Friday, June 03, 2005

Very rarely am I jealous, but when I feel some kind of jealousy it mostly concerns something that I think I should ( and, maybe, could ) have written myself. This happened this morning, when I read the following letter to the editor in Ha'Aretz' Week's End supplement:
A `normal' country
Four years ago, I moved from an American suburb to Rehovot, an ordinary town in the middle of Israel. As I began speaking to Israelis, I was surprised by how often I heard them express their longing to live in a "normal" country. What did that mean, I wondered. I understood that in part it represented a desire to escape the intifada and the political, economic and social difficulties associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But where was "normal," I wondered. After all, every country has its problems.Gradually, I began to understand that when Israelis talked about a "normal country," they usually had in mind someplace in Europe or North America. The "normal country" they desired was a place I had chosen to leave behind.Rehovot was lucky during the intifada. No suicide bombs exploded here. There were no shootings or other "terrorist" attacks. As a town, Rehovot emerged relatively unscathed by the fierce political violence taking place nearby. But last Friday night something happened here that shocked many Israelis. A young boy, described in Haaretz as the "son of an immigrant family" and a member of the "large Ethiopian community," murdered a young girl on her way to the mall. It was an act of apparent random violence.The story that stunned this nation sounded frighteningly familiar to me, terrifyingly "normal." It reminded me of stories I read on a regular basis in the local paper in the ordinary suburb in the "normal" country I used to call home. Stories of vicious, drug-related murders, highway killings attributed to road rage and school shootings. Like the story about the boy who shot another kid to death, dumped his body behind the county library, and showed the corpse off to his friends. Or the story about the young, drug-addicted African American man who went on a killing spree in a middle-class, white neighborhood, using the loaded guns he found in suburban homes as his weapons. There were lots of stories like that.Even after the intifada has officially ended, I still hear Israelis talk about wanting to live in a "normal" country. What they don't seem to realize is that in many troubling ways, they already do. They live in a country characterized by rising socioeconomic inequalities, everyday racism, growing materialism and profoundly ambivalent attitudes toward immigrants and anyone else "not quite like us" - in other words, a place not unlike all those other "normal" countries. Maybe now it's time to wake up and start dealing with some of that "normality."

Lauren Basson Rehovot, Israel

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