Normally I view nationalism as a very bad thing. If people spend all their energy thinking “My country is the best, I love her, I will protect her whatever the cost!” we end up in a world of a bunch of wackos willing to do anything – destroy innocent lives, eradicate peoples, and end cultures – just to keep their culture alive. What is a “country” anyway, really? Isn’t it little more than some lines that were arbitrarily drawn on a map? Not too long ago Korea was one country, but then the two halves started killing each other. Two generations from now, those who you’re killing might be your best friends. Just look at Japan and America. So what’s the point of National Pride? People are people. What are you a citizen of, a piece of land with lines drawn around it on a map, or of humanity? Of Earth?
I mention this because last week, I experienced Independence Day in Israel. And not just any Independence Day – the 60th Independence Day. In the US, we have our independence. It’s not at risk of disappearing anytime soon. But in Israel, things aren’t so stable. And despite my perspective on nationalism, somehow there’s something touching about the love that the Israelis have for their country. There they sit, on a tiny piece of desert completely surrounded by people very much unlike themselves. There are landmines and fences and tanks at every border. Every third person seems to be carrying a loaded M16. Every public gathering suffers from the constant risk of bombing, and everyone knows it. But in Israel, that’s life. It’s normal. And somehow nobody seems to live in fear like so many of us do in the US. They go about their lives, serve their time in the army, and band together to support each other. On weekdays they work, on weekends they play. They’re not going around shooting each other like so many people do in the states. They’re just ready, just in case.
Admittedly, I’m not very knowledgeable when it comes to world politics. I’m just saying that after spending the last month in Israel, I really can feel that there’s something special and unique about the place. I mean, (I just thought of this right now) where else in the world can you go on a free 10 day vacation simply because your people want you to have the opportunity to learn about your roots and your “home?” Where else in the world can you show up at the border and be welcomed with open arms simply because of some distant cultural or religious connection – even though you may not speak the language or have ever been there?
You might be thinking “Birthright worked on Justin. He’s been brainwashed.” But in all honesty, I didn’t feel like this on Birthright. It was living there on my own, hanging out with the soldiers, meeting the locals, and experiencing all the kindness and passion that did it.
Israel is a pretty cool place. Check it out if you get the chance.
(Note: This entry was originally posted on May 14; I later moved it back to fit the chronology of events.)