Last Tuesday, I returned home from the United States.
Among the purchases I made in the States was a Kindle reader.
Preparing the cabin for takeoff, a flight attendant asked me to shut down my new toy. She was quite polite, nonetheless, the user manual (which for once I had perused) includes a section, written undoubtedly by Amazon’s lawyers, promising Federal Aviation Association permission for using the device in its “in-flight mode” during takeoff and landing.
Empowered by Amazon legalese, I asserted my right to e-read, only to be shut down in no uncertain terms by the flight attendant: “We’re El Al. We really couldn’t care less about the FAA on this one.”
Earlier that day, the same FAA had placed a moratorium on US airline flights to and from Israel. I was visiting my mother when I heard the news. She expressed Zionist outrage at the FAA’s decision while at the same time forming an enigmatic smile at the possibility of an extended visit with her son. A quick call to El Al, however, clarified the Israeli airline’s intent to conduct business as usual. Sorry Mom, Malaysian flight 17 and US policy be damned, Israelis will continue to act Israeli.
Although within 36 hours the FAA had lifted its ban, several well-intentioned colleagues texted me just before our El Al flight departed. They expressed genuine worry about our safety in a world where surface-to-air missiles were as close at hand as frozen yogurt.
Each well-wisher commented on El Al’s decision. Their remarks ranged from muted “inappropriate” to more blatant “you don’t slap your best friend in the face.” Meanwhile, aboard El Al’s New York-Tel Aviv flight, I fastened my seat-belt, taking pride in our 66-year-old nation.
As I gazed out my window onto the tarmac, I contemplated how, once again, our state of Israel finds itself in existential peril. But perhaps only with Israel does existentialism take on an oxymoronic quality. While refusing to acknowledge our existence, our enemies endeavor to cause our demise. Not quite logical: if we don’t exist, there should be no need to eliminate us.
Even so, Israel has become adept at juggling international pressures while maintaining our own sense of finishing a job. Whether eradicating diabolical tunnels or contending with cynically erected human shields, Israel refuses to shrink from responsibility for protecting its citizens.
During my New York family visit, Operation Protective Edge had swung into full gear. I found myself on foreign land, in the United States of America, a country known to many as our “best friend.” And the US is precisely that. Still, some of our American friends seemed to me to have forgotten how it feels to be attacked on home soil. Perhaps for some in the US, “Homeland Security” has come to denote a bureaucratic office rather than a tenet to which one clings.
In trying to understand the Israeli response to terror, some of our American friends ask, “Where is the restraint? Where is the proportionality?” Some have even hinted that we ought to be expelled from polite society because of our “vengefulness.” But here in Israel, we are freshly reminded that losing dozens of soldiers and civilians is not something to be tolerated or endured.
After touching down on Wednesday afternoon at Ben-Gurion International Airport, we passengers were dismayed to learn that there would be a significant delay before we could deplane. Soon, the reason was clarified on the PA system.
Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg had been on board. A welcoming ceremony was being held in his honor. Bloomberg, an American, had not forgotten the feelings of violation engendered by 9/11. He forthrightly asserted that “halting flights hurts Israel and rewards Hamas for attacking Israel.”
We’ll never know whether Bloomberg’s statements reflect innate backbone or a sense of resolve cultivated by his attachment to the Jewish state. We do know that we in Israel will have to go it alone, and that requires strength. In my case, I am certain that Israelis – the confident flight attendant and so many others – have taught me that it’s safe to be myself.
Am Yisrael Fly!
The author is professor and chairman at the Institute of Radiotherapy at Tel Aviv Medical Center and founder of the NGO Life’s Door.