Fear at Home and Abroad

Fear at Home and Abroad March 14, 2016

I probably should not vent about my students’ parents on my blog, but I am feeling a bit frustrated. The stabbing of an American student in Israel is certainly a cause for concern. Like any parent would, I have imagined my own son traveling abroad as a student and being in that situation, being stabbed and bleeding to death as others or perhaps I myself tried desperately to save him. It is what parents do. We worry. We think, “What if it was my child?” We try to keep them safe to the extent that we can, and we often prefer to err on the side of being overprotective.

But we can go too far, worrying more about less likely things, than we do about more serious dangers that are faced on a daily basis. The fact of the matter is that it has been very rare for an American student to be the victim of an attack in Israel. If we are inclined to do so, we can calculate the odds. We can check the statistics, and learn that at the height of the intafada period 2000-2006, one’s odds of being killed in a terrorist attack were lower for that entire period if one lived in Israel, than one’s odds were of being killed in a single year period as a victim of a homicide if one lived in Canada. And the likelihood of either of those two scenarios is much, much lower again than one’s likelihood of dying in a traffic accident in the United States in a given year.

Yes, a terrorist attack with an American fatality has been in the news. I get that. But I have seen in the news several times since I’ve been living in Indiana that an exchange student has died here in this state. And there have been at least two deaths from shootings in Indianapolis in the past two days.

What I don’t understand is how people can think that Israel is too dangerous for their child to go to, but it is safe for them to live and study in Indianapolis. Do they not understand that their perception of Israel is akin to someone judging the city of Indianapolis based on this article?

Falls Road
Murals on the Falls Road in Belfast

Can anyone help me understand my students’ parents, and perhaps find ways to communicate more effectively about this with them? Is it just my own life experience that helps me to understand this topic differently than others do? I grew up in New York City, and was always surprised when people from elsewhere asked “How can you live there? Isn’t it dangerous?” That helped me to understand that people sometimes see only the crimes and incidents on the news, and never realize that these things are the exception and not the rule. I also lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland during the troubles, and there too realized that not only was life largely a matter of going about one’s business with the occasional explosion in the distance, but one could walk down the Falls Road as a group of foreign students, something the local Protestants would never do. Northern Ireland was a lot like Israel and the West Bank: checkpoints, soldiers with machine guns, fear of terrorism, bombings. And it was a lot like Israel and the West Bank: most of the time, very warm and friendly people who went about their lives and made the best of difficult circumstances.

I felt safer in Northern Ireland than I do in Indianapolis. And I feel safer when I am visiting Israel and the West Bank than I do on a daily basis in Indianapolis.

Can anyone help me understand why this is not clear to other people? Do you actually have to live and travel extensively abroad in order to grasp this point? Do you actually have to live in another country where there are few guns in circulation to realize that an American city is one of the most terrifying places to live on Earth, short of an actual war zone – and yet also to realize that, even so, most of us who reside in an American city will live out our days without being shot?

Let me be clear that I am not offering a guarantee of safety to students who travel with me. I am merely pointing out that getting in your car has much less guarantee of safety, and yet you continue to do it daily. The one thing I can guarantee is that your trip to Israel and the West Bank will be much more rewarding than your average car journey has been!

Of related interest, Jaffa is the town where the stabbing I mentioned at the start of the post took place. There is a movie which is set there that will be shown on the Butler Campus.:

Thursday, April 21, 2016 at 6:30 p.m. A New View Film Series presented by the Desmond Tutu Center is showing Dancing in Jaffa in the Eidson-Duckwall Recital Hall. The series is FREE and OPEN to the public.

Here’s the trailer:


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