Here is the third and last article on our reflections about Israel. We hope that you carry on and that at least one or two of you will read until the end. If you missed the last episodes here are article 1 and article 2, easy!
« I realized I was not only defending my country. » a friend that signed a 10-year contract after his military service tells us.
Invoking self defence Israel allows itself to replicate with huge power. The military technology and the means of Israel are by far superior compared to the Palestinian ones, like the Iron Dome for example. On the website Breaking the Silence soldiers talk about their experience explaining that often orders are not given respecting war conventions and that civilians are not spared as much as they should. The unbalance of forces is terrific, the Israeli army is overly powerful, and if it is of course normal to defend yourself from terrorist attacks, the truth is not that simple. Many Palestinians are killed while the amount of dead on the Israeli side is insanely less. Often the fault is given to the “terrorists” that are said to use civilians as human shields and to launch rockets from inhabited places (schools, public buildings, etc.). It is likely that these people use this methods and commit many war crimes, but Israel doesn’t strive all the time to protect the civilians as the international conventions ask for. While reading the testimony of these soldiers it becomes obvious that the Israeli army, considered as legitimate, is far from being irreproachable. As an example, during the last war against Gaza in summer 2014 (“protective edge” operation), there has been according to the UNO 1400 Palestinians civilians killed against 6 Israeli civilians.
But the imbalance is not only in the amount of people killed. The Palestinian people suffer, their country is not recognized and is getting surrounded by a wall, their freedom is taken away. And during this time, one hour driving away in the Tel-Aviv bubble, David is jogging and doing push-ups on the beach. A surrealistic gap that makes one quickly forget about the rest when spending a few days playing beach racket on the water side.
“Ah this is an Arab town.” one of our first driver tells us.
“Hein? What do you mean by this?” We are a little bit shocked at first when we hear about “the Arabs over there”. But actually the Israeli society is really organized like this: there are some “Jewish” villages and some Arab villages located only a few kilometres away from each other and with very few exchanges between them. An Arab village is different from a Palestinian village because it is on the ground of Israel and the Arabs who live there have the Israeli citizenship. But it is as well another world where the laws and the general organization are not quite the same as anywhere else. This ghetto-phenomenon, although happening all around the planet, seems very strong in Israel. The society is divided in a great deal of mini-groups, the Arabs in their villages, the settlers in their new barbed-wired residential cities, the Palestinians surrounded by walls, but as well the Sudanese district, the kibbutz and the Druze towns (a surprising stream of Islam). It is almost like there was a will to separate folks, it is better that people don’t meet too much. The Israeli Arabs for example don’t have to do the military service as their allegiance to Israel or Palestine is doubtful, but it actually only keeps each side far away from each other. If instead of doing nothing they would have to do a civil service to integrate the global system?
We ask ourselves about the Israel-Palestine programs that really exist. People often talk to us about the Arabs, who are like this, who build their houses like that and so on. And like many clichés there is a part of truth. “But have you been to Palestine?” “Euh no not really or I was a child.” We want to compare it to the ‘banlieues’ (suburbs) in France where people that have never put a feet in these places allow themselves to criticize them. When you only live with the same people and when mixes are rare it does not really helps mutual understanding and does not make hate vanish.
“No English” answer us an orthodox man when ask him our way.
If there is one surprising community, not to say weird, in Israel, it’s the ultra-orthodox Jews, the Haredi. They are people who dedicate their lives to religion, the study of the Torah and who are strictly following the Halakha, the Jewish laws. Different branches exist in this community. The classical ultra-orthodox man walks around with a black suit, a black hat with wide edges and a white shirt. Very often he has a long beard, has some kind of long braids in pig tail shape that grows on his temples (payots) and wears the tzitzits, kind of weaved strings that hang from his pants that is visible to make them remember God’s commandments. You cannot miss them. The women also have an official clothing style, not really sexy, going along with a quite ugly hair cut. They are spending their time pushing pushchairs. Pushchairs, pushchairs, pushchairs everywhere, the orthodox Jews are making many many children and the families with ten kids and more are not rare. They live recluse in neighbourhoods or entire cities, the children are going to specials schools. They meet only people from their community and are only learning the Torah, oh yes, no Mathematics or English for these little orthodoxes. It then becomes difficult to get out of this system in which their thoughts are completely focused in one narrow direction. And the people who have the courage to get away from that end up completely lost, to find a job for example, because they lack so many skills. Hearing somebody telling us “no English” in a country where everybody speaks perfectly English is a bit weird.
With an early marriage and an immoderate number of kids by couple, it is easy to see how the Jewish orthodox population is growing and how important it becomes for the Israeli government to win the votes of this community. This part of the population that is dedicating their lives to God and the reading of the Torah is a problem that impacts the rest of the Israelis. Since they are not working they live from the help of the State, especially the child benefit, while doing some arrangement in between their very closed network. With a little signature from the rabbi, they don’t have to do the military service. But well, they already have a quite high dose of brain washing from their life style and religion, it’s maybe enough.
To the ghetto-phenomenon we talked about earlier about the Arabs, we need of course to add the ultra-orthodoxes who are a perfect illustration of it.
“Don’t hitchhike with Arabs car” tell us approximately 10,000 Israelis.
The Israelis are afraid, they are afraid of the Palestinians, they are afraid of rockets. Often when we are talking about our trip and we are saying that we want to go to Palestine, Jordan or Egypt, they think we are crazy, they tell us that we are going to get murdered. Every Israelis repeat to us that we should never go inside an Arab car when we are hitchhiking, those same Israelis who have never been to Palestine.
This fear make us often laugh, and is completely out of step with our hitchhiking experience in Israel, where it’s not rare that a young women give a ride to the two bearded guy we are, at night, on a small road. It never or very rarely happens in Europe.
“Today we celebrate the day when Jerusalem got captured. Should I say captured or liberated ?” “Well it depends of the point of view” we answer to an Israeli teenager not sure of his French.
Jerusalem is one of the main disagreement point of the conflict. High place of many religious streams, Jerusalem hosts tourists and pilgrims from the whole world. 1967 following the Six Days War Israel took over the control of all the city, and every year the ultra-nationalists Jews happily remember it to everybody in a giant manifestation during Yom Yerushalayim, the day of Jerusalem. Of course, the Palestinians don’t agree with this occupation. While Jerusalem could be a place where every religion live in peace, it is instead the demonstration of the inability of some men to deal with their differences.
It is when we ask a boy in the street during Yom Yerushalayim pretending not knowing anything, what the origin of this agitation is that he answers this superb sentence. During several hours we will make an indigestion of blue-and-white flags and exacerbated nationalism. Jews from all the country came to follow the procession in the street of Jerusalem. Some teenagers were throwing fliers asking the expulsion of the Muslims from the last place in the old town that they still really control, the Temple Mount. We have been warned, a package of hundreds of army and policemen is on-site, and it’s actually quite normal when we see that the march passes through the Muslim quarter yelling very elaborated slogans like the classical “Death to the Arabs!”. A little bit of originality would have been appreciated. Many altercations happen with the pro-Palestinians and their anti-protest is of course kept aside by the “peace” keepers.
In all that mess, a small group of people are carrying roses and offering them to the crowd to cool everybody’s ardor. From both side of the protest, pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli, people asked for a flower with a genuine smile before destroying it petal by petal in front of their face and throwing it on them. It’s quite difficult to express the human madness that we experienced this afternoon. They were no more men, only enraged sheep going crazy with every slogan, waiting for the next friction to find a reason to hate the other side even more, and if possible to fight a little bit.
The women had a different track than the men’s that we didn’t follow, so we can not say if they dared also to destroy the roses.
Actually, it was a quite sad day for us and we got home with an heavy heart. But that being said we saw the city during more normal days and Jerusalem is a really cool city.
We made a small video of the day to give an idea what Yom Yerushalayim looks like.
“The best hummus it’s here.” We still didn’t got where it was, every Israeli has a different address.
The Israelis are proud of their few specialities. They all know the best address in Israel to eat falafel or hummus, and they all have the best recipe to make a shakshuka or to prepare the tahini. In the end, they admit it, those meals are originally Arab while they integrated them to their culture. When you get to know both cultures it becomes a game to spot all the similarities between Israelis and Arabs. The language is a good example, most of the Hebrew words having an Arab origin.
“Make hummus not walls”, the solution is all found for this street artist on the separation wall of Palestine in Bethlehem.
« Hey but in France you are not afraid of the extremism rise?! » many drivers tell us.
In Israel, and even more in Tel-Aviv, we hear all the time speaking French. Many French Jews, often from Paris, emigrated to Israel using the law of return in order to get Israeli nationality. Many of them moved out because they think being more safe in Israel. We often got this same discussion with Israelis explaining us that they saw on TV that it is dangerous to be Jew in France and that the country is full of Islamic extremists and Anti-Semitics. We are very surprised and needed every time to explain that no, the Islamic extremists are not doing the rules in France, and that no, it’s not very dangerous to be Jewish in France. We still wonder because we only have a limited knowledge on the topic, but we have the feeling that the French Jewish community, closed on itself, tends to exaggerate anti-Semitism and the problems Jews could face in France.
Trying to summarize everything, we ended up with something quite long and we didn’t even speak about our experience as travellers (which was great), but it will be done in a future article.
Hummus to everybody! Arfer and Raymi.