Israel has a powerful story to tell but in order for us to hear it we need to allow ourselves to see the full picture. Those of us that are pro-Israel know why we love the people there but we can’t avert our eyes from what is imperfect. We who care deeply about the dignity and future of the Palestinians also can’t ignore the hard realities that Israel has endured since its establishment. It is not enough to marvel at the start-up nation, the vibrant culture and the thriving democracy without also seeing the problem of continued control over the Palestinians. It is not enough to see the dilemmas associated with resolving this conflict without also understanding the existential challenges for Israel living with hostile neighbors on all sides in a region of instability.
To fully appreciate the amazing reality of Israel as a people coming home after 2,000 years, rebuilding after the Holocaust and striving to create a society rooted in idealism, one also has to look at the incomplete journey, the places where Israel hasn’t fully realized the values within its’ declaration of independence: The dilemma of refugees from Eritrea; The integration of Palestinian citizens of Israel who want their citizenship to be part of their identity. Yet we also need to honor the places where that vision has thrived and the idealism has endured: The outsized numbers of universities and the thriving creative culture, the expansion of LGBT equality, the creative re-envisioning of Jewish literacy and commitment to applying the best of our tradition to a modern nation, the insistence of so many of Israel’s people in holding on to its Jewish character and its equality for all, the commitment to confronting hard military challenges in the most moral ways that they can.
In doing so we can also appreciate Israel in all its complexity, wonder and inspiration.
During JCRC’s recent Study Tour trip to Israel, we saw a medical system that must prepare for the worst at home – building bomb shelters as hospitals – while sending doctors around the world to bring life changing surgery to rural impoverished regions. We saw a young country, not even 70 years old, that absorbed millions of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, Ethiopia, the Soviet Union, and now again from France amidst rising anti-Semitism in Europe. We met urban leaders who are dealing with terrorism and rocket fire, but also trying to solve questions of parking, creating space for pre-schools, and building educational opportunities for Jewish and Arab children alike.
What we saw, on a trip that began on the same day that the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, voted to call early elections, was a society trying to figure out the next step. We met an incredibly diverse people across the ideological spectrum who expressed a yearning for visionary leadership on the big questions, while also trying to manage the needs of day to day life. We saw a nation yearning for a normal existence despite all the challenges it faces.
One comes away feeling challenged after nine days of talking to a wide range of Israelis and Palestinians, but also hopeful. The reality on the ground is far more complicated than the headlines we read but the passion of the people and their hope for their future is palpable. The people we met carry many narratives and great tensions, but they also have great potential. If they can bring the vision, inspiration and creativity within them to bear on these questions, their future is bright indeed. That’s the whole picture. If only more people took the time to look at it honestly.
(Jeremy Burton recently returned from the 2014 Israel Study Tour with Massachusetts state and local officials)