Tuesday, June 2, 2015
Security is something we often take for granted in Israel. Ever since the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948, Israel has had to defend itself against enemies from both within and without. Our Arab neighbors have tried time and again to destroy us, launching wars and attacks across our borders. And Arab terrorists from within Israel, from Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria in particular, have regularly attempted and have sometimes succeeded in murdering innocent civilians.
As a result, security measures are a part of our lives. Just this morning the sirens went off all over Israel. Today, the sirens were part of a national emergency drill and everyone was supposed to go to the nearest bomb shelter when those sirens went off. Tonight, there will be another siren and we will repeat the exercise. All day long, the army and relevant civilian organizations will be drilling a host of emergency measures, from medical treatment, coordination between civilian and military personnel, and whatever might be needed to test our preparedness in the event of an attack on the civilian population.
And we are not exactly playing out an imaginary scenario. Just last summer, most of the country came under attack from Gaza as missiles and artillery fire targeted civilians all over the country. Thankfully, the Iron Dome system shot down most of the rockets but most of the civilians in Israel spent time in bomb shelters last summer, with those living nearest Gaza living around the clock in shelters. Preparedness in a situation of this sort is critical.
But in our every-day lives, we confront security precautions that we take for granted but that are far from normal in other countries. Every time I park my car in a shopping center parking lot, there is an attendant at the entrance who checks the inside and trunk of my car and exchanges a few words with me to ensure that I am not a terrorist. Whenever we enter any public spaces in Israel, including government buildings, concert halls, bus and train stations, shopping malls, we are met at the door by a security officer who checks our bags, and we often have to walk through a metal detector as well. No one takes these measures as a personal affront. We are happy that our government, at every level, is ensuring an environment that is as safe and protected as possible.
But just last week, while on holiday in Europe, it struck me just now unusual these measures are and, at the same time, how necessary they are. I had an amazing experience last week. My husband and I joined thousands of employees of the company my husband works for, a major Israeli corporation, for a company holiday in Greece. The company had taken over an entire resort, which consists of a few hotel buildings, beautiful grounds and is located right on the beach. We had a great time — sunning and relaxing, walking and horseback riding, a ferry ride to a nearby Greek island. A perfect time to refresh the batteries.
But as we traveled from the airport to the resort and as we walked from place to place within the resort, we couldn’t help but notice the intensive security protection surrounding us. We arrived in Greece on a charter flight, all company employees and all Israeli. When we left the airport, there were charter buses waiting to take us to our hotel. Typical of a charter holiday. But what was not typical was the police escort the entire 1 hour drive from the airport to the hotel. What was not typical were the Israeli security personnel that worked with the local police to ensure our safety.
There were a number of performances during our stay, in the large convention center at the resort. Each performance was well guarded by Israeli security personnel who monitored each individual entering the complex.
At the entrance to the hotel there were Israeli and local police guards present at all times. One day, we returned by taxi to the resort from a short outing. As we entered, the Israeli security guard stuck his head in the window of the cab and asked us, in Hebrew, how we were. Of course, we answered we were fine, and he let us in. I have to say that at that moment, we didn’t feel that our privacy had been invaded. On the contrary, we felt that while we were visiting in a foreign country, here were our own Israelis, looking out for us. It made us feel so at home.
Our time in Greece was wonderful The various tourism professionals, taxi drivers and just ordinary people that we met were kind and courteous and happy to welcome visitors from Israel. We didn’t feel so much as a hint of anti-Semitism in the air. And I’m sure that if my husband and I had traveled on our own to some lovely Greek Island, we would not have felt the need for extra security.
But when thousands or even hundreds of Israelis gather in one place in Europe, that becomes a huge security threat. Our presence in the area was not a secret, after all. The arrival of such a large group involves hundreds of tourism employees, taxi drivers, and other tourist businesses. A good terrorist organization could easily have discovered our presence and targeted us.
This is the reality. When we face this reality in Israel, it becomes part of the landscape. It does not set anyone apart and we all feel safer knowing that the IDF and the various civilian security outfits have our back. But while I was in Europe, you couldn’t help but feel different. Watching the police escorts with the flashing lights escorting our buses from the airport, I was reminded of the police escorts in Jerusalem whenever the prime minister leaves his office or residence or when any head of state visits our capital. But we were not heads of state. We were just ordinary people on holiday.
And then the next question becomes obvious. Here we were in Europe, the very continent taking the lead on boycotting Israeli products, on academic boycotts and other measures against Israel. Some of our most vitriolic critics, those who accuse Israel of war crimes as we defend our citizens from the merciless attacks from Gaza, are coming from Europe. Listening to their rhetoric, you would think that Israel was a bloodthirsty nation, eager for every opportunity to attack our neighbors and, indeed, every Arab we encounter. And yet, who are the people needing extra security protection when visiting Europe? Arabs or Israelis? Are Arab stores or Jewish stores being attacked all over Europe? Security guards are posted at the entrance to every synagogue in Europe all the time. The same is not true of mosques.
So who are the real victims and who are the aggressors? Something to think about. Something to remind others about.