When I decided I was going to move to Israel, most people asked me the question I expected them to: isn’t it dangerous over there? The truth, of course, is yes – it is dangerous in the Middle East. But Israel is different – it feels safe. Whether it is because of their own advanced military or the support they receive from countries like the United States, I haven’t ever really felt un-safe here. Bag checks are a lot more common than in the U.S., occasionally trains and busses are delayed for unattended luggage, and at night you hear a lot of things go boom (but Arabs love fireworks).
Sometimes, the army is almost funny to me. Like when I saw an American couple who had clearly made Aliyah break up in English on the light rail while they were both carrying M-4 machine guns. I pulled the whole pause-my-iPod-and-pretend-I’m-not-listening thing, but it was so odd listening to people with killing machines in their laps fight over what guy she hung out with last night. Then there are other times, when I see female soldiers putting make up on or male soldiers showing each other facebook pictures of some girl. These kids – most of whom have to enlist for some kind of service at 18 – are just like my friends, except they are armed, trained and everywhere.
Still though, despite being safe I can’t help but feel a bit nervous. Especially when every time I talk to someone from home they say something like, “dude, is everything okay over there? Seems like shit is about to go off.” And they might be right, but its important to remember two things: 1) the media in the U.S. is the worst reality TV out there. They blow up and maximize any story or sentence to make things as dramatic and scary as possible. 2) Americans, whether we want to believe we do or not, don’t know a damn thing about what is going on over here. It is really easy to make comments and offer opinions about a war and a country and a society from your mom’s basement in the suburbs of Philadelphia, but coming to a place like this changes your perspective.
What’s even more interesting is that even here – in Jerusalem – it is pretty easy to comment on this conflict and be out of touch with reality. As I mentioned, this is a relatively safe place. There are different opinions on that; some people think it is God’s country, other people simply see Israel for what it is – a place dedicated to defending the land. Others don’t think it is that safe. Regardless, the fact is that the Israeli army has the confidence of Floyd Mayweather and the record to back it up. They’ve never really lost a war, from the ancient Jews to today. So why wouldn’t they be confident? Why wouldn’t they continue to feel safe as Egypt burns, Damascus throws rockets and a new war seems imminent in Syria? This confidence turns nearly to nonchalance. It sounds almost ridiculous, but the truth is I don’t hear a word about things going on in the five anti-Semitic states surrounding Israel unless I bring it up. It’s in the newspapers and on the televisions in restaurants, but people don’t seem to discuss it much (at least my demographic). Everyone just goes on living their life.
While that may not sound absurd to you, it really truly is. The border of Syria, from my apartment in Jerusalem, is a mere 74.3 miles away. I was reading the news today and got the urge to check. The distance between Philadelphia and New York City 96.4 miles – more than 20 miles further away. My biggest fear is that with the imminent United States strike there is a danger of spillover into Israel. What happens if the war in Syria gets out of hand? What happens if other countries come to fight with the Syrian government and the Middle East suddenly becomes a battleground for World War III? The escalation of the situation could go in so many different directions, but only time will tell.
Ironically, my experience here has brought a new light to my views of my true homeland, the United States of America.
I always used to imagine the U.S. as this bully who stomped around the playground looking for people to beat up. I’m not saying that is an entirely inaccurate view. I can’t imagine what some of the countries who have been victims of our trillion dollar military would say about us, but I assure you they are words you wouldn’t want to hear. Yet, being here, I realize people expect the United States to step in. We’re not always right, and we may not always go about the right decisions in the right way, but we are an important part of the world peace movement – and that is true whether you can see it from where you’re sitting or not. I read today that 9% of Americans supported intervention in Syria. I was pretty shocked by that number. Certainly, our failed battles in the Middle East and Vietnam have left scars on the American people, but do we want to sit idly by while a government deploys chemical weapons on its own people? Obama said something along the lines of, ‘we cannot watch while a country uses the worlds most powerful weapons against the most vulnerable people.’ I found that to be ironic and sad, as Obama has been a proponent of drone strikes and general military dictatorship all over the globe. But still, fear of being looked at as a hypocrite is no reason not to act – and I’ll give our President the benefit of the doubt that he understands that. Just because we haven’t been right before doesn’t mean we can’t be right now. Saudi Arabia and the Arab league are calling for international intervention; they want help for their Muslim brothers. Russia won’t give it and China still seems like the rookie quarterback that is scared to make the calls. So the world relies on us, the wily vet who might be beaten up and knocked down but still has one thing left: a good fight in ‘em. We’re not alone in our urge to help either; both the UK and France have been big proponents of stepping in. I may be wrong and intervention in Syria may be a disaster. It could kill thousands and even on a personal level it could cut my trip here short, but I’m still proud to say I’m an American and that my country is willing to put its name on the line in order to stand up for a people that can’t stand up for themselves.
But this message isn’t about American pride, and it definitely isn’t about politics. It is a reminder that your life in the States, or Canada, or Australia or Europe or wherever you’re reading this from is a blessed one. Right now, as we speak, millions of innocent people are struggling to survive the rage and violence inflicted on them by their own people, their own brothers and sisters and government and police. Those same people – probably this week – will have to rely on the support of a bunch of foreigners who don’t understand them or their culture or what they’ve been through. Be grateful to not have to look over your shoulder every time you get on a public bus or leave your home. Be glad that you live in a place where safety is so taken for granted that luxury is most people’s priority. But most of all cherish the safety and health of your loved ones, your family and your friends. Some people in the world can’t even do that.