I was recently visited by a friend who is an Iranian (Persian) Jew. His family fled their homeland long ago to make a new life for themselves in Los Angeles. My friend was encouraged to visit Israel as part of a programme to connect American Jews with the Hebrew state. A group of 40 youths all under the age of 27 were given free tickets from New York John F. Kennedy airport to arrive at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv.
They spent three weeks there during which my friend said they were encouraged to “have a good time.” Not only did this mixed-sex group share dorms in a Kibbutz (a sort of socialist co-operative living arrangement), but they had a number of outings to see the sites which make Israel so worth fighting for.
These trips have a heavy propaganda slant. For instance at the Mesada in the Negev Desert they were encouraged to think of the Sicarii who jumped off of the walls during the Roman-Jewish wars as martyrs. Another interpretation might see it as mass suicide, which is frowned upon in Judaism. Although this story was kept under wraps for thousands of years it emerged recently as a way of creating strong nationalism. The incident is representative of a larger struggle that the Jews have had throughout history and always will have.
I was also shown a card which depicts the Israeli air force flying over the train tracks which lead to Auschwitz with a message saying: “We would never have let this happen.” The message is that if only the Jews had an organised military during World War II, the Holocaust might never have occurred.
This way of thinking is essential to keep a country going in which every child will be sent to do military service at the age of 18. Nationalist spirit is essential to the survival of the Jewish state which is beset on all sides by hostile neighbours.
Many of the people who live in Israel are not happy with the way their country is being perceived, especially the recent attack on the aid flotilla which was bound for Palestine. There are numerous people within Tel Aviv who are pro-Palestine activists. Indeed it is even possible to buy T-shirts which say “We should have gone to Uganda” in reference to the other country in which a Jewish state might have been set up after the Second World War.
For all the problems that have been created by locating the state of Israel in the Middle East, it provides a safe haven for Jews from all over the world including large numbers of Ethiopian and Russian Jews. There are also non-Jews in Israel such as the Druze, a religious community based around Islamic belief, who choose to do military service. Although my friend left Israel begging to hear the other side of the story, his visit certainly opened my eyes to the complexities of the situation. I cannot imagine that a Jewish state could have been set up in Uganda with any less bloodshed.