Between My Idealist and Realist SelfBy Sarah Arnd Linder
My nine years in Israel have both ignited my realist side and strengthened my idealism
In my nine years of living in Israel I have found myself on a constantly tipping scale. One side is balancing my sense of reality – a crude, realistic perspective on the world that surrounds me. The other side of the scale is what I long for – my inherent idealistic perspective. Prior to my move to Israel, I identified immensely with being an idealist. I obtained all of the standard values of idealism – empathy, sympathy, forgiveness, mercy and so on. I always genuinely believed in the goodness of every individual even in the worst of circumstances. I even believed that Adolf Hitler, the man who ordered the murder of at least half of my father’s family, was once an innocent and perhaps good-hearted child. Yes, my idealism extended to this length. However, it was living in Israel that made the black and white turn into grey and prompted my idealism to merge with pinches of hard-realism. I have not stopped believing in the goodness of human beings, but I no longer take responsibility for, nor feel too much affected by, the cruel actions of others. I value my mental sanity above all and in times of emergency, my personal security takes priority.
Humans either fall into the categories of idealist or a realist. An idealist is usually portrayed as being naïve, not connected to their surroundings, floating, not rooted in reality, one who denies harshnesses, truths, the cold hard facts. A realist is usually portrayed as an individual with their feet firmly on the ground, aware, not floating, connected to the world around them. The drive to be either an idealist or a realist has always differed depending on where I am located in the world. In Denmark, for example, cold realism is looked upon in a critical way, whereas realism here in Israel is the way to be.
There are idealists here in Israel, who still believe in reconciliation between the Israelis and the Palestinians. These people still believe that injustices can be mended, they think that while extremes exist, there are possibilities for peace, that there is still potential for the Middle East. These people are referred to as Smolanim (left-wingers.) Being a Smolani in Israel is a curse – there is nothing cool or smart about being called Smolani.
Since living here, I have familiarized myself with the local NGOs (non-governmental organization.) I have studied Conflict Resolution, I have been to the West Bank and I have been personally connected to both Israelis and Palestinians. I have worked in PR for both sides of the conflict. My idealism has not disappeared in light of these encounters or in light of the exhaustion that I frequently feel at being within this eternal conflict, entangled in these severed ends. When it has felt as if all of the initiatives and all of the potential will never revoke politicians of their powerful upper-hand, their slashing of any real change, still my idealism remains.
However – and this is a huge however – when the siren has sounded, warning of rockets heading our way, and I have had to run to the staircase in our apartment building, or when I recently heard of ISIS approaching the border, my survival instincts kicked in. I think about what I would do were ISIS to penetrate Israel to commit the same atrocities they committed in Syria, in Iraq and elsewhere. If chemical weapons were used, what would I do? The answer is clear: I would get out of this country. I would take the first plane to Denmark with my partner and cat by my side. I am no hero, no martyr. My realism will kick in, and whatever becomes needed for my own personal safety will be prioritized. All of ISIS’ members may have once been innocent, good-hearted children, but all I care about is the strength of the Israeli Defense Forces now – will my family and I be safe?
Recently, one of the Israeli news anchors was talking about the approach of ISIS militants to the Israeli border. I felt no sympathy or empathy. I didn’t care for the excuses of these violent men. All I felt was naked, pure fear. I uttered to my partner, ‘Are they nuts? ISIS wouldn’t dare get involved with Israel and its army. The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) would smash them, make them regret they ever set foot on Israeli territory!’ I said this with a small grin on my face, to feel powerful, as if protecting my vulnerability. I had suddenly become a hawkish realist.
In my ‘realist’ moments and in my states of fear and survival, peace is a mere afterthought. I become desperate for militarism. I need to feel protected, to be guarded. Soldier, please make sure they don’t drop chemical weapons on me. Soldier, please make sure they don’t cross the borders. Soldier, please make sure they don’t enter any buses strapped with bombs. Please, please, please. I don’t want to die, or be harmed, or suffer. I want my personal security.
In truth, it is unfair to make such generalizations of realism and idealism in my context. While I have felt deep and unequivocal fear in the time I have lived here, the reality of Israel has also strengthened my idealism. I have witnessed immense amounts of hope, love, empathy and forgiveness across enemy lines. I have actually spoken to my own ‘worst nightmare,’ the one which they claim seeks my death and destruction.
It’s all very real and it is what has made it worth living here, so far.