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Israel turned 63 this week. Seems young, no? Only a few years older than my dad.

Before I delve too much into this, I guess I should say I am a secular Jew. I was raised Jewish, and now have no idea what I am, so I tell people I am a secular Jew the way good looking girls in bars will tell you that they are “spiritual but not religious.” I believe in God. After that it’s all kind of screwy for me at least. (But hey—like Israel, I’m young. I’ve still got time to figure such things out.)

When a friend of mine who lived in Israel asked me how I planned to celebrate Israel’s birthday, I didn’t have an answer. Firstly because I had no idea it was Israel’s birthday this week and secondly because (like I feel is true for a lot of young Jewish people out there) I have some pretty mixed-up feelings about our state in the Middle East.

Israel is a great country. And it is a terrible country, much like our own. People who blindly support everything Israel has done are just as foolish and backwards as people who blindly support everything this country has done. Both countries are proud to a fault. Both at times seem to favor “kicking ass” over “taking a second to think before kicking ass.”

The difference between the two, I guess, that Israel is the size of New Jersey and surrounded by a lot of people who want them gone. The good old USA doesn’t have that problem. Though we sometimes pretend like we’re under threat from all angles, most of our enemies are more symbolic than tangible. Either that or they’re really fucking far away.

Israel doesn’t have that luxury. Their buses blow up pretty regularly. So when they invade Gaza, or refuse to sit down for talks, or do one of the other hundred frustrating things they’re bound to do every year, I view their actions as a product of their surroundings.

It’s kind of like when TV commentators excuse the actions of a young star in the NFL when he commits a horrible tackle that breaks someone’s leg. While they will express horror at the cheap play, they will then tack on, “Well, that’s just where he came from. How would you behave if you grew up like he did?”

But I guess that’s the stance I take towards Israel. I don’t condone the country’s actions but I guess I can see where they’re coming from. Basically: How would you behave if you grew up like it did?

And this doesn’t excuse all they’ve done in that country. They’ve killed Palestinians. A lot of them. And using American weapons instead of bus bombs doesn’t change the fact that people are dead. It’s all cowardly.

But I can understand it. I can understand where they’re coming from, I guess, much like I can understand an NFL player destroying an opponent’s knee as if his very life depended on it. There’s no logic to it. It’s disgusting. But unless you grow up like they did, you have no idea how they feel.

So Happy Birthday, Israel. I hope it’s a good one. But don’t forget that you’ve got a lot of growing up to do.

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About The Author

Nathan Savin Scott

0 Responses to On Israel’s Birthday

  1. Jim Jacobson says:

    Seems we all have a bit of growing up to do. Sometimes “kicking ass” is the only answer when you want to protect people and your enemies don’t care about theirs or anyone else’s life. I feel safer in Israel than many U.S. cities… because they are not afraid to kick back.
    Happy Birthday to Israel, thanks for all that you do for the world. (If you haven’t read Start-Up Nation, I highly recommend it.)

    • Mike says:

      It’s easy to justify “kicking ass” if you’ve reduced your enemies (and those who end up serving as collateral damage with them) to moral monsters.

  2. Eli says:

    “There’s no logic to it. It’s disgusting. But unless you grow up like they did, you have no idea how they feel.”

    I hear what you’re saying and appreciate the sentiment, but couldn’t that thought process play out in just about any situation where someone commits criminal wrong-doing? It’s like saying, I don’t agree with you, but I understand where you’re coming from. It’s a fair point–but just because a situation is complicated and difficult, doesn’t absolve a criminal from his crime. At the end of the day, you are responsible for the decisions you make.

    And that applies to both the Arab players and the Israelis.


  3. Alex says:

    I like your tone more than your politics here, Nathan. That’s not to say that your point isn’t correct, only that it’s lazy. It feels like you’re justifying events in Israel’s political history by saying that they occurred. Nonetheless, humorous. Love this characterization of America’s enemies:

    “…we sometimes pretend like we’re under threat from all angles, most of our enemies are more symbolic than tangible. Either that or they’re really fucking far away.”

    I’m looking forward to your next piece.

  4. Jay Urban says:

    from one secular Jew to another, nice work

  5. Neil says:

    Nice piece Nathan. Over the years I’ve evolved quite a bit in my view of Israel and it’s actions. While I support the notion of “a people” having “a place”, there’s just no way to sweep under the rug the fact that in creating the “place” of Israel, the powerful nations of the world “disappeared” the place of the Palestinians. That’s the whole thing, isn’t it?

    So, if I use the “it’s his upbringing and background” argument, then I surrender to the notion that there will never be an end to the buses blowing up or the US made rockets killing people.

    Maybe that’s right, and it just won’t end until one side or the other gets its way. So long as both sides ignore the position and rights of the other side, it won’t end for sure. Both sides are surely as equally guilty of pretending the other side has no legitimate position.

    So I raise my glass to Israel on her birthday, and wish her many more. And I pray that as she matures and gains wisdom, she’ll recognize the rights and legitimate grievances of the diaspora of the people that her creation caused.


  6. Is it possible to justify a long record of atrocious human rights abuses based on how someone feels? When facts and absolutes are abandoned or ignored, all we are left with is a narrative that lets us explain away behavior in the ethical framework of our choice. It can definitely help us “understand,” but it will never excuse.

    When we can understand the conditions which lead to lawlessness, it helps us to see the humanity of a criminal – someone we would otherwise objectify. It does not excuse their actions, but it should still lead to a way for us to alleviate the environment which encouraged or necessitated their behavior. While the facts and past will let us understand the circumstances of the I-P conflict, it does not excuse the atrocities on which the state of Israel is built upon. It should however, give us a vision for correcting those conditions.

    Ignorance, stonewalling, unconditional terms and more trespass of the current agreements only prolong the circumstances in which this conflict renews itself continuously. As observers, our best hope for peace is to destroy the illusions of interested parties by constantly searching for the truth. Do not be fooled by propaganda or nostalgia. This is how disinformation prevails.

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