a different side of Israel

Why I Left Israel and Why I’m Going Home

This is something that I received from a reader in the US (thanks AG) and its a great article. It was first published in the WSJ. Worth a read.

Why I Left Israel, and Why I’m Going Home

Today Israel turns 60. When I was growing up in Herzilya, people celebrated Israel’s Independence Day by shooting each other with toy guns that covered the victim with fluorescent string. Later, when I was studying Arabic in Jordan, Palestinians I knew mourned the 1948 war as the Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe”).

Now I live in Virginia, where Israel’s birthday is invisible, and this year I mark it by packing. I’m preparing to move back for my sabbatical, preparing to embrace the double life I’ve been trying to deny since I dodged the draft into the Israeli army 18 years ago.

“Are you excited?” I get asked at least once a week. No, I say, I’m just going home.

I’m going home, and I’m scared. I’m scared not because of Iran’s nuclear capability or Hezbollah’s Katyushas or Hamas’s suicide bombs. These threats are real, but they feel abstract. I’m scared because I’m not sure I can resist absorbing their reverberations, the pent-up aggression that flows like a river through so many daily interactions; the constant noise, the sense that life is a zero-sum game, that the planet is too small for both of us, that your gain is my loss, that listening to your story will erase my own.

When we studied Zionism in high school, I asked my history teacher why Jews have a historical “right” to the land. I could understand saying we had a “connection,” but what do we mean when we speak of a “right”? What does that say about the rights of the people who were here before us?

“If you ask such a question,” he said, “you shouldn’t be here.”

So I left.

I left because I wanted to think my own thoughts, to read Socrates and Rousseau and Kierkegaard and ask the “real” questions of existence. I left and I built another life, not as a Jew, not as an Israeli, but as a human being. I left, and (even after returning briefly to Israel after college to complete my military service) I embraced what I imagined America could give me – an identity that was all about the future, all about possibility.

Being American, I imagined, meant that it didn’t matter what I came from: that I could shed my grandparents’ traumas and my parents’ generation’s sins; that I could claim America’s light without seeing its darkness; that I could take its freedom without its slavery and its Indians.

I was wrong. Slavery is part of my American self just as the Nakba is part of my Israeli self. America has taught me that these truths coexist, and that I can’t be a full human being without acknowledging and honoring what I come from. So I’m going home.

I’m going home not because I have a “right” to a home. Lots of people come from nowhere in particular, perhaps from a suburb their family left when they were teenagers, people with free-floating identities I can’t ever understand. I’m going home because I happen to have one.

I am blessed to have a home that still exists, a home with parents and sisters whom I love more than I’ve let them know. I miss them. I miss my family and I miss my childhood friends. I miss the dust and the sun, the warm salty Mediterranean, watermelon with Bulgarian cheese, droopy Eucalyptus branches and their brittle leaves crackling underfoot.

I miss Hebrew – rough, jagged, unforgiving Hebrew. When I hear it, an invisible film between me and the world dissolves. I come from a place – from streets I remember when they were still unpaved, from the house where I lost my first tooth, from the beachside terrace where my grandmother taught me how to tell time, from the cemetery where we buried her.

I didn’t choose these places, and I didn’t expel anybody. But that doesn’t change the fact that my joy is someone else’s pain. My home is someone else’s home, a home they can’t return to, because of me. I can’t reconcile this, but running from it doesn’t reconcile it either.

One of the Palestinian women I knew in Jordan believed that the Quran predicts the Jewish State will be destroyed and the Palestinians restored to their land. When I told her that in addition to being American I was also Israeli, and that I had served in the army, she was shocked. She liked me, and it took her a few moments to absorb that I could be this terrible thing.

I assured her that I enlisted after dodging the draft only so I could see my family, and that I had no intention of living in Israel again. She thought about it, and finally said something I didn’t fully understand until now, 10 years later. I’m so sad for you, she said, to have to live so far from your family.

She could feel both things at the same time: She could pray for Israel’s destruction and also hope that I might find a way home.

Ms. Motro is an associate professor of law at the University of Richmond.


  1. I think every person has issues in his past and in his culture he has to reconcile with. We as Jews, simply have “extra baggage”, and it goes with us even when we try to run away from it. My advice to Ms. Motro and to other people who feel the same as her, is to stay and fight for their values and ideals. The strongest cultural changes always come from within.

  2. This is a great story to hear!

    Hopefully Ms. Motro finds a decent place to live in Israel, as I hear some places there can be quite expensive (at least in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv).

  3. Who has heard that in the 1930’s Bagdad every 3rd citizen was a native Jew? The Sefardi (Safrati) Jews have a 400 year old history and the Mizrahi Jews over 2,500 year old history in the Middle East – outside the location of the state of Israel (Palestine).

    Here’s the statistics regarding not ONLY the expelsion of Jews from various Moslim countries in the last 60 years that Israel has been an independent state, but also numbers expelled from the Europe in a longer time interval. The Jews are no settlers of colonialism:

    60 years of survival. This is statistics, not Zionism. When the military means have lacked the power, it is now a time of a media war to spit on the Jews and curse the Jewish Scriptures. Both the Old and New Testament were written by Jews. Although Jasser Arafat in his books claimed that there never was any Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and that Jesus was not a Jew, he could not deceive the honest spectator

    As a matter of fact, the population of Arabs (my beloved friends and brothers, just like the Jews, our common fathers) under the Israeli government was increased ten-fold (10X) in only 57 years. The Palestinian life expectancy increased from 48 to 72 years in 1967-1995. The death rate decreased by over 2/3 in 1970-1090 and the Israeli medical campaigns decreased the child deat rate from a level of 60 per 1000 in 1968 to 15 per 1000 in 2000. (An analogous figure was 64 in Iraq, 40 in Egypt, 23 in Jordan, and 22 in Syria in 2000). During 1967-1988 the amount of comprehensive schoold and second level polytechnic institutes for the Arabs was increased by 35%. During 1970-1986 the proportion of Palestinian women at the West Bank and Gaza not having gone to school decreased from 67 % to 32 %. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita in West Bank and Gaza increased in 1968-1991 BKT from 165 US dollars to 1715 dollars (compare with 1630$ in Turkey, 1440$ in Tunis, 1050$ in Jordan, 800$ in Syria, 600$ in Egypt. and 400$ in Yemen).

    One-fourth of the judgements of the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations strike Israel. Out of the incidences dealt in the Security Counsil one-third is having to do with Israel. I think this resembles the hysteria seen in the Black Plague in Europe, when the European Jews were accused of the pandemia and burned alive. The phobic mob was really scared and saw the peculiar Jews as a threat.
    Helsinki, Finland
    PS. Statistics of the beneficial impact of Jewish population to the host country in terms of inventions, science and technology:

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