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Censored: A tourist's view of Israelis practicing the art of normalcy

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  • Ami Isseroff
    This story was written a while ago, and updated today, for obvious reasons. Europeans insist not only on the right to write only bad news about Israel, it
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 3 12:33 PM
      This story was written a while ago, and updated today, for obvious reasons. Europeans insist not only on the right to write only bad news about Israel, it seems, but also on the right to be immune from any criticism for doing it.
      Ami Isseroff

      Censored: A tourist's view of Israelis practicing the art of normalcy


      Believe it or not, the writers of mighty Ha'aretz are reaching out to try to censor little old me. Here is one of two instances. I will report the other one elsewhere if time permits.

      Brigitta Moll from Cologne Germany visited Israel as a tourist for a few weeks. Evidently that made her into an expert, as all such tourists are. So Haaretz published her article: First impressions of a European in Israel to tell people of the world what Israel is like. She seems to have come with the idea that she is entering a war zone, and so she diligently gathered material in support of her views. If Israelis act like almost anyone else, it must be because we are pretending and hiding the truth.

      The truth is, that even in the worst days of the Intifada, Israelis were far more likely to die of traffic accidents (or coronary occlusion) than of suicide bombings or other terror attacks, as Brigitta notes. At the time, and during the Second Lebanon War, nobody pretended that things were "normal" here. But the truth is also that generally Israelis, like everyone else, go about their business most of the time and do not even think of the conflict. We are busy here with other things as well. The conflict is one aspect of life, but not an all-consuming one. If anything, the accusation of Palestinian Arabs is that for Israelis they are invisible. It is not entirely an unfair accusation.

      Israelis have also developed, to some extent, a certain familiarity with and contempt for danger. The sight of soldiers in the streets has not been familiar in Europe for a long time. Israelis are used to seeing soldiers in the streets, in their own homes (our kids) and in the mirror for that matter. It has been that way for 60 years now. That is "normal" for us. It must strike visitors as odd. But objectively it is really not especially dangerous here. This normality is somewhat maddening to those who think we are all "bad guys" who should be suffering, though tourists will find it reassuring.

      If Ha'aretz editors really think Israel is under such immediate danger, it is difficult to understand why they publish so many articles that are critical of Israel. When the guns are shooting, the pen of criticism is generally silent.

      But the stereotype of Israel as a target of suicide bombers, as a country of fearful Jews anticipating a second Holocuast persists. It is exploited for different purposes by the right and the left in this country, and Brigitta's article must've filled the editorial bill for such articles.

      Israel has many things to offer tourists - holy places for religious people, topless beaches for those who want sun and sex, bauhaus architecture in Tel Aviv, nightlife, quaint corners of life preserved from other periods of Middle Eastern history. But Brigitta came to write about the conflict it seems, so none of these attractions are evident in her article. But if she wanted to write about that, why didn't she come to Sderot when the Qassam rockets were falling, rather than writing about Tel Aviv? Isn't it strange to come to a peaceful city and write only about the conflict?

      Air travel and fast boats have made the world a small place. It is very strange to read such a "travelogue" article, appropriate to the days of Richard Burton or perhaps Marco Polo, when today any interested European can come to Israel and see what is here for themselves, rather than seeing it through the peculiar lens of Brigitta Moll.

      After telling her readers that Israel looks normal on the surface, Brigitta Moll felt the compulsion nonetheless to show that Israel is really only about the conflict. She wrote that the normal animation surprises her. She wonders how people can cope with conflict ridden reality.

      Brigitta evidently interprets everything she hears and sees to support her view. A graffiti about a "Secret Nuke Cellar" must certainly be a sign of conflict tension according to her, since Europeans never joke about war, Brigitta tells us. Really? During the Cold War there were many jokes in USA about nuclear war, and I remember that Danish and Italian tourist guides joke about the activities of their neighbors in World War II. Everyone has war jokes. Perhaps it is tactless to tell Brigitta this, but the German war jokes are quite famous, though often not very funny to others.

      Brigitta finds a soldier who took a trip to India. This too must be all about the conflict, because the soldier says that sometimes you just have to get out of here. What, European young people don't take trips around the world? We find them in Israel and Jordan and Egypt and America and India. Are all these backpackers escaping some conflict in Europe we do not know about? It doesn't occur to Brigitta that it might be possible that young people want to see the world before settling down, and not be confined to our little, wonderful country. The wanderlust of Israeli youth must be due to the conflict.

      Imagine that someone from the Middle East visits the USA as a tourist. They are convinced that Americans must think only of the war in Iraq. But all they see around them are people going to work, shopping or relaxing. So they seek out someone who says they went for a trip abroad to get some "space," and present that as proof that all Americans are obsessed about the war in Iraq.

      Of course, most people will see what they are prepared to see and use it to justify whatever they believe. Such people can never learn anything new. They know all about it already. It is their privilege to write what they want, and it is up to the reader to beware, to come and see with their own eyes when they can, and judge for themselves.

      If a travelogue still has any value today, it is to try to capture what a people really think about their country and their life, rather than perpetuating what others think about them. Brigitta did not have to come here at all to write her prejudiced opinions. All over the world there are such people, who think in terms of stereotypes: Spain is only about bull fights, Germans are only engaged in drinking beer, French people are always in bed and British have no sense of humor. These are OK for ethnic jokes, but they can't be the basis of reasonable journalism. Travel is supposed to broaden one's vistas and change the stereotypes, and travelogues should pass on realistic information, not more stereotypes.

      That is hardly the end of the story. Brigitta has written to me that I must delete this Web log article because she does not agree with the way her text is being used in the blog. She protests that her article was intended to be "balanced." She came to a peaceful city and reported only conflict, and she thought that was "balanced." It does not not occur to her that I have the same license to see things through my eyes, as she has to see things through her eyes. Only Brigitta's opinion can be heard.

      But Brigitta of course, did not ask the graffiti writer if that is how the graffiti was intended, and did not get permission to use it in the article. She did not ask me or anyone else if we agree with the way she portrayed our country, which she thinks is sensitive and balanced.

      If I have somehow misinterpreted Brigitta's message, if she has not portrayed Israel as a place full of people obsessed with the conflict, then she failed to communicate very well in her article. If she has written about the theater and the concerts in the Mann auditorium and the beaches and the nightclubs, then maybe I have a reading deficiency because I couldn't find anything abut those things. It is not that Brigitta should not have been critical. There are bad things here. If she wrote about the nice or ill mannered people she met here, I missed that too. To visit Israel and not meet one rude person is really exceptional! If she noticed the disorder and regrettable uncleanliness of Tel Aviv streets, which must be striking to European eyes, I must've missed it. I could see only one thing in that article: conflict, conflict, conflict. It is not a problem of unfair criticism, but of a peculiar monomania.

      I know that many people often misunderstand what I write as well. It is their privilege - the article has to stand on its own. It never occurred to me to try to silence them.

      This is not the first time that Ha'aretz writers have attempted to censor my opinion of them. They have been given a great forum for their ideas, but they begrudge me this little one. More about that another time.

      I have removed the text of the article, which you can find at Ha'aretz and judge for yourselves, unless Ha'aretz has archived it.

      I have not asked Brigitta to remove her article from Ha'aretz, on the grounds that I do not agree with the way she has used my country. But Brigitta should not be able to dictate to me what I can and cannot write. "Die Gedanken Sind Frei."

      Ami Isseroff

       Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at http://zionism-israel.com/israel_news/2008/07/tourists-view-of-israelis-practicing.html. Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author. Disributed by ZNN. Subsribe by email to znn-subscribe@yahoogroups.com


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