Junior Sam Buchbinder, a double major in political communications and Judaic studies, is spending the spring semester studying at Ben Gurion University in Be’er Sheva, Israel. A few times this semester he, along with other students spread out across the globe, will share his experiences and observations abroad as one of The Hatchet’s “GW expats.”
While I sat in a restaurant with 20 other students from my program at Ben Gurion University in Be’er Sheva, I looked around and experienced firsthand that what the world has seemed to forgotten exists in this thriving Middle East democracy: life.
When the majority of the world thinks about Israel they think about war, strife, insecurity and struggle, but I am able to see for myself the story that is not often seen amidst the bombs, barricades and barbed-wired fences strewn across the evening news.
There are families together eating falafel, girlfriends and boyfriends on dates and people shopping in stores such as Ace Hardware, Best Buy or McDonald’s. There are soccer and basketball games, concerts, world class museums, Intel plants, skyscrapers, discoth?ques and pubs. Israel city life is alive and kicking.
While the threat of terrorism in the United States is real, in Israel it is even more so. Americans could not even conceptualize what it is like to be worried about sending your children on a public bus to school in the morning with the fear that a suicide bomber could choose that bus as a target. But you would never know from talking with Israelis that they live with these fears everyday; they live a normal life in spite of the reality around them.
The way of life is one of acute awareness to ones surroundings. This is not to say that it is a life of paranoia – it is simply a life of common sense. In D.C., awareness is nothing more than the subway signs that say “Is that your bag?” Bags are left on the subway all the time; they usually go into the lost and found.
In Israel it’s a different story. As an overseas student, every University official reminds us that leaving a bag in a public place, even by accident, is subject to a fine as well as other punishment. A bag that is left behind, even for just a moment, has a good chance of being destroyed within minutes by a bomb squad. It’s no joking matter.
It’s from this common-sense, live-life mentality that the Israelis I’ve encountered so far have learned how to overcome many of the fears that other nations threatened by terrorists have not. They accept terrorism as part of their lives, and adapt to it so that they are able to live a meaningful, yet safer, life. The adaptations that they make include many sacrifices as well.
During the war this summer with Hezbollah, Israeli Internet companies set up connections for people in their bomb shelters. This allowed Israelis to continue on with many of the everyday activities even though they could not leave the confines of a windowless underground shelter. In other words, life went on.
For most people today, the remaining security ramifications of Sept. 11 are manifested in taking your shoes off at the airport, and having to place a small clear plastic bag with all your liquids in your carry-on if you wish to get them on the plane. For the most part, they are gone from our everyday lives.
In Israel, although there has not been a bus bombing in over a year, or a successful suicide bombing since last January, security measures in public places have not relaxed today. They haven’t even relaxed since the second Palestinian Intifada began almost six years ago. Bombings have become an expected way of life, not a passing concern.
Here, your bag is searched every time you enter a restaurant, a marketplace, or even a public bus in some places. But, those restaurants, marketplaces and buses are as full as they have ever been. Life here goes on.
Being in Israel as an American can then be frustrating at times. Often I want to show them I am as strong as they are by attending the busy marketplaces and going into restaurants that are prime targets for an attack without fear.
But at the same time I know that it is not only myself that I have to think about when making those decisions. There are parents, friends, teachers, family and administrators that have a stake in my actions while I am here.
So I compromise – I often take a taxi rather than a public bus and go only into restaurants with guards, if there is that option. In the Israeli spirit, I adapt and will continue to adapt. I have lived and will continue to live, never forgetting the responsibilities I have to myself and to others, yet also never forgetting my responsibility to live a meaningful life in a country.