Why Turks should still be our friends

October 18, 2009 by

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Lately Israel’s relationship with Turkey has gone down the tubes. The Prime Minister walked out on our President back in January, our participation in a joint military exercise has been cancelled, and now a horrid TV series featuring murderous Israeli soldiers has been aired on Turkish TV.

In the right-on environs I tend to hang out, this has been met with some grim satisfaction. “Well of course the Turks are beginning to hate us too, after all we did in Gaza,” say some. “Of course they are going to portray our soldiers as cold-blooded murderers,” say others, “after all, what other image do they have of an Israeli soldier?”

If we were talking of a Palestinian kid in Gaza, I would most certainly agree with this line of argument. But the TV series was created and screened in Turkey, not in Gaza. And in Turkey they have a far more concrete experience of Israeli soldiers.

In the summer of 1999 two of my friends were called up for their military reserve duty. Their army unit was bound for Turkey. They weren’t invading, and they weren’t on their way to a secret recce of Syria: They were going to Turkey to help. They were members of the Search and Rescue unit of the Israeli army, and were going to donate their time, expertise, and equipment to help the Turkish government rescue the thousands of people trapped in rubble following a terrible earthquake.

I think my friends still have nightmares about that time. They worked around the clock, trying to help save people, but really they just spent their time pulling out rapidly decomposing corpses in front of their distraught relatives. In incredibly tough conditions, lacking water for themselves let alone for the rare survivors they found, they worked alongside locals trying to save lives.

All this time they were dressed in full Israeli Army uniform. These are the Israeli soldiers that the Turkish people of Izmit know first-hand.

When their work had come to its tragic end – over 17,000 were declared dead at the end of the search, with half a million left homeless – one of my friends found himself in a shopping mall. He was still wearing the dusty military gear he’d been wearing since he’d arrived a week earlier. Suddenly he noticed that all the locals were staring at him, pointing at him in his Israeli uniform. He made to leave, worried about their response, when he was stunned by the sound of applause. The entire shopping mall had turned out to applaud and thank this Israeli soldier for the way in which he and his country had worked their guts out for Turkey in its time of need.

He’s my next-door neighbor – I spoke to him today to make sure I wasn’t making this up. It’s not a ‘hasbara’ story: It’s true.

So what happened? What happened to our incredible relationship with Turkey? It’s a reflex on the left – we assume it must be our fault. We assume that we screwed up. But how can that kind of blood-debt, how can that kind of loving sacrifice be so easily deleted in just under a decade? If a nation had come to our aid in such a way, wouldn’t we stand by them through thick and thin from then on?

I don’t mention this by way of justification of the Gaza war. As far as the Palestinians are concerned, there is no connection between the two events. But as far as the Turks are concerned, there ought to be.

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