Last time I thought of the Inverse Flag Law was upon arriving at Israel back in April. Sure, the reason for so many flags greeting me had to do with the visit’s timing, merely a couple of days following Independence Day. But still, at Melbourne you’d be hard pressed to know Australia Day is on unless you happen to stumble on a specific event; the majority regard it as a good excuse for a barbecue, not a flag waving affair. Melbourne aside, I do not recall seeing that many flags around back when I was an Israeli.
In Israel’s case, it seemed clear to me what the source of the compensation problem is. The Tel Aviv I got to see during this, the first time since I left when I was actually living like an Israeli for a fortnight, clearly seemed to me like an area in trauma.
Evidence for this trauma was all over the place. The ever evident friction between Jewish patients and Arab staff at the hospital my father was staying at. The friction between the Arab doctor welcoming my father to a rehabilitation center, evident when my father asked him where he’s from and the doctor answered Umm al-Fahm (an Arab Israeli town). The way in which the football TV show covering the European Champions League talked about an Umm al-Fahm amateur football club in terms of “us” and “them”, all the while both us and them are Israeli citizens. The total disregard to the way Prisoner X’s life was erased on the altar of state security. The evident friction between Israelis and black African refugees. The population that seems to be drip fed with news around the clock, in comparison to Australia where one can go about living a normal life without having the least bit of an idea what is going on around them. The leftovers from the army Chief of Staff’s Independence Day speech, where he said Israel will hurt its enemies. And the reaction to the news headlines at the time of my arrival, talking of rockets being fired on the city of Eilat: are we heading for war?
War? War with whom? All the constant stress and the media pounding drives a very basic existential fear. Yet as much as Israel is surrounded by people who clearly do not like it, it is also easy to see there is no conventional army force to pose an existential threat to the State of Israel. Matter of fact, there hasn’t been any for at least the past three decades. Yet the majority of the population is convinced at something this visitor for a fortnight could see clearly through. The result? An ever expanding defence budget (this year they’ve announced cuts; cuts to the amount that will be added to the defence budget).
Between holocaust memorials, independence days and the constant media cacophony it seemed as if everyone is so into it. It’s impossible not to be in it. Yet it is still crazy.
Why do I bother reporting the above impressions here again? Is it only to ensure my brother never speaks to me again?
No. I have to say that by now I don’t really care much for Israel. As in, I care for my friends and family, and at a general level I care for the whole of humanity to live long and prosper. But I am no longer troubled by Israel’s personal fate.
What does trouble me is the direction Australia is heading for and what we can learn from Israel in order to ensure Australia does not head in the wrong direction. After all, there is nothing unique to Israel that cannot be replicated elsewhere: all it takes is having rivaling demographics put together in a congested environment and a lot of heat. Such demographics are in no short supply at Australia, where 30% of the local population is not Australia born. Throw in Murdoch style media that serves those in power instead of informing the people and the risk of deterioration is even higher.
The real trouble is that we are already witnessing people reacting Israeli style to events. We are already informed of defense, police and government personnel referring to Muslims and refugees in ways not dissimilar to the ways the broader Jewish Israeli public refers to the Arabs it shares the country with. Me, I find that very scary.
Indeed, we have a lot to learn from the state of Israel.