Thursday, May 11, 2006

Re-Engaging with Museums

Museums generally aren’t my thing. I wish I appreciated art, but unfortunately I can’t really tell the difference between Rembrandt and Renoir, Dali and Degas or Pissaro and Picasso.

Yet last week I went to the Tel Aviv Museum to see an exhibition on the Disengagement. It had various photos from a range of artists and photographers, as well as several videos, one of which followed Arik and Dati Yitchaki and their three children of the Kfar Hayam settlement for a year before the disengagement.

After attracting hundreds of volunteers to help prevent the withdrawal, and armed with two pistols and an M16, Arik finally negotiates with the IDF to hand in his weapons in exchange for being able to leave in a dignified way (which in his case is being carried out by soldiers)

I thought it was pretty fair, but maybe that’s just me being subjective. And it made me wonder how we can talk about political or emotive issues without being biased or political?

boy offering sweets to soldiers during Disengagement

And watching the tears and pain on behalf of the settlers and soldiers the question is how can we put over a complexity that involves describing the pain of the Jews who had to leave their homes whilst simultaneously demonstrating the ‘complications’ Gaza Palestinians faced due to the presence of those Jews; deny with disgust inappropriate comparisons with the Shoah on the one hand, yet have the humanity to identify with fellow citizen’s pain on the other.

Can we feel the tears of families forced to pack their life’s belongings with the harsh truth that an island of 8,000 Jews amongst 1.3 m Palestinians is an anathema to the idea of a Jewish Democratic State; balance the appreciation of the beautiful multicoloured sunrise with the knowledge of the number of soldiers needed to protect those that enjoy it.

How can we resolve the empathy with those feeling betrayed by their government without ignoring the compensation ‘sweetener’ that many blue collar workers supporting a family in Tel Aviv dream of.

When talking about the ‘settlers’ how does one distinguish between those people who had lived in Gaza for 30 years, built lives from the sand and those who came a few weeks before to cause trouble and abuse soldiers. Between those that believe Gd gave us the land and think the Arabs are enemies, and those that came for the cheap housing and the good beaches?

And finally how in a country that doesn’t have a word for subtlety, can these discussions be had in a reasonable and respectful manner, without using words such as occupy or expel?

For anyone who has some spare time in Tel Aviv, the museum is well worth checking out.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Politics, Promises and Hope

Around the same time I made Aliya, the 'big bang' happened in Israeli politics. I am pretty sure it had nothing to do with me, but the creation of a new party, made up of representatives of the right, left, secular and religious publics offered a new direction for an Israeli public tired of political factionalism and instability.

It was supposed to change the political scene, meant to offer hope. It was intended to offer a new way forward for the nation, one large centralist party, representing the silent majority, that could move Israel forward in taking many of the hard decisions that most people think are inevitable. After years of coalition politics, each party claiming its pound of blood for support, here was an opportunity to create a coalition not beholden to the small peripheral parties. A new party, a new hope.

But nothing in Israel goes according to plan.

Whether through tactical mistakes by Kadima, people’s ambivalence or simply strategic voting, the ruling party received only 29 votes, instead of the 40+ they were hoping for or probably would have received had Sharon still been on the political scene They were forced to form a government with Labour, Shas (who demanded 2bn shekels for their own sector without obligating themselves to vote with the government on political initiatives), the Pensioners and probably United Torah Judaism and Meretz.

Last week, the new government was sworn into office. It had the most ministers in history, yet no representatives from the Russian or Druze sectors. There was no place for talented people who had joined politics from the outside Uriel Reichman, head of the IDC university in Herzliya, Avishai Braverman, former head of Ben Gurion University, Ami Ayalon, ex head of the Mossad. Dan ben David, an academic who had big plans for changing Israel's economy didn't even become a MK. Amir Peretz, who has hardly any military experience became Defence Minister. Former Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz is now in charge of Transportation.

What will come of the grand plans to change the education system, fight organized crime or ‘converge’ approximately 60,000 Israeli citizens living in the West Bank with such a shaky coalition? For what was supposed to be the ‘big bang’ most things have sadly remained the same. And so a time we thought was the beginning of hope ended up with things exactly as they were before.…

And then came Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut, and the documentaries and articles about the soldiers, the Israeli Jews, Druze, Bedouin, Circassian, Christian and Muslim young men and women that have given the ultimate sacrifice for this country - the stories about the soldier from Neve Dekalim in Gaza who was killed by friendly fire, buried and later disinterred during the Disengagement; the Israeli Muslim father who lost his son and feels he has a pact born out of blood with the Jewish people in this land; the soldier named after his fathers father who was killed in the Holocaust only to be killed in a training accident; the soldier whose pangs of conscience troubled him after killing Hezbollah members in Lebanon and who later refused to serve in the ‘territories’ and how each of these soldiers in their own way represent the rainbow that is the Israeli experience in all its complexity.

And the following night, as I celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut for the first time as an Israeli, as I walked through the throngs of people, young and old, immigrant and veteran, religious and secular in the centre of Jerusalem, and joined in the Israeli folk dancing outside the municipality (or tried to - its very hard to copy people when you don’t know what you are doing and the song changes every 30 seconds) it reminded me of a younger, more naive, perhaps even more idealistic Israel - when we were still pure from pilots being accused of raping a young girl, or increased violence in schools, an Israel still finding its way, but looking towards the future with optimism and hope.

And as I watched from the sidelines (I gave up the attempted dancing after a short time), I felt that despite it all, there are more things that unite us than divide us, that despite the ever growing Iranian threat, the attempts to formulate more withdrawals from the West Bank without a huge majority, the fact that each party seems to care more about themselves than about the greater good, there are still people here who are ideologues, are still moments when we can come together and remember why we chose to make this place our home. And it reminded me of the song, that we all sing on these sorts of national occasions, “we haven’t yet lost our hope, the hope of 2000 years, to live as a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.”

And we’re not there yet, are a long way from creating the perfect society, but we’re on a journey, and I am part of that journey, and at the end of the day I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
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