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First Person There’s Never Enough News: Falling Prey to Israel’s Illness

November 9, 2004
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Recently I’ve developed a sickness. It’s not something life-threatening, though I fear that it’s only getting worse. It began with only mild symptoms. I innocently checked Israeli news sources like Israel National News and The Jerusalem Post every morning just to check current events. Not long after, I started surfing news Web sites before bed.

Then I started checking in the afternoon. Soon it was twice every afternoon.

In no time, my condition became critical. I found myself pushing to the front of a crowded bus when I heard the distinctive three beeps that signal the upcoming radio news update.

I realized the disease had finally taken hold while standing on the side of the highway in Ashkelon surrounded by traffic and wild brush just south of Tel Aviv.

On a late July afternoon, I was donning an orange "Gush Katif Forever" T-shirt with about 130,000 other Jews, all talking part in the "Human Chain," an act of solidarity that wound through the 54-mile stretch from the Gaza Strip to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

In that moment, locked arm in arm singing Hatikvah, I realized something had changed. The issues in Gaza had become much more than stimulating points of conversation, which is how I’d always felt about politics previously. Now there was an internal pull, a magnified obsession, toward this issue, and I found myself fully immersed in the intensity right alongside the rest of the nation.

I can track my rising level of infatuation through my increasing debates with cab drivers. Lately it’s not hard to get into such a discussion, considering the constant radio chatter about Gaza, whether it’s the frequent shower of Kassam rockets or Israel’s retaliation through targeting terrorists in the region.

"We should just give it away already," the cab driver tells me after the radio announces yet another Kassam attack in Sderot. This time there were two dead, a 14-year-old girl and her grandfather, as well as 14 injured.

"Why, do you think giving up those settlements is really going to bring peace," I responded. "Isn’t it clear by now that the Palestinian leaders are terrorists who don’t want peace? Pulling out of Gaza isn’t going to help anything."

"Well, there’s this much of a chance it will help," the driver says, holding up his hand, leaving less than an inch gap between his thumb and his pointer.

I said: "And for that little of chance, you think we should throw all these people out of their homes and knock down their synagogues?"

"Yes," he responded fervently. "It’s crazy, I know. But we have to believe," he told me.

I respect his idealistic hope for peace, but his response sent me into a frenzy of frustration. I went into my banter about the continuous Jewish presence in Gaza for the last 2,000 years, the synagogue from the 1600s in Gaza City that we can no longer visit, as well as the repercussions for Tel Aviv if Gaza were to be given away.

After I finished my serenade of justice, I exhaled, looked over and realized that for the last several minutes I had been talking to the windshield. The aging Moroccan cab driver was staring at the road with a completely blank stare.

How could I get across to him that just because I had a kipah on my head that I wasn’t just towing the party line? I have visited Gaza, I know these people and I understand their situation.

But instead we sat quietly for the remainder of the ride. I started to understand that no matter what information I was privileged to, and no matter what my feelings were, they weren’t going to make an impact on this guy.

I don’t think it mattered that he saw me as an American immigrant. Israelis hold on to political opinions like they’re clutching their personal treasure, one that they are completely unwilling to give up or even to trade in.

It’s chutzpah on a national level.

On the other hand, maybe I should have listened to the cab driver. What, I live here a year and I think that I know all the answers? Because I was 28 when I made aliyah, I never had my chance to serve in the army. And since I’m single, I never sent any children to the army. So do I really have a right to be so insistent on my political opinions?

In my mind the answer is a clear yes. It must be that the chutzpah is rubbing off on me. I feel like my destiny and the nation’s destiny are intertwined. An Israeli political move drags me along with all the consequences, so of course I need my voice to be considered.

Those moments leading up to the Knesset vote were unusually anxious times for me. In retrospect, that was nothing compared to the betrayal I felt the night the disengagement vote passed.

But I’m starting to see that my growing obsession with Israeli politics does not revolve solely around the Gaza issue. I — as well as so many other Israelis around me — am suffering from the same news-needy symptoms no matter what the issue.

My friend Gadi said it best: "Israelis are so obsessed with politics because it’s their house."

Gadi was speaking directly about the 8,000 people in Gaza whose homes are in question. But I think the comment works on a broader level as well: Israelis relate to the Jewish state as a shared home.

This feeling leads to a deep connection between us because we understand that our futures are tied together. But what come along with that is the obsessive desire to know what is going on at home, as well as everyone telling the other how the house should be run.

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