If I tell you that Israel is one of the safest, most peaceful places on earth, you’ll probably think I’m crazy. I’ve had this discussion before with others who don’t live here and, indeed, they think I am deluding myself. Years ago, we lived in a small village – yes, it was a settlement, but that term carries with it so much nonsense that people immediately make judgments and really, a settlement is simply a village located here versus there, on this side of a meaningless line instead of on that side.
So, we lived in this little place for about 8 years and overall, I didn’t love it. We moved to Maale Adumim, which cannot be called little by Israeli standards. It’s a beautiful city of approximately 45-50,000 people. We have a bowling alley nearby, several large supermarkets, a mall, city hall, an emergency care center, schools in every neighborhood, parks and flower gardens all around. We have several ambulances and taxis that serve the community full time, around the clock. We are, according to Israeli law, a city.
The small village was disorderly with many arguments between neighbors because lines had not been drawn carefully, were too often ignored by greedy souls. Fights were common and depressing and I’d had enough. The city has strict rules that are enforced, for the most part, and people so amazingly giving and kind.
So we moved from the little village to a small, quiet neighborhood in this city – to get the best of both worlds, the large and the small, the order and the peace. When we told our friends we were moving here, they asked if we were scared. It was during the Intifada and one person had been murdered on the road to Maale Adumim – a monk driving his car from a monastery in Wadi Kelt to Jerusalem. It was a common reaction, long after we moved, for our friends to ask us if we were safe and if we were scared.
When we told people in Maale Adumim that we had moved from that small village, people were very understanding. No wonder, they would say, given that the road was so dangerous there. Stones and even firebombs had been thrown at Israeli cars on that old road. You must feel so much safer now, they told me.
And I would laugh at the friends – here and there. It is human nature to want to feel safe, to want peace. At least in our culture and those of the western worlds that I have lived or visited. From outside of Israel, one would think that buses and bombs explode here every day; that armed soldiers patrol the streets searching (and probably finding) terrorists on a daily basis.
Even when buses were exploding every day here, I still felt safe, I still knew only peace. How can I explain this? First, there is a survival instinct that tells you moments after the bomb has exploded – you’re okay; your children are safe. Breathe. Accept. Yes, mourn and feel anger, but not fear. Not so much.
Of course, this is only true when you didn’t know anyone on the bus, when you can calm yourself enough to rationalize and force yourself back to normal. It takes a day or two, a week or two, after the bomb, after the funerals, after the mourning (which never actually stops and so I’m back to trying to explain human nature).
The point is – on a daily basis here, we feel safer than almost anywhere else. I’m not afraid of the dark streets here, of shadows in the street. I’m not scared that my children will be grabbed and kidnapped. I’m not afraid of talking to strangers.
Almost daily, I interact for a few seconds with someone I have never met, and perhaps never will again – on a bus, in a store. This is normal because we do not fear strangers in the same way as I was raised to fear them as a child in America.
Someone sitting next to me at a restaurant table with an adorable child will be told that the child is wonderful; a stranger will tell a small boy to stop running around. If a child falls in the park, many hands will reach to lift him and the mother will come running – not out of fear, but to be with her child, and thank others who helped the small boy.
If someone in the US stared at one of my infants, my heart would race and my arms tighten around the child. I’d move a distance away and keep alert. Here, people would come over and tell me it was windy and I should put a hat on my baby daughter, or pull the top of the carriage down to protect her from the sun. Here, people will hold someone’s baby while the mother puts the stroller on the bus and think the woman insane if she was worried that the person would take off with her child. I saw this happen and was amazed and when I tried to explain it to the woman holding the baby, she asked if people in America care more about the stroller than the child? Why else, she wondered, would you risk the child being hurt as the mother navigates with stroller and child?
Here, we do have armed soldiers walking down the street – not on patrol, but on their way home or to base. They’ll stop in a store, stand next to you on the bus. They are simply more people that make up the tapestry of Israeli society and don’t represent something frightening or unusual. And when there is an event or a heightened alert and they are on patrol, people will offer them closed bottles of water or make sure they have eaten.
I think I wrote this once before but it is such a true picture of Israel and so I’ll write it here again. Years ago, during the Intifada, I took my oldest daughter shopping in the center of Jerusalem. Bombs had been going off a lot, it was a scary time and standing there in the center – where at least 5 bombs had been detonated, was one of the rare times I really felt fear. Had I been on my own, I would have been fine. Had I not faced separating from my daughter, I would have been without fear.
But the parking meter was running out and my daughter was still trying on clothes in the dressing room. She was a teenager, not very young and there was no reason not to leave her, except for the fear that had clutched my heart. The store owner asked me what the problem was, and I felt like an idiot. I explained about the meter running out and looked towards the dressing room.
“Go,” he told me gently. “I’ll make sure she stays inside.”
I went – almost running to the car to put money in and get back. It still took me over 10 minutes and during that time, I could hear explosions in my head. What would I do if a bomb went off in the space between where I was and where she is? It was before the cellular phone days, before the automated parking system that allows me to now pay for parking on my phone. Would she run out to try to find me? Would the police stop me from getting to her? How would I know if the bomb hadn’t been in the store or even next to it?
The closer I got to the car, the longer it took me to put the money in and get back, the more I was frantic. No bomb went off. By the time I entered the store, my daughter had picked out several shirts, spoken to the store owner, and gone back in to try on more clothes. A little out of breath, I entered the store to the smile of the store owner. “She’s fine – she’s back inside with more shirts.”
It’s been a long time since that day; I’ve come to accept more and more that when you have peace in the heart, there is peace in the land. Israel is a land in which the inhabitants do not live in fear. By American and European standards, crime rates are very low here. The news mentions car accident victims more than murder victims and most murders make the news only because it isn’t a daily event, and perhaps not even weekly.
Most violent crimes in Israel are a result of terrorism, the underworld attacking itself, or internal family arguments. Few people are killed in Israel – ever – for money, for a car, or other possessions. Sure there are thefts, but even those are not usually connected to injury and without doubt, more people lose money to large corporations (especially cell phone companies) making “mistakes” than robbery.
But day to day, we get our children off to school, we go to work, we walk in the streets, we shop, and we go home – all without fear; all with a sense of peace in the heart.
So it is again Friday in Israel – the house is filled with the smells of the soup on the stove, the chicken and potatoes in the oven. The candles are ready to be lit in the window. The sabbath is coming to Israel. Shabbat shalom.