You can say a lot about Israel, but not that it’s a normal country.
Any way you look at it — its biblical roots and miraculous revival after 1,900 years; its state of virtual siege surrounded by ruthless enemies; its improbable military victories; its scientific innovations to help humanity; its economic power; its democratic character; its ingathering of immigrants from around the world; its flourishing cultural scene; its heated debates and never-ending political dramas; and, lest we forget, its ridiculous status as the United Nation’s most scrutinized and condemned country — this tiny nation has become, in a short time, one of the most unusual and extraordinary experiments in the history of nations.
Let’s look at just three recent events:
First, what kind of country would trade 1,027 convicted criminals and terrorists for one kidnapped soldier? Certainly not a normal one.
Let’s face it — the deal for Gilad Shalit makes no sense. As a well-known Israeli writer once wrote: “Prisoner releases only embolden terrorists by giving them the feeling that even if they are caught, their punishment will be brief. Worse, by leading terrorists to think such demands are likely to be met, they encourage precisely the terrorist blackmail they are supposed to defuse.”
The writer was Benjamin Netanyahu, in his 1995 book, “Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorists.”
Of course, now that Bibi is in charge, it’s not so easy for him to ignore the wishes of a nation yearning for the freedom of one soldier, a soldier who has become, in the poignant words of Yossi Klein Halevi, “everyone’s son.”
This solidarity is not normal. Here is virtually a whole nation acting as one irrational parent (is there a price tag too high to save one’s son?), and exhibiting a love of life that transcends reason.
Many of us worry, justifiably, that the price for Shalit will be paid in more Jewish blood. I don’t pretend to have a good answer for that, but I do think Israel’s message is not just one of weakness. Israel is also saying to its enemies: If we are so crazy about saving one life, imagine how crazy we will get about saving the life of our nation next time you try to mess with us.
I can’t think of another country that would make such a crazy gesture.
My second example of Israeli abnormality is the tent city protests of last summer and the Trachtenberg Report that followed.
To understand how abnormal this is, just imagine President Barack Obama forming a commission next week to address the Occupy Wall Street movement; the leader of that commission meeting nightly with protesters to get their input and ideas, while launching an open-source Web site to solicit ideas from concerned citizens; the commission drafting a comprehensive report to the president with detailed recommendations on everything from cost of living and education to tax reform and affordable housing; and the plan being approved by Congress — all in less than eight weeks!
Like I said, not normal, but it’s exactly what happened in Israel.
My third example of Israeli abnormality is the world’s hysterical reaction last month to Israel’s desire to build apartments in a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem. Specifically, many world leaders went nuts and called it “provocative” and “detrimental to peace” when Israel’s Interior Ministry gave preliminary approval for the building of 1,100 residential units in the Southeast Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo.
Never mind, of course, that it is widely accepted that Gilo is one of those Jewish neighborhoods that would stay in Israeli hands in any final peace plan, or that Israel has made generous offers for peace in the past that have been rejected.
And never mind that the genocidal Hamas terror regime in Gaza, which yearns for Israel’s destruction, as well as the continued Palestinian promotion of Jew-hatred and glorification of terrorism, make other so-called “obstacles to peace” a farce.
Never mind all that. As thousands of protesters were being murdered in Syria, as Christian Copts were being mowed down in Egypt and Kurds were being slaughtered in Turkey, much of the Western world decided to condemn a preliminary building permit for Jewish housing in Jerusalem.
This might not surprise you, given the world’s impeccable record of singling out the Jewish state for disproportionate abuse. But, whatever side of the ideological fence you sit on, don’t tell me it’s normal.
In many ways, this abnormal hostility has hardened Israel to the outside world, while paradoxically increasing its desire to succeed and be accepted. As a result, Israel has often appeared conflicted and emotionally unpredictable.
The one constant has been the nation’s intense love of life. The world will witness an outpouring of this love this week when millions of Israelis welcome home their “son” Gilad Shalit.
I wonder what will go through the minds of outsiders when they view this spectacle: “Look at these foolish Israelis, releasing a thousand terrorists just for one human life. Crazy country.”
Yes, a crazy and flawed country, but also a courageous and incredibly resourceful country that is madly in love with life — and is definitely not normal.