I remember when I first saw it. My jaw dropped. Not because I felt betrayed or because I disagreed with its existence or its long-term implications or its successes, but because it was close- but it should have been closer. Walking uphill along a road whose name I can’t remember, with my back to the Kotel, I hear a friend call my name. I turn around. And I saw two very different walls illuminated by Israel’s bright summer sun.
One wall symbolizing our biblical past of destruction and other our right of self-determination, the right to survive beyond our painfully redundant destruction, a destruction we are now able to avert.
Unlike all of Israel in 1993, I did not wake up to a new, unwelcomed and cold reality one morning in November. I did not watch the news headlines of either intifada, I was too young, too naive, and too blinded by my suburban induced coma which afforded me to wake up everyday in peace. This was not the reality for Israel. I did not watch the streets of Jerusalem flooded with blood, but for me, blood only existed in movies.
Prior to my first of four trips to Israel in 2009, I was a misfit in Hebrew school who only knew of Israel what the awkward posters in my synagogue. And although I did not physically or mentally or emotionally experience suicide bombings going off in Jerusalem, I am smart enough to realize that the relative quiet in Jerusalem of the past seven odd years, including my trips to Israel in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013 is not some magical miracle- it only exists because of a wall which is a visual reminder that we create our own destiny.
ONE WALL, the security fence, blocked physically and emotionally by a bigger wall, a wall which has clouded the perception of Jews in the Diaspora and has painted a picture of only half of Israel story and only half of the greater Jewish story. Both a sense of security to the Jewish People and the Jewish State, one a pragmatic sense of security and one a spiritual reminder of a history lacking security, yet together create an odd sense of security, a security denied to Jews worldwide, that is, until 1948.
This concrete wall, this unprecedented act not against all Palestinians, but those selected minority bent on actively pursuing Israel’s destruction has saved thousands of Israeli and Palestinian lives and thus, cannot be understated.
However, this wall is also a symbol used by the BDS movement and its skewed reality which is “spreading faster than the plague”, remarked Caroline Glick a year ago. But this plague has only strengthened into a worldwide epidemic that can only be destroyed if the Jewish world allows flagship programs like Birthright exposure to all of Israel’s tragic and difficult realities which includes the security fence.
Replicas of this wall which is being called an “apartheid wall” were displayed by mere stupidity on college campuses last weeks during Israel Apartheid Week, a week, I believe, the Israeli media and government must view with the same urgency as the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran or failed peace talks with the Palestinians.
A year ago, I would have said “not mine,” but yes, my campus too, a campus with thirty-three percent Jewish students, is under attack by students who wish to manipulate the facts against Israel and view Israel as the problem of the Middle East, and the world, instead of the solution.
And yet I am brought back to my anger that after four trips, four meaningful life changing trips, I am just barely, if at all, now seeing the wall and not even up close. As I walked away from the kotel, I wish I was walking the other way and I wish this culture of apolical Israel trips for Jewish students joined me in our march towards the greatest representation of Jewish sovereignty.
Towards the trouble, towards the not so pretty, but nonetheless towards the reality. I wish thousands upon thousands of Israel’s newly-arrived visitors walked towards this wall too to learn about the reality before others, and this will happen, try to screw the reality as is so painfully being done on every college campus in America.
And yet I see one wall of the the biblical past and another of the Israeli forced reality and I feel protected and yes, I will admit it, I even feel proud. Attack me for being proud of an unprecedented picture of Jewish self-determination, but this is something my ancestors never had.
But, we have it and we must allow Jewish in the Diaspora to see it. And I am not proud of the entire situation in the West Bank, but proud that we, the Jewish People, have the political and militaristic ability to protect ourselves. This accomplishment is slandered and denied on college campuses everyday. The world, the Jewish world and the Israeli government cannot forget that we are living in an abnormality of Jewish history- and we must let each and every Birthright participant see it for themselves.
Yet, many trips to Israel shy away from one wall yet gravitate to the other more glorified and pretty wall, the Kotel, in masses. Purging emotions and prayers in the cracks her ancient bricks, the kotel, to many Jews living in the Diaspora visiting Israel, is in essence Israel. Yet we musn’t forget the reason we can lean ours heads against the kotel, close our eyes and pray and not be afraid and be proud and attached to Judaism is widely because of that wall beyond the Kotel.
Living my entire life in Diaspora, I missed out on a lot of Israeli tragedies, and yet I am unsettled by Birthright alumni I speak to who do not know what the security fence is or why it exists. And beyond Birthright, other programs must not be ashamed or shield the wall, instead we must look for the beauty in the Israeli and Jewish tragedy, we must view the wall not with shame but with pride because we now control our own fate.
While I think Birthright is the solution to growing apathy in the Diaspora, we must make sure that fears of politicizing Israel or creating ardent lefties or righties does not force us to paint a vague picture of Israel and its unimaginable daily struggle.
The author is a student at Binghamton University.