Why Israel? And why now?

- A New Immigrant’s Story by Emily Ruth -

In the Israeli Declaration of Independence it is written Israel ‘will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace… it will ensure complete equality…it will guarantee freedom of religion, race or sex…’

This is the vision the Zionist pioneers had for the State of Israel. Many of us outside Israel and Palestine can see how far Israel has strayed; thankfully, however, there are people within the country fighting for change.

I’m forty years old and happy. I’m a successful teacher, a successful emerging writer and, most importantly, my toddler is the greatest blessing that’s ever happened to me. We wake every morning to the glorious view of forests and rolling hills in our idyllic country cottage. We have lovely friends, great fun together, every single day. So what on earth has got into me? Israel? Now?

From a very young age, like many Jews all over the world, I was taught to love Israel. I learned its history and its language and its fierce battles; I learned how my grandma’s brother’s wife, a nurse, spent her time clearing out the disease infested swamps in the Hula Valley, and died of malaria doing it. I was told inspiring stories of my great uncle who left Austria in 1933, where he was fired for being Jewish. With friends from his Zionist Youth Movement, he fled his country and moved to Palestine. He wanted to be a pioneer on a Kibbutz, but when that didn’t work out, he moved to Kiryat Amal and was one of its founders. In the following few years, his side of the family still in Austria were almost all killed in the Death Camps. In Israel, my great Uncle’s family survived.
So it was no surprise Israel became for me the land of milk and honey.

And she didn’t let me down when I went on tour there with my Zionist Jewish Youth Movement. Every place we visited had its own magic. Ein Gedi with its paradisiacal waterfall. Jerusalem in all her walled glory. Yad Vashem and my terrible personal sadness. There was the glorious sunshine, the delicious food, the mountains, the sea, the kibbutzim, the crazy, feisty Jews, the wonder of the Bedouins in the Negev, the Druze in their villages…

There is something addictive about the country.

I went again, the next year, and the next... and in the back of mind was always: one day I’ll live here.

But I was training to be a teacher. Life got in the way. And politics too. Rabin was assassinated by a fellow Jew and Israel wasn’t the perfect idealistic utopian state I’d always imagined. Of course, it never had been.

Year after year, as my dreams for a peaceful Israel and Palestine became less and less of a reality, Israel and I became more distant. I spent more time with non-Jewish people. I understood how people saw the country from a non-Jewish perspective - as a racist, unequal state. I watched as violence and injustice was accepted there. And I asked myself: how could the Jews, of all people, allow oppression to be inflicted on another people? This was not the Israel I’d yearned for.

                                                         ***
Nearly twenty years go past. I have far more non-Jewish friends than Jewish. And I’m very content. Yet I, in the essence of my being, feel desolate. I am anxious for my son, too, who is being taught to believe Santa will visit this Christmas and who knows nothing about his heritage. It’s my fault. Suddenly I wake up one day and know: I must do something about it.

But I don’t want only to live in the land of Israel. I want to make a difference. I want Israel to be egalitarian, to recognise Palestine as an equal state so it can thrive; I want for the kibbutzim to welcome all – Jew, Muslim, Christian – anyone who wants to join; I want no one to be oppressed and everyone to be welcomed. I want to be proud in front of my non-Jewish friends to say: I am going to live in the State of Israel and I am going to work with my Arab neighbours to bring peace.

Is this my arrogance? Am I insane enough to believe I can make change happen? Perhaps. But Israel is still a young, impressionable country. She needs a reminder from her most loyal fans how she was meant to be a place of peace, a holy place where all people could find refuge and hope and love.

In fact, in this wonderfully cyclical narrative, we will be living in my great uncle’s flat. And, just as he had, I’m hoping to live on a kibbutz where the community believes all people, men and women, Jews and non-Jews, are welcome and must be equal. Kibbutzim of the future could be places for all religions to co-exist in peace together. And through teaching English in the neighbouring Arab villages I know I can help make that happen.
And I’m even luckier. Through a crazy wonderful chance encounter on the ‘Tornado’ boat in Akko, I have got a job here with ‘Made in Peace’, which shares my political ideology and desire for a just peace.

Yes, I believe in Israel for the Jews. I also believe in Palestine for the Palestinians. And I believe in Israel for the Palestinians and Palestine for the Jews.

So why Israel? Why me? Why now?
It’s about time!

__________

 - Emily Ruth is a writer and schoolteacher and lives in England.  She is ‘making Aliya’, to Israel. (– colloquial Hebrew - עלייה  - rising up, or Immigrating ). Emily was recently hired by the Green Olive Collective to manage Made In Peace, the e-commerce division of the organisation.

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