Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Leaving today on a late flight, so there is time to browse in bookstores, sit at a café on the beach overlooking the ancient port of Jaffa, and just plain think. So here are some of the thoughts that went through my mind as I was ready to bid adieu.
- In this country, security is uppermost in everybody’s mind, but it is so intertwined with daily life that hardly anybody gives it a second thought. The soldiers sitting at the beachside café with their Galil and Uzi weapons next to them, the reservists who serve a minimum of 30 days every year and simply cannot imagine life without this service (“doesn’t everybody in America have to serve in some capacity or another when they are fighting a war?”)—this is so different, and yet so taken for granted.
- How is that for a paradox? On the Army Radio station, they play the music one would expect 18-year-olds to like. But they also have a program called “Broadcast University”, in which university professors deliver series of lectures in their respective fields of expertise. The Defense Ministry published those series in a book form. Here are some of the titles I came across in a bookstore. “Military Leadership”, “Nazism”; quite expected from an army, especially an Israeli army. But then, consider these titles, “Words as Magic and the Magic Reflected in Words: Reflections on Mesopotamian Literature” or “Judaism and Idolatry”. Can you imagine similar lectures on our Armed Services radio? Can you imagine the Defense Department publishing such books?
- Everybody knows of the bitter conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. But here is another reality that is thriving in Israel. A general who is in charge of a sector in the Southern front is an Israeli Arab. The Druse, an Arab sect of Sufi Moslems, are some of the best and most dedicated soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Israel has an affirmative action program for Israeli Arab students; 25% of the medical students at Hadassah Medical School are Arab; Yesterday, we added a new member to the research team at the University, with whom I have been collaborating—a Palestinian woman. When I asked an Israeli friend whether he knew these facts, his answer was just as surprising: “Yes, of course, I know; so what?” This friend is a professor at the medical school and is one of many Israeli professors who have joint research projects with Palestinian professors from West Bank universities. My waitress at the café is an Arab from Acre, north of Haifa. She is a student at Bar Ilan, a Jewish religious university. When I asked her how does she feel at the university, trying to engage her in a semi-political conversation, she answered that the “courses in Statistics are hard, but I manage”. It’s all taken for granted.
- I asked an Israeli scientist wearing a skullcap (meaning that he is religious) whether he was having problems reconciling his beliefs with Science, and his answer: “What does one have to do with the other?” I wish we could have such an attitude here.
- You talk to Israelis about anything that has to do with their country and they’ll criticize, complain, or simply kvetch. But when you point out that the country has accomplished some pretty miraculous things in such a short time, they acknowledge with subdued pride that “yes, but really, no big deal.”
So, there you have it. Quite remarkable.