Living in a Bubble

Jump Shots From Israel

The author (far right) poses with some of his teammates
The author (far right) poses with some of his teammates

Sokolov Avenue is bustling outside of my studio apartment in Ramat Hasharon, Israel, just north of Tel Aviv: pizza joints, tech vendors, hair salons and Western clothing boutiques. The towering McDonald’s logo above (sigh) competes with the palm trees; in the distance, the Tel Aviv skyline resembles an American city. The robust high-tech infrastructure boasts abundant free wifi, and texting via “WhatsApp” is the medium of communication — no matter your age!
Houses and apartments are small and fit tightly. Kids play endlessly outside, families frequent the streets on warm evenings for ice cream or a burger and people always find room for a daytime smoking break. Cafés lace every block. The people are receptive but blunt, casual and direct. Ramat Hasharon feels incredibly safe — and it is.

The recent flow of violence continues predominantly in Jerusalem and the West Bank, an hour drive east, although it has permeated into less-contentious regions, some just minutes away. It’s a reminder that potential terror percolates everywhere.

But Ramat Hasharon, like much of Israel, feels removed — a Western oasis manufactured by the symbiosis of repressed fears and security by force.

Day to day in this “bubble,” my teammates are no different than American basketball players. They are concerned about their wives and finances, or about the best beach in Herzliya and the craziest club in sleepless Tel Aviv. They worry about their jump shots, not gunshots.

Their relationship to violence appears abstract and engenders facetious remarks: “Hey Hayden, did you hear about the attack around the block today?” they prank.

“At some point,” a teammate acknowledges, “you just have to bury your fears. It’s the only way to live in this messed-up place.” Another echoes this sentiment in stoic reaction to the bloody footage of a fatal beating in Beersheba: “This is a terrible place, Hayden. Why would you move here?”

So while numb to violence, they are not naive. They’ve all lined walls and crouched in bunkers. They know that, today, any kid with a cleaver could opt to trade his life for a wounded Jew and a newspaper headline. They are used to security checks at our games, at malls and at universities, and they don’t look twice at young soldiers with M16s. Last week, our point guard left the team to complete basic army training for a month.

As these are norms for my teammates, my unvarnished impressions evoke constant contemplation about the bubble: the unnerving violence, the customs and practices that create my safety and the geographical aberration that is Israel.

For there is a reason that the bubble exists, an explanation for how it was formed and why it can be so easily popped. In this Western construct, Jews sought refuge amid their fight for existence — and have rapidly built a vibrant, productive and impressive society by any metric.

But as an Israeli citizen fortunate to call professional basketball his current occupation, I’m impelled to confront some vexing realities: that this country was established through the dispossession of a people; that this culture arose from brazen ethnocentrism; and that this “democracy” only exists outside the walls of occupied Palestinians, beyond the barriers to their human and political sovereignty, and behind the force of state violence.

Repression of fears is necessary to shield Jews from chronic anxiety, but perhaps it also equips them with a moral armor at times impervious to compunction. The state still elects to rule by the sword as the peace process languishes, but is this aggression tenable with shifting demographics in Israel, 350 million surrounding Arabs and a disapproving international community?

In my first visit here, I grapple with these complexities and am curious to monitor how my outlook may evolve over time. – Hayden Rooke-Ley

Hayden Rooke-Ley is a graduate of South Eugene High School and Williams College, where he majored in political science and biology.  He has “a strong passion for politics and a range of policy issues” and is currently playing professional basketball in Israel before pursuing his long-term career goals.