The young man raised his hand to ask “a naïve question”:
“Why doesn’t Israel just finish Hamas off once and for all?! The world hates you anyway and thinks Israel is always guilty.”
I was addressing a Sar-El group at an army base. Every year, the Sar-El organization brings to Israel thousands of volunteers, Jewish and non-Jewish, of all ages and many nationalities, to work for a few weeks at IDF maintenance bases. Over and above the vital work that the volunteers do for the army and the motivation their presence gives to the soldiers with whom they work, the tens of thousands of Sar-El veterans become dedicated ambassadors of Israel around the world.
The group, dressed in IDF work uniforms, numbered some 15 volunteers from various countries, including China, Germany, Italy, US, Canada, the Czech Republic and Britain. This group of volunteers happened to be all Christian. Despite my familiarity with the phenomenon of Christian supporters of Israel, I am always amazed by the commitment and love shown by our non-Jewish friends. When I complimented them for coming now despite the rocket fire from Gaza, an older couple from a European country who participated in the Sar-El program for the fifth time, responded: “You don’t really understand what coming here means for our relationships with family and friends. We’re considered outcasts by many of our neighbors. A lot of them stopped talking to us when they heard we volunteered with the Israeli army!”
My “naïve” questioner was from China, in his late twenties and Canadian-educated. This was his first visit to Israel.
His short question got longer. He kept repeating the defiant message, punctuated by sharp hand movements. “In China we would show what Israel should do to Hamas like this,” he said, his hand mimicking the motion of a knife. “Israel needs to finish off the job. Don’t keep going into Gaza. Everyone thinks you’re the bad guys anyway and condemns you. So finish the job properly! Why don’t you get it?!”
As I listened to him attentively, I looked at the faces of the others in the room. Some were nodding in agreement, while others seemed disturbed by the question and the thinking behind it. All of them were waiting for my response.
When he finished, the young man leaned back, took a deep breath, and waited for my answer.
“That’s an excellent question and not naïve at all,” I said. “In fact, it’s one of the major questions facing Israel for decades, as it copes with Palestinian terrorism. I’m sure that other countries, such as China, Russia or Syria, would have long since implemented the solution you acted out with your hand. They would have used brutal force to eradicate their enemies, cruelly, without thinking about innocent bystanders. They wouldn’t have dropped warning flyers, given time to civilians to evacuate, or refrained from destroying a terrorist stronghold hidden in a school.
But Israel isn’t China, Russia or Syria. As believing Christians, I’m sure most of you came to Israel from a belief in the unique role we play in the world. The Jewish people are called “the Chosen People.” To be “chosen” carries an obligation. After all, if we took the “simple” solution you propose, we wouldn’t be the people and the country you love and cherish.”
I am not certain that I convinced the young Chinese volunteer. We Israelis are not always convinced ourselves – there’s a reason the question is raised every time. But there is no better answer. Had we not been a little crazy, special, and certainly very unlike other people, we would have looked for a different place to put down stakes, another faith to cling to and an easier language to speak. And we would have sought somewhat friendlier neighbors.
Yet… to be “chosen” carries an obligation.
Sagi Melamed lives with his family in the community of Hoshaya in the Galilee. He serves as Vice President of External Affairs at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College, and as Chief Instructor of the Hoshaya Karate Club. Sagi received his Masters degree from Harvard University in Middle Eastern Studies with a specialty in Conflict Resolution. His book “Son of My Land was published in 2013. Sagi can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.