When reading articles about Israel or the current Middle Eastern conflicts in Arab press, you often meet two words. The first is “Zionists”. The second, that usually follows, is “crusaders”. In the ME time runs differently, and events from distant past are still relevant today. In the eyes of some of our neighbors, Israel and the Crusaders’ Kingdoms are the same. But friends – they are not.
Sure, you can easily find parallels. 900 years ago an army came from the west. It was an army of strangers – people who spoke different languages, and didn’t understand the local ways of life. They were hostile and alien. They came to conquer, to expel and to change.
This is more or less the image of Israel among its opponents in the ME. Strangers, people of another faith, coming from the west in order to conquer, expel and change. Just like them, we have a strong army, just like them we are different, just like them we are hostile and alien – in some local eyes, and in some western eyes also.
And just like them, according to those who doesn’t want us here, we will disappear one day. We will get tired of constant fighting, we will forget why we came here, we will become disoriented and weak. The constant pressure of the environment, the resistance to our presence here, will break us, and we will go back to the distant shores that we came from.
The victory over the crusaders is one of the central collective experiences of the Arab world, an achievement to be proud of until the end of time. It was the ideal type of “they” against “us”, an enemy so strong, so brutal, that unity was born, and the Arab armies marched as one against it – or so it remembered. That was truly a holy war (if any war can be holy) – a collision of religions over a place that is cherished by both – without any manipulation or rhetoric. “And now,” they say, “when new crusaders came, it will be the same. Sure, they are strong, but so were the medieval knights. One day they will fall also, just like the great castles that are now stand ruined all over the ME. It is all a matter of time, and time we have in plenty.”
But there is one more thing to consider when making this parallel. The crusaders were strangers. They left their homes in Europe and went to war for two things – faith and profit. Historians still argue which was more important in their eyes. When they left their castles in England, France or Germany, the road led to a strange land somewhere beyond the horizon.
When we left England, France or Germany, Yemen, Iraq or Mexico, the road led home.
And this is the central point. For us, the Israelis, this is not a new place. This is not another conquest, not an adventure and even not a spiritual journey. For us this is home. The place we came from in the very beginning. It is not an addition to our world, it is our world.
And because of it, because we were created here, we belong. Although we look different, speak different, live different – we belong. We didn’t invade, we returned. Understand this and you understand Israel and the conflict. We don’t fight against someone’s right to exist as a nation. We fight for ours.
And unlike those armored men of the Middle Ages, unlike the image of Israel that is so common today, we didn’t come to ruin and to take. We came to build and to give. We do not idealize war; we are thirsty for peace and understanding. The Zionist idea speaks about sharing and working together, building common future with our neighbors, becoming a part of this region as we once were. Because this is our home. We are here to stay.
And we will stay here. Stay at home. This is the difference.