We Even Say L’Chaim To Monuments Of Death

At first glance it looks like an abstract piece of art, a modern monument right in the middle of the busy Ben Gurion Boulevard, next to the juice stand, coffee shops and playgrounds. Upon closer look, you realise it’s a monument of a different kind, a memorial of the people killed and wounded in a suicide attack in 1997.

It just sits there. Like a silent, almost anonymous, reminder of harder times. I don’t think many people pay attention to it – it just is. Nothing odd about it, just another part of the city, like a stone on the sidewalk.

Today a boy, maybe 6 years old, was happily climbing on it – playing and pretending like only kids can. Maybe he was pretending to climb Mount Everest? Or flying a plane?

And then it hit me. This is Israel. Life is celebrated here. We move on. Even a sad monument can become a monument of joy for a small boy.

You get used to it: the memorials all over the city, the stories of what it used to be like before we built the wall: the suicide bombers, the fear of taking the bus or going to a restaurant. You get used to the security checks and metal detectors and the news of terrorist attacks: stabbings and cars running over innocent people waiting for the train. You even get used to the rocket alarms and the sound of missiles being blown up by the Iron Dome.

And there’s nothing strange sitting next to a soldier on the bus, in full uniform and armed with a M16.

We continue to go to work, raise our children, discuss domestic politics over coffee, eating out and going to the beach. We continue to celebrate life.

I made Aliyah in April 2014, and my first summer here was spent running to bomb shelters. The first time the rocket alarm sounded over Tel Aviv (and the first time I heard it for real in my life) I cried. The second and third time I did as well. A few weeks into it, I was sitting in my stairwell (our temporary bomb shelter) with a friend visiting from Sweden, holding him, comforting him and telling him we would be okay. “Listen, that’s the boom from the missile being blown up! It’ll be over soon!” A few days later, I had coffee with a friend on Dizengoff Street when the alarm sounded yet again. Everyone stood up, calmly left their tables and walked to a bomb shelter nearby, listened to the alarm, waited for the booms, and then walked back and continued drinking their coffee. The whole thing was very surreal. I kept thinking how people would have reacted if the same thing had happened in Stockholm. I realised then, that in a few weeks, I had adapted to the life here. I no longer cried, but rather had a feeling of obstinacy: “You will NEVER stop me from living my life!”

Does this mean that the war ended up being a walk in the park? Of course not. It was very stressful, and my heart still skips a beat if I hear anything that sounds remotely like an alarm.

Israelis are a tough bunch, but a warm-hearted bunch that try to live their life every day to the fullest. That’s one of the many reasons why I love living here. Despite all the worries and threats from terrorist neighbors, we live. We celebrate life. We adapt and carry on and never feel sorry for ourselves. We thrive and we blossom against all odds. We even say L’Chaim to monuments of death.

This is something our neighbors will never understand. They celebrate death, and think they can scare us into bending to their demands. We never will. I never will. Life and the will to live is so much stronger than any suicide bomber or missile attack. We are staying right here and we aren’t going anywhere. Get used to it.

I love you Israel.

(Originally posted on my blog at The Times of Israel, June 25, 2015)

Shattered Dreams And Inconvenient Truths

The truth is not complicated. In fact it’s right in front of our noses, staring us straight in the eye. You can be near-sighted, far-sighted or half-blind and still be able to see it – that’s how clear it is. So why does the world insist on spreading lies and continue to refuse telling both sides of the never-ending story of the Palestinians and the Israelis? Why do they go out of their way to avoid telling it the way it is, and to always portray Israel as a villain? And why are the deadly attacks against Jews all over the world uninteresting and not newsworthy?

I’ve been trying to understand this for so long, but no matter how much I try to wrap my brain around it, I still don’t understand. I want to believe it’s due to ignorance and not done on purpose, but it just doesn’t make sense.

I thought that the world, much like people, would grow wiser with time and experience. Instead it has a very short memory, and it’s chilling to feel the cold winds that yet again are blowing over Europe and the rest of the world. The only difference is that the Jew hate now also includes the Jewish State, and this obsessive, eternal hate is now conveniently hidden behind less nasty words like ”legitimate critique”.

A few weeks ago, my native country of Sweden, recognized “The State of Palestine”. The newly elected government, a coalition between the left and the green parties, was quick to decide to make this declaration – so quick actually that one could think there are no other issues, international or domestic to deal with. According to the foreign minister Margot Wallström, this would be a great incentive to get the peace talks going again. That Israel’s “peace” partner(s) are terrorists is something she conveniently failed to remember or mention, or take into consideration. Neither did she care to comment on, or condemn, the recent vicious attacks in Jerusalem, including the murder of five innocent people in a synagogue. Now other countries in Europe follow suit, and it seems that the madness is spreading fast, much like the deadly Ebola virus.

That people in general are uninformed and ignorant when it comes to Israel is one thing. But a foreign minister? Highly educated journalists? World leaders?

And this leaves me, no matter how hard it is to face, with yet another truth staring ME straight in the eye, and it’s both sad and horrifying. The world really hates us, hates me, for no apparent reason whatsoever except that Israel is a Jewish State and Jews live in it. And if a Jew gets attacked or killed it’s nothing, just a repeat of the same old anti-Semitic story that’s been told for almost 2000 years. It doesn’t even make the headlines, and if it does, it’s met with comments like: “Now, it will be harder to criticize Israel”.

I made Aliyah this spring, and experienced my first war this summer. For the first time in my life I went through what natives here grew up with – sirens, missiles, terrorist attacks and running to shelters. It was hard, but even harder to see how the world dealt with it. The media back in Sweden continued with their biased reporting, twisting headlines and content against Israel – always making us the aggressor and the Palestinians the victims. The fact that Hamas was sending thousands of missiles over us with the intent to murder wasn’t important – we were protected and didn’t die, hence it didn’t count. The three teenage boys that were brutally kidnapped and then murdered before the war was described as settlers, insinuating that they only had themselves to blame. No matter what happens, if we DON’T die or if we DO, we never get any real support because Jews and Israel can only do wrong – no matter what.

I am so proud to be an Israeli, and I wish I could still feel the same way about my native country. But I can’t. This is not the country I grew up in. When I was 15, Ferenc Göndör, an Auschwitz survivor, came to my school to tell his story. I remember him saying that anti-Semitism can always rear its ugly head again, even in a civil country like Sweden, and I didn’t believe him. Not in Sweden, the country where we are brought up to believe in solidarity and equality to all, the country that always stays neutral, honest and true. Boy, was I wrong. My thoughts and feelings for this country are forever shattered.

The truth. It’s staring us all in the face, no matter what side you’re on, and it’s ugly, inconvenient, harsh and very sad. Can we handle it? Do something about it? The verdict is still out.

(Originally posted on my blog at The Times of Israel, December 9, 2014)