Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Mondiale & Pride in Unexpected Places

Watching the world cup in Israel isn’t easy. For someone used to Hansen’s tactical astuteness, Lineker’s witticisms and the general professionalism of the advert free BBC, it takes some time to acclimatize to the 4 Israelis sitting in comfortable chairs watching the game on a big screen and commentating.

They have interviewed Septuagint ex politician Tommy Lapid (he was born in the former Yugoslavia – a clear expert on the Serbian team apparently) an Israeli grandmother whose claim to fame was that her husband had got her tickets to the Holland – Serbia game (she wanted Serbia to win cos the players were in the hotel with her and they seemed nice) and the only phrase that Avi Nimni the former footballer and Israeli commentator says in ‘Yotze min HaClal’ out of the ordinary (over and over and over again…) Their piece de resistance was the inability of one of the commentators to pronounce the name Milosevic correctly.

So when people say Aliya means making sacrifices, they perhaps should be clearer about what it means…

But every now and then, something happens that reminds you why you are proud to be an Israeli. And during Ghana’s celebrations after their second goal against the Czech Republic yesterday, I’m not sure I would have wanted to be watching anywhere else.

3 Ghanians play in the Israeli league

Monday, June 05, 2006

Energy and Emotions in Etzion

I’m the sort of person who likes doing fun and interesting stuff, but often ends up staying at home watching videos. So when last week, a friend from LSE suggested we do a tiyul and field trip to the Etzion bloc and settlements further to the East, and that he was doing all the organizing, it was an offer too good to refuse.

Gush Etzion area comprises in total approximately 44,000 Jews and 18,000 Palestinians and the western half of it is generally seen to be in the Israeli consensus (if there is such a thing) of what will remain part of Israel in a future peace deal.

We started at Kibbutzim Rosh Tzurim and Kfar Etzion, visited Bat Ayin (and its smaller offshoot Bat Ayin Bet and outpost of one family, Old Masuot Yitzchak) stopped in Efrat for some pizza, continued east past Palestinian villages to reach Tekoa (whose Rabbi Menachem Froman has stated he is prepared to become a Palestinian citizen in a future Palestinian state and met with Arafat many times), Nokdim (where Avigdor Lieberman lives) and then on to the Ma’aleh Rechavam outpost, named after the former transport minister Rechavam Ze’evi who was murdered by the PLFP in 2001.

On our way back to Jerusalem (a potentially 7 min drive from Nokdim) we stopped at Neveh Daniel (and Neveh Daniel North also known as Sde Boaz, the highest point in Gush Etzion)

I have to admit to not being a fan of settlements.

I believe the Jewish people have a right to all the land, both for religious, historical and cultural reasons.

But at the end of the day, if we want a two state solution between the river and the sea that doesn’t involve transferring millions of Palestinians out of their homes, many settlements will have to be evacuated.

And whilst I won’t pretend to be one of those who since 1967 warned of the danger of settlements and definitely used to be more ‘right wing’ than I am now, I have come round to the opinion that doubling the Jewish population over the Green Line during the Oslo years, or building settlements painfully near Palestinian population centers under Begin and Shamir was a mistake of potentially cataclysmic proportions.

And the day the settlements make a viable Palestinian state impossible, is the day that Zionism enters a very dangerous new stage in trying to maintain its Jewish democratic character.

However, whilst these settlements may be potential ‘obstacles’ to peace, they’re damned beautiful…

Sde Boaz by Neveh Daniel is environmentally friendly; it’s a mixed religious and secular community; it was built by Avoda Ivri, (Jewish labor) instead of relying on cheap Palestinian, Thai or Romanian workers; it grows wheat, chickpeas, chard and beets and olive and fruit orchards surround the community. On a clear day you can see the Mediterranean and the dead sea.

When we arrived at Ma’aleh Rehavam meanwhile, five young people were planting trees.

The air was clear, it had a feeling of pioneering, of naivety, of romanticism, of imagining that this is actually where Avraham walked on his way to the binding of Yitzchak;

Like here were people living by their ideals, for a purpose they believed in, who had given up the big lights of the city to create a community they could be proud of.

And strange as it was for two centre-left international relations graduates to imagine, the outposts were strangely attractive, enticing, a hark back to early chalutzim that we so admire.

And this is where everything turns on its head – because for years Zionism was about building, planting, establishing – and where the last settlement was would be where the border would run.

And in this sense, these young people are carrying on the Zionist dream and ethos more than any of us…

Yet somewhere along the line, this essence of Zionist became its mortal enemy – and the more we build and plant and establish, the less chance we have for saving what we all came here to help strengthen – a Jewish democratic state.

Somewhere along the line, a Palestinian state moved from being an existential threat to the only solution to Zionism. And in addition to the atmosphere of serenity, purity and ideology in parts of the ‘territories’ there has slowly spread an increasing lawlessness, hatred for non Jews and ambivalence towards the democratic government and its law enforcers…

And as the sun set behind us I couldn’t help thinking about the
hundreds of millions of dollars, and the hours, days and years of energy that people have spent creating an enterprise that ultimately will be destroyed (which will most likely also cost billions of dollars.)

And whilst we'd all be better off harnessing some of these young peoples’ energy and idealism in what is becoming increasingly like a cynical post zionist state, I question whether in retrospect it may have been wiser and less soul destroying to build such ideologically oriented places such as Ma’aleh Rehavam and Sde Boaz 20 km further south in the Negev rather than in the Judean hills, on land that will probably become part of a Palestinian state.