Inside the Whale

September 22, 2006

Israel 4

Filed under: Uncategorized — noahsimblist @ 12:09 pm

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On Friday I went to “Museum on the Seam,” an exhibition space on the green line between east and west Jerusalem that is committed to exhibitions on human rights (http://www.coexistence.art.museum/eng/main.htm). Their current show deals with foreign workers and wider issues of labor. I actually think that this was some of the best art that I saw here. It had a clear curatorial vision and combined video, painting, and photography from both in and out of Israel and Palestine.

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On Saturday I went to Zichron Yaakov to talk with some old friends, Tamar and Oded Fuhrman. I met Oded in 1995 when I was living in Jerusalem. He had just quit a PhD program in theoretical mathematics. He was taking a sculpture class with me and we became friends. He went back to school for architecture and then got another degree in computer science focusing on digital 3-D imaging programs like the ones commonly used for architecture. He now works for a kind of think tank for IBM in Haifa.

We had lunch in an Arab Village called Faradis (I kept calling it “Paradise”) just down the road from Zichron. It was in a restaurant called “The house.” It started in a house in the village and now is in its own building next to the original house. It is run by one family and there is no menu. They simply keep bringing more and more food.

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Talking to Tamar and Oded was different than some of the people that are more explicitly involved with the religious or political dimensions of life in Israel. They are both secular and not particularly ideological in any way. But they both served in the army and know that their children will also. They live in the range of missiles from Lebanon and spent a good portion of the war in their “safe room” a kind of bomb shelter built into their house. I asked how they felt about this experience. Oded was at first dismissive, joking that he was called to reserves but they didn’t need him so he went swimming in the Kinneret.

But it soon became clear that they were both unnerved not only by this war but the state of the political situation since the last intifada. Oded spoke of two experiences that changed his feelings about the peace process. He was very much on the left and protested in the West Bank before the second intifada but there was a moment when he saw Hanan Ashrawi (a member of the Palestinian negotiating team) on TV talking about the failures of the Camp David negotiations between Barak and Arafat. (This is when Barak famously offered almost all of the West Bank and Gaza and Arafat rejected it.) He said that he felt like she and the Palestinian people as a whole were like sharks that smelled blood and wanted more and more until there was nothing left.

The second experience that he spoke about was a friend from the army who was killed in a terrorist attack. A Palestinian snuck into a kibbutz and shot a mother, father and daughter point blank. This off duty soldier heard something and tried to help but was also killed. Oded went to the funeral and there were many Israeli Arabs from a nearby village who had also been friends with him there. But Oded could not forgive the brutality of this killing and ascribed it to a wider ideology beyond one person one group – “the Arabs” as Palestinians living in the West Bank, East Jerusalem or Israeli citizens in the north are all the same, Tamar said, as are Hezbollah and the Lebanese – to him and to Tamar they have merged into one Other.

Just before I left, after I turned off the mic. Tamar said, “and by the way, do you know that we are both the children of Holocaust survivors? I still make sure I sleep on the side of the bed closest to the door so that I can get out quickly if someone comes for us.”

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On Sunday, I went on a tour of the Separation fence (a.k.a. the security wall or “the wall” in short – see arrow in photo above) with an organization called Ir Amim (http://www.ir-amim.org.il/). We were invited to join a group of Germans. We started in a neighborhood called Gilo, a neighborhood that is in the south of Jerusalem and just over the green line. It has been around for a while but it is perceived to be a settlement and thus an act of implicit aggression against the Palestinians. This has been one issue that has been very controversial. Israel has been involved in the peace process in one form or another for about 18 years which has involved a compromise of land for peace – but through this process it has continued to build settlements within the West Bank. Gilo doesn’t seem to most Jerusalemites to be a settlement. In fact, when I lived in Israel in 1994, I used to work in Gilo for an American woman whose politics were definitely on the right, but I didn’t think much of it. I’ll also talk later about my friend Rivka Lehman who grew up in Gilo. A few years ago, snipers began shooting from the Arab neighborhoods across the valley into Gilo. The Israeli army first placed tanks on the edges and shot mortars back into the Arab villages. They eventually put up a concrete barrier to protect the outer edges of the neighborhood.

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It’s odd to see this concrete barrier painted to replicate the landscape behind it. It’s like an odd attempt to normalize a very precarious situation. The Ir Amim tour had us stand at the spot where the tanks were stationed. We could see across to the Arab village but we could also see a new tunnel road that was built as a direct route to some more controversial settlements called Gush Etzion (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gush_Etzion). My good friend Zvi Hirshfeld lives in one of these towns called Alon Shvut. I’ll talk about my conversation with him later. This road was also subject to sniper attacks at this time – at the start of the second intifada – and there is now a concrete barrier to protect this road. Just a little bit to the left of this road is the Tomb of Rachel, the biblical figure who was one of the four mothers, the second and favorite wife of Jacob and the mother of Benjamin and Joseph. The “wall” encircles this tomb even though it originally existed on the side of the West bank.

Adva, the Ir Amim guide pointed out that this an example of mixed messages about the wall. The original public arguments for the wall had only to do with security and not ideology. That is that the route of the wall was decided only to protect Israeli citizens but when Rachel’s tomb was encircled also by the wall, the Israeli government admitted in court that it had built the wall to include the Jewish site on the side of the state of Israel for religious reasons. I’ll talk more later about my conversation with Adva at the Ir Amim offices.

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Later, I went to the “Shuk” or the market in Jerusalem with my friend Sivan, not far from a neighborhood called Nachlaot where I lived in 1994-95. The sounds and smells are as overpowering as ever. But the security is much tighter since there was a bombing there a few years ago.

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Fruits and vegetables are local and only in season. That’s not to say that they are organic. But they are connected to a now dying Zionist belief in a connection to the land of Israel.

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We also checked on the hours of some small Sephardic synagogues to find out when slichot prayers (the Jewish prayers for forgiveness http://www.jewfaq.org/elul.htm) were. They traditionally start before sunrise and at about 4 in the morning in the narrow alleyways, orthodox Jews knock on the doors at 4am to let people know that the prayers are beginning. I’m hoping to wake up early one morning soon to record these prayers…

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1 Comment »

  1. La Shana Tova, Noah! We hope this one will be a sweet and wonderful year for you and your whole family! XXX, Louise and David

    Comment by Louise — September 23, 2006 @ 11:49 pm


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