It’s been a long hot summer! My summer began on May 18 on the way to Israel, waiting for the special security checks for an El Al flight to Israel from Los Angeles. I couldn’t help wondering why is it that only flights to Israel are required to go through those extra security measures, which are significantly annoying, especially when traveling with kids. Are they really necessary? The horrible, unacceptable answer came nearly two months later in the shape of a terrorist attack on a bus of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria.
When we’re not in Israel my family and I, like many Israelis, are careful about exposing our Israeli identity outside of the Jewish community. In restaurants we tend to ask the kids not to speak Hebrew too loudly. We try to avoid wearing obvious symbols of our Israeli or Jewish identity and avoid leaving Hebrew texts in our cars.
Only on our arrival back in Israel this summer, did I feel how awkward that is.
Why on earth is it viewed as acceptable for Israelis to fear for their safety? How come the Israeli delegation to the Olympic Games needs special security and no one in the Western world speaks up against this?
No one dares point a blaming finger at Arab leaders who support, encourage and sponsor terrorism. No one dares say out loud what is so obvious: Terrorism is unacceptable; it cannot, should not and will never be a legitimate political tool! Condemnations of terrorism are simply not enough nor are protective measures. Terrorism should be fought with real means. Not only do most Western countries avoid standing up against Arab terrorism, but when they do condemn it they are quick to tie it to the politics of the Middle East: pointing a blaming finger at Israel for building settlements. As if the building of a house in a settlement or a debate over the ownership of a field is in any way comparable to the cold-blooded murder of families on a summer vacation. To some degree, this is the same approach many chauvinists have when they condemn a woman’s rape but then falsely and disgracefully tie it to the type of clothes she was wearing.
During the summer I walked through the streets of Israel. I visited the gay pride parade in Tel Aviv, walked through the holiness of the Western Wall tunnels and the tunnels of the City of David and stormed through the pain of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. There were good things and bad things along the way. There were polite people and rude ones. I had some harsh debates and arguments with Jews and Arabs, secular and ultra-Orthodox, but never at any time did I feel a need to hide my identity, never in Israel did I feel fear for being Jewish.
There are political disputes and disagreements with the Palestinians, with the Arab world and with Iran. Those disputes cannot justify terrorism. Time has come for the Western world to throw away their fear and fight terrorism with all its might.
Don’t lie to yourself and assume that because Israelis are currently the main victims of terrorist attacks that this will be the case for long. Don’t assume that nuclear power in the hands of terror-supporting countries and chemical warheads in the hands of fundamentalist organizations is a concern of Israel alone. Don’t be tempted to believe that if you pay your tribute to one side of the dispute by condemning the settlements, those who use terror as their tool will leave you unharmed. This is a cultural war between those who value life, freedom and democracy, and those who believe they can terrorize others in the name of God. Those who promote terrorism and gain political results will utilize this horrible tool to have their way on other issues: women’s rights, gay rights, freedom of speech and freedom of faith. Now is the time to act, before they gain the means that will be beyond our control, before it is too late.
Guy Gelbart is Tucson’s community shaliach (emissary from Israel) and director of the Weintraub Israel Center.