Ma’ale Adumim is apparently a hot topic right now. I’m so relieved that people have enough food to eat all over the world, murder and rape has been eliminated. I’m so glad the people in Syria are no longer being massacred. What is important, apparently, is not so much all the horrors the world over, but rather…oh, that little hill far in the distance where a handful of houses that were approved years and years ago…are finally being built. If this is true, it is because that hill is located in Israel, in Maale Adumim, in the West Bank, over the green line.
I took two teams of journalists – one from Canada and one from Turkey – on tours of my city. We have won awards for our environment, the cleanliness, the flowers we carefully plant each year that blossom and fill our city with color. I show them the museum, the music school, the theater, the country club and mall and library. I show them the emergency medical center, that treats Jews and Arabs and hires doctors and nurses not according to religion but according to their skills and their schedules. They are polite and take pictures but the image is wrong. It’s too peaceful, too pretty.
And the conversation keeps coming back to two things – E1 and those buildings. “What would you say to someone who says you are living on stolen land?” asks the Canadian who lives in London. I don’t think the man from Chicago who lives in Istanbul would have asked it quite that way.
“Could you tell me who you think I stole it from?” I ask. He doesn’t like when I ask a question. He says I’m being evasive. No, I respond, I’m being honest. I can’t explain how I feel until you tell me who you think I could have stolen it from. It was never under Palestinian control. It was the Jordanians who held it before us, the British before them, the Ottomans, once the Romans, who stole it from us.
I ask them why they seek to find a solution to the so-called Palestinian refugee problem but not the very real and equally large Jewish refugee problem. They listen when I speak of the hundreds of thousands of Jewish who fled Arab lands with little more than what they could carry. This section will be removed from the broadcast; I know that even as I speak.
And then I remind them that the only reason why there is no Jewish refugee problem is because we, Israel, took care of our brothers. I tell them about the Iraqi-born chef who came to my table a few weeks ago to tell us that one of us had ordered a dish that came from his grandmother. And then he tells us of the years he and his family lived in a metal shack until they were finally given a home. More film to cut.
I point to the mountains that surround my city. Look how they are empty. This hill, filled with homes and trees, streets and children, lights and cars. This was just like that hill, until we came and built – no Palestinian homes were destroyed, moved, lost. This may go in but I have to wonder what commentary they will add.
You can’t say we stole it from Jordan, I tell them. THEY attacked us and we won. We didn’t seize this land but we have made it beautiful. This too will need to be removed.
“You call this a city?” he asks me. No, I respond, the government of Israel calls it a city. It has been legally designated as a city.
“Do you like being called a settler?” he asks me. I tell him that I am what I am, and happy with it all. I am a settler. I am a mother, a wife, a daughter and a grandmother. I am a Jew; I am an Israeli. I explain that in Finland, people use the word “Jew” as an insult. And while I’m very proud to be a Jew, I would not enjoy being called any word when it is used as an insult. I told him that I am a settler; but so are the Jews of Tel Aviv. I could tell already, he didn’t like that. Where do you live? I ask him. I can tell he doesn’t really want to tell me. He isn’t comfortable that I keep asking him questions.
“In London,” he answers after a pause.
“I consider you a settler of London too,” I respond.
“Now you are being evasive,” he says again. He used that term very often. He really didn’t like that I was answering the questions my way. More to be removed. Both asked me about Trump.
“Do you think you have a friend in the White House now, and what do you need from Donald Trump?” I had expected much worse questions; this one was rather easy.
“Yes,” I said, “I believe we finally do have a friend in the White House. What do I NEED from him? I don’t need anything. I’d like him to see what an amazing country we have built, what a beautiful city.”
He changes the question. “What would you like from Trump?”
“I’d like him to treat us like every other country in the world and put the embassy where he does everywhere else, in Jerusalem.”
“So that’s a major issue for you?”
“No,” I answer. “I don’t need anyone to recognize Jerusalem as ours. I’d like the embassy to be moved, but it really doesn’t matter. Jerusalem is our capital; it has been for 3,000 years.” They don’t like when you mention 3,000 years; it sounds extreme. I tell them that history cannot be measured only from 1967, but this is lost in the conversation. They want to catch me saying something extreme.
“Are you willing to share Jerusalem, have it a joint capital with the Palestinians?”
No, I answer, and ask why I should. “Why would you reward people for terror?” Again, I repeat. History does not stand still. They were asked to share the land with us in 1948, and they refused. They attacked. History has moved on. And the last time they controlled parts of Jerusalem, they refused to let us go there, to our holiest place. By contrast, we have truly left the Temple Mount opened to Arabs…and it is we Jews who are forbidden to pray.
I can see his mind working; I’m not giving him the extremist views he wants. I’m not feeding into the stereotype. I’m not getting angry. Worse, I appear to be relaxed and enjoying myself.
“You aren’t willing to negotiate at all?” he asks as we drive away from a local shopping center where the camera man wanted to film people walking around leading normal lives.
“Of course I am, I answer,” and I know, again, that this isn’t what he wants, but he listens, “any day, any time, we will meet the Palestinians – but not land for peace. That doesn’t work,” I told him. And I reminded him of the last time we gave up land – Gush Katif. From the places we left, they fire rockets at us; they burned the greenhouses to the ground. We can negotiate peace for peace. But what we’ll offer or what we’ll accept? Have you ever bargained, I asked him, do you walk into the store and state your highest price?
Anyway, I tell him, the Palestinians are not our peace partners; peace is not what they are seeking. I explain about a hudna [a temporary peace defined in the Koran, one that it is not dishonorable to break, if made with an infidel], but I can see he’s not listening – more to be cut. The hours I spent will be whittled down to moments. I’m aware of that. I also know that my words may be cut, twisted. I have seen that too.
I told the Turkey correspondent that when you dig in this land, it is Jewish bones you find and coins with Hebrew writing on them. This is our land; only we can say we came back to it. Others conquered it; we conquered it back.
I quote Ben Gurion to the Canadian. “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.” This too is foreign. He asks if I am saying that I believe in a Greater Force. I want to laugh and say, no, I believe in God, but I don’t. I turn it around I say that I believe it is mathematically, statistically, impossible to shoot thousands of rockets into civilian populations and miss 90% of the time. So yes, I believe in God. I believe He watches over us and protects us.
And then I remind him – we had nothing in 1948. We barely had an army; almost no weapons. Five Arab armies marched in…and we defeated them; we sent them running. How could you think we accomplished that without God’s help? And there, he gives a slight nod. It really is inconceivable that Israel was even declared, given the odds against it.
I asked them – the teams from Turkey and Canada – to see my city, my beautiful city, and my beautiful country. And as I drove home each time, satisfied that I had said the right words, I knew that it really never comes down to what we say, so much as what they hear.
They may or may not have learned something, but I left each interview with a reminder to myself. It doesn’t matter. If they came with a predetermined message; they’ll leave with it. But they will leave and I will stay.
This is where I live; this is where I have raised my children and where my children now raise theirs. The New World of Journalism wants to hear about “settlement expansion” – a term both teams wanted to see and film so they could show their audiences. Both teams needed to focus on the handful of houses being built in the distance and ignore the hundreds of illegal structures built by Palestinians on the way to and from their appointment to meet a settler.
Ultimately, what the message of Israel comes down to is what we feel in our hearts. We do not need world approval; we do not need their protection. It is Israel that flies to save lives, I told the Canadian. We who flew to Indonesia and Nepal, Kenya and Haiti.
We are Israel – here on this little hill and city and country.
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