Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dante Goes to Israel

I've been here less than 24 hours and I've already noticed a distinct lack of the climate of fear I had become accustomed to in the U.S. In Hayarkon Park, two blocks from where I'm staying, there is an all-night cafe open. That is because people walk in the park at night. Sometimes even by themselves.

That is not a comment on the crime rate, it is a comment on the outlook of the residents. Just because it is possible for something bad to happen doesn't mean it is likely something bad will happen. And that is the main difference in outlook between Israelis and Americans.

I'm going out a limb to say our media might be contributing to this outlook. Violent crime is over-represented in the news. Why do we all know the details of the Jonbennet Ramsey case? The Scott Peterson case? Every year there is a high profile, nationwide crime fixation. It keeps the subject of violent crime on everyone's minds.

The National Council on Crime and Delinquency reported that the US has higher incarceration rates than any other country, disproportionate to the crime rate (source). The US and Israel have fairly similar homicide rates. The US reports 5.9 homicides per 100,000 people, where Israel reports 2.62. For perspective, Pakistan reports 0.05 and Jamaica reports 46.59 (source).

And it's not just that I notice other people feel safer. I feel safer too. I can tell by the way men look at me that they are not predatory. Men here treat women like their mothers, sisters, or daughters. A man who is old enough to be your father will act like your father. Men do not stare at me. I do not feel objectified. Suddenly my body image is a non-issue. Because here in Israel, I'm a person, not a fem-bot.

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