Excerpted Chapter Six, “Israel and the Gaza Strip: Two Opposed Ideas” from Sweetness and Blood: How Surfing Spread from Hawaii and California to the Rest of the World, with Some Unexpected Results by © Michael Scott Moore. Reprinted by permission of Rodale, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
“What was the purpose of your visit?”
“But there are no waves in Israel,” the uniformed woman told me.
“Oh yes there are.”
“Where else have you been?” she said, flipping through my passport.
“Morocco and Indonesia,” I said, knowing she’d see those stamps.
“Also for surfing?”
Sweetness and Blood: How Surfing Spread from Hawaii and California to the Rest of the World, with Some Unexpected Results
(Rodale Books; US: May 2010)
She was an airport attendant, not a government official, and I was trying to leave Israel, not enter it. But rockets had been flying along the Gaza border.
“Did you meet anyone in Morocco?”
“Who did you meet?”
I made up a name.
“And how do you know this person?” she said.
This line of questioning had to be repeated three times before I could put my luggage on the conveyor belt.
“This was months ago,” I said. “What could it have to do with Israel?”
“We want to make sure you aren’t being used by somebody. This person gave you nothing to carry to Israel?”
“Of course not.”
I moved on to “primary inspection”—bags through the conveyor belt—and a humiliating secondary inspection, which involved a number of young women unpacking my bags to swipe every surface for explosive powder. I don’t mind people rooting through my underwear, but it raised my hackles to watch them inspect my books. To Jerusalem and Back by Saul Bellow roused no suspicion. Neither did The Middle East, by Bernard Lewis. But A History of Modern Palestine, by Ilan Pappé, had the wrong title. The woman read the rear cover and sifted the pages. She read scrawls on one of my bookmarks. My heart pounded. No one, until then—no one in uniform—had ever scrutinized me for my ideas.
She showed the book to her boss and they talked in Hebrew while the other women wheeled my surfboard away for tertiary inspection.
“Okay. Thank you,” the woman said at last. “Do you want to repack your bag, or should I do it?”
“What was that with the book?” I said.
“Nothing. We just have to be careful.”
“I’m from America,” I told her, as if that made any difference. “These things make me nervous.”
“Would you have kept me off the plane if I had the wrong kind of book?”
She thought for a minute. “No. We just have to be careful. You understand.”
“I’d rather not have someone say that to me in my own country,” I said. “You understand.”
The others wheeled my surfboard back and I was free to check in. There were three more passport inspections, two more wipe downs of the laptop, one more security line. Then I could sit for a while around a splashing circular fountain in the elegant marble atrium of Ben Gurion Airport.
“I find that no other question,” Christopher Hitchens wrote about Israel and the Palestinians around this time, “so much reminds me of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his aphorism about the necessity of living with flat-out contradiction. Do I sometimes wish that Theodor Herzl and Chaim Weizmann had never persuaded either the Jews or the gentiles to create a quasi-utopian farmer-and-worker state at the eastern end of the Mediterranean? Yes. Do I wish that the Israeli air force could find and destroy all the arsenals of Hezbollah and Hamas and Islamic Jihad? Yes. Do I think it ridiculous that Viennese and Russian and German scholars and doctors should have vibrated to the mad rhythms of ancient so-called prophecies rather than helping to secularize and reform their own societies? Definitely. Do I feel horror and disgust at the thought that a whole new generation of Arab Palestinians is being born into the dispossession and/or occupation already suffered by their grandparents and even great-grandparents? Absolutely, I do.”
Israel, we need to establish from the very start, exists. It’s a modern, functioning, bustling state, with traffic jams and bureaucrats and public parks. For some reason people love to debate Israel’s existence—should it exist, can it exist, will it stop existing—until the topic resembles a make-work program for journalists as well as politicians.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran made headlines by asking why the Middle East had to accept a state of Israel “because of ” World War II. Why not put Israel in Alaska, he wondered, and the number of people who took him seriously—I know this from reader mail we received at Spiegel Online—is astonishing. As if Zionism hadn’t existed before Hitler! So let’s get a few things out of the way. Israel exists, and should exist, because even before World War II most societies on earth could turn suddenly lethal to Jews, not just in Europe. Israel also isn’t going anywhere. No matter how often its conservatives, or its enemies, try to invoke the prospect of its destruction, the end of Israel would be a disaster as unthinkable as the destruction of fourteen cities the size of New Orleans, or the sudden collapse of an American state the size of Maryland. None of Israel’s enemies can manage that disappearing trick, not without a nuclear bomb. But Israel’s existence is still a deep contradiction, so understanding it requires a tolerance for paradox. “The test of a firstrate intelligence,” said F. Scott Fitzgerald, in the aphorism Hitchens referred to, “is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”