and an artful exhibit on the intifada, or terror wars, against Israelis.
Why isn’t this money in the PA’s possession used to advance Palestinian-Arab society? If they truly want to create a sovereign Palestinian state, why aren’t they working to build it?
Then, there is the issue of Gaza, and more specifically, Hamas, Gaza’s governing terrorist organization.
For 13 years, there has not been a single Jew living in Gaza. Yet, Hamas constantly attacks Israel, with one goal: to kill as many Israeli citizens as possible. Hamas spends 100 million dollars every single year on military infrastructure, including rockets and terror tunnels. This money, which could instead be used to improve school systems, hospitals, and to create a bustling, productive society, is stolen from Gazans, leaving them in extreme poverty. Hamas uses their own citizens as human shields as they launch rockets into Israel in order to place Israel in an impossible position. If Israel must strike down a Hamas rocket launching site, it drops leaflets into Gaza, giving the citizens hours of warning to evacuate the area to prevent civilian casualties, but Hamas does not allow them to leave because they want these casualties to occur so that the headlines the next morning will speak of the civilians killed by Israeli forces. Again: why isn’t this money used to help advance peace and society in Gaza? Why do children learn at schools with rockets stored in the basement, ready to be launched at any minute? If you were in Israel’s position, what would you do?
Gaza is bleeding, and the world is ignoring the source of the pain.
By joining the army, I AM choosing peace, because I am making a conscious decision to defend the diversity and synchronicity I have found in Israel, to defend the humanitarian values that I hold dear. Without the Israeli army, which protects everyone and everything within Israel’s tiny borders, this single oasis of freedom, democracy, and coexistence in the entire Middle East would be destroyed. There have been endless attempts to do this already.
The great American Zionist and civil rights activist, Martin Luther King, Jr., once said that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Although the road towards justice has been long and winding for the Jewish people, we have had our miracles along the way, and Israel is one of these miracles. I want to become a part of the force that protects the miracle of Israel and helps the moral universe find its way towards justice.