I have been asked why I love Israel. After all, Israel is still at war with my native country Lebanon which it once occupied, not to mention its ongoing conflict with the Palestinians.
It’s a difficulty question to answer, not because I can’t think of a reason, but because the reasons are many and sometimes ambiguous.
Do I resent Israel for its invasion of Lebanon (which occurred while I still lived there)? Maybe a little bit, but not really. One may question the necessity of the invasion (many Israelis certainly did), but the invasion never would have occurred if Israel wasn’t under attack by Palestinian terrorists operating from Lebanese territory. If anyone should be blamed, it is us Lebanese people for our internal divisions that divided our armed forces and allowed Palestinian terrorists to operate on our own territory. Israel’s war with Hezbollah is also mostly our fault for our inability to disarm Hezbollah and for letting it operate as a state within a state.
As a Christian and atheist Arab, I see Israel as a bastion of freedom and human rights surrounded by a sea of tyranny. Christians have some freedoms in Lebanon too, but Lebanon is bogged down not only in world-class political corruption but also in Muslim extremism influenced by both Iran and Saudi Arabia. During a march on Sunday April 30 in Haifa, Israel, to celebrate the Virgin Mary, Fadi Talhamy, a Christian Israeli, explained, “This feels like belonging. A validation that we’re not foreign, we’re from here: The State of Israel, which we love, and which gives us not only full freedom of worship, but resources to exercise it.” Another Christian Israeli, Carmeline Ashkar, observed, “To some Israelis, these events may seem self-evident, but to an Arab, this is remarkable. Elsewhere in the region, we need to keep a low profile, know our place, maybe get paraded on Christmas and put back on ice — if we’re at all tolerated.”
I love Israel for having succeeded when so many others would have failed, for not only having resisted numerous Arab attacks but also having built a democratic and successful nation in a region where democracy and success are rare. Israel’s success gives me hope that sometimes the good guys win despite the odds.
I love Israel for having given the Jews their home back after it was stolen so many times. Everyone on earth deserves the right to be who they are without being constantly judged for it. As former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir put it, “Above all, this country is our own. Nobody has to get up in the morning and worry what his neighbors think of him. Being a Jew is no problem here.”
I love Israel for the way that it fights wars, with a higher ethical standard than any other nation could sustain under similar circumstances. Unlike its terrorist enemies, Israel never targets civilians (to the chagrin of its enemies who often falsely accuse Israel of doing exactly that), but that’s only the beginning of the story. Israel has suffered thousands of attacks from the Gaza strip since it evacuated it in 2005, and yet it continues to provide extensive aid to Gaza (even during active wars), and it continues to provide work to many Palestinians from Gaza. On top of that, Israel never fights wars willingly but only because it feels that it was left with no other choice. Let’s be perfectly honest here. If everyone in the world had the same attitude towards war that Israel does, there would be no more wars.
I love Israel for its extensive international humanitarian aid to countries at war or suffering natural disasters. Israel has even offered help to Lebanon on several occasions, which was unfortunately turned down due to Hezbollah’s control over the Lebanese government. IsraAid, an independent NGO founded in 2001 that has already aided over 50 countries, is just one example.
I love Israel for being a Middle Eastern country with Western-style liberal values. LGBT people from the rest of the Middle East can only dream of the freedoms that they would enjoy in Israel, unless they are among the lucky LGBT Arabs who made it to Israel. Even prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as head of the most right-wing government in Israeli history, insisted that “his government will not allow any change to the status quo regarding LGBT rights in the country, including limitations on pride parades”. The rest of the Middle East has yet to see any respect at all for LGBT rights, let alone a pride parade.
I also love Israel for being a Middle Eastern country with a Western-style democracy. While its democracy is currently under threat by the planned judicial overhaul as many Israelis have argued, if the anti-overhaul movement has proved anything so far, it is that democracy is still very much alive in Israel. President Isaac Herzog, who has been fighting to maintain Israeli democracy, remarked that, “independence, and the democratic pillars on which it rests, must never be taken for granted and must always be defended”, but he also added, “debate and disagreement in a democracy are not only natural. They are critical. [The fact that] Israelis are fiercely debating fundamental questions about our system of checks and balances demonstrates that our democratic discourse is vibrant and that our citizens are fully engaged. This, too, is a mark of pride.” The rest of the Middle East would do well to sit and listen.
Of course, Israel is far from perfect. Its settlements in the West Bank and some of its other policies towards the Palestinians deserve criticism. And to Israel’s own detriment, it has no collective plan. It doesn’t know where it wants its borders to be. It doesn’t know what to do with the Palestinians of the West Bank. It lives day-to-day, hoping for the best.
But which country is perfect?
The truth is, Israel’s imperfections make me love Israel even more. The imperfections mean that Israel isn’t a supernatural creation but the creation of flawed human beings who despite their flaws have managed to produce an amazing country, a country that no one could have predicted when Israel declared its independence 75 years ago.
So, as I see Israelis struggle over their own democracy and identity, I can only wish them the best. I hope that Israel will come out of this struggle better and stronger, and in all honestly, I am pretty sure that it will.