5/1/15 Nepal Israel and Its Critics

by Marc Schulman

It has been a strange week in Israel. The week began with news of the catastrophic earthquake in Nepal. Israel has always had close emotional ties to Nepal, forged by two generations of Israelis, who upon finishing their army service set out on trips to far away places – with Nepal and the Himalayas always being among the more popular destinations. The first thoughts in many Israeli homes were of their sons and daughters who might have been hurt in the quake. There were few people in Israel who did not know someone visiting Nepal. I even knew two people who were there, one a next door neighbor. The Israeli authorities and insurance companies who deal with missing travelers immediately sprung into action to find and rescue the missing Israelis, wherever they might be in Nepal.

At the same time, the army swiftly began organizing for a mission, the kind at which it excels – i.e. deploying relief teams (usually medical), to get out on the ground in Nepal and help. Within a short period of time that team was on its way. By the middle of the week they had set up a field hospital in Katmandu to help the wounded Nepalese; while the Israeli Air Force and Israel’s national carrier, El Al Airlines, arranged for the evacuation of all of the Israeli citizens visiting.

A side drama also developed, as Nepal is a place where Israeli gay couples go to arrange surrogate mothers for their babies. All of those babies, as well as their new mothers, and those far along in their pregnancies were also brought back to Israel – with the Ministry of Interior waving all normal restrictions on their entry. This matter provoked a heated national debate on the ethics of surrogacy in places like Nepal. It also raised questions, i.e. why the generally liberal Israeli positions toward gays did not allow them to undertake surrogacies here at home.

However, it was neither of those dramas that was being spoken about here as the week came to a close. Israel sent the largest contingent of relief workers to Nepal of any country in the world; and many Israelis were stunned by the criticism received for those efforts. The criticism largely came in the form of the following indictment: “How can you do so much for the Nepalese, while not caring much about the Palestinian in Gaza”. That criticism – and the Israeli surprise at it – highlight the gulf between Israelis and others in the world.

To many people around the globe, Palestinians are just helpless victims of terrible events; just like the poor Nepalese. To Israelis, the Palestinians are people who have attacked, and continue to attack them for more than two generations. To the world, those in Gaza are innocent victims; to the Israeli, Gazans are the ones who sent suicide bombers to our cities a decade ago, and fired missiles at those same cities last summer. To Israelis it is clear why we should try to do what we can to help the innocent victims of an earthquake, in a land that has always made visiting Israelis welcome (while not doing much for those who would wish ill of us); to those in the world who see Israel responsible for the plight of those innocent Gazans, it makes no sense that Israel should seemingly care so little for victims that are physically so close. It really does not make a difference who is right- perception is its own reality, and both Israelis and its critics need to recognize the perception of the other.

Of course, events in the Middle East did not stand still while tragedy was taking place in the far off Himalayas. The turmoil to our north continued to spill over into our borders. According to reports in the media (not confirmed by the Israeli government), the Israel Air Force attacked targets in Western Syria over last weekend, destroying a shipment of advanced missiles that were on their way to Hezbollah. Hezbollah responded by attempting to ambush an Israeli patrol along the Syrian border. However, the infiltrators were discovered and killed before they could do any damage. Earlier in the week there was a fear that events in the North might spin out of control. By the end of the week those fears seemed to have diminished, but no one in Israel is betting we will continue to be successful in keeping our Northern border quiet (as a war rages on in Syria and other parts between Sunni and Shiites, between the Islamic State and other more moderate groups.)

While all of this has been going on, coalition talks have continued in Israel – with the clock running down to next week’s deadline for completion. Prime Minister Netanyahu has reached final agreements with two of his coalition partners, but still has not reached agreements with three other parties. It is the accepted wisdom that somehow on Wednesday by 8PM Netanyahu will reach his needed agreement, and will not have to return his mandate for forming the next Knesset coalition to President Rivlin. However, between now and then, expect to see a game of high stakes poker being played out; as each of the remaining parties tries to receive the maximum they can from Netanyahu, as he makes his last best efforts to form a coalition.