Israel is far different from anything I had imagined.  It has a rich diversity of landscapes from beautifully stark desert areas to lush areas of vegetation and trees along with waterfalls and rushing streams.  On its borders are the Dead Sea unique in its harsh conditions and the contrastingly vibrant Mediterranean and Red Seas.

Israel is also a country with a wonderful melding of a modern and innovative society with traditions steeped in history.  There are progressive cities such as Tel Aviv and ancient cities such as Jerusalem which is the ancestral home to many cultures and religions.

The most impressive thing about Israel, however, is that it is an oasis of sanity and normalcy in an otherwise hostile region.  I was amazed at how the people of Israel went about their daily lives with a steady and calm decorum despite the fact that they are constantly living in the cross hairs of their neighbors’ weapons.

Make no mistake in believing that the Israeli population is not acutely aware of the dangers all around them or that they are not ever vigilant in protecting and defending themselves.   There is the mandatory three years military service, the military checkpoints at key locations, and the state of the art security at airports.  Yet, there was never the feeling that you were visiting a country that was on high alert or living in fear.

For example, much of the security at the airport is subtle and subdued.  They are not unduly concerned about carrying liquids nor do they require you to remove your shoes when going through security.   Instead, they watch and study you as you pass through security to gauge your demeanor and, thus, your intentions.  It appears that when you have been looking at the face of your enemies for centuries, you learn to recognize them when you see them.

Perhaps, this resiliency and ability to thrive in such a hostile environment is a result of weathering the storms of hatred, persecution, bigotry, and unbelievable violence for centuries.   When you have endured and survived the darkest periods of human history, you learn to never again let your enemies control your destiny.

Regardless of where you stand on the political, cultural, and religious conflicts that have been the hallmark of the region for decades, you have to admire the ability of the Israeli people not to let the ever present dangers dampen their spirit or diminish their resolve to build a future.   They may be living in the cross hairs, but, they will not be deterred from living out their dream of a homeland.

Look for Annemarie’s post about our trip to Israel this Wednesday.