Israel is more than falafel and hummus

David Busch

Hillel celebrated Israel’s 62nd birthday last Tuesday, and as I walked passed the M.A.C. Center, I reminisced on my travels there. The first falafel I ate on Ben Yehuda Street; the hookah smoke dancing into the night sky as I relaxed in Tel Aviv; the Israelis I met and the sweet flings of love; the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball games; the scorching sun of the desert as I pruned the vines of Israeli grapes. When I first arrived in Israel three years ago, I fell in love. And so when I walked by Hillel’s celebration, I felt that love tickle through my memories.

And Hillel should celebrate it. Israel has made amazing strides in its youthful age. The per capita gross domestic product is $30,000, double Russia’s. The life expectancy in Israel is 80 years, close to that of Norway’s. The murder rate is a third of the United States’. The population growth rate stands at 1.8 percent, a rate that no other developed nation approaches. Israel produces the most scientific papers in the world per capita and has the largest number of NASDAQ-listed companies outside of the U.S. and Canada.

But Hillel celebrated Israel from the perspective of a Birthright trip. Although this trip is a great opportunity for Jewish people around the world to visit Israel, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

I left Israel July 2008 and my last destination was the same falafel shop I first stopped at on Ben Yehuda Street. It was amazing how my view had changed. When I first arrived, I was in love with the thrill of traveling, the religious expressions in Jerusalem and the reggae festivals in the desert. In my eyes, Israel could do no wrong.

But as I sat at this shop, I thought about the roadblocks, the constant sight of guns and military flyovers and the living conditions of Palestinians.

I thought about the Palestinian family I met in East Jerusalem who were removed from their home by the Israeli military.

I thought about the anti-Semitic literature that characterized every corner of Egypt as I traveled there.

I thought about the Egyptian War veteran who treated me to dinner and told war stories of his country’s “great victory” in 1973 ¬¬— a view far different in Israel.

I thought about my Hebrew instructor who, after a six-month Ulpan, told me the difference between American and Israeli Jews. “Americans,” she began with her face stern, “give in money. But Israelis give in blood.”

As Jeffrey Goldberg, an American journalist for The Atlantic who was an Israeli security guard during the Second Intifada, articulated this dilemma poignantly when he said, “Someone travels to Israel and Palestine for a week, he or she returns home and writes an article with all the solutions to the problem. Someone that travels there for a year, he or she returns home and writes a book and has no solutions.”

When I left the West Bank for the first time, traveling through Bethlehem, there was a sign up in English, Hebrew and Arabic. Each one read “Peace,” but in front of the sign stood a 15-foot tall fence with barbed wire, a security tower and an Israeli holding a gun.

I commend Ola A Hassenein’s letter to the editor on April 21 because this letter saw past the naïve celebration of Israel’s independence. Hillel, the Arab Student Association and the Muslim Student Organization should take an opportunity every year on this date to discuss the complications of Israel, rather than celebrate only one side of the narrative.

Israel is more than Hebrew bracelets, Maccabi basketball and hookah lounges. Israel is more than falafel and hummus.

David Busch is a senior psychology and history major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him

at [email protected].

Editor’s note: A quote attributed to Josh Klemons which appeared in an earlier version of this column was removed. Klemons was unaware he was being interviewed for publication.