Pardes participant Rebecca Zimmerman shares her experience on being in the eye of the international storm surrounding President Bush's latest visit to Israel, as well as her feelings concerning the level of involvement international players insist upon having in Israeli affairs.
This past January, President Bush came into down. Boy was it nuts. Downtown streets were closed and most of the hotels in town were booked. I constantly heard the sound of helicopters humming throughout the day and a surveillance blimp hovered over the city. While our neck of the woods didn't feel Bush's presence as much, we went out of our way to avoid the center of town. We were planning to leave Jerusalem for the weekend, but decided that with all of the road closings taking place, we would stay put. You would think I would be used to this since I live in Israel. But this level of security was unprecedented, and while I understand the need for it, it felt oppressive at times.
Meanwhile international attention turned toward our backwater town and the politicos and media discussed our fate at length. It's amazing that even though Israel is a sovereign state, so many people get to meddle in its politics or at least make this place a focal point. I'm not just talking about regimes that are anti-Israel. I'm also referring to the U.S. and other countries whose interest is to move along a peace process. I would even include the Israel activists around the world—whether they are pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian rights or both.
Well, you might say, it's been like this forever hasn't it? After all, Israel is located at the point where Europe, Africa and the Middle East meet, so it's bound to be in the middle of some power struggle even if there were no Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You don't need to look to the American empire for examples; just go back in time to the Roman Empire and all the other peoples that conquered this place.
Additionally, even though Israel is a sovereign state, in the eyes of many, there are agendas and issues that make it necessary to be involved in this part of the world. For people in the Bush administration, I imagine, pushing the peace process is a way to ensure some sort of legacy. Moreover, security in the Middle East has been linked to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While I don't think the connection is so simple, this statement has important implications for future international involvement in Israel.
The truth is that I didn't think about these issues as much in the U.S. for the obvious reason that I was living in the U.S., the de facto world superpower that regularly intervenes in this part of the region. As Americans, we don't have to worry about other countries interfering in our politics as much. For many of us, we see our American citizenship as a plus, because as citizens we can lobby our government, whether we belong to AIPAC or Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, about its policy in Israel.
Even as a Jew with a strong connection to Israel, your perspective on Israel is skewed because you don't live there and you can't relate to the day-to-day life there. Sure, you keep up with the politics, come on Israel mission trips, but you don't know what it feels like to go grocery shopping or meet your friends in a café here. Even the mundane aspects of living in Israel add another dimension to your relationship and point of view.
I certainly get a different dimension of the political situation now that I've lived in the place under scrutiny, and it's become especially clear since I decided to make aliyah. Israel is no longer a distant, political entity with its myriad of problems. It's my home. And because it's my home and because of how strongly I feel about the existence of the Jewish state, my connection to this place has never been stronger. Of course, when I lived in the U.S. I had a stake in this place, in the success of the peace process. But now, because I've decided to live here, buy my groceries here, raise my kids here, I am personally invested in the future of this place.
And while on an intellectual level, I welcome U.S. jumpstarting the peace process, I have to admit that on an emotional level, it feels weird that international realm is discussing the fate of my own home, the fate of the Jerusalem, the fate of the Golan and so on and so on. Nobody questions American territorial rights to Arizona or Connecticut. Nor is the U.S.-Canadian border going to be redrawn anytime soon. But living in Israel, you are much more aware of the fluidity of borders and territory, and it makes you aware of how uncertain life can be.
After reflecting on these issues, I've come to realize that even with all of the international intervention, the only actors who can change the situation here are the Israelis and Palestinians themselves. They cannot wait for some international savior to save them from each other, but rather they have to take their fate into their own hands.