As you distance yourself from a country, person, or event, you tend to see things clearer. One’s vantage point is no longer obstructed. Such is my relationship with my country, Israel. My observations are clearer when I am not immersed in the culture .
During a recent visit to Israel, I could not help but wear my observation lenses. What is the pulse of the country and the people? What is the mood? What has changed since my last visit? After all, I still have family and friends there. No one easily disconnects from this complex but charming place. Recently, another “revelation” that has been written and re-written about was the OECD report that ranked Israelis the most content people in the Western world, despite low ranking in income and education. Quite a claim!
I felt during this visit as if I entered a long stretch of chic cafés; the public is lingering and enjoying their espressos, cappuccino, and latte macchiato. The beaches are overflowing with people and the dynamic pace of life engulfs you in all directions. Innovation prospers and continues to impress the global investment arena. Yet, it seemed that nearly everyone is closing their eyes to the simmering political situation around them in the neighboring Arab countries and simply makes the best out of their daily existence.
I asked my friend who is a writer about this phenomenon, “I think about this too…” and then she abruptly waved her hand as if shooing an annoying fly away, and continued, “but let us talk about happier things.”
When people visit Israel, they immediately feel the vibe of a dynamic place. And it is true. There are constant events, art exhibition openings, happenings, lectures, protests, weddings, get-togethers – many reasons to celebrate. Why? Do they feel that time is working against them. Is the sand in the hourglass flowing faster? Are people denying what is taking place around them? Perhaps this is a defense mechanism?
For some it is easier to stick the head in the ground and make the best out of the situation. “Listen,” says former Knesset Member Eti Livni, “people realize that there is Iran, and Syria, the Palestinian issue over the horizon, but cannot deal with it every minute of the day of their lives. So they are making the best out of their lives.”
To be fair, there are those that are politically aware, fighting for a cause, justice, whether it be domestic or regional. They do exist. However, my impression was that the general public has convenient blinders on to the surrounding arena and smoldering neighborhood, to the plight of one’s neighbors. Obliviousness. How can one continue to boast about the thriving innovation, prosperous economy, discovery of natural gas, when there is no true inclination to what is happening across the borders, and also within those borders. In this neighborhood one does not have the luxury of not getting involved.
Dr. Carlo Strenger, a Swiss-Israeli psychologist teaching at Tel Aviv University writes about the psyche of the Israeli. He describes in a recent article, “Israel’s internal discourse is haunted by profound insecurities, will the country still be around in another two generations?”
Strenger provides practical suggestions in his blog which might gradually provide Israel’s mainstream with alternatives to self-righteous utopianism. Some of the alternate paths are movements striving towards influencing the government to act on a fair solution of the conflict such as the Israeli Peace Initiative and Blue-White Future. The folks joining these movements are still a minority of the Israeli public.
Don’t they feel the rumbling under their feet? I certainly did. How can you not feel the trembles? It reminded me of my days in Los Angeles, California, an earthquake prone county. I recall my dogs yelping minutes before an earthquake struck. They had sharper senses than humans and connected to different energy waves. A few seconds after their alarming yelps, the earth rumbled and rolled. They felt the earth’s erupting quakes before we did. They had advance notice.
Today, who is gauging the trembles in Israel? Is the average secular Israeli so immersed in his/her own existence and happiness quotient that there is no room to see the heat and struggle surrounding them? Denial of reality is dangerous for Israelis.
I am writing this with a saddened note. For my country has not only become a physical ghetto with separation walls, sprouting tall borders, and multiple iron domes. The ‘ghettoization’ eventually materializes as ‘narrowing of the mind’ claims Marko Weinberger. Marko, the President of Jcall, (an organization of European Jewry similar to Jstreet in USA http://en.jcall.eu ) echoed my concern after he visited with a delegation in late April to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, meeting with figures and listening to opinions from the full political spectrum on both sides.
The indifference and obliviousness we both witnessed simply enables a tragedy to occur when people are not prepared. Accelerating a tragedy on the historical timeline. Living on borrowed time. Making the best out of a present situation does not guarantee a happy future.
It is saddening for me to observe, but clear.
By Naava Mashiah