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Obama's Inauguration and the Israel-American Paradox

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Like so many people around the world, I watched President Obama's inauguration live on CNN from my apartment in Jerusalem. I didn't want to miss out on one of the most historic moments in my lifetime -- or at least, a historic moment that was positive instead of horrible, like 9/11 or the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

But what I hadn't counted on was a complex internal struggle, as my two national identities engaged in a tug-of-war.

The American Ilana was tearful, excited and full of hope. In the course of the campaign Obama inspired me, in spite of my best efforts to remain skeptical. As I watched the inauguration, I felt proud to be American, for the first time in a long while.

But also watching the inauguration was the Israeli Ilana, who is quite a different person altogether: Someone who glances around anxiously during bus rides to make sure no one looks suspicious, even though I'm not entirely sure what suspicious looks like; someone who thinks twice before attending popular events because they seem like a great opportunity for a suicide bomber to bag a few on the way to a virgin-filled heaven.

I envy people who are totally fearless and think that if anything happens, it's "meant to be," but I also think they're wrong. It's not "meant to be," it happened because some nutjob strapped on a C4 vest!

If there's one thing I did not want to think about during the U.S. elections, it was whether Obama would be "good for Israel." For one thing I'm not really sure what that means: I don't think it makes a difference if the U.S. president is "good for Israel" if Israel itself has a corrupt, ridiculous government, which it does. What would be "good for Israel," in my point of view, would be an entirely new government in Israel comprising people who actually exhibit qualities of leadership and integrity.

But even so, I am still haunted by the terrorist attacks of the mid-1990s, when buses and stores throughout Jerusalem were blowing up at an alarming rate. These were the same buses I took to and from high school every day, going through the same areas. The stores were the same ones I shopped in all the time. In Jerusalem, and especially in those days, there were not a lot of choices where to shop, where to eat, and which buses to ride.

And I remember at the age of fourteen or fifteen wondering why this "peace process" was going forward, when ever since it began our city had become hell. Peeling bits of flesh from the pavement, how can that be peace?

And all this supported by Bill Clinton, whom I mistakenly came to loathe as a teenager, since to me he represented an utter callousness to my daily fear of bombs. And who I understand now, more than a decade later, to have been quite a competent president for America. And I can forgive him, because the Israeli government itself was not sympathetic to the terror victims, and that was their job -- not his.

So I suppose what I am hoping is that President Obama will not, even amid the daily clamor of politics, forget that human beings are affected by his decisions. That the "peace" of dead bodies is not the peace that Israelis want. And that the average Israeli is not represented in the Israeli government, which seems all too often to have only its own interests at heart. The three people who will be running for Prime Minister are cut off from the needs of this country, and they are the only choices we have.

It would be much easier to be purely American, to be purely hopeful, to not experience these anxieties. But even if I were living in New York right now -- as I have in the past -- I would be thinking about my parents, siblings, and friends who are living with danger every day.

As my husband and I watched the stirring inauguration ceremonies on his laptop, I leaned close to him and tried not to think about the future. This moment, I thought, is special. I hope it will not be ruined in retrospect. I do have hope.