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Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Gilad Shalit is one of the most sensitive topics in the Israeli discussion. It is the one thing we all agree on, but also one of the many things we have a disagreement on. The only problem is, it is very hard to disagree on such a delicate issue.
The moment he was taken, there wasn't a single soul who didn't want him back home. Everyone agreed that a person who serves his country and is taken away should be brought back home. This is just how things work in Israel- you commit to the country when joining the IDF, and the country commits to you. The split in the opinions of the public began when the matter of the "price" was brought to the discussion table. All of a sudden, the conversation shifted from "Gilad should be brought back home" to "Gilad should be brought back home, but at what cost?" Everyone wanted him back home, but some thought there is a limit to how many prisoners with blood on their hands should be released to continue their "job" in return of one Israeli soldier. Amongst those people were families of Israelis who were murdered by those prisoners. This disagreement became harder and harder as the massive campaign for Gilad's release did not let us forget he is not "one soldier," but a person with a name, "the son of us all." Soon, it was almost impossible to disagree with a release at any cost. I, for instance, felt very uncomfortable saying, or even thinking, there is a price for him that could be too high. When I recruited, the disagreement was even harder. People felt bad thinking negative thoughts regarding his release, and those who weren't afraid to speak suffered from rough criticism by the public.
When he made his first step on Israeli soil, everything changed. The disagreement was no longer heard, and everyone came to an agreement once again: it is good to have our son back home. Everyone shed a tear that day, and since then, Gilad Shalit was untouchable. Not a single bad word, no criticism, just massive support and one big hug. The newspapers captured his every move, and followed his process of returning to a regular life. Soon, he became a celebrity. He shook hands, took pictures with "fans", and was invited to be an honorary guest in many events. Later on, he even started writing sports interpretations for one of the national papers. In one of his columns, he wrote a few sentences of his captivity, describing how sports helped him get by. But with all the joy of his homecoming, a new discussion took place: when would he talk about his captivity? Once again, the public opinion was split. Some thought we must give him space and let him do it on his own time, and some thought that if he feels comfortable enough appearing at public events and writing columns, he should take a moment and give a full interview. Once again, there was a general agreement on the "what": he is the son of us all, the public had a major part in his release, and we want to hear what he was going through while we banged on Netanyau's table. The part on which we disagreed was the timing of that interview.
When channel 10 announced there would be an interview, all eyes were on the television screen. We were all eager to hear what he has to say on what he had been through. We wanted to know everything on those five years: what was he doing, how did they treat him? What went thought his mind? Everything. I'm sure you've read the translated interview by now, so you know that as touching as it was, something was missing…It felt like the sensitivity revolving around the "Gilad Shalit" topic kicked in, and the interviewer abstained from asking many expected, yet rough questions. We wanted to know if he was tortured, if he remained at the same place or was on the move from one hiding place to another. Some of us also expected to know what he thinks of the "cost" of his release- 1027 terrorists. Once again, we were stuck, because Gilad is someone we all want to be safe, and "rough" questions might have been placing him in an uncomfortable place. However, we all were eager to hear him speak for so long, and were disappointed with the lack of complicated questions. This time, the sensitivity went a little numb. Many television critics sharpened their pencils and Facebook users roamed their keyboards. "The interview was more of a "touchy" drama than a high quality documentary," many said. But once again, the opposite voice rose: "who cares as long as he's home and well." At first, I wasn’t sure what to think, but when I translated the interview, and read every word twice, I could see what the critics were saying. The interview didn't really reveal anything new, and said what we wanted to hear. It just presented us with Gilad, a year later, telling us everything and at the same time, saying nothing.
It wasn't until I read your comments and saw your Facebook "shares" of the interview where I realized what really matters. A year later, Gilad is healthy, not as skinny, smiling, making jokes, and happy. This interview was not meant to reveal any secrets or knowing the truth about his own personal nightmare. This interview was really meant to present us with Gilad Shalit, the one for whom we all united in the effort of bringing home. At this point, I realized what I was so eager to know about him was not whether or not he believes 1027 terrorists are too much, or whether or not he celebrated any holidays. What I really wanted to know, and I'm sure everyone (including the critics) will agree with me- is if the soldier who has been through the worst has recovered from his wounds, physical and mental. I wanted to know if the son of us all can smile and mean it.
Maybe some day he will be able to tell us everything. I sure hope so. Until then, we will continue to complain and support at the same time, because that's how we, Israelis, roll. There is not a single Israeli who has no sympathy for Gilad. Even the toughest person shed a tear while watching him speak last Wednesday. But here, where we all feel so close to one another, and where everyone worked together in an effort to bring Gilad back home, we wanted to know more, and were disappointed when we didn't. Sometimes it takes a person from the outside to help those inside get perspective. I thank you for doing this for me. You didn't feel like something was missing, you were just happy that he spoke. Now, so am I.
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October 17, 2012 | 10:30 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
I've wanted to tell you about my military service for a while now, but I never knew exactly what I want to say. However, since foreign media take a very negative, false approach towards the IDF, and more and more false accusations pop up every day, I feel I can't wait any longer and will tell you what the IDF is really like through my personal story.
I think I'll begin at the end: a couple of months after my release from the IDF (after a two years long service), I went to a summer camp in Georgia, US, as an Israeli delegate of the Jewish Agency. While mostly having fun and telling exciting stories about Israel to the young campers, my fellow Israelis and I had to also deal with some tough questions asked by our American co-counselors. Most of their questions involved the IDF and its actions, and were based on information they got from the media. Some stood behind what they heard and read, and accused us with some terrible accusations, involving murder and intentions of killing innocent people for kicks. Those people were mostly adamant in their beliefs. They believed they already knew everything about the IDF, even better than we, and were positive of every part-truth they heard over the news. They had no intention of hearing us out, and mainly wanted to give us a piece of their minds for all the evil we've done.
As hard as dealing with this was, the other type of questions was much harder to deal with. Those questions were asked by Israel fans who heard all those things over the news, and weren't sure how to handle it. They were torn between their support of Israel and the horror stories the news handed them on a daily basis. Their questions weren't easy to deal with, because unlike the former group, this one was eager to hear what we had to say, and waited for a straight forward, decisive answer. My replies to them started with the sentence: "what you hear on the news is not entirely incorrect, but the world is not black and white." Then, I started explaining how the IDF's purpose is strictly defending Israel and its people, and never attacking or conquering. I told them that when they read a story of a school in Gaza being attacked by the IDF, it is usually what really happened, and then I explained how our enemies do a very good job in making us look bad by hiding wanted terrorists inside schools and hospitals and by doing that, making the IDF attack those places, which later does not look god in the eyes on the media. Questions like that are very hard to answer, especially when the person asking those questions expects a somewhat different answer. Later in the day, things got much easier when I would sit with my eight-year-old campers and tell them, decisively, how heroic the IDF soldiers are. No complications and in a black and white perspective.
Things are never simple, and there is always far more than the eye can see. Nothing and nobody is perfect and people always make mistakes, but there is no question in whether the foreign media supports the IDF. I am not going to try and explain to you every single move the IDF makes, but I can say that throughout my military service, I never questioned my commander, not once, and neither did my friends, some of them in Combat units. What I do want to tell you, that is if you belong to the second group and are open to hear what I have to say, is that besides special missions and heroic battles, there is so much more in the Israeli military service.
October 10, 2012 | 10:21 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
After spending eight days in Israel, as a part of the Once in a Lifetime program of the Stand With Us Fellowship organization, ten influential Instagram users from all over the world returned to their homes, carrying memories of an unforgetable trip from north to south (including a meeting with the President). In those eight days, the ten Instagramers captured every aspect of Israel, and shared their best creations with their total of three million followers. Two of the talented modern cameramen, Carli Liene (@inkedfingers), a 28 year old from Austin, Texas; and Dave Temple (@kewiki), a 36 year old from Chicago, Indiana, agreed to share some of their best work with Israelife readers. They collected what they thought captured Israel in the best way, through their eyes, for you to enjoy.
Dave, a first-timer in our beautiful Israel, sure won't forget his visit: "My time in Israel was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The history, food, architecture, and most importantly the people, make this place one of the most incredible places I've ever visited. It is a photographer's paradise and I definitely will be back! I thank Israel for being such a wonderful host and helping me to understand more about the country. The Once in a Lifetime HD group should also be commended for acting as excellent ambassadors for Israel and showing our group that Israel is full of life and love."
The full photo albums of all ten Instagramers are presented on their pages.
October 2, 2012 | 10:10 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
After a week of UN speeches, I had the urge to tell you about politicians from my point of view. For several days now my mind has been occupied with a rumble of thoughts and feelings, and I figured the only way I can make sense of it all is to write it down. So who are politicians? They are people we vote for, usually once every four years, to represent us. We choose many, for various roles and parts, while only one of them is chosen to sit on top. This person is the State leader, and he/she is the best and worst of them all. State leaders have the most responsibility, and thus they are under the most pressure. They can try and handle it in a smart way, but the outcome is usually one big mess, with only us to blame.
When we cast our votes, we usually rely on a bundle of promises, packed one on top of another, creating a utopean vision that can never happen. We, the voters, are fully aware of the non-existing reliability of those promises, but choose to believe them anyway. Why? Probably because we crave those things, and by hearing our wildest dreams being realized from the mouth of a soon-to-be important person, we act like we're under a spell. Politicians have a very sharp tongue, especially during an election year. They know exactly what to say, and we listen. We are attracted to their words like a moth to fire, and eventually vote according to their speeches, and not by relying on past actions. We are forgiving, and therefore willing to give a second chance to a mouthful of promises we want to hear so badly. After we cast our vote to the greatest promiser we lay back and wait for the magic to happen. But since our State leaders are not Walt Disney, that's not possible. As time passes by, they make sincere attempts to follow their promises and make them reality, only to discover that's not possible. Then, as we wait patiently, they try to figure a way out, and spend about a year or so coming up with reasonable excuses. At first, we get angry, as we are tired of waiting for Utopia. We promise ourselves to never fall for their traps ever again, and begin to protest against our unrealized dreams. Then, as the election date comes closer, the game changes yet again.
A part of a politician's job is to make speeches. In fact, this is their primary job and the first requirement for the part. State leaders get to make the most meaningful speeches at the top of the political world- the UN. This is the one and only neutral organization which is as far from neutral as Britney Spears is from sanity. The closer the election date is, the more vague and more grandiose their speeches become. They basically stand behind the podium and throw words like "Peace", "Will not allow", "middle east", "obligation" and "friendship" to the air, without mentioning names and without actually saying anything. Then, when their job is done, our job begins, because the interpretation is on us. The day after, newspapers are filled with the finest journalists' attempts to realize what the State leader had said. At this point, each and every one of us forms an opinion based on the newspaper we read. The politician basically sits back at his/her chair, smiling to one self. Their job is done. Ours is just beginning.
One other fact about politicians is that they have selective hearing when it comes to the world's worst enemies. A leader of a hostile country, who may put the world in danger, can say a sentence which starts with "Death to all Israelis" and ends with "Let the peace begin", and the state leaders will only hear the latter. Politicians, just like the rest of us prior to elections, can also put words and actions to a complete separation. Examples? Coming right up! When a tyrant like Assad butchers his people and then poses for a family portrait for a top magazine, smiling shyly and being quoted saying things about the peace and love, politicians will take that as a statement of peace. When Ahmadinejad makes a peace sign to the camera, while building a nuclear bomb which is officially stated for the destruction of Israel, politicians will zoom in on the peace sign without reading in between the lines (or looking at newspapers' headlines).
This leads me to the next politicians' characteristic- they are naïve. Well, they’re either that or they're really good actors. I personally believe that a politician who truly believes Ahmadinejad craves peace is in the wrong business. And since they obviously make beautiful speeches and have ravishing charisma, they are in the right business, meaning they honestly can't really believe in his peace and love screen of lies. A politician who says he believes peace in the Middle East will arrive shortly is naïve. Same goes for the unbelievable politicians who listen to Ahmadinejad stating he intends to destroy every last Israeli and then shakes hands with him, saying his nuclear weapon is for research. A politician saying any of those things is a politician who sits far away from here, and has no clue what's really going on. This is a politician who has a lack of understanding of just how important Israel is for maintaining of peace in the Middle East. There are far more than one politician of that kind. There are countless politicians who truly believe in fairytale peace without changing a thing, or simply by exchanging words with our Prime Minister (who is quite a politician himself). This will not bring peace, and these are NOT the people who should sit on top of the political-diplomatic ladder.
A true state leader, the one we really need, is a person who sticks to what he believes in, even during the election year. A true state leader is the person who is willing to make a change in this world, come what may. A person who is willing to take a risk for the sake of humanity. A true state leader will not only say all of this, but actually do, and "do" is the key word. I am a realistic person, which means I have almost lost hope in such a Messiah, but deep inside, I am still looking for the politician who will bring back our belief in that profession. The most important thing we all must remember is that both the blame and the hope is on us. We must not forgive and forget like we do once in every four years or so. We must remember and face all of the wrongs and rights, not listen to polls or promises, and fight for out Utopia.