Don’t judge Israel from thousands of miles away

Visiting a town on the border with Lebanon brings home our proximity to our enemies

August 31, 2022 11:44

They come to the border and scream, “F you! Sharmuta!” (a... very rude word), random things, whatever they can. They just come and yell across the fence,” Sara says as she points to the lights across the way. “You can hear them quite clearly.”

I’m in Metulla, a quiet place with just 2,000 residents. It has hills, farms and orchards like many northern Israeli towns. It has a nature reserve with a lovely waterfall, a growing tourist industry with cute boutique hotels, historical sites and lookouts where one can see for miles and miles.

But unlike other Israeli towns, Metulla is surrounded on three sides by enemy territory. Lebanon.

And ever since Israel retreated from the buffer zone that kept Hezbollah fighters — and anyone on the other side — a few miles away from the border, Israelis can see the neighbours they will likely never get to know.

“It’s sad. I see a beautiful land, I see people, and I can’t get there. We can’t visit each other. There is a wall between us,” said Sara, who works at the hotel we are in for the night. She isn’t afraid though: “The terror attacks are in Tel Aviv… Dizengoff.”

I can’t disagree. Jerusalem, where my parents live, where my husband works, where some of my children study, has seen far more terror than this sleepy northern town.

But there is something about looking out in almost every direction and seeing a land closed off, a border patrolled, a place where you know people see you as the enemy and want you gone, that adds a very large dose of painful reality to the Israeli perspective.

It was only a few years ago that the IDF found and destroyed numerous high-tech tunnels dug by Hezbollah into Israeli territory in preparation for bringing Hezbollah fighters into Israel for attacks. Residents actually heard the digging, drilling and hammering. The tunnels reached into Israeli towns and fields.

Just today, as we were on our way here, the headlines read, “Ganz warns Hezbollah attack on Israeli gas field may trigger war”; “Hezbollah warns Israel of escalation if Lebanese demands not met in maritime talks” and “IDF on alert for Hezbollah provocation.”

Israel is a very small country. Very. Small. Pull up Google maps and search for Metulla. Look to the left and the right. The town, this country, sits smack in the middle of Arab and Muslim lands, and you can really feel that.

Zoom out on the map. Do you see Tyre on the coast and Damascus to the East? Don’t lose Metulla. Zoom out again. Can you see Haifa, Beirut and Damascus all on the same screen? Click one more time and you’ll see the Mediterranean coast from Tel Aviv to Tripoli, and on the right lies the vast Syrian desert.

Zoom out again and Egypt and Jordan come into view. One more click brings Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Kuwait. With two more, we can see from Morocco to Afghanistan, from Turkey to Sudan.

And where is Israel? Could you find my country if the word wasn’t written out?

Israel sits at the crossroads of Europe, Africa and Asia, disrupting the dream of Pan Arabism, surrounded by those who see her as an interloper, a foreigner, something to be destroyed.

This is what Jewish Israelis see and feel; a world that looks in at us and would, in an instant, happily have us off the map.

Yet I and the vast majority of Israelis look out and wish those borders were open and welcoming, with friends we could visit on the other side.

Often this conflict is seen from within, where Israelis and Palestinians are the only players. And while we must resolve this aspect of the conflict for the peace and betterment of both peoples, the conflict is so much wider at its core.

Sometimes, sitting on a border taking stock of reality or zooming out on a map and looking at the wider lens is helpful to see what is truly involved. Leaving our narrow perspectives is vital to finding a solution, or at least comprehending the complexity of it.

Those who judge this conflict — especially those sitting thousands of miles away — may want to add a dose of Israeli perspective to their view.

August 31, 2022 11:44

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