In a way, this post has been writing itself in my head for a long time, years maybe, but the words started to come together several months ago when my friend and I sat down with some European food writers who had come here on a press trip.
Their trip was disappointing, but that’s a topic for another day and another post. We, however, managed to snag them for about an hour, and we shared wine and snacks and told them about the Israeli food scene. But this is Israel, and they’re European, and inevitably it came up that one of them was sort of being bullied on Instagram for posting pictures of Israel. “Israel? You mean Palestine.” “How could you support that country?” And so on.
That’s the thing about Israel — it’s never just about food or art or music or archaeology. It’s always about politics and Israelis and Palestinians. Even when it’s so not.
And suddenly I found myself spewing out this monologue of half-formed sentences that started out with this: This is just a place.
Yes, it’s so much more than that. And there are political problems (lots of them, but we’re not the only country to have them) and economic problems (lots of them, but we’re not the only country to have them). And problems with our neighbors. And problems with other countries. And there is the world media that sits right on our lands and spews out hatred about us. And there’s a world out there of — yes, it sounds like hysterics, but it’s true — people who still hate Jews.
But this is just a place.
It’s a place where people wake up in the morning and drink coffee and walk their dogs and take their kids to school and pick them up and rush out in the middle of the night to buy cigarettes (yes, unfortunately there are still too many people in this country who smoke cigarettes). It’s a place where people worry about making ends meet and how much milk costs and if their kid acted up in school. A place where people fight and cry and kiss their partners goodnight and feel things.
This place that we call Israel is a place full of ordinary people going about their ordinary lives. People who don’t think about capital-letter words like Occupation and War and Security while they’re eating breakfast because they’re too busy thinking about how the price of milk went up and how they’re late to work.
It’s a nation full of people who aren’t Bibi Netanyahu or the police or people who terrorize or oppress. It’s a nation full of people—people like my grandparents, who left World War II Poland, where their entire families were murdered—who came here because they didn’t have anywhere else to go.
We have criminals, but we’re not all criminals. We have intellectuals and visionaries, but we can’t all be intellectuals and visionaries, either. That’s the thing about being just a place.
Words like “double standards” and “higher standards” and “high expectations” get thrown around all the time in relation to Israel. Words like “the Israelis” — and “the Palestinians,” too, by the way. But those “Israelis”– and those “Palestinians”– are just people trying to live a normal existence in a place that has been made abnormal by outside circumstances. If those “Israelis” were born and raised somewhere else, they would simply be called “Canadians” or “Indians” or “Danes.”
Because this is just a place.