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Israel in Real Life

I've been a pro-Israel blogger for some years now, but I had never actually visited the country until last month, when I went on a tour given by the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute.

Among other activities, we: went to Masada, swam in the Dead Sea, saw Qassam rockets in Sderot, walked around the Kabbalistic city of Safed, visited the Knesset, had a lunch at a kibbutz and a barbecue at a tank battalion base, heard Natan Sharansky speak, and wandered around the Christian, Jewish, and Armenian—but not Muslim—quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem, all in nine days.

The visit confirmed my impression of Israel as a miracle. Seventy years ago it was a barren desert, a vestige of the Ottoman Empire then under nominal British control. After fighting—and prevailing—against five Arab armies in 1948 (and in between regular attacks for the next 60+ years), Israel has somehow found time to set up a functioning pluralistic democracy and a lively free press, make amazing archaeological discoveries, invent drip irrigation, win a few more wars, and become a hub of medical and tech innovation, all while giving its people (including its Arab citizens) a standard of living unmatched in the neighborhood.

It's the only place in the Middle East where you can be a gay Muslim and not fear for your life. The only place in the Middle East where you can write nasty things about political leaders and not risk jail. The only place where Jews, Arabs, and Christians can serve together in parliament. (Although that's kind of a trick question, since there aren't any Jews left in Arab countries to hold public office.)

Israel isn't perfect, of course. There's plenty of corruption and stupidity, just as there is in any other country. And life is not all milk and honey for the hapless Palestinians, although a lot of that is their own fault. But we don't expect perfection from any other nation; why do we require it from Israel?  Doublestandard much?

One of the images I will always remember is the IDF soldier with braces. We saw her near the Western Wall, dancing and laughing with her compatriots. A strawberry blonde, dressed in Army fatigues, her gun slung around her shoulder, she couldn't have been more than 18 years old. She was just a kid—she still had braces on her teeth!—but in the eyes of the world she is an evil baby-killer. Is it ignorance or hate that fuels this? Either way, all we can do is continue to tell the truth and hope someone listens.