John Costello: Israelis understand it can be hard to love their state
WHEN Tel Aviv was invaded in early June 2005, the locals were stunned.
They had battled the British to achieve independence and faced the daily threat of suicide bombers, but the 4,000 Irish fans that ensconced themselves outside Molly Bloom's Pub not only captured the heart of the city but also the imagination of its residents.
They watched the craic unfold over the weekend, while the owners of Molly Blooms watched the 350 extra kegs they had ordered quickly drain.
The World Cup qualifier may have ended 1-1 but the Irish had won the adoration of the Israelis. They still talk about Mendele Street being so overrun it was closed to traffic as the Irish taught a city that knows how to party a few new tricks.
But Israelis know their love affair with Ireland is largely unrequited. Their nationality can cast a long shadow when it comes to endearing themselves to others.
So when Irish peace activists joined the flotilla sailing to Gaza there was a world-weary sigh.
It seemed almost inevitable that just days after Israel had tried to woo the rest of world in the final of the Eurovision, the small nation besieged by enemies on all sides was going to be once again caricatured as a bloodthirsty warmonger.
Now, the citizens of the Jewish state have been left shaking their heads after another predictable fiasco.
There's a sense of disbelief, shock and numbness on the streets of Tel Aviv.
This is a city that strives to be seen as European, just as Israel constantly strives to be viewed outside the prism of the Palestinian conflict.
Last week Israel joined the world's club of free-market democracies, the OECD, and even though it only managed 14th position in the Eurovision, Israel revels in being able to take the stage and stand shoulder by shoulder along with more 'normalised' countries.
But now, as the world looks on, it seems as if it is business as usual. Israel is once again being castigated as a murderer and the bloody clash on board the Gaza-bound vessel is depicted as a 'massacre'.
Israelis know things did not go to plan but they look to their Irish friends and can't believe they seem to have ignored the fact that an organised lynch mob of 'peace activists' carrying batons, metal rods and knives attacked the team of elite commandos, whose plan had been to disembark on the top deck and storm the vessel's bridge to order the captain to stop.
THEY want the Irish who blindly support Hamas, the Irish who are calling for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador to Ireland, Dr Zion Evrony, and Minister Micheal Martin to understand what it's like trying to exist as a Jewish state when your neighbours are willing to strap explosives to themselves and walk into a crowded bar.
They want to ask you what any other army would do when confronted with a knife-wielding mob who attack and beat soldiers, grab their guns and open fire.
They want to ask television news editors, newspaper editors and bar-stool philosophers how they can call what happened on board a 'massacre' when the commandos were attacked with such wild vigour and fury that they were pushed to defend themselves with lethal force.
Few here are blind enough to fail to see how Israel's heavy-handed approach loses friends and alienates people.
Few here suspect that the handling of the operation was not strewn with errors and misjudgments. Every day, the debate in Israel about the rights and wrongs of its actions figures high on the agenda.
But the thing that leaves Israelis scratching their heads is how the Irish seem to support a terrorist organisation that not only wants to annihilate all Jews, but also kills its own civilians indiscriminately.
They want you to understand that this is an organisation whose charter clearly states: "The hour of judgment shall not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them, so that the Jews hide behind trees and stones and each tree and stone will say, 'Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.'"
It hurts Israelis when they look at their democracy and attitude to minorities, compared to their neighbours, whose side many Irish people take.
They will ask you to try to hold a gay-pride parade in Gaza and see what happens.
They will wonder are you aware of the state of Christians in the Gaza Strip or of women's rights.
Few people here agree wholeheartedly with the actions of its government and army. But Israel is at war every day. Horrible, often sickening decisions have to be made, because the price of failure is so high.
They build fences, abhorrent in normalised societies, to prevent suicide bombers from exploding in buses and coffee shops. They act swiftly to prevent any opportunity for Islamic terror to butcher Jews.
But the citizens of Tel Aviv still love Ireland and understand if that love is not so readily returned.
They understand sometimes it can be hard to love Israel.