Understanding Israel's perspective:
Why visiting Yad Vashem is not enough….

Published: 22 March 2005
Briefing Number 135

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On 14 March 2005, Israel’s new holocaust museum at Yad Vashem was opened. The following editorial appeared that day in the Jerusalem Post:

Dozens of dignitaries are in Israel today for the opening of Yad Vashem`s new museum , an important event in and of itself…. Such a distinguished international influx does not show up here every day; in fact there’s been nothing to compare to it since the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin almost a decade ago.

Taking this opportunity to address our distinguished guests directly, we would like to suggest a number of points of interest beyond Yad Vashem.

See a hospital
At Hadassah University hospital, as at many hospitals here, you could see Jews and Arabs working side by side and being treated together. You’d hear from emergency room personnel what it’s like when dozens of casualties arrive almost simultaneously and doctors and nurses have to put back together what a suicide bomber has blown apart.

At Shaare Zedek hospital you could see the legacy of Dr. David Applebaum, chief of the emergency room, who was himself blown up, with his daughter Naava, at a Jerusalem café the night before Naava was to be married.

Ride a bus
Buses have become a favourite target of suicide bombers, since so many people can be targeted within a small, enclosed space. Talk to the drivers, passengers and security people who ride them, and try to understand the quiet determination of commuters who have continued to ride buses for the last four years.

Visit Kfar Saba
Speak with the mayor of this or some other Israeli town where the security fence now prevents suicide bombers easily reaching Israel.

Visit Jenin
In this Palestinian town, once known as the “capital” of suicide bombings , you won’t hear much good about Israel. But you might ask the town’s denizens to confirm that there are fewer Israeli military raids since the northern section of the security fence was built, and they might tell you how the economy of the city has began to revive.

Visit a “refugee camp”
Jenin is as good a place as any to see one. Ask why people are living in what is essentially an urban slum and why they are still there after generations. Inquire why, after billions of dollars in international assistance, they still have no decent housing. Ask why they are being told they will “return” to cities in Israel that they have never seen, like Acre and Jaffa.

Visit Gilo
Talk to the residents of this long standing Jerusalem neighbourhood, which Palestinians call a “settlement”. You’ll see a community now rimmed with a concrete barrier to block sniper fire from the Arab neighbourhood across the valley.

Stop by the Knesset
Don’t miss a debate in which Israeli Arab MKs are shouting down the Prime Minister. Ask one of these MKs to describe their terrible mistreatment as Israeli Arabs, then see if you can find a member of any of the parliaments in neighbouring states who are permitted to say a word of criticism of their governments.

Browse a newsstand
Compare the variety of local newspapers with those available in Ramallah, Cairo, Amman, Damascus or Beirut. Try to find a single fully independent newspaper or editor there willing or able to criticize his own government in print.

Talk to some Soldiers
Ask them what it’s like to search for terrorists house-to-house, or to stand at a checkpoint, trying not to make more enemies while preventing the next attack. Ask them about disengagement, the prospects for peace, when and where their fathers fought, and what there hopes are for their children.

These stops would not do justice to the “other” Israel, the ethnic-polyglot,
hi-tech powerhouse that rarely makes it onto the front pages. Your explorations here would also be no substitute for a tour of the Arab world, where you would find that even among elites of countries at “peace” with us an almost total boycott against normalization with Israel continues.

What you would gain from such a short tour is some context for understanding Israel’s position on the questions that foreign governments routinely feel they have every right to weigh in on: how we should safeguard our security and pursue peace. With this goal in mind, we hope you have an enlightening visit.

Our comment

A visit to Yad Vashem undeniably provides part of the context for the creation of Israel. But the visits recommended in this Jerusalem Post editorial provide the context for modern-day Israel. Visiting Yad Vashem is no substitute for seeking to understand Israel’s perspective on the challenges it faces today.

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Briefing 12: On the killing of Dr David Applebaum and his daughter

Briefing 102: How the security fence is bringing stability to Jenin

Briefing 53: The rights of Israeli Arab politicians