A number of years ago Steve Martin had a wonderful line, “Well excuuuse me.” It eventually evolved into, “Well excuse me for living.” In many respects, the response to the Time Magazine article entitled, “Why Israelis Don’t Care about Peace,” could be summed up as, “Well excuse us for living.” The premise seems to be: The chutzpah of the Israelis to dare to go on living in the face of terror. The fact that Israelis have chosen, consistent with Jewish tradition to choose life and not to succumb to the constant attacks launched against them, is deemed inappropriate. The truth is the world can learn a great deal from Israeli tenacity, persistence and perseverance in response to unrelenting attempts at isolation, delegitimization and annihilation.
After a particularly disastrous terrorist attack at a night club along the beach of Tel Aviv in June 2001 resulting in the murder of over 20 young kids who were just going out to have a good time at a discotheque, a makeshift memorial was erected in front of the Dolfinarium, the site of the attack. It bore the simple words, “Lo nafseek lirkod: We will not stop dancing.”
After a terrorist attack in Israel the area is cleaned up as quickly as possible in order to allow life to go on. This contrasts with what happens in Palestinian areas, where destruction is left for weeks, months and sometimes even years. It is not coincidental that the two societies handle these matters differently. The two contrasting approaches reflect different attitudes. On the Israeli side, there is a desire to attempt to continue to live – precisely because of the hope for normalcy and to keep hope alive by not having reminders of despair ever-present. On the Arab side, however, the preference is to emphasize the role of being a martyr or a victim. It also explains why Israel absorbed 600,000 refugees evicted from Arab lands who arrived penniless since their property was confiscated from them, while 62 years later Arab refugees are still kept in squalid refuge camps.
Israel is a nation in which the entire people feel that Gilad Shalit, the captive kidnapped by Hamas, is their son. It mourns the loss of innocent lives, while Samir Kuntar, a terrorist who smashed the head of a four year old year child in the presence of a parent and then killed that parent is welcomed as a hero when he is released by Israel and returned to Lebanon.
So Time Magazine comes along and tells us that Israelis enjoy going to the beach and are trying to make the best of their situation by having a prosperous and flourishing economy. Can they be blamed for that? Why the resentment? What they are saying to their enemies is: First you try to destroy us by sending armies to attack the State of Israel as soon as it was established in 1948, and you tried again in 1967 and 1973. When you saw that armies could not defeat us, you launched a wave of terror attacks throughout the world against Israeli targets. When you saw that did not defeat us, you sent a wave of suicide bombers to our schools, buses and public places. When you saw that did not defeat us, you launched rockets into civilian areas. And all the while that you promoted an ongoing coordinated effort to boycott and ostracize us, we consistently held out our hand in peace, hoping it would be accepted. Our leaders and all of our Prime Ministers have prepared us for peace by telling us we will need to make painful concessions. But even those nations who have signed peace treaties with us, Egypt and Jordan, don’t really want us to come and visit and do not allow us to participate in academic or cultural exchanges or cooperative projects. Despite the unprecedented act of giving up to Egypt the entire Sinai Peninsula (two thirds of our territory), including turning over oil fields Egyptians did not even know they had; despite our withdrawal of troops from Lebanon and uprooting of residents of Gaza, the response was one of continued hostility and attacks. So can anyone really blame the Israelis for being skeptical about whether or not the Arabs are interested in peace?
As one who visits Israel several times a year, I often marvel at the lack of animosity displayed by Israelis towards those who are out to destroy them. The songs that Israelis play on the radio and children learn and sing are songs that express a longing for peace. The Israeli government is quick to respond to anti-Arab sentiment and has a low tolerance for it. This is in stark contrast to the hateful propaganda found on Arab and Palestinian children’s TV shows, as well as in their textbooks and the sermons preached in their mosques.
The way I would explain the Israeli attitude differs significantly from Time Magazine’s description. I would say they are telling their enemies, “Tell you what. We are not going anywhere. We will continue to build a flourishing open democratic society. We will continue to develop our economy. We will also continue to extend a hand to you in the hope that it will be accepted. And when you are ready and serious about living peacefully side by side with us and are willing to accept us, you know where to find us.”
Also published on Medium.