For every pro-Palestine narrative, there’s a compelling argument in support of Israel.
That was my experience last February when I was selected to travel with a group of Canadian university students on a CIJA-sponsored Next Gen Community Leaders experiential learning program in Israel. The purpose of the trip was to learn about the country’s unique geopolitics through key discussions with Israeli and Palestinian academics, politicians, journalists, business leaders and university students on issues of politics, security, identity and conflict in the Middle East.
After doing some pre-trip research on Israel, it became clear to me that finding an unbiased account of the Israel-Palestinian conflict was a near impossible task. Not only did people have distinct biases, but also drastically conflicting views on the issues behind the conflict that has divided Israelis and Palestinians for the past sixty-five years.
“The more I see the less I know for sure,” said the late John Lennon and that was my frame of mind when I departed for Israel.
Instead of a nation torn apart by war and a people worn weary by strife, I was met with a vibrant and diverse world centre on the cutting edge of innovation and technology. Israel has been christened the ‘start up nation,’ and it is clear to see why. Israel has a population of roughly 8-million people and boasts 4,800 start ups, most of which are in the scientific research and technology fields (Shapiro, 2013).
I had an opportunity to visit one such start up – Visualead, a mobile app company with offices in Tel Aviv and Shanghai that has developed a niche market in QR code technology. My group was also taken on a tour of XIN, the new joint research centre co-founded by Tel Aviv University and Tsinghua University in Beijing, where great advancements are being made almost daily in the field of nanotechnology.
This vision of a sophisticated and progressive Israel was not what I was expecting. Media reports led me to believe Israel was a nation in a constant state of unrest. The reality was very different. I witnessed a country in the throes of an economic boom thanks to innovations in science and technology. I saw a marketplace bustling with activity and sidewalks overflowing with people of all denominations. I saw people not just going about their lives, but leading full and rich lives amid the looming threat of violence manifest by the presence of armed soldiers.
Despite the ongoing threat of terror, war and conflict haven’t defined Israel or its people, although it has unquestionably shaped the attitudes and resiliency of Israelis. Civil rights leader Frederick Douglass once remarked, “Without a struggle, there can be no progress.” The State of Israel is proof of this. In places and circumstances where survival is uncertain, it is there that life often abounds.
Commenting on Israel’s tech boom, reporter Gary Shapiro, in his Forbes’ article, What Are The Secrets Behind Israel’s Growing Innovative Edge? (Nov 7, 2013), suggested “Israeli tech prowess comes from a combination of intelligence, creativity, productivity and independence as well as their staunch determination to press on in the face of daunting opposition.” He added that “military service, combined with the continuous external threats to Israel, cultivate a seriousness of purpose and a cultural willingness to accept economic risks.”
That seriousness of purpose and service to country has translated into a fierce patriotism such that I have never before seen.
On the nation state of Israel, U.S. President John F. Kennedy long ago stated: “Israel was not created in order to disappear. Israel will endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and the home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy and it honours the sword of freedom.”
Given its sad past, its proud present and its promising future, I pray that Israel will not only endure and flourish, but know peace and freedom from persecution in our time.