Is there an Israel beyond the conflict?

I want to say yes. I want to say her bullet marks are actually beauty marks, caused by the warping of time, not timeless battles. I want to say her role as a first responder to global crisis stems alone from her value of human life, not the wars waged against her own. I want to say her incalculable technological contributions were developed solely out of the desire to create, not to trace terrorists and eliminate violence and hate.

But I would be deceiving myself if I looked at Israel’s terrain and overlooked the gravestones. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wince every time I saw an 18, 19, 21, 17 carved into the burial ground of Har Herzl. If I said I didn’t feel the air leave my chest when I saw my friend drunk and crying and banging his fists on the pavement of “Crack Square,” the American dubbed intersection of “downtown” Jerusalem, because his best friend had died of heat stroke while training on their army base the month before. He wasn’t used to going out without him. It had only been a drill, when his heart stopped.

And it’s funny to me that Israel is so used to drills. It’s funny that in the country I feel most free to walk around in maxi skirts and parachute pants and to stay at a stranger’s home for Shabbat where I’m welcomed like family, drills exist. That this country that embraces all—people of all colors, backgrounds and walks of life—that welcomes refugees, strangers and even tourists with open arms, knows far more than it should about structure. About how to stand in the “ח” shape and receive orders, about how to detect the suspicious movements of people in a crowded square or restaurant, about how many seconds it takes to reach shelter when a rocket is fired at you and the chances that you’ll make it in time from the shower. That there’s a certain way to pull shrapnel out of someone, a certain way to carry a Torah scroll out of a burning building, certain cabs to take, and not to take.

It’s not funny that when I want to visit my friends in Israel, they don’t know when their next weekend at home will be, out of uniform. That an Israeli-Arab told me his family shoots fireworks and has wedding celebrations on piles of rubble where Jewish homes once stood, blasted by terror. That a counselor I had on a youth trip around Israel described the day she attended her best friend’s funeral, instead of her best friend’s wedding. That the friend had been jittery the night before so she met her father for coffee. And a suicide bomber joined them in the cafe. My counselor didn’t say whether in heaven, the father was able to walk his daughter down the aisle.

And these stories cloud my vision when I gaze at the words,”Death to the Jews,” written in brown Sharpie on the wall in an Arab school where students like me are meant to be having a dialogue. These memories gurgle inside me when I hear Jewish friends denounce Israel, reject her democratic policies, question her integrity. When I hear accusations of Israeli apartheid and over-aggression. Because I do question Israel, her actions, her intent.

And when I question, I discover that she operates more ethically than any other nation in the world. That she operates on Ethiopian, Christian, Asian, Palestinian children, sowing up their hearts so that they can live. I question how parents can see children receive this gift and not open their own hearts to her embrace. Because she opens her doors like Abraham opened his tent; man and woman, woman and woman, man and man walk tanned, hand-in-hand on the beaches of Tel Aviv; open.

Because Israel is a place of openness, diversity, profundity, spirituality. Because she is who she is.

I can’t say that Israel exists beyond the conflict. And I won’t say that this isn’t the real Israel. Because scorched Jerusalem stone is her reality, her value of human life is her pride, her innovation is her survival, her glory. Even if it is spectacularly unknown.

Her history is strewn with conflict—on the ground, underground, in the air, through politics, tunnels, media—her history is wrought with tears. But these tears, sweat and blood run through her streets, her mountain passes, her streams.

Beyond the conflict is beyond Israel. Yet even in her antiquity, she has mastered self-rejuvenation. Imagine what she could do with tranquility.

About the Author
Atara Vogelstein is a recent graduate of the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University, where she concentrated in Creative Writing, Drama, and Psychology. She is currently pursuing her Master's in Drama Therapy at NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.