I’m back from a recent visit to Israel, my first in over a year. Since Cast Lead I found the idea of visiting the country in which I am so bound up, complicated. This time I was pessimistic at the outset and optimistic at its conclusion. Landing and take off were as ever filled with my now familiar excitement at return and depression at leaving, the latter always mollified by the whispered promise of “I’ll be back.”
The place is where I grew up, where I studied at university, where I married and where my children were born. Its where I first experienced war, became a soldier, witnessed occupation. That bespeaks a framework of relationships with a place and people that are neither easily dismissed nor forgotten.
As the years have passed I’ve spent more time in the West Bank and with Israeli Arabs in the Galilee than most Israelis I know. On this visit I spent many hours meeting Israeli Arab married women striving to extricate themselves from the traps of poverty and tradition and empowering themselves by learning the skills to enter the workplace. Amongst them was one tormented by her mother-in-law – daughters-in-law traditionally move in with their husband’s family – another who had been on the verge of leaving her spouse, and another confronted by a husband whose occasional employment in a night job meant he was at home all day. For all three, work was a lifeline, the route to a small but regular salary and the beginnings of self-respect and partner and family recognition.
Then in the Triangle I visited a Muslim College as the guest of the lady Vice President and spent an evening with her family celebrating Arab Mothers’ Day. These are people who for the Galilee women represent ‘the other half’. They are well-to-do, live in houses in neighbourhoods of large lovely houses on paved tree-lined lit streets and are graduates of Israeli universities. My host’s father proudly showed me all his children’s degree certificates and graduation photos. He expressed pride also in his Israeli citizenship tinged with more than bemusement. What he said was the leit-motif of the whole visit with Israeli Arabs.
He echoed incomprehension at the direction of the Netanyahu government and a particular abhorrence for everything Avigdor Lieberman stands for. The sense is that nothing can stop this government from going way beyond normal parameters in virtually all it says and does and equally no one knows where all this is leading, though there is palpable sentiment of imminent war.
Away from this, in Jewish Israel, I met friends of friends. One of these on hearing where I’d been, declared “they really should get over it, the Arabs of this country.”
Israelis play at disconnection from the burning issues whose flames keep rising. And yet there are those little pockets of hope: David Grossman and companions who stand at Sheikh Jarrah; my friend in the south who’s promoting “anti-settlement” settlement in the Negev; my friends in the North – Jews and Arabs – working with the Israeli Arab women; Eretz Nehederet – This Wonderful Land, the weekly TV satire show that debunks the piety and certainty of those pretenders of leaders. Such are my varied sources of optimism.
After my return, another Israeli friend said the same thing and added that Israelis should also get over the Holocaust, life is too short, there are other problems to contend with and the past was holding both Jews and Arabs back from dealing with the present and the future.
An e-mail arrived the other day. It revealed that a Palestinian from the West Bank whose young daughter was killed by Border Police in a shooting outside her school, stands in silence when the Holocaust one-minute siren sounds. He says the Holocaust is pertinent to him – the pain of loss is universal. There’s an enormous gap between giving life-altering experiences due sensitive perspective and seeking to comprehend their impact on our daily reality, and “getting over it.” I know which side of that gap I’m on.
* Yesh T’Guva is the Hebrew for the opposite of Ain T’Guva – No Comment