Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Life in Israel now

Naomi Ragen writes:


The Washington Post published a piece by Richard Cohen in which the writer speaks to an American oleh who says he left Israel because his business went under, and he's afraid for his family, etc. etc. In short, Israel is losing the war.

Well, that's one point of view. But I live among many, many Israelis with American passports. Not one person I know has picked up and left. Not one.

The Cohen article also veers off long enough to tell us that all of Israel's problems would be solved if they just left "the occupied territories..." Hello? Look at a map. Look at Israel, and then look at who surrounds her. Occupied territories? If we jumped into the sea maybe. Then we'd have a nice, long, quiet rest. Just like they arranged for us in Europe 60 years ago. Then no Americans would be leaving Israel, except, perhaps, in a box.

No thanks. I'll stay here. Along with every, single other American oleh I've met in the last 30 years.

Below is an article from an American-Israeli who says it all.

All the best,


Not the Israel I Know

By Joseph M. Hochstein
Monday, October 20, 2003; Page A23

TEL AVIV -- In his Oct. 7 column Richard Cohen writes about an American who lived in Israel for more than 20 years ["Israel Is Losing," op-ed]. This person has left Israel, probably permanently, Cohen writes, "because he cannot take life there any longer. . . . His business had gone to hell, his life was always in danger and he simply could not take it any longer."

Cohen calls this American "a nonstatistic -- a living victim of terrorism." Cohen adds, "In the perpetual war against Israel, its enemies are winning."

I doubt Cohen's conclusion, but that is not my purpose in writing. Like Cohen's unidentified American, I have lived in Israel for more than 20 years. I arrived from Washington, where I published the Jewish Week newspaper for 18 years.

The Israel in which I live does not match Cohen's description. Cohen says despair is palpable in the Israeli press. But bad news is only part of the story. Recent survey research found more than 80 percent of Israelis happy with their lives, despite all hardships. The economy is in deep trouble, but the country remains a dynamic place culturally, technologically, commercially, even politically. The Hebrew press covers this, too, by the way.

Cohen reports that he rode a bus in Israel and found it "gut-wrenching." He is not the first columnist to confess to uneasiness at visiting Israel. But his is a subjective, outsider's reaction. Ordinary Israelis have to get to work or to school five or six days a week, and the country's buses carry 1 million riders every workday. Tel Aviv's central bus station is said to be the largest in the world.

We in Israel continue going out to cafes, restaurants, theaters, sports events, concerts and public festivals. The motto "life must go on" has achieved the status of an unofficial national slogan, uttered even by a child interviewed on television the other day after a 10-year-old classmate's death in a suicide bombing.

Here is a personal note. To borrow Cohen's words, I am a living victim of terrorism. A suicide bomber from the Islamic Jihad sent me to a hospital -- and nearly killed me -- a few years ago. Other, worse things happened over the years. One of my sons, a paratrooper, was killed in a Hezbollah ambush. Yet, in my view, life in Israel remains desirable.

I live in Tel Aviv, not far from where my mother was born in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. My surviving son and daughter live in walking distance and are pursuing challenging, creative careers that feed their families. I have five grandchildren, aged one year to 12. I spend time with intelligent, stimulating and decent people. Most of us are part of an Israeli majority that, according to the polls, supports efforts to achieve peace but doesn't expect miracles any time soon.

I worry about the family's safety now and also about prospects of my grandchildren's army service in a few years. In weighing the danger, I cannot escape the thought that my immediate family and I, despite whatever hardship we have suffered, are more fortunate than our numerous relatives in France, Russia and Lithuania who were murdered in the Nazi era and who had no army to protect them. I entertain similar thoughts about our extended family in Israel, wondering what their fates might have been had they stayed in Austria, Poland, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran.

I am hopeful. The clash between Arabs and Jews is often violent, but it is relatively recent in origin. I and other Israeli volunteers work to bridge the political and doctrinal arguments that divide Arabs and Jews, in hope that future generations can coexist without bloodshed.

Cohen says his unidentified American lost hope. Hope is part of the Israeli character. It's the title of the national anthem, "Hatikva," which means "the hope." Without hope, it could be impossible to make it here.

Fear and hope are highly subjective and personal, of course. An objective reality that U.S. journalists generally ignore is that Israel's terrorism death toll -- measured in fatalities per 100,000 residents -- is much lower than the homicide rate in the District of Columbia and dozens of other U.S. cities. But that's another story.

The writer is former editor-publisher of Jewish Week (now known as Washington Jewish Week) and a former managing editor of Congressional Quarterly.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

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