Apparently each country has its own unique character.
Moreover, some countries proudly regard themselves as special, as unlike
the others. Russia has its “mystical Russian soul”, England with its loyalty to
traditions (my first association here, by the way, is not the Queen, but two
separate taps for cold and hot water which drove me crazy during my first visit
to the United Kingdom) etc. In my opinion, after all my travels around the
world, Israel is one of the strangest and most special states among civilized
countries, with its 3100- and 64-year histories, with Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv 40
minutes apart, and with Hadash and the National Union sitting in the same
parliament. In order to understand this better, special approaches are
According to Hegel’s approach, some ideas, which at
first look united, and holistic, can have internal contradictions. All the
complexity and depth of these ideas can be understood only by dissecting them
to the internal contradicting elements; namely thesis and antithesis. The
combination of these elements produces a really holistic idea, namely by
Hegel’s terminology (who by the way uses it only once and attributed the
origins to Kant) “synthesis”.
In this series of articles I would like to dissect
some ideas, which finally create great “synthesis” of the State of Israel.
Before I start I would like to highlight that despite the fact that sometime I
will try to show some objective data to prove my opinion, in general this
article just reflects my personal perception and experience after four months
of living in this country and I don’t pretend to present here some universal
1. Peaceful armed nation
Let us imagine that aliens one day decide to come to
Earth and spend a week in the Holy Land. Let us also imagine that they are a
very special type of alien who cannot read or hear news about the
Israel-Palestinian conflict: their minds just block out this information. Let’s
imagine that before they left the country there was a press conference and
somebody asked our aliens to name the main features of Israeli society.
Surprisingly for some people, I am almost sure that
in this unique situation the aliens will say this place is “peaceful”.
The reason for my confidence relates to my personal
experience. Before I started to live here, I was like these aliens. I had come
to Israel seven times previously for several days or a week. And parties, beach
and sea after cold, nervous Moscow were much more interesting for me than local
politics especially because there were enough problems for me with politics in
Russia. However, each time I couldn’t stop being surprised and enjoying the
atmosphere of peace, trust, and safety; the kind of atmosphere where you feel
that people care about each other regardless of the extent to which they knew
each other before. Somebody could argue that except my dear homeland (Russia),
in many countries of Europe, in English-speaking countries people also smile
and act peacefully. But for me here there is a huge difference between a polite
smile and a sincere smile, between helping someone because of the “unspoken
rules” of society and helping someone because of an innate understanding of the
importance of helping one other.
This is, of course, just my personnel perception, but
I would like to also show some objective data.
According to data from the OECD
Better Life Index in Israel, nearly 56 percent reported
having helped a stranger in the last month, more than the OECD average of 47
percent. 88 percent of the people believe that they know someone they could
rely on in a time of need. 70 percent of Israelis feel safe walking alone at
night, slightly higher than the OECD average of 67 percent. In spite of the
complexity of Israel’s geopolitical situation, 53 percent of people say they
trust their political institutions, slightly lower than the OECD average of 56
percent. When asked to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale
from 0 to 10, Israelis gave it a 7.4, higher than the OECD average of 6.7.
So my thesis here is that Israelis are very peaceful
Now let us imagine that there is another planet and
another group of aliens. Let us imagine that there is a financial crisis on
this planet, interplanetary flights became too expensive and these guys decided
just to read news and history about Israel instead of coming to the holy land.
In this case they probably would
have something of a different image of Israel. They will know that this young,
almost “baby-country” during its 64 years of recognized by international
community existence, participated in 13 wars and armed conflicts and won the majority
of them. I’m not going to involve myself now in a political discussion of these
conflicts, but I want to underline these figures: 64 and 13. It’s an
Every day almost one eighth of
the population is serving in the army. Their service is for two to three years.
Some of the best years of life, the period between 18 and 21, are given to
serve in army, postponing higher education. If they start to compare the
situation with other countries on Earth, they will find that Israel is the only
nation to conscript women and assign some of them to infantry combat service
which places them directly in the line of enemy fire. They will learn that this
country takes fourth place in the list of the active military per capita (first
three are hold by North Korea, South Ossetia and Eritrea).
They will know that in this small
territory of Israel and the West Bank and Gaza the size of which it is possible
to compare with El Salvador or New Jersey, during the last 12 years about 5000
civilians were killed (from both sides).
The Israeli army, from some point of view, is one of
the miracles of the Holy Land. The army, which was created in such a short
period of time, is the army of only 8 million citizens (half the population of
Moscow), and has been able to protect them from so many enemies
Although for me, a European citizen, the next
statement still sounds unbelievable, the reality proves that the majority of
Israelis are used to this kind of stuff. Many will claim that this is one of
the strengths of the society, which does not allow the enemy to destroy its
everyday life of parties, schools, work etc. I 100 percent agree with this
statement and, even more, very much respect the Israelis for their courage.
But there is also another side of the situation. Only
now after a month after the end of Operation Pillar of Defense, I understood
the real level of my fear during these days. I didn’t realize it properly then
because everybody around me was so calm and I remember how I didn’t want to
change the atmosphere of “hakol beseder” by answering to the usual question
“What’s up?” with “I feel fear, each loud sound reminds me of sirens and makes
me nervous. I can’t believe that so many people were killed already.”
By this I wanted to say that Israeli also became
more… apathetic. One Israeli said to my friend: “If we don’t continue living
our lives, they win”. But for me, continued living as if nothing has happened
could be not only a strength, but also a weakness of the society, creating an
unhealthy moral environment for future generations. So maybe “they” do win to
some extent, because of “their” ability to change Israel’s system of values.
That is why I consider supporting the actions of certain NGO-s, developing
values of coexistence, and educating Israelis in schools about the importance
of separating between the civilians of Gaza and their government as extremely
important points of government internal policy.
So, my antithesis is that Israelis are a very strong
people, able to act toughly and that they are used to living in conditions of
war to some extent.
In the end let us come back to our aliens. Let us
imagine that the first group of aliens, who have been to the Holy Land, meet
the second group, who just read the news. There is a high probability that
after a few minutes of discussion they would start to think that there is some
mistake in interplanetary airlines and they are just talking about different
But in reality such a country exists and people who
live here are not aliens (although for the rest of the world sometimes they
could look like them). They wake up in the morning, read the news about a new
accident on the border with Gaza strip, they post in Facebook something like
“Israel has the right to protect itself, that is why we are starting another
military operation, which could cause the deaths of civilians”, and afterwards
go to work, helping some stranger on the way. For me this the reality of
Israel. And sometimes I feel that someone needs to be born here to be able to
understand this and – what is probably more important – to be able to accept
1) Web-site of OECD Better Life
3) International Institute for Strategic Studies;
Hackett, James (ed.) (3 February 2010). The Military Balance 2010. London:
4) B’Tselem – The Israeli
Information Center for Human Rights , http://www.btselem.org/