Norway's fans hold up a flag in support of their team .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Don’t talk about Israel. An advice I gave myself when I was first published as an author in 2006. I was married to an Israeli woman and had been living in Israel off and on during the previous few years. And I liked the country. It can be a good place to live. Take a break from the war, the terrorism and the stone-throwing Palestinians in the West Bank – because Israel is more than that.
As a nation it is far from perfect, and I don’t want to paint a rosy picture of the reality down here.
It’s a nation under strong pressure, from inside and outside.
The country is stuck in several ways, and I am not blind to the tragedy that’s unfolding here between the Jews and the Palestinians. But the society is, in spite of it all, a lively one.
It’s young and vital, and the distance between people here is shorter than in Europe. The people are warm and direct with each other, and the atmosphere is casual, for the most part. Anyone who has spent time here can attest to that; Norwegians that live in Israel make a point out of it. The food is good, fruits and vegetables are fresh.
Not least, they have a climate that’s easy to love. A coastline with sandy beaches.
Cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I liked the combination of ancient culture and vibrant everyday life, with new citizens from all over the world.
I thought it was better to avoid a theme that is so infected, so provoking in itself. When hatred is rising, when the fronts are so steep that there is no longer room for conversation. The emotions take over. People get very mad very quickly when talking about Israel; this country will set your mind on fire.
Why is it hard to talk about Israel in Norway? Because the conflict has been presented from one side for many years. But this conflict too must be seen from two sides. It is not enough to watch our reporters showing us one side. We are dealing here with two peoples. Two versions of the conflict. Two camps, each camp split up in smaller fragments, pulling here and there – and with other nations pushing from the outside. Both camps have a very good point, that they live by and refuse to let go of. There we are. And that’s where we will be. I’m a person that likes to speak his mind, but about this, Israel, I banned myself, partly because my wife is Jewish. The climate for debate about Israel in Norway is very unhealthy, and unworthy of a democracy.
Last summer a friend from Israel was visiting us in Norway. We walked in the mountains on the West Coast. We started to talk about the conflict, and the mostly negative view on Israel out there. He said, “I can forgive the Norwegian attitude toward Israel, because it doesn’t stem from hatred. It stems from ignorance. I can agree with some of their criticisms of us, but they have no idea what it means to live in the Middle East, they can’t see the big picture. They don’t understand the dark and destructive neighborhood that we are living in, what a lighthouse we are, after all, in a stormy sea.”
He might have been right about that, I would like to believe it. The Norwegian criticism of Israel is not due to antisemitism. To be sure; there is an obnoxious pecking on Israel, the only Jewish nation in the world, the only democracy down here. But I have yet to meet in person a Norwegian that truly hates Jews. The sickness is obvously there, in different ways, on different levels. But the pure and most stupid hatred of Jews comes from the Muslim population in our country, of course.
The Norwegian Army has been killing people in Afghanistan, on a mission for NATO. We might be talking about several thousand people.
We could be talking about two times as many people were killed in the most recent war in Gaza, a war that upset us Norwegians enormously.
And the war in Gaza was what it was, no matter what happens in Afghanistan.
But what about our debate at home? Our very own soul searching, on a national level, for wrongful deeds we ourselves might have been committing, with our own weapons? We deny our faults, and look toward Israel, because we are a people that would rather pay attention to what the Jews are up to.
I have met a few specialists on Israel who never set foot in this country. We met a fellow from the Norwegian Palestine Committee who had never set foot in Israel – but he wanted to explain my Israeli wife what’s really going on in her country. A man with chutzpah, one could say. And there are quite a few of them. The lot from the Palestine Committee are usually the most ardent. Resistant to facts like no-one else. I recently talked to someone who is studying media, and he claimed that the building of houses in the West Bank is getting more attention in global press than the ongoing genocide in Syria, right across the border. Half a million people killed? Debate has been choked, common sense has vanished.
In this way, the campaign up North has been successful. For the time being we will stay in Israel, and it sure is good to come out of the Norwegian closet and rid oneself of a taboo. Down here one can talk freely, and there are a thousand opinions about most issues. And you can say them out loud, on the street and in the waiting-room! Yes, I recently met a Jew that agreed with nearly all the criticisms the Norwegians have raised against Israel. There’s freedom of speech, and I went into a discussion with this man, hoping to bring him back to earth.
The author has written 5 novels. His next,
Battleground, will be released in August 2017 by Cappelen Damm.