The Israel you never knew….
When you think of Israel, what pictures do you have in your mind? Barbed wire? Bombs? Loads of hate? Soldiers on every corner? Fear and despair? Most of the people I have talked to have the image of a war torn land with soldiers everywhere and terrorists in every alley. A land where you can’t walk down the street without fear. People hear in the news about the ‘war’ between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and it conjures images of an apartheid state wherein the Palestinians are refugees and live in almost third world conditions.
I hate to be the one to burst your bubble, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Israel is a beautifully diverse country with vastly different landscapes as you travel mere miles. The land has everything from mountains and valleys; to deserts and oases. The land is beautiful and has many unique intricate features that add to its beauty.
Israel’s cities are delightful, the beautiful mix of classic middle-eastern architecture and modern design make some amazing cities. The streets are safe, no worse than walking in Philadelphia or Kansas City. The economy is booming and trade is increasing.
But what about those Palestinians? Don’t they live in refugee camps behind evil walls? Not exactly. You see there is a fence surrounding the west bank areas of Judea and Samaria, and border checkpoints that separate Jewish Israel from the Palestinian areas, but that fence is nothing compared to the behemoth wall that separates America from Mexico. So, you probably realize that the fence is there because there is tension between the Palestinians and the Israelis. This is true, but let me come back to that conflict in a few minutes. Before I crack that well I have a few thoughts that need to be shared.
When you think of Israel, you probably think of a culture war between two groups; Israelis and Palestinians. The failure in this widely accepted thinking is that it neglects the fact that there are more cultures in Israel than just those two, and all of them are distinct and unique.
There are actually Five major cultures in Israel. Let’s make a list first and then we can discuss each of them.
- Non-Palestinian Arabs/Muslims
You know about the main two, but have you ever heard much if anything about the bottom three? If you have, you are in the minority, but I want to change that, so let me tell you about them.
First lets look at the non-Palestinian Arabs. These are Arabs, many of whom consider themselves good Muslims. The interesting thing about them is that most of them life in reasonable peace with the Jews. They share the land and they just live their lives. Its probably a stretch to say they are friends, but in truth some are. What may astonish you even more is that many of these Arabs dislike the Palestinians. There are many reasons why they dislike the Palestinians. Some dislike them because they find them to be trouble makers. Others dislike them because they are coming in and trying to take over their land.
One of the men I met was an Arab Sheik. He looked exactly how you would picture a sheik. His family has held land in his region for many years, going back to the days of King Husseni and the 1800’s. We didn’t discuss a lot of political issues, but in my brief encounter with him, it was fascinating to realize that there are other Arab groups beyond just the Palestinians, and each Arab people group is different. For many years I thought it was just the Palestinians in Israel. But enough about the Arabs, lets move down the list.
The next culture I would like to discuss are the Druze. They live in the region surrounding Mt. Carmel and have lived there for Hundreds and possibly thousands of years. The Druze are decedents of Jethro. Jethro was Moses’ father-in-law. For more about the culture of the Druze, and their beliefs please feel free to email me or simply google them. The Druze are very friendly toward the Israeli government and many even serve in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force). Israelis are required to serve three years in the IDF, but the druze are exempt and are allowed to volunteer and enlist if they wish to. I met one such Druze. He was a security guard at one of my hotels. He served in the military and now worked as a guard while going to university. The other interesting Druze I had the honor of meeting was Minister Ayoub Kara. Minister Kara is a druze man who serves in the Knesset which is the Israeli Parliment. He is the Deputy Minister over the regions of the Negev and Galilee. He invited us into his home and dined with us. While we ate, he shared some of the history of his people, and then shared his heart for the future as well as his delight to see what we were doing through the Israel Goodwill Ambassador Academy.
The final people group of note in Israel is actually the fastest growing. The Bedouins are traditionally a nomadic people who live in the desert in the south of Israel. However the Nomadic culture leads to a host of difficulties that I am sure you can imagine. To combat these difficulties, the Israeli government built four cities for the Bedouins. Many people see the Israeli government as this evil Apartheid like state, but nothing could be further from the truth. The Israeli government has built cities in Bedouin areas and in Palestinian areas to give homes to those in need. In the Bedouin regions these homes and cities were well received and a thriving economy began to build in the south. The Bedouins are now outgrowing their cities, and the Israeli government is now trying to decide how to best facilitate this growth. The Bedouins also are know to volunteer in the IDF. They are actually highly sought after because their history as nomadic people makes them well suited to being trackers and special forces.
The final thought I want to share today is about the Knesset itself. You would think that since Israel is a Jewish state that all its Knesset leaders are Jewish, but that just isn’t the case. Israel is a thriving democracy and there are Israelis, Druze, and even Muslims in the government. In fact there are eleven Muslims in the Israeli Knesset most of whom want to see Israel wiped off the map. Can you imagine that in America? The Senator from Kansas, or Florida, or Michigan voting in the Senate to get rid of America as a nation? Well that is exactly what is happening in Israel. Now the number of anti-Israel members of the Knesset is low and thus it doesn’t often affect the voting process, but still the fact that they are allowed in the government at all is a shocker in and of itself.
Keep watching in the next few days for more information about Israel and what I learned while I was there. As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed, but overtly anti-semetic comments will not be allowed. You do not have to agree with me, but keep it civil.