Complex Relationship between Israel, Palestine Best Explored in Person

David D. Gladfelter, OC '58

To the Editors:

To those on campus today who portray Israel as a colonial state responsible for genocide, I would ask, in the words of my late professor and fellow Francophile, Lawrence Wilson, [referencing the character Baron Munchausen], “Vas you dere, Sharlie?”

My wife and I have been there, although only as visitors. To experience Israel, one may travel in time from the ancient excavations at Megiddo to the research centers at Tel Aviv and geographically from Akko in the north to Eilat in the south. One may see fish and wildlife thriving in reclaimed wetlands at the Hula Valley nature reserve in the upper Galilee; one may stroll through the narrow streets of the old city of Jerusalem, enjoy the night life of Ben Yehuda Street, find the name of your family’s shtetl on the walls of Yad Vashem, see Dead Sea Scrolls fragments at the Shrine of the Book. Wade carefully in the Dead Sea (the minerals can dissolve [or tear] your sandals); lie on (not in) its surface. In the Negev and elsewhere, meet the kibbutzniks who will warmly welcome you to their way of life. Historic sites abound, both secular and holy. When you are tired and hungry, everywhere you will find falafel and shawarma, shawarma and falafel. Should you miss stateside culture, not to worry because you can visit the Elvis American Diner off the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway at Neve Ilan and view the proprietor’s collection of Elvisiana.

I could go on, but you get the idea: To experience Israel firsthand is to dispel misconceptions about it. To actually get to know the country and its people by spending extended time there — as our daughter did as a Carleton College undergraduate — is to develop an appreciation for its diversity and progressivism. Yet Israel is no utopia; Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat was right when he described Israel as a nation in need of achieving peace with itself. It is cosmopolitan, yet the very differences in perspective of the cultures from which its people come make achieving consensus difficult. Israel has made mistakes, and out of respect we can acknowledge this and express our disagreements, because this nation has achieved much success and has shared it. So study Israel and experience it if you can, warts and all. But resist the calls to demonize it. Be objective and fair. That, I think — I hope — is still the Oberlin way.

David D. Gladfelter
OC ’58