”Being Israeli has become being guilty, directly or by association”

A family with three mid-sized children were parked next to me in the parking-lot of the “First Station” recreational area in Jerusalem. The family members looked very tired but also obviously satisfied and excited by the large shopping-bag filled with national flags that stood on the hood of their car as they got ready to go back to their home, which, I guess, is not anywhere close to Jerusalem. It’s all pure speculation, but I imagine that this is their family “thing”, they come to Jerusalem to participate in the yearly Jerusalem Parade and along the way they ask all the foreign delegations if they can have a flag or a memento. I’m sure they end up with flags from places they may never have heard of before. My kids are lucky we never did that, I would have made them memorize all the flags, capitals and preferably type of constitution.

Once a year, for the past 60 years, there has been a Jerusalem Paradec. The basic idea is to hold a tribute to this unique city, in a light-hearted fashion. There are no speeches, and no military displays and no politics. Just a bunch of happy people walking, some with music and some with some very un-pretentious choreography. In the beginning, it was strictly a local affair, but since the 70s, the parade consists both of Israeli groups from workplaces, other cities, volunteer organizations, trade-unions etc. and foreign groups, mostly of practicing Christians from around the globe affiliated with the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, who come to show their love for Jerusalem. Altogether, some 25,000 people participate by walking a 5, 10 or 15 kilometer route. The Christian groups come to Israel out of a religious conviction that is far from mine, they believe that their presence in Israel is a part of a chain of events that will eventually lead to the return of their redeemer to the Holy Land. That is, they don’t celebrate the presence of a Jewish State in Israel per say, but see it as proof that the prophecies of Christianity were right.

This summer I spent an extended period in Sweden, longer than I have in many years. It provided me with many occasions to tell people I don’t know that I live abroad, and every time they asked me where I live, I found myself steeling myself, before telling them. Don’t misunderstand me, I live in Israel because I want to live in Israel, which I consider and know is one of the most amazing, successful and moral places on Earth. Nevertheless, telling someone in Sweden that I live in Israel is not like telling them about other, non-controversial places. Israel has gotten so much biased, negative media-attention that many Swedes kind of jump when they hear the word. Being Israeli has become being guilty, directly or by association, of all kinds of heinous crimes. Like the kid in class about who you hear weird stories. Even if you know it’s not true, even if you were there when the alleged incident happened and know that’s not how it ran, you will still look at that kid with different eyes. The essence of demonization as well as mobbing is the assumption that people, when it fits their world-view, have a great willingness to think ill of others, and to that end they will gladly rationalize factual discrepancies. I honestly don’t think that the perception of Israel has much to do with realities in Israel. I’m guessing again, but I doubt an individual in Sweden would get the same cool reception I get if they say they come from Libya, Yemen, Syria, Rwanda or China. First of all, other individuals are not seen as representatives of a particular regime, except, of course…. Secondly, none of the conflicts in these countries get a fraction of the attention the Israel Palestinian issue gets, although each one of these countries grapple with wars and human rights abuse exponentially worse than ours.

I saw a video-clip today of a Shiite Kuwaiti Imam http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/4549.htm who amongst a number of other brain-farts claims that thousands of children and women were captured by ISIS and sold to Israel as slaves. Once the honorable speaker has made that claim, it is there, and we know from experience it will surface in other clips, sermons, articles etc. The speaker doesn’t event make the slightest attempt to prove that what he says is correct. First of all, he couldn’t, because he just made it up and secondly, why bother? It is perfectly acceptable to say whatever one wants, massacre, genocide, apartheid – whatever, if it is directed at Israel, it will be accepted as containing some amount of truth.

So, until I saw a group of green and yellow coated Brazilians smiling on the streets of Jerusalem, I didn’t realize how very lonely it has become to be Israeli. As the Tower of Babylon delegations left the parade area, I wanted to stand in the parking-lot and shout Thank You to the international participants on their way back to the tourist buses. Thank you nice people from Angola and Spain and Japan and Finland for coming here and being friendly. I know you have an ulterior motive, but that’s OK. While you expect the Second Coming, you are willing to see us as a place worthy of your interest. Thank you for looking with the eyes of a friend at the local people and this fascinating city. We have our fair share of sinners and saints. We are not perfect, but not horrible either. We are not devils, we are human. Thank you for believing that it is fine to be Israeli. Thank you for not raining on our parade.

Noomi Stahl