Fascinating post by foreign correspondent and analyst Michael J Totten, currently on a fact-finding mission to Israel and the West Bank. Totten meets Benjamin Kerstein, who tells him some little-known home truths about Israeli society - a society of traumatised refugees, 'the greatest collection of nightmares on earth'. Via Pajamas Media.
Benjamin Kerstein: Amos Oz once gave the best description of us. He said there is an Israel of the day, and an Israel of the night. Israel during the day is a prosperous and cosmopolitan Mediterranean society, but at night it’s the greatest collection of nightmares on the face of the earth. Everyone here, at one point or another, has seen the devil.
Although there’s a general awareness of the Holocaust, I’m not sure outsiders are aware of the depth of the sense of trauma in Israeli society. We’re a people who really are deeply wounded. Around seventy percent of the people who moved here were forced out of the places they came from. That’s true of almost all the Jews from the Muslim world. It’s true of most of the Jews from Europe who fled persecution before the Holocaust, during the Holocaust, or after the Holocaust. Very few people came here out of free choice.
MJT: Mostly just Americans, right?
Benjamin Kerstein: People from the Anglo-Saxon world, yes. Even Jews who are coming here now from France are coming to escape anti-Semitism. The Jewish community in Turkey right now is undergoing a kind of silent exodus. Initially these people come here with a feeling of liberation. They release a lot of themselves. But they also have a strong sense of trauma and resentment because of what they had to go through. Particularly in the regards to the Jews from the Muslim world, there is hardly any understanding of this on the part of outsiders. (My emphasis - ed). There is almost no recognition of it. Outsiders are gloriously unaware of this side of Israeli history.
Most people come here and see the conflict. They come here originally as conflict tourists, like you and me. [Laughs.] They come here for the action. They go to the West Bank, they see the checkpoints and the shootings and the riots. And they develop a loyalty to one side or the other.
There are other people who come here to see the country and have a good time. My sense is that they are astonished at the sense of normalcy here. They’re amazed that there aren’t bombs going off every day.
It’s important to understand that outsiders come here with preconceived notions.
MJT: Of course they do. I did. It’s impossible not to. I probably still haven’t kicked some of them.
Benjamin Kerstein: Some people come with preconceived notions and are changed very quickly. Others hold onto their preconceived notions and won’t ever change. Unfortunately I see that with journalists a great deal. [Laughs.] It’s a result of becoming better ill-informed, if you know what I mean. They know more than they used to after spending some time here, but they still don’t get it. They see what they’ve come to see and that’s it.