“Hey, what’s going on?” asks Laura, my friend from New Jersey. In her WhatsApp message, she includes several articles about the violent and destructive demonstrations that have been happening here in the Netherlands since curfew was introduced on Sunday night.
“So, we, like America, are also the land of the FREE, and in that sense, people here get VERY upset when their freedom is taken away. Add to that Corona loneliness and young people feeling they will live forever and – bam!
They hate this new curfew that’s been imposed to try to curb the infections. It’s a shame, because we also haven’t started seriously vaccinating most of the population yet.”
I wonder, is this also to humble us? For years, I’ve been living in the ‘low lands,’ in the grey, cold, foggy weather, and whenever I dared to complain about the weather, the way people treat foreigners, the lack of customer support, I usually get back some snarky comment about how “People in glass houses [countries] shouldn’t throw stones…” Meaning me, being both Israeli and American should certainly not have any criticism on the Netherlands. How dare I? This wonderful country has no corruption (did you know the Dutch government just resigned due to a racist tax hush up?). This wonderful country takes care of other lands, and sends their peacekeeping military forces where needed… (yes, there’s been issues about that too…)
When the most recent riots happened in Washington DC, on the 6th of January, I, like many Americans, felt sick to my stomach, and frankly embarrassed to admit to being an American. In fact, I’d been feeling that way for quite some time, and yes, it definitely had something to do with the man who has finally left the White House.
I don’t see myself as a political person, despite having studied Political Science in Jerusalem many years back. At the time, I did have some ideals, though not really any ambition to go into politics. It was more that it seemed a lofty subject to learn about, one that might please my parents and help impart to society that I was a person who had opinions and I wasn’t just a pretty face.
But soon after finishing my studies, I turned direction and got into business, leaving any politics behind. And while I loved living in Israel as a teenager and a young adult, due to the amazing people I connected with, the fantastic weather, and the ‘can do’ mentality, one thing I definitely could do without was the news. The newspapers invariably had BIG HEADLINES IN RED, and even today, in the article my sister kindly forwarded, the slant is often about ‘Why is the world against us, and why we have to defend ourselves…’
Besides the newspapers, which I could avoid, there is a daily hour long news broadcast on TV, and every half hour, while driving (in traffic resembling that of Los Angeles) back and forth to work, there would be news updates, which were harder to evade. Terrorist attacks, foreign governments denouncing Israel, traffic accidents, political scandals and rivalry – all that I preferred not to have shoved in my face.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved living in Israel and being an Israeli. Like many others, I’d immigrated, with my parents, as a teen. I’d learned the language, integrated fully into society, had as many Israeli-born friends as immigrant friends, and married an Israeli. My parents and sister’s family live in Israel to this day, and I happily visit at least once a year, (except for this last horrible corona year).
But when people want to know if I’m a Zionist, I find that term hard to come to terms with. I want people to know that Israel doesn’t stand for ‘bad guys’, but I also don’t want to ignore the many many social issues that exist, and the Palestinian problem is only one of those.
I’m also a California babe, born and bred in Los Angeles county, and I’m happy to still be able to vote from abroad. (Go, Biden & Kamela!) But do I think that America is great, has been great, or ever will be the greatest? I don’t know. Let’s leave it at that, as I don’t want to alienate all my American friends, family or readers. I think we all know that America has good intentions written into the constitution, and the Inauguration Ceremony last week certainly brought tears of joy to my eyes, but there is so much I could be (and am) critical about.
Funny that as a younger person, before I moved to Europe, I thought Europe was the ‘bad guy’ – the holocaust certainly left a long and menacing shadow, and when I made a road trip from Germany, through Austria and Italy, in the 80’s, I often felt that the echoes of boots marching, German shepherds barking and rifles shooting were still barely muffled. Perhaps it’s that education I got, growing up in Israel, but I felt uncomfortable with ‘The Old Country’ as I saw it, also with my American perspective.
And 20 years ago, in 2001, I made the move to the Netherlands, “just” for my husband’s 3-year expat contract. And each year, after the three years were up, we considered whether to go back (to Israel) or stay here. Eventually, our children grew up, feeling more and more Dutch, speaking better Dutch than English or their third language, Hebrew. My husband and I divorced and each of us decided to stay here, and call this our ‘new’ home.
Growing up in Israel, there’s a lot of philosophical discussion with youth about ‘where do you belong?’ And whether one is more Israeli, Jewish or ‘just’ a person. In my case, there was also – or an American? Maybe because there’s so much immigration, from all over the world, from Yemen and from Russia, from Morocco and from Canada, we are all finding our way and our identity and need to talk and think about it a lot. It’s not something that comes naturally; it’s not something I ever took for granted.
And now, I’m Dutch as well. And there are many things I love about living here too. The socialist safety net which allows my kids to take out a loan to study, although the best universities are ridiculously affordable, and helps pay their health insurance. The system we have here makes sure that there are almost no homeless people anywhere, took in many (though certainly not enough) immigrants from Syria and other war-ridden countries in recent years, and found them housing and is trying to help them integrate, albeit in an imperfect way.
And of course, there’s a lot I disagree with here, being a critical thinker, and I certainly wouldn’t say that we are the best, except in building dykes and reconstructing a country from water, peat and swamps! (Okay, I’m a bit proud to be connected to that heritage).
And now, these horrifying riots. Be humble, oh Dutch people, because we too are far from perfect.
I dare not watch the news again tonight, because last night was bad enough – watching unruly mobs smash up shops, pillage supermarkets and stores, attack the police who remarkably shot only one warning shot which hit no one! Thousands of rioters up and down the country caused remarkable damage, setting cars alight, pulling bicycles into the road (that’s the main source of transportation – especially for young people), making the police on horseback trot AWAY from the rioters – so no one would get hurt!
And how did the police try to control the unruly crowds out after curfew (so they wouldn’t end up sick with Corona, remember people, why the curfew was put into place?) With water cannons, with more police on bicycles patrolling the cities, with 95 euro fines for anyone caught outside after 9 p.m.
Today I met up with my grown children, for a walk outside. They both live on their own, so we aren’t corona-proof and have to figure out ways to say hello and stay safe. “I’m so embarrassed,” my son said. The one who might get into politics, instead of me, some day. And my daughter showed me pictures and films from Instagram accounts she’s been following. “I can’t believe it,” she said. “It’s ridiculous!”
“No man is an island,” said Ernest Hemingway. And no country is either, as we’ve learned painfully, during this pandemic. Which is why I’m certainly no nationalist. And I’d like to think that maybe we could all use this pandemic as a wakeup call to live and work together, rather than finding ways to see the differences, (which of course exist, but are not so important), on our single habitable and fragile earth.
Or maybe here’s something we each need to ask ourselves:
What am I doing to promote wellbeing in my community?
As for me, I simply smile at everyone I pass on my daily walk – it’s the least I can do.