I am grateful that the Israeli government is supporting my trip to Israel in December and am looking forward to the accompanying three-day government summit for journalists.
I’m sure you understand, I’ve also got mixed feelings.
First you should know, I’m a Zionist. I believe that the Jewish people need a state because history teaches us that the non-Jewish world can at times turn inhospitable. America’s warm embrace of the Jewish people is a wonderful, beautiful thing, and I am lucky and thankful to be an American, but we still need an Israel.
I also believe that the current government in Israel has been closed to an accommodation with Palestinian leadership. Yet past Israeli governments have extended an olive branch, with the Palestinian side typically demanding the entire olive tree or nothing at all. They arguably chose this life.
I was last in Israel in the 1980s. I can’t wait to go back. I want to see the shiny, happy Israel that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s press office will provide. I want to learn about one of the few functioning democracies in the region, more devoted to human rights than just about anybody. I want to eat a falafel from a street vendor, hear Hebrew in a hotel lobby and see the Star of David in an Israeli flag at the airport. In a sense, I’m going home.
My grandparents, may their memory be a blessing, would be proud. One grandmother lost sisters in the Holocaust; the other was a devoted leader for her Hadassah chapter in Queens, New York. I feel like she built that hospital.
You might think that first and foremost I’ll be a Jew visiting Israel, but I’ve been a journalist for too long to let anything shake it. I believe in the power and importance of objectivity. Good grief, with today’s media circus, we need it more than ever.
Objectivity for any publication exists within a lane — we’re not going to contact Hamas for a counter argument every time we write something positive about Israel. But it’s still objectivity, an effort to communicate the details accurately and to tell the gist of the story honestly. In the end, I believe good journalism helps make things better. I’ll plan to show you the good, the bad and the ugly and to the extent I’m roped in, cut off, I’ll tell you that too when I write my notes home from the trip.
Still, I’m a bit queasy about a trip that’s sure to be colored and so, to provide some balance before I even leave I want to tell you about an astonishing concept called “moral injury.”
Maybe you already know of it. I learned about it at the Oct. 1 screening for the film “Almost Sunrise,” part of the Milwaukee Film Festival at the Oriental Theater, 2230 N. Farwell Ave., Milwaukee. I wasn’t out seeing a Jewish film, just a film film.
This was seriously the best 12 bucks I’ve ever spent on a ticket to anything — we saw a moving, intimate documentary about two American Iraq veterans who were so weighted with “moral injury” that they walked from the Wisconsin War Memorial, 750 N. Lincoln Memorial Drive, to California. It was really a walk in search of serenity, not California. The film was excellent and afterwards, the men themselves, their families and the director, Michael Collins, held a live Q&A and talked about how veterans commit suicide every day.
Moral injury, according to the Veterans Administration, is when we cross “deeply held moral beliefs and expectations,” resulting in emotions like shame, guilt, anger and anxiety. It apparently can be so powerful that it can beat a path towards suicide. It’s not quite the same as post-traumatic stress disorder, which requires a diagnosis.
When Robi Damelin — her son David was killed by a Palestinian sniper in 2002 — visited Milwaukee in September, she said during a Q&A that car accidents, abuse of alcohol and other issues among Israelis are all related to the stress of the occupation. She said young Israeli soldiers are dealing with issues they don’t even know how to talk about.
Even if we stipulate that the Palestinian side has been an irredeemable partner for peace, and it arguably has been, is it fair to ask if the situation has led to moral injury for some in Israel? If so, how can we, the Jewish people, be helpful?
Maybe I’ll find answers on my trip, to this and more. At a minimum, I expect to find an Israel that’s nourishing yet flawed, magical yet pedestrian and challenged yet uplifting.
But my mind is open. I’ll let you know.
Rob Golub is editor of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle.
* * *
Follow Rob Golub’s trip to Israel at JewishChronicle.org, or at #RobInIsrael on Facebook and Twitter. He will be posting updates throughout the first half of December.