“We are not bad”
Mar 2nd 11:26pm
Location: Azzahra Hotel, East Jerusalem
Our flight took off at 9:30pm on Mar. 1 from Philadelphia Airport. 10 hours later, we landed in Tel Aviv. When the plane was in the air but low enough to see the landscape, I saw that the majority of land is covered by green, not like how I had pictured Israel before.
Before boarding, we were informed about the questions we might get at the Israeli immigration gate and how we should answer them. But luckily, everyone passed immigration smoothly.
We met our driver and headed to our first location, Ramot’s house. Our trip leader, Teacher Melissa, has had a personal connection with the family since graduate school. We were welcomed by a supper that included bread, turkey and various delicious hummus and cheese. At dinner, we also met their children and a friend who is an American-Israeli.
We started an introduction on Israeli life and politics after supper. The two kids who are both seniors in high school said they were joining the military next year. In Israel, most students serve in the military after high school. Boys serve three years and girls serve two years; special programs such as the pilot program takes twelve years to complete. When being asked if it is dreaded to join the army, the family said that Israeli young adults are generally excited to serve because it is their way to support the country and it is a pride to be in the elite unit. “It is the people’s army” as they described, “when there is trouble, we come back instead of running away. It’s our country.” It was really interesting to me when they mentioned soldiers need to be moral. Israeli soldiers are commanded to be respectful on a civil mission otherwise they are punished with jail time.
It really struck me when our hostess passionately urged us not to think Israelis are bad. As we hear from the news that Palestinians are being mistreated and denied access to basic life resources, “it is easy to sympathize with the weak.” She said there was no other place in the world for Jews to live. “We are in the middle of 20 Arab countries. Sometimes, we have to act unfriendly in order to survive.” I had never expected a statement as such and definitely not one from an Israeli. From research I did before the trip, I learned the inequality between Israelis and Palestinians; the focus was on how to gain human rights for the Palestinians. I, however, had not thought of the situation from an Israeli’s perspective. Nobody wants their country to have a bad reputation. Our hostess recognizes the importance of finding a solution to Jewish-Arabic coexistence, “in our schools, teachers don’t teach students to hate Palestinians.” Nonetheless, being a patriotic Israeli citizen, she also wants to protect her country.