Israel is a complicated country that made us ask ourselves many questions. We decided to divide this article in three parts, because there is to much to say that seems important to understand the country. We will later write an article about our stay in Israel, where we loved travelling, and you can also have a look at our pictures in the gallery.
« Don’t worry this is standard procedure. » the immigration girl tells us.
We get out of a cargo-boat in Haifa in the north of Israel. After two hours of interrogation during which we get asked what we want to do in Israel, why we come by boat, who we know in Israel and their addresses, how long will we stay, where we are going after, but also how we pay for our travels and more, then comes the bags inspection, followed by a second person asking the same questions, and we finally have our stamp, on a separated paper as we wished to. We got it, Israel is not joking about borders and the fear of terrorism make them do deep search on the travelers coming inside the country. Even more since we are two French guys coming by boat with a non-common traveling story, we don’t fit into their boxes and they find it suspicious. We’ve been warned, Israel is a special country. Let us discover it!
“What do you think about this miracle?” a cool-looking Orthodox asks us.
“What miracle?” we answer. “But, THIS!!” – while showing the landscape – “Israel!”. Oh yes Israel, I see. To understand this country we needed a small historical refresh.
Since the end of the 19th century the Jews of Europe were undergoing a rise of anti-Semitism with a climax in World War 2. Jews all over the world had the desire to create a Jewish State while getting back to the Holy Land. Zionism is the philosophy and the political movement that supports the existence of a state for the Jewish folk on the land of Israel, where Palestine had settled in the meantime. Therefore since the beginning of the 20th century the Jewish community were buying little by little land in Palestine. After the Second World War the creation of an Israeli State was made possible thanks to the British Government that handled its mandate on Palestine to the United Nations. 1948 Israel does its declaration of independence which leads to a war with the surrounding Arabic states. Israelis win the war and many Palestinians are forced to exile. In a great movement of humanism and compassion, what will be called later Israel came and imposed itself in a place where people were living since generations, and knew it perfectly. Ben Gurion, Israeli Prime Minister at that time, said in 1938: “The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country.” (Address at the Mapai Political Committee (7 June 1938) as quoted in Flapan, Simha, Zionism and the Palestinians).
During twenty years the Israeli population doesn’t stop to grow and the economical help of the diaspora allows Israel to develop quickly. However tensions with the Arabic states do not disappear, they still disagree with the presence of the Jews in the area and bloody attacks occur inside the country. The 5th of June 1967 the neighbour Arabic countries, Egypt, Jordan and Syria attack at the same time Israel in the “Six Days War”. The Israeli army, the Tzahal, answers back and destroys the Arab offensive. After six days the war ends and Israel more than defending itself, conquered the Sinai Peninsula, East-Jerusalem, the Gaza strip and the Golan Heights, proving at the same time its superiority against the Arab armies.
1979 a peace agreement is signed with Egypt and in 1982 Israel leaves Sinai.
1982 Israel invades Lebanon in order to stop the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization), 17,000 Arabs and 670 Israeli soldiers die. Many will later say that Israel acted against international laws and the United Nations considered the Sabra and Shatila massacre as a genocide. During this massacre the Phalange, a right Christian Lebanese party, attacked refugees camps and killed many Palestinians right under the eyes of the passive Israeli Army.
The First Intifada (“uprising” in Arabic) starts in 1987 and during six years an over-equipped army will fight with demonstrators throwing stones. 1162 Palestinians and 160 Israelis died.
The years following will be marked with different treaties according more autonomy to the Palestinian people, especially Gaza and some cities in the West Bank which are becoming independent, but the tensions with the Palestinians remain vivid and Israel continue to protect itself. 2000 the second Intifada starts resulting again to the death of 4400 Palestinians and 1000 Israelis. During this conflict Israel starts the construction of a separation wall between Israel and Palestine.
Until today different wars and military operations are taking place one after the other opposing Israel and Palestinian armed groups, like Hamas that took control of Gaza in 2006 during a legislative Palestinian election. Palestinian civilians are killed each time, meanwhile Israel is building up an always more efficient defence on its territory, assuring a huge decrease of the numbers of Israeli civilians killed. For the Zionist, just like our orthodox, everything is like a miracle.
Israel imposed itself and the Jewish folk conquered the Holy Land. Everything is in the right place. During that time, the first Jewish migrants made many kids, who are born Israeli, with an Israeli passport and not necessarily the one of their ancestor.
So even if the conflict got stuck, one cannot send them “back home”, we need to find an other solution.
On the road, we pass in front of many buildings or parks “generously offered by …”
How Israel was able to resist so long and so efficiently, even if it was only a state in construction? In fact, Israel is getting money from a bit everywhere: many Jewish people around the world are part of really rich families, many of them high positioned in the society. Therefore Israel took great benefit of the economic help coming from the diaspora. The United-States is Israel’s number one economic partner and is a big financial help to the country. Meanwhile Israel quickly became a modern country and is now really advanced in sectors like agriculture or weapons, hereby creating a huge gap with its Arabic neighbours.
“Are you Jewish?” two out of three drivers ask.
“Euh no.” One of the questions we got most asked. “Oh so you are Christian?” Still not there. In the beginning we didn’t understood well because some people told us they were Jewish but not religious at all, or didn’t had the faith. It’s only after few weeks that we got it. To make it short, being a Jew means getting circumcised when you are 8 days old and having a Jewish mother. And you cannot escape from it! One doesn’t loose his Judaism like one can loose its Christianity and one can be a Jew (being part of the Jewish folk) and be in the same time atheist.
It’s also of course a religion, but it’s mainly a culture, with many rites and rules that people are more or less strictly following. Sabbath, the equivalent of our Sunday, is a special day when you are not allowed to press buttons, including the use of a phone, an elevator or a gas stove. You are also not allowed to move too far from your home. All these rules come with a good amount of strange things and work-around. For example around the villages you can see a kind of metal string 4m high in the air, like an eletric string, that is used to limit the village: during Sabbath you’re not supposed to go beyond it because you should not go from a private sphere (village or district) to a public sphere (the rest of the world). There is also the famous the electrical counter to light automatically the devices in the house without touching any buttons, or even the elevator that stops at every floor for the same reason.
The state of Israel is a Jewish state that respects the Jewish law of Talmud.
Following soon, the next article.