I love you, my beautiful Israel. Truly. It is from my deep love for you that I write these lines now.
Love, as I’ve often told my children and friends, is very different from like. I will always love MY Israel. I put my life on the line to defend it. Countless times, both as an IDF warrior and later Liaison Officer, and as a civilian traveling in and out of the Gaza Strip, an AK-47 on my lap and the 9mm Beretta tucked into the back of my Kibbutz dungarees.
I loved the camaraderie of my brothers-in-arms and of the truckers hauling produce and wheat and poultry, some fellow Kibbutzniks, some Bedouin and some from small neighboring towns like Sderot. We had each others’ backs. We looked out for each other. We exchanged stories and some truly mighty tales, the little camping gas heating up yet another pot of Turkish coffee.
We respected each other’s humanity. We learned each others’ customs. We invited each other to our homes. It mattered not whether Sephardic or Ashkenazi, Iraqi or Yemenite or Persian, we were ONE. It mattered not whether my Golani brother wore a knit Kippah, whether his home was in Kiryat Gat or Kiryat Shmone. While commanding my T-55 crew it mattered not one small tiny bit that my driver had Persian roots and at that time smoked like a proverbial chimney. We were a band of brothers, Jews, Israelis, one people, one purpose, one love.
My Bedouin brothers invited me into their homes. There were weddings, and there were simply wonderful social visits. There were honors bestowed upon me to pay my last respects to the Sheikh who died. I walked the line in the funeral tent. I drank the bitter coffee. In the pitch black night of the Negev Desert I navigated my way back to the highway, back to my kibbutz, tears streaming down my cheeks.
We welcomed strangers from around the world. Some would stay a month, and some longer. Some would travel with me in the cab of the tractor trailer, (my home away from home…) to see the parts of Israel not often seen by tourists. The grain silos, the packing plants that sorted and exported our fruit to Europe, the wide expanses of the northern Negev where we planted and harvested wheat.
As a Liaison Officer serving in the IDF I met American observers in the MFO, the Multinational Force and Observers between Israel and Egypt. I met Egyptian Officers and fellow Israeli Liaison Officers, each unique and with their own stories. It was truly an honor to represent the best of Israel then, and there.
My first inkling of a change that later became a wave and later a Tsunami, was actually during my last deployment. I was sent to Hebron, yet this was not as my capacity as a Liaison Officer, rather as a soldier whose name was drawn from a pool of names. There were former Navy and Air Force officers. Engineers and desk officers. I was among the few, the very few, with years of front-line combat experience.
We saw the mischief created by some of the residents living in Kiryat Arba. We paid the price during the day, while they vandalized property at night. We protected the passengers on the Eged buses that traveled through Hebron itself. While I protected them, they in their turn heaped verbal abuse on me. An isolated incident? There were many.
For personal and very private reasons I left Israel, again, in 1991. I carried powerful memories and great losses with me, and do so to this very day. Seven of my brothers-in-arms; four of my friends, of them two of my very best friends.
Over the years, coming back to Israel again and again, I felt the change. True, it was in part because life in the US was really not as intense. And, yet, the drivers were less patient. The drivers became more and more reckless on roads narrow and wide.
The offers of help, basic customer service, were often met with shrugs and silence. There were isolated incidents of violence, such as one we witnessed in Kfar Saba when a driver jumped from his car to pound another mercilessly while both were stopped at a red light. Really?
Of course there were wonderful encounters and new friendships made, but over the years there were some really big changes. One of my truly wonderful friends, a Bedouin Sheikh in whose home I had been a guest many times, told me to not visit any more. He assured me that I had done nothing to offend, nothing to insult. He was simply concerned for my safety, as the political climate had changed.
Indeed, it had changed not only in his town. The political climate changed because Israelis grew tired of terror and death and murder, and the Palestinians grew tired of occupation and the lack of a country of their own, and the frustrations and the ensuing violence and the rockets and the destruction and the mistrust evolved into a never ending cyclone of…just that. Never ending.
More and more, voices within Israel pleading for compromise, for mutual respect and understanding, moderation (what an archaic term…) grew smaller and smaller, and the voices for harsher, harder stances grew larger and larger. There was less patience.
And, after five elections in Israel since 2019, I can understand why there is a resignation and a disillusionment among some within Israel. I can understand why some would and did vote the way they did. I cannot however, understand the latest coalition, a coalition designed to exclude, and not include.
Exclude the largest sector of Israel’s population, women. WHY? Exclude families where both parents are of the same gender. WHY? Exclude a minority, LGBTQ. WHY? Exclude those who are Jews, but are secular or Reform or Conservative. WHY?
And, where will this lead, with all of the new/old Prime Minister promising that Israel will not become a nation of Halacha? Empty promises. A coalition designed to benefit one Israeli citizen and one only: The PM himself, in order to evade judgment?
What was wrong with maintaining a status quo that respected the rights of the Orthodox Jews of Israel, while respecting the rights of Israeli Jews, secular or Reform or Conservative? What was wrong with respecting the equal rights of ALL WOMEN? What was wrong with respecting the rights of Israeli Citizens, Muslim, Christian and Druze? What was wrong in having Israel a bilingual nation, children learning Hebrew and Arabic?
Israel has attracted the attention of the world, with many investors coming to appreciate the innovations of Israel’s high tech, its medical research, its scientific leadership. Where will those investors go now? With racism and religious exclusions on the agenda will those investments continue to come to Israel?
That is the LIGHT I seek. That is the LIGHT unto nations that was, and can indeed return. It must return and I for one will speak out against exclusion. I will speak out against racism. I will support moderation and kindness and peace, because I know the hurt and pain when kindness and peace and love are absent.