Disengagement revisited

Given everything that’s happening on the Gaza border, it was an interesting coincidence that I had the opportunity to go to the Nitzan Visitors’ Center for the Heritage of Gush Katif , which tells the story of Israeli settlement in the Gaza Strip up to the Disengagement of 2005.

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My first thought was “what’s the difference between the people here and the Palestinians with their keys to homes that they had to leave in 1948?” It’s a very superficial comparison: both yearn to go back to the homes they lost, both hold on to the beautiful memories of times gone by, both are sad about their situations today, both believe that they will return. But after this visit, I realized that this superficial comparison is just wrong.

The people of Gush Katif are true believers. They believe in the idea of Israel. They took their beliefs and starting in 1970 built thriving, economically self-sufficient communities where previously there had only been sand dunes. The communities began among the Arab communities, not fortresses against the Arab tide in Gaza. They built friendships; Arabs and Jews worked together. It was surely not a perfect idyll. But it worked. With the first Intifada (1987–1993), this cooperation started to crumble.

In 2004, the Israeli government voted to remove the communities from the Gaza Strip. The residents did everything they could to try to stop it: they reached out to every Knesset member they could, they protested, they started a movement. One monumental event was a human chain of 100,000 people stretching from Gush Katif to the Western Wall (56 miles) and together at 6pm on that day they sang HaTikvah. The residents were offered incentives to leave on their own, but they simply could not, would not, believe that they would be forcibly removed from their homes.

And then they were.

I remember when it happened. Watching it on TV, I felt like I could hear the fabric of Israeli society tearing. The army was ordered to physically take people out of their homes as respectfully as possible. The residents felt like pioneers who built communities from nothing and the government that encouraged them to do it was now destroying everything they had built. The worst moments were when the soldiers cried. They were under orders and did their jobs. In some cases, they sat with residents, hugged them and cried with them. So many apologized. And it was terrible to see and worse to experience. Angry residents cursed the soldiers. But many understood that the soldiers were enforcing the will of the government that the residents believed in as the government of Israel, even if they wholeheartedly disagreed.

TearsSource

The how and the why are completely different when you compare the residents of Gush Katif and the Palestinians. But I worried that the residents of Gush Katif would live within a victim mentality and pass it on to their children. But they haven’t. Many stayed together and did their best to rebuild in a different location. Their faith was shaken, but unbroken. They stayed in Israel and still support and believe in Israel. Some of the kids declared that they would never serve in the IDF, and yet almost all have gone to the army and serve willingly.

And did the Disengagement bring peace and stability? The short answer is no. More than 12,000 rockets were fired on communities near the Gaza Strip. Hamas was elected in 2006, executed the opposition, and have not had a real election since then.  The Gaza Strip is under blockade, but whatever does get through is used for tunnel digging and rocket making against Israel and little is used for the people of Gaza. The greenhouses that the Gush Katif residents left intact for use by Gaza residents for their own livelihood were destroyed. (A good summary of the last 20 years can be found here.)

On the border of the Gaza Strip today, the “march” is supposed to be for the right of return. By Hamas and Fatah’s definition, that means all of the land with no Jews in it. The return that the residents of Gush Katif hope for is when the government of Israel will take back ownership of the Gaza Strip and they can go back to the days when they lived in harmony with their neighbors.

I like the dream of Gush Katif better.

I wanted to write about Eurovision, but this week (shakes head)

  • Israel won Eurovision with a goofy song and it’s a BIG DEAL
  • Jerusalem Day happened and I didn’t notice this year
  • The United States opened its embassy in Jerusalem and it’s a BIG DEAL
  • Beitar Jerusalem changed its name to Beitar “Trump” Jerusalem and that’s just DUMB
  • The violence on the Gaza border erupted and it’s a BIG DEAL
  • Guatemala opened its embassy in Jerusalem and nobody noticed
  • The Nakba was commemorated by the Palestinians and people mostly outside Israel noticed
  • Ramadan started on Thursday
  • Shavuot will be celebrated on Sunday

Like I said, I really wanted to write about Eurovision. People in the US have never heard of it, but I’m sure everyone has heard of ABBA, winners of the contest in the 1970s. For Israel, it’s a big deal. It brings us into the family of nations. Israel competing in European contests links us to Europe (Eurovision, European Champions League [soccer/football], European Championship [basketball]). Winning a competition means that the next finals competition will take place in the winner’s country and, for Israel, that means recognition and a chance to win over the Europeans to show them that Israel is not the vicious colonial oppressor perpetrating genocidal mania.

There is a lot of pride in Israel that we won and I so much wanted to like the song. To be honest, meh. It sounds dumb: “I’m not your toy, you stupid boy!” And chicken noises? I tell myself that it’s similar to beatboxing. But the message is strong and I’m glad that the winner, Netta Barzilai, is such a unique and amazing person. I saw this and I think it’s worth sharing. Take the two minutes:

Netta

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/av/entertainment-arts-44073911/netta-meet-eurovision-2018-s-metoo-voice

(Seriously, I could watch this video over and over. I love her!)

Fun fact: The last time Israel won Eurovision was in 1998 with a song called “Diva” sung by transgender artist Dana International.

This great achievement was overshadowed by the US embassy opening the day after Jerusalem Day. We had a lot of big names and it was very political. Most people I know were more concerned about not getting stuck in traffic.

Israel states very clearly that Jerusalem is the undivided eternal capital of the Jewish people. Even during the 19 years Jerusalem was divided, Israel yearned to unify it. The US moving its embassy to finally officially recognize the capital is important and more countries are moving to do the same. I’m glad about it, of course. Still, I’m left with the question: Why move it now? It’s a feather for Trump’s cap in the sense that he kept a campaign promise (though it’s actually a promise to another country). But I’m not sure what it does for the big picture in the Middle East. I’m not an analyst, so I’ll let you research it on your own. I haven’t found a good answer yet.

All of that was overshadowed by the violence in Gaza. Some media is reporting that the riots are because of the embassy move, but that’s not entirely true. It’s a convenient coincidence. Some foreign media are reporting it as peaceful protesters getting mowed down by oppressive military forces and that’s not true at all. It’s a short blog post and you can do your own research, but I will leave you with a few thoughts.

  1. The “protest” started on March 30 as The Great March of Return set to culminate on Nakba Day (May 15). The plan seemed to be to breach the fence, burn down border crossings where humanitarian aid comes through, burn tires, throw rocks, and plant explosive devices along the border. The Molotov cocktails are not for sipping poolside and bonus points apparently awarded for cutting people’s hearts out with cleavers. Source.
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  2. Salah Al-Bardawi tells an interviewer on Arabic TV
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    Source.
  3. A “protester” arrested at the border has had enough (of Hamas) and tells the truth
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    Source.

Israel is not always right and it’s definitely okay to criticize actions taken by the government. The job of the army is to defend the citizens of Israel (aka their families) and that is exactly what the IDF is doing in Gaza right now.

Honestly, I wish I could have just written about Eurovision.

Jerusalem scenes

Sunday, May 13, is Jerusalem Day marking 51 years since the city was reunified.  When I lived in the center of town, I could look over my balcony and enjoy the parade marching by.

Now that I’ve moved, I see a different Jerusalem, the one that real people live in day to day, not the one that is on the news or the politically charged one on the internet.

***

Cat-astrophe

Last week I didn’t write because I had a cat situation. Long story short: my vet makes house calls and came to my apartment at 2am. It was his last call of the day. He ended up doing oral surgery on my cat on the coffee table.

Sport disco

I returned home on Wednesday (aka the day after Trump announced he was pulling the US out of the Iran deal) to hear my neighbor getting psyched up for the Beitar Jerusalem soccer match that night. His method? Opening his window, placing the speaker on the ledge, and turning it up to 11 to play songs like this:

 

Ani ohev otach Betar – I love you Beitar!

He played other songs in a similar style. (Mizrachi music will have to get a separate blog post as I learn more. Though to be honest I closed all my windows to try to shut it out, but it didn’t help.)

Beitar Jerusalem publicity video (Is that music from Gladiator in the background?)

Later in the evening, I heard cheering from Teddy Stadium. I don’t live that close to the stadium, or at least I didn’t think I did. I’m not sure what was being cheered since Beitar lost to Haifa in a shocking upset (so say the news articles).

And Bruce Lee too?

As part of the International Writer’s Festival this week in Jerusalem, one of the writers was asked to speak and choose a movie that was meaningful to him. He chose Enter the Dragon. Before the film, he had a conversation with an Israeli writer and it was interesting – although not exactly what I had expected.

Enter the Dragon trailer

Anyway, try to imagine who might have been in the audience at a 9pm screening. Is your first thought little old ladies who bring snacks in small noisy bags?  One sat behind me making comments in Hebrew during the English conversation (loud enough to be heard on the stage) and then gasped and oohed and ahed during the movie. At some point her companion told her to be quiet because people were giving her looks. The guy sitting in front of me who had a bird’s nest hairstyle took his shoes off and put his feet on the seats in front. The rest of the audience seemed more or less normal from my observational post, but interestingly, it seemed that there were more women than men or perhaps more accurately, there were not as many men as I would have expected.

Sure, we heard news this week about attacks on Iranian targets in Syria. I saw that the door to the bomb shelter in my local park was open.

And yet.

People live here. They don’t cower in fear and pause their lives (unless they absolutely have to) here.

Next Sunday, Jerusalem will celebrate its reunification and the people of Jerusalem will dance in the streets because we choose life and freedom (and American Israelis will call their mothers. Happy Mother’s Day!).

And the day after that, Monday, May 14, we’ll open the US Embassy in Jerusalem. That should be exciting!

Flash flood

Lots of stuff happened in the world this week, but the top story in Israel was the loss of 10 young people (9 girls and a boy) who were swept away in a flash flood in the Judean Desert.

When I read the names and locations, it seemed that they were from all over Israel – places I’d heard of, places I hadn’t heard of. It’s always hard to wrap your head around the idea that all the kids belong to everyone, but this is a case where I think it’s entirely true. All of these kids touched people in their communities and were together on a bonding trip before their pre-army academy.

The nation has responded for “our children.” The kids drowned on Wednesday and by Friday, the head of the academy and a teacher were arrested.

Flash floods are serious in Israel. The rain falls hard and fast in Jerusalem. A short time later all the water is gushing down wadis and into the Dead Sea.

***

On Wednesday afternoon, I hopped on a bus to get home and within 30 seconds, the skies opened up and the rain started pounding. A few minutes later it was hailing.

By the time we got to Emek Refaim (it’s a valley and a water tends to back up), traffic slowed down because people weren’t sure if their cars could get through the puddles. All of us on the bus were, for the moment, enjoying the scene. We were dry and we didn’t have to drive.

My street is just slightly above the valley, so armed with the umbrella I knew to bring with me in the morning, I thought I’d get home relatively dryish. Nope.

The lower part of the street had water coming up past the rims on cars’ hubcaps. I got off the bus here and had to fight rain and ford puddles like they were rivers. I was WET.

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The source of the river was right here. I was getting too wet, so I put my camera away and just did my best to get home. The rest of the night was spent counting the seconds between the lightning and thunder.

***

These pictures were taken after 20-30 minutes of torrential rain in the city. Multiply this water, funnel it into a narrow canyon, and send it speeding down the mountain. And that’s a flash flood.

And for those 10 that were lost this week, may their memories be a blessing to all who knew them.

Israelis – 70 Years Young

This week was Israel’s 70th Independence Day! Hooray!

I saw this video on Facebook and I think it’s a pretty good description of what it means to be Israeli. It’s a melting pot, it’s a salad, it’s a quilt.

 

In my new neighborhood, I think I’ve finally moved to Israel.

This is the opening to an program broadcast in Israel in the late 1970s to help people learn English. You might notice that it was British English back in those days!

***

“Nu, Itzik! Where are you?!”

This was the first thing I heard at 7am on my first morning in my new apartment. It sounded like the guy was standing outside my door. Was it locked?

“Yalla! Itzik, let’s go!”

I’m not Itzik. I’ll pretend that I didn’t hear anything and hide under the blanket. The cats are already freaked out and hiding under the bed.

cat-2806957_1920Representative picture – this is neither me nor any of my cats

***

“Hey! Benny’s mom!”

A little old lady was sitting next to me at the bus stop and a car stopped in the middle of the street. The driver was calling out to this lady.

“Where are you headed?”

At first it was obvious that she didn’t quite know who this was and her only clue was that this was her son’s friend. “I’m on the way to the doctor.”

“Get in! I’ll take you!”

“Oh, no. That’s fine.” A car had come up behind the guy and waited while the exchange continued.

“No, no, no. I’d love to take you. Get in.” Another car came from the other direction.

It took her a moment to get to the other side of the street and get in the car, but everyone waited. And off they went.

***

In my old neighborhoods, there were a lot of foreigners, especially Americans. So going to the grocery store was always a culture shock experience of long lines, bagging your own groceries, cashiers shouting for change, and barely contained chaos. The people in line and in the store are just barely hanging on to their sanity to get through the experience.

“I only wanted to buy some bread and cheese! Why?! Why is it like this?”

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In my new grocery store, it’s exactly the same: long lines, bagging my own groceries, cashiers shouting (for change, for greetings, for someone to switch her/him out), and Wild West chaos. But the people are different.

“Hey. I’m behind you. Ok?” I’m now in charge of holding this guy’s place.

“I’m back in one second.” Now the lady in front of me is off because she forgot something.

“Oh, where did you find that? I should get some too. I’m back in one second.”

We’re all in it together and no one is upset about anything.

***

Walking around my neighborhood, I see that it is a place where people actually live. They try to beautify their porches. They grow flowers and herbs. They vigorously clean every Friday. They make the best of what they have. Children play in the many parks. It’s a place where people know their neighbors – if not by name, then by sight.

Here’s a newly rejuvenated park that I found in my wanderings. It was early-ish, so no people around yet.

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Every street has a story

Like neighborhoods around the world, Jerusalem neighborhoods have thematic street names. Some are nice; some lead you to question the sanity of whoever made the choices – I’m looking at you Gallows Martyrs Street and Valley of Ghosts.

My first Jerusalem neighborhood had street names like Shimoni and Tchernichovsky, two poets. My most recent neighborhood included names like Washington, Lincoln, Hess, and Zamenhof (two US presidents, a founder of labor Zionism, and the inventor of Esperanto). Now I have gone deep into Jewish history with Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai, Yossi ben Yoezer, Ben Baba (or Bava), and Eliezer haGadol.

The main thoroughfare is Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai, the person most responsible for Judaism as it is practiced today. In the year 68 CE, the Romans had laid siege to Jerusalem and it is said that Yochanan ben Zakai was smuggled out of the city in a coffin by his students. He was taken to General Vespasian and he struck a deal. Saying that he had a vision of Vespasian becoming emperor, he asked for Yavneh to be set aside as a place for Jewish learning if his vision should come to pass. Vespasian became emperor and kept his promise. Thus, the center of Judaism moved away from the Temple in Jerusalem and made possible a diasporic existence of Jewish tradition and learning.

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The other streets in the neighborhood are named after sages who wrote foundational texts of Judaism. Yossi ben Yoezer is from the Maccabean period (167–37 BCE). A famous saying of his: “Let thy house be a meeting-place for the wise; powder thyself in the dust of their feet, and drink their words with eagerness.” Ben Baba was a second century (CE) scholar who, surprisingly, made it easier for widows to remarry by lowering the bar for proof of a husband’s death. Eliezer haGadol (the Great) was a student of Yochanan ben Zakai, and one of the best known second century scholars. He was what today might be called a “strict constructionist” in terms of his interpretations of the Jewish law. He was excommunicated from the Sanhedrin, he was charged with heresy by Rome, and yet he is still one of the most mentioned sages in the Mishna.

1200px-Map_of_Qatamon,_1947.pngKatamon and its surroundings, 1947. By The National Library of Israel, edited by Bolter21. – The Eran Laor Cartographic Collection, National Library of Israel, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56402776

Moving forward in history, the neighborhood of Mekor Haim (Source of Life) was named after Haim Cohen who donated a lot of money to buy land in Jerusalem. The neighborhood started in 1926 as a tiny isolated village and by 1931, 202 people lived there in 41 houses. The area suffered from Arab sniping during the 1948 War, and there were some fierce battles there as well. After the 1967 War, the Talpiot industrial area was built and Mekor Haim was no longer so isolated.

googlemapSouthern neighborhoods of Jerusalem

As Jerusalem grew, Mekor Haim became limited to just the main street of Mekor Haim and its side streets. To accommodate the Jews from the Old City who were expelled in 1948 and eventually Jews from Arab countries who were expelled from their homelands in the 1950s, Israel built up the neighborhood in what are called by the municipality Gonen 1-9 (in Hebrew letters). Everyone else knows the neighborhood as Katamonim (the plural of Katamon).

Katamon was built around the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Simeon of Katamonas (1881, with evidence of a structure from 1524, today the San Simon Monastery). It had been a Christian Arab neighborhood until 1948. Gonen means defender and the 1949 Armistice line winds along the southern borders of Katamonim.

The vibe of this neighborhood is quite different from my previous neighborhoods, but those stories will have to wait until next week.

(This week was Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day. You can read what I wrote last year about Yom HaShoah here.)