Posted by: Liza Rosenberg | June 1, 2010

Israel: A fairytale

Once upon a time, there was a region called the Middle East. It was a very complicated little corner of the world, as the people who lived there were often at odds with one another. Most of the people couldn’t agree on anything – they had different ideas about the past, and they could not manage to find common ground regarding the present or future. Why, they couldn’t even agree about hummus! In fact, one of the only issues that bound so many of the peoples together was their blinding hatred for one little country in their midst. This country was called Israel. While the more pragmatic among them had accepted the fact that Israel was indeed here to stay, there were still many who believed that in time, the little country could be destroyed.

The little country called Israel tried to proclaim to all who would listen that it was interested in peace, but actions usually speak louder than words, and most of the peoples of the region and other parts of the world had trouble believing the message that Israel kept trying to broadcast. It didn’t help, of course, that so many other nations and international bodies were always trying to focus on Israel, virtually ignoring the human rights abuses being committed in so many other places, like China, Iran and Turkey, to name a few. Our little country was far from innocent, but it was certainly no worse than many others.

One of Israel’s biggest problems was that it had a nasty habit of repeatedly choosing options that would result in the worst repercussions possible, and then following up with dreadfully inadequate public relations. It was always stepping right into the traps set by those who did not have the little country’s best interests at heart, and instead of trying to change its policies vis a vis its neighbors, it would simply try to explain again and again why such actions had to be taken. Much to Israel’s dismay, though, the peoples of the world wouldn’t listen. They saw what Israel was doing to the Palestinians; they saw how Israel was treating humanitarian and human rights activists. They saw what the government, the military and the police force were doing in neighborhoods and towns like Sheikh Jarrah and Bil’in. They even saw how Israel refused to allow a professional clown to enter the country. It was no wonder they believed that Israel wasn’t interested in peace, when the government seemingly did its very best to stifle dissent and shut down anyone who disagreed with them.

And so it came to pass that Israel, not having learned from its previous mistakes with Hamas and other factions of the Palestinian leadership, made yet another colossal blunder, setting itself up to fail once again by killing people the world believed to be peace activists trying to bring supplies to the poverty-stricken Palestinians living in Gaza. The government, in all of its usual infinite wisdom, decided to send navy commandos on-board a ship full of people who claimed to be peace activists on a humanitarian mission. The ship was part of a flotilla that had set sail from Turkey, and the flotilla’s organizers hoped to break through a blockade on Gaza being maintained by Israel. Israel claimed the blockade was in place to protect its citizens, and that trucks of humanitarian aid were entering Gaza all the time. They even tried to claim that there was no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, but many Israelis and many of the peoples of the world simply refused to believe what Israel was saying. Everyone knew that building supplies were not being allowed in, and that there was even a list of very strange items that were also banned, including such dangerous items as sage, potato chips, dried fruit and nutmeg.

The events that ensued came as no surprise, as Israel again opted for the plan that would potentially do the most damage. Instead of using its navy to stop the flotilla and keep it from entering its territorial waters, it chose to drop its commandos in the middle of all the action. What happened next was sadly predictable, as the commandos did what they’d been trained to do in such adverse situations. After they came under attack from the people on the ship, they fought back, and they killed and wounded many of their attackers. Once again, Israel had handed a grand public relations victory to its enemies, and on a silver platter, no less. Israel was perplexed. “Why didn’t the world care that it was trying to protect its citizens? Wasn’t it obvious that the ‘humanitarian mission’ was just a cover to bring weapons into Gaza,” they asked. As had happened in the past, the rulers of the little country just didn’t get it. They were so attached to their own narrative of events that had transpired that they were unable to see the situation as the rest of the world saw it. And, by choosing to continue the folly of trying to defend its actions, it only angered people further.

Not only were the peoples of the world upset, but many Israelis were upset as well. They were frustrated by the narrow world view held by the Israeli leadership, and they were angered that the leadership had once again put Israel in a position of being reviled in the court of world opinion. “Why couldn’t the government understand that it by continuing its oppressive tactics, it was destroying its own moral compass,” they thought helplessly. These people were indeed in quagmire, and they were losing hope for the future. “What has happened to our beloved country,” they asked. “Where are the morals? Where are the ethics?” The people were sad, for they did not want to be associated with the actions of their government. And they knew that this was not the end of the story, for as long as their government continued its misguided ways, they would be unable to live happily ever after.

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  1. Sigh…

  2. Liza, this is very well written. Really great. I have really learned so much more having lived here for 4 years and I credit people like you and Lisa for making me see things in a more nuanced way. One thing though: the part about us always being surprised when the world sees the world differently and clinging to our own narrative. I think the world community does have some bleeped-up values, singling us out, the UN focusing on us disproportionately, etc. If we sometimes do things which are in tune with our moral compasses and the world doesn’t care, I don’t know what we can do. That’s what makes us who we are. We give back Samir Kuntar for 2 dead bodies and look like morons but the fact that we tried is because we are Jews. There are plenty of times we do things that maybe no other army would do because of our morals and it gets us nowhere. I don’t know where we are if we blame ourselves for sticking to what we believe is right. Maybe you’re not talking about these kinds of cases.

    Great piece.

    • Awww, thanks Benji! I’m glad you liked it!

      I agree with your point about us being singled out and it’s an issue that angers me very much. As for doing things that are in tune with our moral compasses, I think that the current government’s moral compass (as well as that of previous governments, but especially this one) is very different from my own. When our government has placed dried fruit on a list of items that can’t be brought into Gaza, it disturbs me deeply.

      With regard to the flotilla, I find it very hard to believe that our navy couldn’t find a better way to turn a few ships away and keep them from reaching Gaza. Once again, we’ve handed the world a reason to hate us. And yes, it’s unfair that we are under a microscope with regard to everything we do and that there is a double-standard when it comes to judging Israel vs judging nearly every other country in the world, it seems, but we are doing nothing to improve our image. Once the commandos were on the ship, they did what they had to do under the circumstances. In my opinion, though, we shouldn’t have tried to board the ship in the first place. Instead of trying to conduct the operation using the possible worst-case scenario, it was prepared using the assumption of the best-case scenario. We set ourselves up for dismal failure and created a public relations nightmare for Israel in the process.

      As for Samir Kuntar, it is still shocking to me that we returned him at such a price. He returned a hero, and as you said, we looked like morons.

      No matter what we do, we will always get nailed for it, at least initially. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to be better, that we shouldn’t take more precautions. Think about a child who often causes trouble. Eventually, the kid develops a reputation as a troublemaker, which leads to a situation where no matter what the truth is, if that child is involved he/she will always be blamed. Eventually, the child doesn’t even bother trying to make better choices, because he/she knows that he/she’s always going to get blamed for everything that goes wrong. As an adult, you would think on an intellectual level that the child would want to try to change things to improve their standing, but the child feels there’s no point, so they just start to behave worse and worse. That’s the way Israel is behaving, in my opinion.

      • I don’t get the list of banned things either. Something I’m trying to learn more about as we speak. We probably screwed up in boarding, I just have problems focusing on our screw-up rather than the attack on us. I’m learning that a lot of people debating actually have the same intellectual conclusions, it’s just a matter of who to blame first or publicly.

      • I wish I had an answer for you, Benji. I think it’s the notion that we boarded a boat that was supposedly carrying activists. Also, why isn’t Israel releasing any information about those who were killed? Until we can provide concrete evidence that these people were actually fighters and not “peace activists”, we’re not going to get anywhere. It’s not fair, but this is the reality that we have to deal with.

  3. Israel deserves to be criticized as does every country. The gov’t has made plenty of mistakes, but some of them would be ignored anywhere else.

    The central problem is that there is a war of ideologies being fought. That prevents progress and allows the radicals free reign.

    Chayalim can board ship of “peace activists” and be beaten silly and no one says anything. The Russians, Chinese, Iranians would simply sink the ship or kill however many people they needed to gain control.

    It is a double standard that isn’t going to go away any time soon.

    The question is how to best combat the ideology so that maybe one day there will be acceptance of Jews in the ME.

    • Jack, I couldn’t agree with you more on everything you said. As for how to best combat the ideology, I don’t have any answers. All I can say for certain is that whatever we’ve been doing until now isn’t working at all. We aren’t doing anything to change the minds of the people in the region, and they aren’t doing anything to alter their perceptions about Israel either. We need brave leaders on all sides who are prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve peace, and I don’t see it happening anywhere.

  4. Sink the Damn Ships!

    • Not really in favor of that idea, Gene. Sorry.

  5. Hi Liza,
    It was good to read your essay about this terrible incident to get a perspective from somebody who is living in Israel. I have had trouble with my feelings about this. Here where I live, the news reports make it out to be an act of aggression against peaceful humanitarians, but then I saw the footage of these “humanitarians” brutally attacking the soldiers. I do not always support the actions of Israel, but I do support the right for Israel to exist. I also think that people are quick to accuse Israel of bullying when they they defend themselves. I really don’t know where this incident falls, because of so many conflicting reports. The only thing I am sure about, is that I feel terribly sad that this will be another excuse to let hatred continue.

    • Hi Teresa! So great to see you here!

      I might get nailed for saying this, but the Norwegian media is known for its negative portrayals of Israel in the news.

      As for the current incident, I’ve also seen the footage, and I still haven’t decided how to categorize the people who were on the ships. On the one hand, I’m quite certain that there were humanitarian activists on there, but as you point out, it’s also clear that there were also people who were prepared to act violently. All that being said, Israel could have avoided such a bloody confrontation by not boarding the ships in the first place. We would have been lightly chastised for not allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza, but that’s certainly a preferable alternative to being blasted for murdering ten possible humanitarian activists.

      Israel is far from innocent, and as Nicole can tell you, I am often very critical of the actions of our government and military. However, I also very much believe that Israel is held under a microscope that most other countries are not, and there is very much a feeling here that the world expects us to sit back and take whatever is thrown at us, because we are an occupying force, so therefore, we deserve it. I’ve written extensively about my feelings on issues like these, so feel free to look through the blog to read different posts that I’ve written. And of course, you are always more than welcome to drop me an email if you have questions about anything going on here! 🙂

  6. Hi Liza,

    Thank you for this post. As Teresa noted, I am grateful to hear the perspective of someone inside Israel. It is very difficult in these times of corporate media conglomeration to find objective reporting, which only makes it harder to arrive at some kind of understanding of events. I realize there is a lot of anger and resentment on both sides. It is so very important for citizens to speak out and not let governments or political figures dictate the conversation.

    • Hi Diana,

      I couldn’t agree with you more, and a general trend I’ve seen every time something happens in this part of the world is that there’s always a huge spike in visitors to this blog and to the blogs of my other Israel-based friends, as people really seem to want to get the stories behind the headlines. I suppose people are loathe to believe what they’re being fed through the mainstream media, and feel that bloggers on the ground can provide the information they’re looking for.

      With regard to what you wrote about citizens speaking out, something you might be interested in hearing about is that prior to the July ’06 war in Lebanon, there was a great deal of dialog between Lebanese and Israeli bloggers, and some of this dialog continued through the war. The dynamics changed, of course, and there was often a great deal of anger, but it was still significant to note that there were many of us who were trying to bridge gaps and counter misconceptions using the internet. I’ve had many fascinating exchanges in the comments sections here with people from across the Arab world, and in most cases, mutual respect was maintained, even through disagreements. Thanks to this blog, I’ve also been contacted offline by different individuals, Arabs who were interested in learning more about Israel and about Israelis, so even when everything seems so incredibly bleak, there’s always at least a little shimmer of hope somewhere, even if it’s just on a person-to-person level.

      On another note, I’m so glad you left a comment here, as it’s allowed me to discover your amazing blog! As soon as I’ve finished writing this comment, I’m adding you to my blogroll. I’m so glad you dropped by! 🙂

  7. Israel is such a small country and we are involved in such a huge scandals around it. still i hope for the better and i doubt the whole world will boyycot us and avoid using google))

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