My Daily Beast column: “Dear Israel, This Is Why I Left”

In this week’s Daily Beast/Open Zion column, I tell Israel why I left. Not that I’m sure they’re listening or anything, but there it is.

Following you’ll find the top of my column – to read the rest, please click here, and as I say every time I post: Really! Please click! I’m by far the least known quantity over there, and swimming with the big fish is both an honor, and nerve-wracking. Any attention will be most gratefully appreciated!

I lived in Tel Aviv for 14 years, and having been back in America for almost as long, still miss it every day. At Passover, that longing becomes an almost physical weight in my chest.

The smells of springtime Chicago aren’t right, and neither is the culture. I want to be surrounded by people who know why I’m frantic in the lead-up to the Seder, bus drivers wishing me a hag sameah, and neighbors asking “where are you for the holiday?” I want to be home.

But I’m not home. Instead I’m in the gentle exile of American suburbia—a self-imposed, political exile that I undertook for the sake of my children.

When the second intifada broke out, my Jerusalemite husband and I were temporarily in the US as I worked toward my Masters degree at the University of Chicago. We assured everyone (over and over) that we would be back in Israel by the time our just-born son went to kindergarten—it would be easier, we figured, if he started school in the country where he’d be growing up.

But then the intifada ground on. And Israel responded with increasing violence, and a steadfast refusal to admit any culpability, or need to make good on past promises, or understanding that the Palestinians were reacting as we would, had we been occupied for decades on end.

For a year my husband and I wrestled with our fears, not even sharing them with each other—then one day, when home for a visit with our son, we began to talk, and realized: We didn’t want to raise children in that place. The Jewish State was no longer a place in which we wanted to build a family—“for the time being.”

In the meantime, “the time being” has become our lives. The boy was joined by a girl, birthdays have come and gone, and nothing about Israel in the past decade has convinced us that our Israeli children should leave the galut.

To read the rest — honest to Pete, please click here.

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24 Comments

  1. dmf

     /  April 6, 2012

    ok ok i clicked

  2. A beautiful and heartbreaking essay.

    Wishing you and yours a sweet Pesach.

  3. ExpatJK

     /  April 6, 2012

    I clicked! Happy Passover

  4. Marc Wohl

     /  April 6, 2012

    Enormously sad and truthful words.

  5. A sad but moving piece. A shame that you have to keep comments closed, but I can only imagine the ravening hordes (and not the good kind) that would descend if you didn’t.

  6. Elaine

     /  April 8, 2012

    Dear Emily,
    I also married a Jerusalem-born and bred Israeli, had children, and despite many doubts, stayed through the mini and maxi- wars, the Intifadas, etc. Israel today is certainly not the country I thought it would be when it comes to human rights, civil liberties and politics. Its people are less ” Israeli” and more galut-y than is admitted. Many, many Israelis feel comfortable living in a ghetto surrounded by the Middle East, and maintain pre-Enlightenment attitudes regarding democracy and personal freedoms. While young Muslims are fighting for basic freedoms, too many Israelis want to limit or eliminate them. This is an immigrant society not made up of liberal, secular North Americans (like yourself) and western Europeans. Nevertheless, just because some juvenile delinquent type on TV or video has no intelligence nor sensitivity, please don’t even begin to think that he , or his clones, represent the youth here. Last summer’s social revolution in the streets paints another portrait of the younger generation and their values. Enough people here know about victim hood to understand and empathize with tragedies that befall others, in particular innocent children, regardless of race or religion. This ridiculous and seemingly endless conflict has, unfortunately, increased the basic paranoia of the Jews living here and encourages stereotypes of the Arabs as the enemy.

  7. Thank you so much Emily…
    I always believed that there are human jews -just like brothers and sisters- who understand and feel our continuous plight, as evicted and suppressed Palestinians…. And, I definitely draw a line between Judaism and zionism !!

  8. Question – every time i’m in New York City I see/hear Israelis everywhere, and I know there are a ton of Israelis living in the city. As an israeli ex-pat yourself, do you have any sense of the extent to which this is driven by the political situation there, or is it more the economic/cultural opportunities available in NY?

    • I’m actually in Chicago and don’t spend much time with the ex-pat community, so I’m not really a great source! I will say this: When we left, we had to reassure people over and over that we were coming back, but over the years, we’ve had more and more people tell us how smart we were to leave. I have one friend who tried to send his son to live with me for high school (it didn’t work on their end, but I would have done it for them), I have another friend who tried for years to move to Canada and finally gave up, I know people whose parents escaped the Nazis and whose children are now seeking German citizenship so that they can move to the EU if they decide to pack it in. For some it’s political, for some it’s economic, and I think generally, there’s just a sense of being fed up, for a lot of reasons. All of it would have been anathema when I first got there in the early 1980s, absolute anathema.

  9. Ramallah Ramallah Ramallah

     /  April 11, 2012

    Thank you Emily!! a good way to begin my morning, to know that some Israelis will open their eyes and see for themselfs, think for themselfs, and teach there children that Palestinians are human, too. Please, Israeli people –stop only whispering your disapproval of the occupation, say it loud like Emily! We need you.

  10. Trish

     /  April 11, 2012

    So come back and work on changing it…..”if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” It’s not hopeless and if you don’t work for a solution, then you’ve abandoned Israelis and Palestinians to the problem. Come back, have a voice, run for office, but throwing rhetorical stones from the comfort of America is a bit rich.

    • Believe me when I say that I struggle with this issue regularly (though I’m not sure I’m “throwing rhetorical stones,” nor that it is “a bit rich” to criticize a place that matters to you after you’ve left it), and if I didn’t have children, I would be there.

      But I do have children, and their lives are more important than any feelings of guilt I may have, or others may wish to impose on me. I will not raise them there.

  11. For the zionists, the Palestinians were nothing and simply dont exist up to the early 1980s … When Golda Meir was asked of the palestinians in the early 70s she replied: “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people.” However, through the armed struggle, the Palestinian Phoenix Palestinian phonyx remerged from the ashes through 1970-80s. In the first Intifada, the zionists had to face the Palestinians eye to eye, but not just humble people working for the zionist masters, and israel was forced (only by the struggle of the Palestinian people) to recognize PLO and the Palestinians…

    In the second intifada, the zionist had to face the fighting reality of the Palestinian people and also the beginning of the end of their dreams. The suicide bombing did the job to wake them up and from their zionist lie of “a land without people to a people without land” and the horror driven out some 700,000 zionists out, or back to their homes of Germany, Poland or the States… however, statistics says that most of the running out zionists left to settle in the States and Canada, specially in Miami, California and Toronto.
    BUT…
    Taking in consideration the Palestinian demographic reality, the future is promising for the Palestinian and disappointing for the zionists…. I never lost my belief that the zionist existence on Palestine is temorary and limited in time! Palestine will be Palestinian again and it will be soon !!!

    • What do you think about an Israeli state side by side with a Palestinian one? Is your aim to drive all the jews out of Israel/Palestine? Care to explain what you mean by “the suicide bombing did the job”? Comments like these are exactly what make many israelis, even those genuinely interested in a two-state solution, skeptical that such an agreement would mean the end of conflict.

  12. I am not interested in Ghettoes, not for the jews nor for us the Palestinians. I am not with the two states solution simply because I think we all humans and we all deserve to live on the land in ONE SECULAR STATE…. I wrote of this in details @ http://samibedouin.wordpress.com/2009/07/14/my-story-of-peace/

    What two states are you talking about? The Ghetto of Gaza? The West Banks? “israel” that was established on 150% more than it was in the Partition Plan?

  13. Shmuel

     /  April 12, 2012

    I am very disappointed in your article. It so happens that on Passover eve, a Palestinian terrorist was captured in a road block in the Shomron. According to the report it was the third attempt over the past few months to smuggle bombs or other arms through to Israel. Does this mean Israel should or shouldn’t have roadblocks?

    Israel’s democracy keeps chugging along, as anyone who lives there knows well. Yesterday Ahmad Tibi, who happens to also be the deputy speaker of the Knesset in case you’re worried about Israel’s democratic strength, threatened to sue an Israeli ambassador to the USA for libel. In the same week, Ha’aretz wrote editorials which were extremely critical of the present government.

    While there are some impoverished school districts, my kids were ahead of their American peers in some subjects and only slightly behind in other subjects. They were attending normal public schools in Israel.

    I have never felt constrained to speak openly in Israel and have never seen an Arab constrained to speak without full openness. Adalah, for example, had no trouble presenting its vision for an Israeli constitution that not only highlights the Arab narrative of 1948 (the one which places all the blame on Israel and Zionists) and eliminates the concept of the Jewish state.

    When you march in eastern Jerusalem, nobody stops you, even though you are protesting something which was carefully evaluated by the courts for years and worked out so that the Arab residents there who had ample opportunity to pay rent for their homes and chose not to do so, could have rectified that decision.

    The list goes on. I’m not suggesting that all is well in Israel or that you shouldn’t be upset that your sons might need to serve in a unit which protects a settlement, but it does seem as if the situation as you describe it is nowhere near as bad as what you suggest. Of course, most of your readers on Daily Beast are not going to know the details that I’ve listed or have the knowledge to dispute what you wrote. For the most part, it will be part of what informs them about Israel and, unfortunately, I believe your article misses many of the positives about Israel and also completely neglects to mention that a key reason the dispute is evolving as it is has a great deal to do with the Palestinian decisions to evade peace in 2000, 2001 and 2008 while pursuing first a real war and then a diplomatic war against Israel while never, not even for a day, stopping with the relentless attacks on Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state.

  14. Sandra

     /  April 12, 2012

    Your article made me feel so sad because although it’s clear that you love Israel, and I commend you for being so pro-peace, I felt that you took a really harsh and unfair shot at Israel. While you explain the separation barrier and road blocks to your children, do you also include all the unspeakable cruelties that Israeli civilians have suffered at the hands of cowardly terrorists? Like the murders in Itamar and the countless suicide bombings that Sami applauds?
    Hebrew school may not teach the issues you discuss, but I know that killing is not glorified like it is in the University of Gaza where students happily create displays of the suicide bombing scenes.
    Thank you, Shmuel, for leaving a reply that echoes all the points you, Emily, seem to dismiss. My parent’s aliya failed in the 80’s and my sister’s aliya failed last year, so I know that Israel has its problems like every other country, but despite its issues, it’s education system continues to produce Nobel prize winners and world class technologies continue to be developed there.
    How do you feel about the Israeli doctor who performed a life saving surgery on a Palestinian child, only to have the child’s mother declare that she was anxious for her son to become a Shaheed?
    I agree that Palestinians deserve a homeland, but do they agree that Jews do, too?
    Yes, the soldiers are groomed to do many duties that you are entitled not to want your children to do, but please remember that those same soldiers don’t have the option you have of taking your children to America.
    I am against religious extremists, no matter what religion. I live in North America, like you, and I am raising my kids in a multi-cultural society while trying to teach them identity and tolerance. My parents are in a mixed marriage. My best friend is a Syrian Druse. In spite of the failed aliyas, I never stopped wanting to live in Israel. I, too, have an aching longing to be in Israel for the holidays, because it will always be my home, no matter how bad things are there. But your view of Israel makes me very sad.

  15. srael’s mayhem against children is getting beyond every imagination. On Jan 3, three young children were arrested. The youngest was only 6 years old: Mohammed Ali Dirbas who was kidnapped from the street while going to the grocery store. After that Israel detained and interrogated little Mohammed for 4 hours. @
    http://occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com/special-topics/child-arrests-by-israel-%E2%96%B6-overview/

    During March 2012 only, the so “democratic” israel killed 30 occupied Palestinians… how many israelis were killed? none, no single one !!

    American statistics speak by themselves @:

    http://www.ifamericansknew.org/

  16. Sami, terrible mistakes have been made by both sides.

    How about the countless “martyrs” who walk into a cafes, stand at a bus stops or crash Israeli weddings and blow themselves up with explosives? Did the Israeli civilian children, not to mention adults and teens deserve death and disfigurement? No. Do Palestinians deserve third world conditions in Gaza and arbitrary arrest and torture? No.

    I agree that Palestinians in Israel are often mistreated, second class citizens at best.

    But, you can be part of the problem or part of the solution. Dwelling on statistics of mistreatment offers no solution.

    Israel should stop construction of settlements and moreover vacate the existing ones. Palestinians should stop rocket attacks, bombings, and any other violence.

    Both parties can’t live under one roof and so there should be two separate states.

    Let’s face reality. Israel as a state is here to stay. You can debate the history of whether or not that is fair or right, but nevertheless it is reality. Similarly, the Palestinians are in Israel to stay. They are an indigenous people of the land within the borders of Israel. Israelis have to accept that.

    Two states. The only way. Painful for both, but the only way.

    The way I see it. The Israeli government pays lip service to wanting peace, but takes no serious steps towards it like stopping the settlement activity. At the same time, the Palestinian government in Gaza fans the flames of violence. (I think the West Bank government are doing a better job, albeit not perfect.)

    Great article Ms. Hauser and a wonderful, thought provoking blog. Keep writing!

  17. Sami and Shmuel

    I don’t work on Shabbat, but someone called my attention to the fact that two phenomenally ugly responses had been left on this post, and so I have broken with my custom to see what was going on. I find it telling that one of the comments was “pro-Israel”, the other “pro-Palestinian” — neither side has a lock on being blind and hateful to each other, as the two of you have proven.

    As I say very clearly in my About Commenting page: “Be polite. Be respectful. Be kind if you can. Treat others as you would have them treat you”, and just the other day I added this note: “If you leave a comment on this blog that is rude, insulting, hostile, and/or hateful, please know that it will be deleted” – just to make sure I was as clear as possible.

    If the two of you are capable of disagreeing with each other and me (and by the way, Sami: I also make very clear that I am a Zionist, and Shmuel: I’ve made very clear that I do not believe this conflict to be, in any way, shape or form, “a game”) in a way that maintains a modicum of decency and respect, that’s great.

    If not, you’ll be banned.

    There is well more than enough ugly yelling about his conflict all around the world and in a million and twelve places on the internet. I won’t have it here. Period.

  18. OK Emily…. thank you anyway,
    At least I speak out my heart and dont lie or dream of the unattainable “peace”… Believe it or not Emily, I live in the West Bank… and at the middist of the suicide bombing in 1998, a horrified jewish friend came and spent sometime in my home to feel secure… I wrote of this @:
    http://samibedouin.wordpress.com/2010/08/28/terrorism-a-human-rights-research/

    and even now (during all what the zionists do of killing and home demolishing) I still host jewish friends at my countryside house in the heart of the West Bank, and all (as the American saying goes) on the house.
    I dont draw the religion nore the racist line, but the zionists do … and I am frank in my discutions with whoever comes to dicuss me… I have never, nor will ever, loose my belief that the zionist existence on Palestine is temporary, whatever they do, their time is limited and going into its end, as the last CIA report stated that israel will not stay more than more 20 years>
    I dont hate the zionists at the personal level…. nor would allow myself to do, but I detist tyrany and opression that is done by the zionists all that long of decades …. and still after over 100 years, we are, and will stay fighting to get free like any and all of the people of the world. … a funny tip for you, a personal story @:
    http://www.mideastyouth.com/2009/08/25/christ-and-the-lady-that-i-never-met/
    I challenge my conservative community and invite jewish friends to spend a quiet weekend, ON THE HOUSE, for two reasons; to tell my community that we can live together with the jews and that not all of them are Baruch Goldstein, and at the same time to introduce the willing jews to see the plight and daily horror we live in.
    Finally, if you hit any human, you are to expect him to hit back…. and when you demolish a house, you to expect your house to be demolished oneday, even if it was the Samson Option…. and the funny thing is that the ever first suicide bombing operation that humanity ever witnessed in history, was a jewish one as Samson died a long with the Palestinians… are the Palestinians repeating the Samson option?
    I hope the zionist “rational” zionists wont allow that… that israel finally is like the snake that swallowed a big rabbit, not able to swallow not to spell !!

  19. Dear Emily,

    I don’t know the Israel-Palenstine case well, but your article really hit home with me. I am white and grew up in apartheid South Africa. I never knew anything was “wrong”, mostly because the generation above mine never thought anything was wrong either. Words like “kaffir” were regularly thrown around the dinner table, and many of our friends left the country in 1990 out of fear of black rule. The persistence through the generations is frightening, as people don’t have the courage to unlearn what they were taught so young. Apartheid ended in 1994 when I was 10 years old, but, despite Mandela having a massive impact on my morality, I only realised many years later the extent to which I had been affected by apartheid. I am still unlearning today, at the age of 28. Sadly, most of my peers do not even realise their own racism.

    So, kudos on taking the tough decision to raise your kids in a healthier environment. I wish my parents had been as brave as you.

    Elizabeth

  20. In mid-2003 the head of manpower for the Israel Defense Forces reported that 34 percent of Israelis of conscription age were not serving in the army. Five percent of those, he noted, were Israelis who “left the country
    46 | Ian S. Lustick
    prior to their recruitment and lived abroad.”9 Wide attention was paid to the departure of 1,000 of the 7,000 Argentine immigrants who had come to Israel since 2001 as part of an emergency rescue program.10 In Ha’aretz, Aluf Benn (2003) reported sharp increases in Israelis applying for citizenship papers at the German, Polish, Czech, Austrian, and Slovakian embassies in Israel in 2002 and 2003.11 A Market Watch poll commissioned by the newspaper Ma’ariv in January 2002, found that 20 percent of adult Israelis had recently considered living in a different country and that 12 percent of Israeli parents “would like their children to grow up outside Israel” (Foa 2002).12 Other articles have included reports that dozens of children of leading politicians and ministers were living abroad, that school registration figures for American Israelis are dropping and moving sales of their property proliferating (Chabin 2003), and that Israelis were moving substantial savings into foreign bank accounts, and buying up property abroad (Israeli 2002).
    In November 2003, Ha’aretz published a lengthy interview with Avraham Burg, former speaker of the Knesset, chairman of the Jewish Agency, and a leading candidate for the head of the Labor Party prior to the last elections. Burg, son of the late National Religious Party (NRP) leader and Minister of the Interior Yosef Burg, had shocked many Israelis with an article he published in the International Herald Tribune titled “A Failed Israeli Society is Collapsing.” In this interview (Shavit 2003), Burg expanded on his blunt assessment of the country’s prospects and the propensity of many upper class Israelis to leave the country.
    When you ask Israelis today whether their children will be living here 25 years down the road you don’t get an unequivocally positive answer. You don’t hear a booming yes. On the contrary: Young people are being encouraged to study abroad. Their parents are getting them European passports. Whoever can checks out possibilities of working in Silicon Valley in California; whoever has the wherewithal buys a house in London. So that slowly but surely, a society is developing in Israel which isn’t certain that the next generation will live here. A whole society is living here that has no faith in its future.
    What is actually happening is that the leading Israeli class is shrinking, because it is no longer ready to pay for the caprices of the government. It is no longer willing to bear the burden of the settlements and the burden of the transfer payments. But what we’re getting in the meantime is not a revolt in the streets, it’s a quiet revolt of people leaving, getting out. It’s a revolt of taking the laptop and the diskette and moving on. So if you look up and look around, you will see that the only people who are staying here are those who have no other option. The economically weak and the fundamentalists are staying. Before our eyes Israel is becoming ultra-Orthodox, nationalist and Arab. It is becoming a society that has no sense of a future, no narrative and no forces to maintain itself.13
    @
    http://www.polisci.upenn.edu/faculty/publications/Lustick_Emigration_ISR_11.pdf

  21. AShaanan

     /  May 10, 2012

    I am writing to you,as an Israeli and as an observant Jew, living in Israel now for more than 30 years. I was born in Chicago and lived there and in one of its suburbs for my childhood before we moved to California.
    I live outside of a town in Northern Israel, where I work as a social worker for the department of social services of the local municipality. My wife (Moroccan-born, here from the age of 6) and I have raised four wonderful children, the youngest is now 18.
    My children have all been raised in an observant home and all went to school in the State Religious framework, and although there are many many things dysfunctional in the Israeli educational system, I am basically satisfied that Jewish values and religious precepts were passed on to them in an enlightened and flexible environment. My children are also ob –
    servant, except for my oldest son who still has very existential doubts about the necessity for day to day religious observance and the meaning of the role of the concept of God and the Jewish people. However he respects the role of religion in our lives and perhaps someday will find his own unique answers to this part of his identity and of course we love him as dearly as all our children.
    My wife and I have raised our children in an atmosphere of respect and tolerance , and, yes, we also feel that the Israeli environment and social atmosphere has strengthened them.
    How can this be, you seem to be asking, when, for you, there are so many negative aspects of Israel and Israelis, politically or otherwise?
    Sometimes I believe that when I have time away from family obligations and my workload, that I will write a book called “101 things wrong with Israel”, but I can assure you that it will only be after first writing a book entitled “1001 things right with Israel”!
    I have never thought of abandoning Israel because of whatever government in power was not to my liking (whether more leftist or rightist or centrist) or for that matter because of in-credibly stupid or disgusting remarks by politicians, celebrities, journalists, or for that matter, even rabbis. Although I am perfectly fluent in Hebrew and read the Hebrew dailies, on the weekends I take a break from the Hebrew language and read both the weekend editions of the Jerusalem Post (mostly center-right) and HaAretz(mostly leftist)
    I do not belong to any political party nor any social movement nor do I have an internet b log site, and just recently I decided to start reacting to some of the opinions on sites I have stumbled upon, like yours.
    I’m truly sorry that you feel that you cannot raise a family in Israel. I do not believe, as you do, that Israeli society has become violent or dehumanizing or even less democratic because of “the occupation” or that our life here is based on the subjugation of another people, and I certainly do not accept your premise that our children are “groomed for service in a military devoted less to defense of the state than to oppression of other people”
    My older son will be released from his military service this summer and my younger son will be conscripted at the same time. One daughter served two years in National Service working at elementary schools in depressed neighborhoods; my other daughter (who has Downs Syndrome) was unable to serve. I am proud of my children having served in the Israeli Defence Forces, and find it quite disturbing you consider their service meaning nothing more than joining a mechanism of oppression! And yes, the Jewish values of humano
    dignity and sanctity of life that my children learned here from home, community, and school, were also in evidence (overtime I might say) from top to bottom in their National and military service.
    So does that mean that the IDF never makes a mistake or that soldiers never stray from values we cherish? Of course not! But I do not believe as you a pparently do that this is the face of Israel that defines it. Furthermore, Israel being the contentious place it is, I know that our imperfections will be discovered, scrutinized, and argued over in order to rectify them- and I say that knowing full well that I myself may disagree with the essence of certain criticisms or even with the solutions to those problems I acknowledge- and with all this I do not give up on this unique little place!
    Perhaps because of my background, including a wife whose background is totally at odds with mine, and working as a social worker (and previously in special education), I am forced to live and work and be in intimate contact with peoplke who I know in advance may not share any of my particular “takes” on life or even my particular political views. It does not come across in what you write that you could possibly even see the value of another perspective that might be at odds with your beliefs, and this is unfortunate, because there is often value in respecting those views that are not our own (and I say this not to infer that having very strong beliefs is bad-only that we should not despair when others do not share them!)
    I most definitely do not agree with your history of the Arab Israeli conflict(as you said many might not) and I do not see any real substantial evidence that the Arabs have given up their goal of destroying us and our political expression of our peoplehood in our ancestral homeland. And I certainly do not find any historical evidence for the oft repeated mantra that claims that “you make peace with your enemies not with your friends” The unfortunate reality is that you make peace with those you have defeated and/or those who no longer desire your annihilation.
    I had hoped to go into the very serious discrepancies (in my opinion) in your analysis of the conflict, but that will have to wait for a future time(if in fact you are interested ), since it is quite late here and I am tired. I hope this missive represented “attention most gratefully received”!