About a week into my recent visit to Israel, I realized that I had taken you with me on this trip.  You have gotten under my skin with the urgency of your outrage and your increasingly unanswerable questions.  I realize that I have you at the table with me as I question my Israeli friends, take the pulse of the place and listen, listen, listen.  With each passing day, my heart sinks as I hear one Israeli leftist after another say that they  do not expect political change to come any time soon.  I feel your impatient reaction resonate inside me. I ask your questions.

"How can we permit the occupation to go on?" I ask. Isn't it easier for us, the party with more structural power and privilege, to tolerate delay?  Isn't it easier for us to say, "We've been living with conflict for a long time, and we know we will continue to; we have to live our lives"?  What of the Palestinians whose movement is restricted, for whom it takes hours to traverse short distances, who daily face the indignity of being ruled by immature Israeli soldiers at the checkpoints?  What would Palestinians be saying if they were sitting here at our comfortable tables in our middle-class apartments and upscale cafes?

I see in their eyes the accusation of naivete.  You Americans, you just don't understand what it is to live in the Middle East.  You don't understand that it's unwise to trust these people. How could we tolerate living next door to an Islamist state, raining rockets on our homes in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as they did on Sderot?  If you only lived here, you would understand. . . .

I try to take mental notes of things I want you to understand:

·      Israelis do not feel privileged or powerful.  They feel victimized by suicide bombing, continual violent threats from Hamas leaders, and Iran's nuclear ambitions.  They feel chronically frightened by our minority status here in the Middle East, terrified of the rising strength of extremist Islamist ideologies.

·      The people I am talking to are, for the most part, leftists:  they support Israeli human rights organizations and send their children to Arab-Israeli schools.  They are the kindest and most generous people you would ever want to know.  And they are frightened.  They desperately want to believe the sincerity of the other side, but they see too much evidence to the contrary.

·      They are Jews, and they carry the memory of Jewish suffering in their bones.  They raise their children, care for aging parents, plan to remodel their apartments, all under the shadow of existential threat.  They remember exactly where they and their children were when the last suicide bomber struck.  Any day, they feel it could be 1939 again.

·      They are suspicious of the world's criticism of the policies of their governments.  "The UN opposes what we do?  We could not count on the world in the past, and we're not sure we can today.  The hateful virulence of their criticism of us proves there is little we could ever do to satisfy them.  That's precisely why we need a state of our own, here in our homeland, to shelter us when we can trust no one but one another."

·      After decades of conflict, they have learned to survive in a war zone, acclimating somehow to continuous cycles of war and quiet.  Another military operation?  "We have become accustomed to these cycles.  We know how to shield ourselves from the threats, how to distance ourselves from our precarious place in this region.  Otherwise we could not get up each morning and live our lives."

·      It hurts more than we can say that you accept the Palestinian narrative without question, never raising the hard questions about Palestinian violence with anywhere near the vehemence that animates your attacks on us.  Why don't you care what moves us, hurts us, terrifies us?  Why do you express so little interest in understanding our story, our losses, our love of this land and our fear for our children?  Don't you see that things only look so simple to you because you ache for only one side of this tragic and complex conflict?

I long to bring you here with me, to share meals with the people I love, to watch them nurture their children and pamper their guests, to absorb the anguish they feel about the mistakes their own government has made.  Beneath and beyond the arguments and unanswered questions, you would surely feel their goodness.  And that might change everything.


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