What does Israel mean to you?

Jan 22, 2010
*Special to asia!

For a while this week, “Israel” stopped being a dirty word.

Four days after the earthquake laid waste to the Haitian capital, a beautiful piece of news emerged from the rubble of Port-au-Prince. 

A woman in her mid-20s arrived at the field hospital set up by the Israeli rescue team eight months pregnant. Hours later, her newborn baby was delivered, premature but healthy. She would call him “Israel”.

In a small way, for a moment, “Israel” got a respite in the international media, through a baby born in the midst of catastrophe. For once it wasn't the name associated with the conflict with the Palestinians, with the war in Gaza, with accusations of human rights abuses.

It was almost a throwback to a generation four decades or so ago perhaps, when “Israel” actually inspired hope as well as those who cheered for the underdog.

It was the little nation in the desert that in 1967 came out and showed the bullies in the neighbourhood that wanted to give it a hard time what it was made of. In six days, it defeated the attacking Arab armies that wanted to destroy it. Then, Israel was a people that came out from deliberate annihilation to show everyone else the Jews were not going anywhere, drawing exiled sons from vast corners of the world to settle in the land they believe God promised them from millenia ago. Those old enough may remember the bronzed Paul Newman as the rebellious protagonist Ari Ben Canaan who embodied the fledgling nation most attractively in the movie “Exodus”. 

How could anyone not love Israel?

Many in the West were content then to cheer the nascent Jewish state and turn away from the Palestinian refugees languishing in camps as a result. Those embarrassed by the Holocaust would have been relieved to see the remnants of the Jews - that escaped being gassed by the Nazis on their very watch – rebuild their lives and assuage their collective guilt. Even the socialists could find in the kibbutzim movement something to cheer about, a utopia almost where everyone pulled their weight and contributed unselfishly to the common good of the others in the commune. And the capitalists? They must surely beam at the shiny miracle state in the desert where high-tech entrepreneurship would later flourish.

Let's just shelf the inconvenient truth of the Palestinians for now.

But how things have changed in 40 years! In the same time four millenia ago, the ancient nation of Israel wandered in the Egyptian desert after being freed as slaves of the Pharoah, before finally entering the land promised to them by God. Today the roles have been reversed. The Palestinians are the ones waiting to go home to Palestine. The inconvenient truth has become the darling cause of the liberal left. Israel has been morphed from the biblical boy-hero David to the ugly bully Goliath.

What happened?

Israel lost the public relations war, and some would say the war of right with its display of might. The sticks and stones from Palestinian slingshots broke Israel, bone by bone. In a simple narrative of this conflict, they – with their sheer prowess and military superiority - became the villains, not merely to outsiders but to the liberal segment of its population, as their country, like the rest of the world, swerved to the right.

“Nazionism” - a term used to refer to what is perceived as the Jewish state's racist maltreatment of the Palestinians – is now being bandied by them and Israelis alike. It lashes out at the Zionist ideals which gave birth to the vision of a homeland for the Jewish people back in the 19th century.

Is it not vile and repugnant to the millions who perished under the Nazi regime to associate it with the Jewish nation that emerged from the ashes of Auschwitz? Perhaps, but there will be those that argue a people who have suffered should know better than to inflict the same discrimination and oppression onto another.

What does it mean at the end of the day, when ordinary Israelis – assumingly after thought and consideration – are disillusioned enough to label their own leadership as “Nazionism”?

This goes beyond mere discontent.


dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for theasiamag.com, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi