I’ve been traveling Israel for a week now, but already its struggles have been impressed upon me. Because I am couch-surfing, I get to spend time with more locals than I would were I just hosteling, and my hosts seem happy to talk freely about their thoughts and experiences. Although not entirely related to my point, one thing is that I can see no macro-direction for the state as given its origins, I had – perhaps naively – expected. My last host was around my age, and a recent graduate from the sociology department of Jaffa’s mixed college (Jaffa being the only district in the Tel Aviv municipality in which Arab and Jewish Israelis live amongst one another) with a degree in Behavioral Sciences. We had similar aspirations, loves, and hates and we plotted relatively close to one another along the political spectrum. He had absolutely no interest in god, or in the ‘Jewish-ness’ of Israel (he had voted for Hadash, the mixed-candidate socialist party in the last election). He had an amazing talent at piano, and from our conversations I could tell he was very intelligent. He had decided upon graduating however, to work with his father, who owns his own irrigation-type company, partly because he felt he owed his parents for his education, and partly because he feels (despite having lived in Tel-Aviv for 15 or so years) that he is a Kibbutznik.
I feel his experience somewhat mirrors Israel in general: it is a country with an almost unrivaled hi-tech economy (it’s largest employer is Intel), a strong college graduate rate and great HE facilities, and outstanding arts facilities (for a country of it’s size); Israel appears very progressive. Yet it persists in electing thugs (Lieberman and Nyetenyahu) and cynics (Barack) as it struggles to break with it’s past. The principle problems in Israel and the territories are no longer security-related, they are economic, but the two are interdependent.
My real point relates to national service and the Arab-Israeli conflict. The ‘tension’ is not evident everywhere in the country. In Jerusalem’s old city it is impossible to ignore, but on the beaches of Tel Aviv where the places of worship (so to speak) are not synagogues but skyscrapers, you could easily imagine yourself in a whole different country. Individual experience exhibits this too, I think. Unlike the teens who grow up in and around Jerusalem, or the settlements and border towns, for Tel Aviv’s youth (spare increasingly infrequent attacks on their city) their immediate experience of the conflict is marginal. I see little reason (beyond parental influence and news reports) that these kids couldn’t remain open-minded regarding the conflict.
Yet, wandering around the shopping centres, checking out the Levi’s store, the Puma Store, Diesel etc, seems to be the cast of the Israeli adaptation of ‘High School Musical’, in camo gear. I wonder what the lasting psychological effects of obligatory military service are on kids of that age. Given that in Tel-Aviv, most clubs admit only those 23 years and up, these kids can’t dance, but they can kill somebody. Guys and girls barely old enough to drink, let alone contemplate the morality of their actions. Kids are forced to invest themselves in the security of Israel; they’re part of the Israeli war machine from 17/18, and their service must leave them hardened at the prospect of compromising something they have served to protect, with someone who has represented a direct threat to their lives. It is often said that IDF provocation is what maintains the conflict, but could it be that service in the IDF maintains the distinction between us and them, only institutionalizing the conflict into the Israeli experience?