Why the West will never really understand Israel

The tragic attack on Wednesday morning, which claimed the lives of two Israeli soldiers, was naturally reported worldwide. And as with so many stories about Israel, there is a huge gap between how the story was reported externally, and how it was experienced by Israelis.

In the West, the story that two Israeli soldiers have been killed is not particularly noteworthy. To outsiders, it is just another chapter in a never ending saga of war between Israel and its neighbours, another two people to add to the list of casualties of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

This story may be a little more interesting to Westerners than previous Israeli stories, because were Israel to launch a response on its northern border, it could impact the war in Syria. But by and large, such a story is as impersonal as foreign affairs always is in the West. Journalistic and government elites, who have both never served in an army, and are not personally friendly with many people who have, discuss what might happen in Israel and Lebanon, in an interested, but emotionally detached way.

Yet in Israel, as “minor” a story like this touches everyone in the country – personally. When there is news of an attack on soldiers, Israelis go through a ritual they are very used to – the quick mental check-up, trying to remember where their friends and family who are serving in the army are based. Most people in Israel know at least one person serving in the army at any given time.

Discussions about the potential impacts of this attack are not limited to those interested in foreign policy. Professionals after business meetings, students over lunch, families over the dinner table, discuss the events and their ramifications. Who that we know is involved in retaliatory shelling as we speak? Will there be another war? Who will get called up for reserve duty? In a country where soldiers are from every geographic location, every socio-economic group and soldiers serve as reservists for decades, if there is a war, every person in the country will have friends and family engaged in combat.

And all along, as these discussion go on, the agonising wait for the names of the casualties to be announced continues. In the back of Israeli`s minds is the sense of foreboding, waiting for and dreading the moment that the names are announced. When the news comes, some Israelis will know the people, thousands more will be separated by just one degree of separation, and on the next day, the pictures of young smiling men, sometimes with their young wives and children, will be on the front page of every newspaper in the country. Two soldiers being killed personally impact the lives of millions of Israelis.

But a story that shakes Israel`s entire population, is for outsiders no more than a mildly interesting piece of news. A story that personally touches the lives of millions of Israelis is a topic of discussion, but not an emotional issue, for those outside the country.

It is unfair to demand or expect that people in other countries should fully understand the emotions and feelings that Israelis have. But without being angry at the world, and without being down about it, we still must accept the harsh fact – the world will never really understand us.

About the Author
Aron White, 22, is currently studying and teaching in Yeshivat HaKotel, whilst studying for a degree in Politics and International Relations through LSE.