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After visiting, some random reflections on Israel and Palestine, apartheid, one and two states
June 2, 2014
I follow what is happening in Israel and Palestine every day but have just returned from my first trip since 1999. It was Raquelís first trip there, We went all over - to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the Dead Sea, Caesarea, Nazareth and the Galilee. The purpose of the trip was mainly family and tourist, although we did manage to go out for a m...eal with Adam Keller and Beate Zilversmidt from Gush Shalom - old friends of mine, and I did an interview with Yitzhak Luden from the Yiddish Bundist journal Lebnsfragn.
So here are some random reflections.
Firstly, although there is a lot more traffic, fast roads, traffic jams and buildings from the last time I was there there is still enough that I like about Israel - watching life on the sea front at Tel Aviv, Aboulafiaís bakery at Jaffa, drinking lemon and mint, eating freshly made falafels made by a falafel machine that rolls the dough, sitting outside cafes in Tel Aviv, talking and reading Hebrew, floating in the Dead Sea, identifying as a secular Jew. And then the ugly things; the separation Wall, which you canít miss surrounding Bethlehem or surrounding Arab villages like Shuafat - obvious as one is stuck in a traffic jam coming into Jerusalem and the weird experience of driving through the West Bank on the Ďfenced-iní route 443, Raquel said it made her feel insecure rather than secure.
We walked round Jerusalem, through the new pedestrian arcade which leads from the Jaffa Gate to the middle of West Jerusalem and which could be in Berlin or Boston, up the Via Dolorosa to the Holy Sepulchre, through the Arab souk, through the Jewish quarter, where an old man offered himself as guide with a partial version of how the Jordanians had destroyed the buildings and synagogues after 1948. I countered by asking him where the Mugrabi quarter was (Israel bulldozed it in 1967 to create the plaza in front of the Western Wall). And then to the wall itself. Somehow I found it a less intimidating experience than I remembered. I had vague memories of some black hatted apparition asking me if I was interested in Judaism and offering me a tallis (prayer shawl) to put on - at which I promptly turned tail. This time I picked up a Chumesh, sat down and followed the start of the Book of Numbers (Bamidbar). I did not feel pressured and it felt right - an affirmation of my part in the Jewish story without disturbing my essential atheism.
We went to Bethlehem - the day before the Popeís visit - where Palestinian and Vatican flags were flying and pictures of President Abbas and the Pope were everywhere in Manger Square. And we went to Nazareth and to the various locations associated with Jesus Christ around the Sea of Galilee.
So what reflections does the trip prompt about Israel and Palestine.
Firstly; is it correct to use the word Ďapartheidí to describe the situation of walls and fences and separated roads and checkpoints ? I have long resisted the term as I think that it related specifically to the situation in South Africa. People use it both to draw attention to the injustice and to hint at the solution - a non racial Ďrainbow nationí. Of course frontiers and checkpoints didnít start in South Africa; it goes back to antiquity. Most European countries started off as much smaller units and it was common to have to cross a border to get to different cities in Germany or Italy. Neither is there a theory of racial inferiority in exactly the same way. Nor do Palestinian areas, whichever side of the Green Line they are on, look as poor as townships in South Africa or favelas in Brazil, although to be fair we didn`t go into Gaza or a refugee camp like Daheishe. But increasingly commentators have started to point to the development of apartheid-like conditions. It is a very high tech form of apartheid, with electronic checkpoints on roads that look like toll-booths.
Jerusalem Day happened while we there. It was marked by much bombastic rhetoric from Netanyahu about Jerusalem being eternal and indivisible. In fact Jerusalem is very far from being a united city. As if to emphasise that the police prudently closed the Temple Mount to Jewish right wing demonstrators, perhaps remembering Ariel Sharon`s walk there in 1999 which provoked the Second Intifada. But it meant that on Jerusalem Day which supposedly celebrates the reunification of the City Jewish Israelis did not have free and unfettered access to the whole of the supposedly united city.
So to one or two states. The question which is frequently asked here does not coincide to the situation where there is a state and a series of statelets - in Gaza, Bethlehem, Ramallah, etc. So do the statelets grow into a state with some territorial contiguity or do the Palestinians voluntarily give up what little autonomy they have and join a struggle for a single non- ethnically based state . Maybe in the long run there will be a state that can commemorate both the ma`apilim ( the boats that broke the British blockade before 1948) and the fedayeen. I think that if I was a Palestinian Arab in Jaffa or Nazareth I would rather be a citizen of such a state; the challenge is to persuade Jewish Israelis. Until then my opinion remains that the two state solution, and the end to the occupation and the development of the Palestinian areas into a functioning state is the best way forward. Nothing I saw in seven brief days caused me to change my mind.
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