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Jerusalem Diary: Monday 5 May

By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem

Reproduced with permission of The Jewish Chronicle
An editorial in the London Jewish Chronicle in 1896 anticipates little hope for the scheme to create a Jewish State

THE DREAM OF A JEWISH STATE

On page 15 of the 17 January 1896 edition of the London Jewish Chronicle, the editorial is buried, modestly, beneath advertisements: "Herbert Hanks, Decorator, Upholsterer, Panelling - Highly Recommended by Many Hebrew Families… Lamplough's Pyretic Saline - Worth its Weight in Gold."

The editorial is entitled The Dream of a Jewish State.

It follows the publication, elsewhere in the newspaper, of extracts of Theodor Herzl's new book, Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State).

The paper reflects on the gravity of Austrian anti-Semitism: "Dr Herzl's scheme, for what practically amounts to the re-establishment of the Jewish state, is a scheme hastened, if not dictated, by panic."

The editorial heaps praise on the seriousness and standing of Theodor Herzl, "a distinguished journalist and litterateur of the first rank in Vienna, no dreamer of dreams but a practical man of the world".

However, the Jewish Chronicle concludes of Herzl's prophesies of the "coming storms":

"We find it ourselves hard to accept these gloomy prognostications. We hardly anticipate a great future for a scheme which is the outcome of despair."

ISRAELIS ON ISRAEL

It will be at the Herzl museum in Jerusalem, on Wednesday 7 May, that Israel's main 60th anniversary pageant will be held.

All the bigwigs will be present. Shimon Peres, the president, was in his 20s when the State of Israel was declared, in May 1948.

According to Friday's edition of The Jerusalem Post, in an as yet unpublished interview, Mr Peres "is greatly concerned about the demoralisation of the nation".

"Here, everyone begrudges everyone else," he is quoted as saying.

So what do Israelis make of their compatriots, and their state?

Israel is no monolith. This week, the Today programme, one of the BBC's leading domestic radio news programmes, will hear from five of the tribes of Israel.

Sign on a car celebrating Israel's 60th anniversary
Car sign celebrating 60 years of Israel

The five we have chosen are secular, settler, ultra-orthodox, Palestinian (the man in question rejects the label "Israeli Arab"), and non-Jewish Russian immigrant.

The one thing the five share is that they all hold Israeli citizenship.

It is an exercise that invites failure. Why these tribes? What about the division between Ashkenazim (the Jews from European families) and the Sephardim (from Arab countries)?

Where are the Ethiopians, the Druze?

What about the divisions within settlers - between those who have moved across the green line for ideological or for economic reasons?

What about the ranges within orthodoxy and ultra-orthodoxy?

What about the vastly differing politics of the secular?

What of the Palestinians without Israeli citizenship, those who also see themselves as victims of the nakba (catastrophe)?

And what of the fact that our 20- or 30-minute interviews have been hacked to less than three minutes, to fit the demands of news?

The answer is that this is no more than a splash of colour from the most loved, most hated, most bewildering small country in the world.

I would love to be non-conflicted about this place
From the documentary Eyes Wide Open

What remains is the question whether the pieces of the mosaic fit, or whether Israel is increasingly fractured and fractious.

With apologies to the interviewees, here is a very partial taster:

• Yuli, the secular trainee teacher from Jerusalem: "The moment that people will prefer to deal with their own stuff, and dream their own dreams, rather than the dreams of the big Jewish nation, maybe the situation will get better."

• Shoshana, the settler from Qedumim: "This is the Middle East: another language, another code. It's not Europe; it's not America… My father, who built this state, always told us that we have to pay a tax, a price, for living here. We have an obligation to pay, as we don't have any other place to go."

• Mohammed, the Palestinian from a village near Nazareth: "The way Israel deals with its Arab minority is the indication of how the world should deal with the Jewish minority. If Israel continues to discriminate against the Arab minority in Israel, it has no moral right to speak against discrimination against Jews around the world."

• Jonathan, the Haredi (ultra-orthodox man) from Jerusalem: "Israel was meant to create a New Jew - the idea that the term Jew was not enough, and we had to create something new, something that was a rejection in many respects of the Jew of the exile. But that New Jew has turned out to be a chimera."

• Mila, the non-Jewish Russian immigrant, now living in Gedera: "I am not a Jew, no. But when I sing songs in class about love for the land of Israel, it's just like in Russia when we would have moments of love for our homeland. Then when I hear the songs and spoke with older Arabs, my heart hurts and I start to cry."

EYES WIDE OPEN

The closing quote, on Israel's 60th anniversary, goes to a young woman, who appears in Paula Weiman-Kelman's documentary, Eyes Wide Open.

For a year, Ms Weiman-Kelman followed American Jews as they visited Israel. Towards the end of the film, a young, articulate woman comes out with this sweet solipsism: "I would love to be non-conflicted about this place." Quite.


Here are some of your thoughts and comments on Tim Franks' diary:

I am excited and proud to be in Israel and celebrate its 60th birthday. Tonight we are remembering all those soldiers and civillians who were killed for the state of Israel, whether fighting in wars or due to suicide bombings. May we never forget these 22,000 people's bravery and may they rest in peace. May all the families have strength to get through this important day.
sh, jerusalem, israel

Today we mourn 22467 Israelis, Jews, Arabs and Druze, who fell in war and terrorist atacks. What unites us is greater than what divides us. Despite Britain handing over all strongpoints to the Arabs and arming the Arab armies in 1948 we survived and have flourished.
Miche Norman, Hod Hasharon Israel

Being a Jew who has lived in both the diaspora where I was born and brought up among East European Jews (the UK). And having lived in Israel for 37 of my 64 years. I can say that if the goal of Israel was to create a "New Jew" it has failed. I see all the same traits in the Jews of Israel as I saw in my fellow Jews in England, only worse. Xenophobia is rampant, not only towards non-Jews, but to the immigrants from Russia. The same fear that has always gripped the Jews has not evaporated. It has just been replaced with a stupid bravado. It is sad that so much blood has been spilled of both Jew and Arab, for what. Israel is just as much a ghetto as any other place that Jews congregate together, fearful to spread out and mix with non-Jews. Sixty years of independence, don't make me laugh. To be independent is to be free. When a small nation such as Israel is, has to maintain an army more powerful than any in Europe, that is not freedom.
Leon Aarons, Petach Tykwa

Sir, I am a Russian Israeli and I always want to cry when I hear Arab stories too. If I would like to criticise Israel's past, it's probably better if I return my Israeli citizenship and go back to Russia. But when I am in Russia, I always want to cry even more. Israel is one of the countries with highest standards of human rights respect and open media. I recommend you try to write "Grozny Diary" in Russia and probably you'll want to cry too.
Anton, Rehovot, Israel

Congratulations to the brave Israelis on the 60th Anniversary of their state's modern re-establishment! They turned deserts into gardens, the ashes from Hitler's era into construction blocks. They have accepted a two-state solution since 1947 when the UN voted to partition Palestine; the Arabs, alas, rejected it, and are still rejecting it. I therefore salute the brave men and women of the IDF. In Costa Rica we have the luxury of living without a national army. We wish Israel that luxury someday. Alfredo
Alfredo, Escazu, Costa Rica

My zionist grandparents saw themselves as "pioneers" in Israel because for them the Arab people simply did not exist. My disillusioned parents packed up and moved from Israel to the U.S. when I was born and where they felt more "at home". I would never move to any part of what now calls itself "Israel" unless it were first returned to its Arab majority and reintegrated into the Middle East. Arab peoples are in no way responsible for neverending problems of Europeans and their cultural intolerance of each other.
Miri , USA

You have forgotten a major point...there are two views of history here that make it impossible for us to achieve peace. The one, Jewish, goes back some 3,000+ years and the other, the Palestinian, goes back some 1,400+ years. Each one is right and each leads to conflict as people will not forget their heritage. Your comments made by the Israelis in this article are mostly negative, perhaps a bias on your part? Israel struggles to be a democracy in the ME, struggles to give its people a normal life and hopes for the best in a sea of enemies. Yes, we have questions about our future and the type of life we can make, but these are questions we have earned by fighting for our survival as a nation.
Jonathan Levy, Karmeil, Israel

This is very interesting. Four out of the five interviewees expressed negative views on Israel, and the fifth simply said that Israel is a hard place to live in. The secular Jew blamed Israelis for being too Zionist. The Israeli Palestinian claimed he was discriminated against and called for people around the world to discriminate Jews. The Haredi said Israelis are chimera. And last the Russian immigrant compared Israel to Russia/the Soviet Union and hinted about the unfairness in the existence of Israel, and how much she identifies with the Arabs. It seems Israelis hate Israel even more than the rest of the world.
Arik, Tel-Aviv, Israel

When I read Mohamed's response, I laughed. He talks about Jewish minority?!? The fact is that there is no Jewish minority in Arab countries, does Mohamed know why? How come all Jews came from Arab countries to Israel? Does he knows that most Israelis are descended from refugees from Europe, Arab countries, Africa? It's not talked about publicly but it is known fact that many Israeli Arabs will refuse that their town be handed to Palestinian state (NO transfer, the borders will move), many Palestinians are moving to west Jerusalem so they will remain in Israel and will not live in Happy Palestine with Hamas and PLO.
Miron , Ashdod, Israel

Israel's 60th anniversary is also the 60th anniversary of Palestinian diaspora and land occupation.
Reza Ahmed, Iranian

It is indeed refreshing to see the media presenting different angles of the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Still, international community pressures have never been meeker to bring about change to on-the-ground decisions. Israel can literally take any action it wants, and face no consequences.
Rashad Shawa, Amman, Jordan

Tim Franks has deliberately misrepresented Israel's Arab population. They have more democratic rights than in the rest of the Arab world. Women and gays are treated as equals in Israel and not in the Arab world. Every survey in the past decade has clearly demonstrated that Israeli Arabs would overwhelmingly choose to remain in Israel rather than move to Palestine under a two state solution. To just refer to "discrimination" is incredibly lazy journalism and a distortion of reality. Mohammed's comment itself seems to justify worldwide anti-semitism.
Simon G, Ra'anana, Israel

Have mercy on us and don't stereotype us so much Mr Franks. We are no more racist than any other people and considering our grave problems, sane and sound. The people do not represent Israeli mainstream. The Israeli Arab chosen does not represent Arab Israelis either. As the only democracy in the ME we deserve a better comment for our 60th birthday.
Shosh, Haifa Israel

Franks has done it again. Instead of congratulating us for being alive in a land of our own he pushes leftist and Palestinian propaganda. Shame on you the BBC for being so biased! None of the people picked really reflects and honours the majority of our people. As if we were a bunch of racist loonies! At least for our 60th birthday let us be without picking on us!
Abu Ali, Israel

These are only a few out of 12 (or more) tribes. However, why do you include Mohammed who denies being an Israeli in other than a legal sense? The ultra-orthodox also reject Israeli culture and identify exclusively as Jews living in the Land of Israel. Mila, the Russian can hardly be called an Israeli, even if she wants to be. She cannot assimilate into Israeli society and will always be an outsider except among her other Russian friends. We are now down to about 65% of the population and the percentage is shrinking. Eventually, by evolution or revolution a Jewish state based on Judaism will replace the current fragmented mess.
Israel Dalven, Emanuel, Israel

I am going to celebrate my Barmitzvah in May in Jerusalem. I feel at home in Israel; I am in my own native country, in my homeland, surrounded by my fellow citizens who will never regard me as a stranger among them but as a member of a wider "family". Being born of Jewish blood makes me very proud of my heritage and the contribution my people have made to the world.
Ben Israel, London

As Israelis celebrate the birth of their country, we the Palestinians mourn the passing of ours and with that the hopes and dreams of independence. As certain symbols and flags represent oppression to the Israelis, the 60th anniversary of Israel and watching them wave their flags of freedom simply reminds us that 60 years have passed and we are still an occupied nation. Let's hope that it is not another 60 years until we can enjoy the same freedom as the people of Israel do.
David, London

A good piece - well done. This is a strange and difficult country - no question. Too many factions, too many categories. 5 million Jews, 5 million different levels. And then the Russians, and the Arabs, and and... Anyone who dreams of finding a solution here is indeed a dreamer. But dreams brought about this place and they will find a solution. As to Mohammed - he may complain about Israel - but he knows he has more freedom and chances in Israel than anywhere else in the Arab world. This is why Palestinians from East Jerusalem want Israeli i.d cards. They don't want Palestinian ones.
Jason, Jerusalem, Israel

As a young British Jew currently undergoing the transition to Israeli, I am afraid to disagree with Mr. Franks. This country is torn into many factions - true, impossible to label and count them all, but one thing that can be said for a large number of them, is despite heated political discussions on every street corner, the majority of Israelis; Jews and Arabs; I think that deep down will set aside their differences over a glass of Arak (local liquor) and toast the state that binds them and fractures them simultaneously.
Sam Gonshaw, Manchester, UK/Jerusalem, Israel

Given that every nation has its 'problems' i.e., violent crime, homeland security issues etc., I perfer Israel to anywhere else. What an exciting place! I also feel safer here than anywhere else. I start to get nervous when I LEAVE. (The world today learns from us how to protect themselves against terror). This tiny place is full of life and history. It is great being part of a historical process of revitalizing this ancient land. The issues that trouble our region (and now everyone else) will take care of themselves. I'll continue to enjoy the weather and play tennis outside ALL YEAR LONG.
Yehuda Ben Moshe, Kfar Saba, Israel

Despite all the difficulties - holocaust refugees, wars imposed on us, terrorism, threats of annihilation - Israel an unbelievable success - economically, militarily, culturally, academically, and the only real democracy in the region. We survived and thrived in the toughest possible conditions. That has to be something of a miracle
Ido, Tel Aviv, Israel

I'm 17 and proud to say I have never lived in a world without a Jewish state, one that my ancestors worked the land to build. And yet my pride in what has been built and the part of me that is driving me to go and spend the next year of my life in Israel hates what the state has come to stand for. No longer a light unto the nations, or a place of spiritual salvation (for nobody with a moral conscience, however religious could deny Israel's dubious moral stance). In September I go to Israel as part of what the Israeli government sees as a project to train its young leaders, and when I look at my group I see budding human rights activists, future politicians and teachers and I know that we have a responsibility to do our upmost to make sure that young Israelis and young Palestinians can one day benefit from the wonderful country that drew so many people there, so long ago.
Devora, London

It is the safety of distance in time which allows conflicted feelings. The interviews quoted represent a very selective cross-section - and I suspect not a very representative one. Most Jews recognise that the presence of Israel acts as a deterrent to the return of genocidal racism. About that there is no conflict of interest or belief.
David Morris, Montréal, Canada

Being a young American living in Jerusalem, I find that Israelis are coming together for this celebration more than I ever saw Americans come together on any 4th of July, or for that matter, after September 11th. Israelis love their country and marvel at the fact that despite all the people that have vowed to destroy it, they can celebrate its 60th birthday.
Devon, Jerusalem, Israel




TIM FRANKS' JERUSALEM DIARY

Tim Franks 29 March
Views from Cairo

2008
 

2007
 


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