Thursday, August 26, 2010

Becoming Israeli

As my El Al plane touched the ground in Israel and the usual clapping commenced, I realized… I have no ticket home, I’m not here as a tourist, I’m not part of any program or group, I am just here- here to live… forever (so to speak). And then I thought… so that’s it… I finally did it: I made aliyah. There was no more struggling with the prospect of it, what would it mean? What would I do? How could I leave my friends and family? It was a done deal, I was an Israel. I am about to walk off this plane, and receive my Teudat Olah (Immigration card) I remember shaking a bit. I was all alone but I wished I could dance in the aisles of the plane singing old Israeli songs and Jewish songs. I wanted everyone on the plane to look at me and say MAZAL TOV! I wanted to walk off the plane and see people waving welcome signs, and Israeli flags, and handshake Shimon Peres. But alas, none of this happened. As the plane came to a stop, I collected by things from the overhead, like everyone else. I got in line to exit the plane, like everyone else, and upon my debarkation for the plane, only one man with a small sign with my name was there to greet me. No one knew I was making Aliyah, so instead I was alone. The experience was almost anti-climatic. As me and the representative from AACI walked towards the immigration office in the airport, I saw my cousin- she had come to the gate (she works for the airport) and ran up to hug me and wish me Mazal Tov. You’re here! You made it it! ! I You’re Israeli now! And it was if all my loneliness and fears quickly dissipated. I’m here! I made it! I’m Israeli! My arrival isn’t anti-climatic, rather my arrival is simply my beginning.

3 weeks later, and things are only getting better. Yes, while it is true that I’ve also been struggling through the Israeli beaurocracy, I’m still so incredibly thankful that I’m here, and sure I made the right decision. I think that the decision to become Israel, rather than be born Israeli is something very special. I know I’ll never feel authentic, like a sabra of the land, but I’ve created the room and the opportunity to grow a connection to the land in a way a native born does not. I chose Israel, it did not choose me. My process of becoming Israeli is something I’m incredibly excited for. The prospect of talking about politics and religion in a setting where I know have an actual stake in, is so meaningful to me. I no longer have to hear and simply discuss what is happening in Israel, this is now my land too, in a more tangible way that it was before. Especially because last year I lived in Israel, but I felt as though something was missing. So even though the actual getting off the plane didn’t seem like the most excited event in the world, my move here and my days that have passed, have proved that from my beginning, things will only go up!

Friday, August 20, 2010

IDF- The best (and most moral?) time of your life

girlwithpalestinianRecently, Eden Abergil, an Israeli and former IDF soldier (discharged last year) posted some “controversial” photos of herself and Palestinians on her facebook page. In an album labeled, “IDF- the most beautiful time of my life,” Abergil, in IDF uniform, is posing with Palestinian prisoners while they are blindfolded and handcuffed. The comment under the picture, posted by a friend, reads, “That looks really sexy for you”, while Abergil jokes back that she should find the prisoner on Facebook and tag him. (This is one of the topics in Tuesday’s Reading List)

I am questioning whether these photos are controversial because Abergil herself denies that there’s any controversy in them. In an interview with Army Radio last Thursday, Abergil claims she still doesn’t understand what’s wrong with the pictures because they were taken in good will–only to depict her military experience.

The first time I saw the photos, I was flabbergasted and shocked. It’s disguising the way that these Palestinians, prisoners or not, are being used as mere objects. A soldier’s duty in taking prisoners should be one of the more difficult tasks of being in the army. Having to handcuff and blindfold another human being shouldn’t be categorized as the “best time of your life.” And so it shocks and abhors me even more that Abergil never saw anything wrong with these photos, posted them on facebook and joked about them. This kind of attitude, point of view and behavior have obviously become normalized within Israel. I have been told that the IDF is the most moral army in the world; yet, I can’t cover up this action as something that fits my idea of morality.Edenwithpalestinanss

To Israeli teens, the army is their life come age 18. While American teenagers pack off for college for the “time of their life,” Israelis are handed guns and uniforms for “the time of their life.” There are great things that the army does for Israelis: it adds years of maturity, exposes them to experiences and understanding of the other, offers them camaraderie and friendship unlike anything outside the army, and it allows them to do service for their country– todefend, stand up for and love Israel. But at the same time, it’s still the army. At the end of the day the fact that Israel still needs a standing army isn’t a good thing. I pray that by the time I have children, there won’t be compulsory service: peace is the song of all our hearts. Yes, there are advantages to needing an army, but we all know that war is bad, and soldiers are used for war. But when did this kind of conduct become normalized in Israeli society? Today it was Abergil that posted the pictures, but her friends commented jokingly and I’m sure she is not the only person doing such things. Her denial of guilt that her actions are justified rather than seeing them as “base and crude”, as an IDF spokesman was quoted saying, really do reveal a societal normalization, which frankly scares me.

Before she posted the picture, did she ask herself who this man was who was handcuffed beside her? We know he was a Gazan attempting to escape into Israel. We don’t know who he is- sure, he could be a bloodthirsty terrorist, but he could also be a man attempting to escape the bad conditions of life in Gaza in search of something (or someone, a family member) in Israel. In the picture he’s a prisoner; an object, not a man. His humiliation in the photograph of a girl depicting the “best time of her life” is rude, stupid and immoral. Not the reflection of the most “moral army in the world;” yet this only reveals how much of those morals filter down to the 18, 19 and 20 year olds who are actually in the army- and what has become normalized in their lives.