Wednesday, 7 October 2009

LIBERTARIANZ SUS: Israel & Me (Part Two)

Concluding yesterday’s column by Susan Ryder. We left her on her way to do her O.E.  . . .

Fast forward to August 1984. I had arrived back in London after travelling around Ireland. Deciding that I’d firmly exhausted my quota of crappy, menial short-term jobs, I remembered a conversation with an Australian girl some six months earlier who had just returned to the UK after a spell in Israel. She’d had a great time so I made some enquiries. Ten days later I was flying to Tel Aviv as part of a group of British volunteers to live and work on a kibbutz, via an organisation in central London that specialised in such arrangements.

If I needed proof that Israel was a different kettle of fish (gefilte) to other places I’d visited, it was evident before I ever left Britain. In those days there was a separate area of Gatwick Airport specifically reserved for passengers travelling to and from Tel Aviv and Belfast. One of the delights awaiting me prior to boarding was an external body search. It remains my only experience to date and one I’m in no hurry to repeat.

David Ben-Gurion Airport proved to be symbolic of Israel itself: plain, functional, (albeit it in a dry, dusty, Middle-Eastern sort of way) and largely unconcerned with creature comforts. It put me in mind of an aircraft hangar at RNZAF Ohakea near Bulls, a thought that still makes me chuckle.

Its organisation, though, could not be faulted. Israeli authorities have a knack of getting things done with minimal fuss. In next to no time we had cleared formalities, collected our bags and were on a shuttle bus for the journey to Kibbutz Gal’ed further north.

Something that always intrigued me was Israel’s tiny size compared to its global significance. Seldom, if ever, out of the international news circuit, it is roughly one-tenth the size of New Zealand. And yet since its establishment in 1948, this small piece of land remains politically contentious and sought after.

A history of kibbutzim is a history of Israel. Right from the start, the small collective-based settlements neatly doubled as defence outposts. The division of labour saw all children being raised by a handful of women, leaving the majority to work alongside the men for maximum productivity. Meals were communal with the cafeteria being the heart of the settlement.

My kibbutz was typical, consisting of several hundred members. Black and white images on display of its early days bore no resemblance to the settlement I knew. In 1948 it looked like a moonscape: bare, barren and desolate.

By 1984 however it was a modern village boasting acres of apple orchards and a productive dairy farm. Like many kibbutzim, Gal’ed had removed their Jaffa orange groves in favour of growing cotton for better return. The members all lived in neat apartments containing all modern conveniences. And few, if any, children lived in the ‘Children’s House’ anymore, although they still received their primary education there. There were well-maintained lawns and gardens, thanks to vital irrigation systems in a land where access to water is an ongoing concern. The large cafeteria remained central to community life, but many members chose to eat privately in their own homes. In the early days, by contrast, it was almost impossible to even get a cup of tea outside the cafeteria. In spite of their prevalence, only a very small percentage of Israel’s population live on kibbutzim, but the model remains a successful example of collective living.

I quickly learned that Israel is a land of contrasts.

One of the first things to strike a visitor is the immediate security everywhere. It’s a fact of life. Barbed wire sits atop all major buildings and fences. Every second person is a soldier in uniform, with sub-machine guns casually slung over shoulders. And every second vehicle belongs to the military.

But its massive presence is enormously reassuring, the troops being well-trained and well-disciplined. At that time, every non-Arab citizen was required to join the army at 18 years of age, women for two years and men for three, with an annual refresher thereafter for men.

So with all that security, I would have thought hitch-hiking was out. Not so. Everybody – and I mean everybody – hitched rides. Drivers would just stop, enquire as to your destination and have you jump in the back. We’d been told that a concrete pecking order was in place, foreign tourists running a definite third behind female and male soldiers respectively. That turned out to be less than accurate. Males are males, no matter where you go – and there is some advantage in being young, female and not altogether stupid.

Having said that, the people themselves were the most unfriendly I have ever encountered, often verging upon downright rudeness. At first it’s a bit dazing, but then becomes rather comical if you have a sense of humour. Many just didn’t bother with social niceties toward strangers. The brusqueness derived from a sort of wariness of the rest of the world, I believe, because in due course they softened and I made some good friends. On the kibbutz I became very friendly with several migrant families from South Africa and South America, who were delightful. I spent numerous evenings in their homes, listening to their stories and learning about Israel and Judaism.

The people I met wanted to be known as Israeli rather than Jewish, i.e., for their nationality as opposed to their religion. Most people I encountered led secular lives, visiting the synagogue for traditional ceremonies only. Generally, they had little or no time for the black-garbed Orthodox Jews I would sometimes spot in Jerusalem who, I was told, still spoke Yiddish rather than Hebrew because they disapproved of the resurrection and use of what they considered a sacred tongue.

Some claimed that Orthodox Jews had been known to oppose the creation of the Jewish homeland; that their existence as God’s chosen people was supposed to be arduous in this life and actively funded the PLO as a result. I know it sounds bizarre, but there it is. Trust me, oddity and contrast are blood brothers in this part of the world and besides, it wouldn’t be the first time that people had offered themselves as sacrificial lambs. More, anyone who wears that ancient, heavy Eastern European clothing in that climate by choice is rather easy to put in the odd basket.

There is so much to discuss – much more than space permits, such as the biblical places. There is Jerusalem and its four distinct quarters where the world’s three major religions meet. Or Nazareth, where Christ grew up, and Bethlehem, his birthplace; a shabby little spot on the outskirts of Jerusalem where I found myself in the middle of an Arab riot while innocently eating yoghurt one Saturday afternoon. And the memorable day I spent time in the world’s oldest city, (Jerusalem), hottest city, (Jericho) and lowest point, (Dead Sea).

How the Holocaust is barely mentioned because you can’t escape it anyway and how your heart almost stops when you spot a faded tattooed number on someone’s forearm. But nowhere is it more evident, obviously, than Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum that is numbing in its clinical, chronological depiction of The Third Reich’s worst legacy.

There is the strange juxtaposition of people living a modern life in an ancient land, surrounded by hostile neighbours to varying degrees, with several of whom they have been at war. It is a land of gorgeous beaches and barbed wire. Of traders whose love of commerce goes back centuries. And the Palestinian issue which was not so much the proverbial elephant in the sitting room, as a herd of them.

If you thought this was going to be a political diatribe, you were mistaken. The Middle East makes Ireland look like a familial squabble by comparison, and requires a bit more than several hundred words to outline.

But what I can say is this. In my experience not one Israeli – not one – bad-mouthed Arabs either individually or collectively. They would openly and rationally discuss the situation, presenting many and varied opinions as to the best course of action.

But they all wanted the same outcome. Peace.

* * Read Susan Ryder’s regular column every Tuesday at NOT PC * *


  1. "external body search... remains my only experience to date and one I’m in no hurry to repeat."
    Let me know if you change your mind.

    Generalising about a nation of people is problematic, but aren't Israelis wonderful people.
    White South Africans are warm, loving human beings, but that doesn't explain their history's apartheid system.
    I find it bizarre how a group of people, who went through such horrific persecution, could then go and repress another group of people.

  2. "Let me know if you change your mind."

    If I should, Mons, you'll be the last to know! ;)

    You know, when I wrote that line, it did cross my mind that somebody might say something along those lines -- but then I thought "nah!" ...

    "Generalising about a nation of people"? Not at all. Just telling *my* story as to how I was received and saw things 25 years ago.

    How about you?

  3. Let me know if you change your mind.

    Wow. Classy. ;P

    I find it bizarre how a group of people, who went through such horrific persecution, could then go and repress another group of people.

    Really? It seems like a fairly standard response. Just as abused children often grow up to be abusive. It's a complicated psychological phenomenon, but is rooted in learned behaviour and desire for revenge. Hard things to change, unfortunately for us, the abused, and the middle east.

  4. Thanks for that post Sus, enlightening to hear such a down to earth perspective, as opposed to the politicized gobbledygook that is normally served for consumption. If only we could have more actual people engage with one another, rather than politicians and would-be moralists.

  5. "I find it bizarre how a group of people, who went through such horrific persecution, could then go and repress another group of people."

    Talking about the Arab's treatment of 'Palestinians' are you Monsewer?

  6. Israeli's want peace.

    Arabs want to wipe Israel of the map.

    These are not generalizations: they are facts.

    Israel knows the only way to safeguard their country and their families is to take strategic strikes against Iraq's government and nuclear facilities.

    If the US is unable to do what is right- you can be sure Israel will!

  7. @Sus
    "Let me know if you change your mind."
    It was very sleazy... but meant humorously.
    I expected that it would be at my expense.

    I meant it as an ice-breaker,
    which can be good when two people so fervently disagree about something.

    I know Monsieur Cresswell personally (a friendship built on mutual contempt for each others ideas)
    We see things differently
    but we don't want to kill each other (speaking for myself).
    And what I find interesting is how sometimes we actually agree,
    and we can also have a good laugh together.

    It's from personal relationships like that, that understanding and tolerance is born (again, speaking for myself).
    Without it we're truly stuffed.

  8. I do a lot of hunting. It's my recreation, it's relatively inexpensive, it fills the pot and gives me someting to donate to older people. Deer are wary creatures by nature. They have three instincts, to breed, to eat and to run away from danger [a bit like the French] If they spot you from a distance they will keep an eye on you and their escape route and where the rest of the mob may be. Recently I shot one in an encounter that has left an enduring impression. Neither was expecting to encounter the other and it was in the few seconds before reaction I saw total realisation in the animal's eyes. It knew it only had one thing to lose -it's life-, and I was going to take it. It swivelled spectacularly, cleared a fence and bolted hell for leather across a face until a bullet ended the matter.

    Israel is like that. They keep a wary eye on likely danger, where their friends are and what routes they can take to secure safety. But they live with the advanced adrenalin that there are enemies who will use any chance or planned opportunity to end their life if they are isolated.

    Try eating or breeding with that hanging over you and see if it doesn't affect your manners. Any trained soldier will tell you the drill if you walk into an ambush. There is one chance of survival and it is not going to ground or bolting. You have to instantly turn and drive right over the top of the enemy position. Israel knows it is in the killing ground, surrounded on three sides. Its friends are undermined and will not help except with their weasel-words.

    A stag would probably be enjoying the spring sunshine and not be in my freezer if it had covered the twenty meters towards me at the same speed it bolted away.

    The Jew is the chosen race. Ultimately his survival depends on the one who chose him. In the interim, look forward to them running over the top of the ambuscade with a ferocity that shocks. While the rest of us take comfort in our mob numbers and our ability to flee threats, they have only one thing to lose.


  9. @ George
    You were very lucky that deer didn't have an AK47

  10. As a 'Palestinian' likely would have.. ;-)

  11. Come now, KG.

    Next you'll be suggesting that the deer deliberately took shelter behind his fawn.

    Can you imagine such a thing?

  12. Heavens no, Sus--what self-respecting animal would do that?
    Next, you'll be suggesting a fawn sacrifice..;-)

  13. Well the Deer very nearly have nukes protected by S-300s (or if the Russias are really going for export S-400s, better than anything we've got).

    Amushing a Deer doesn't do much good if his mullah's then wipe out your country

    The only rational option is an immediate strategic strike

    Israel has got freefall bombs and Jehrico-IIIs. That's what they're for - and the time to use them is NOW

  14. Of course what the deer dosen't realise is that it's actually obliged to make things easy for the hunter.

    Instead it's gotten this crazy idea into it's head that it has some rights.

    The nerve of some animals.....

  15. I see Stratfor has recently reversed its long standing position and now predicts a US/Iran war. For one thing, that'd have to save Obama from perceived political failure, just as occurred with Roosevelt.


    PS- would a rational, sane person live under conditions of constant threat of annilation (as discussed on this thread) when there are alternatives available?

  16. The nerve of some animals indeed, FL.

    I'm sure they'd love their individual rights; it's just that their leaders -- the Deer Bigwigs -- have other ideas.

    It's one thing to establish The Deer State (as it did in 1988), but quite another when it comes to the tiresome business of running it successfully.

    There's the mundane and costly business of establishing infrastructure in order to live comfortably, to start with.

    Being busy with these big tasks doesn't leave much time for terrorism -- and besides, all that quiet industriousness and achievement might give the deer radical ideas such as peace and prosperity!

    And whatever would the Deer Bigwigs' masters in neighbouring Warrior Deer communities think about that! Deer God, you'll have the godless gay and lesbian deer bleating for *their* rights next!!

    No. Much better to continue to foster foment with traditional foes. It keeps all deer well and truly in their place ... which keeps the Deer Dictators firmly in control, just the way they like it.

  17. Actually Sus I'm talking more about generating real improvements in the Palestinian Territories, rather than the creation of a Palestinian state per se.

    The latter option is probably no longer feasible, at least in the short term.

    But if Israel was prepared to extend Israeli law to the territories, curb the frequently thuggish behaviour of it's soldiers and settlers, lift travel restrictions, allowing business, study, etc. to flourish and end the habit of grabbing land for expanding settlements; then it might find that outside efforts to forment violence will increasingly fall on deaf ears.

    Just a thought.

  18. Been reading Time again, FL? You can believe it if it makes you feel better.

    Q: Where does Hamas fit into that peaceful lifestyle?

  19. " .. then it might find that outside efforts to forment (sic) violence will increasingly fall on deaf ears."

    Those same 'outside efforts' who denied the Palestinians entry into their own countries in order to keep them as a very handy festering sore?

  20. "Actually Sus I'm talking more about generating real improvements in the Palestinian Territories, rather than the creation of a Palestinian state per se."

    Re that first sentiment, I am, too. I'd love to see the Palestinians prosper.

    But there *is* a State of Palestine as such. It's been recognised by 100+ members of the UN. Its passport is accepted by 30 odd countries incl Israel, the UK & the US.

    So why aren't its leaders devoting their efforts to its peaceful growth? Or do they have a different agenda?

    It does make one wonder.

  21. The Economist, actually, not Time.

    Hamas dosen't fit into that peaceful lifestyle, that's my point. It feeds on discontent, hoplessness and anger at Israel. Ease those problems and Hamas may find itself increasingly isolated.

    And come on!! There's no "state" of Palestine, I don't care if the UN does recognise it (and since when did you take the UN seriously). "Palestine" is an emasculated string of cantons lacking even control over internal movement, let alone borders and airspace. It's wishful thinking.

  22. Keep to the argument, Frank. My not being a fan of the UN - (you got that right) - doesn't change the fact that all those nations recognised the state, as I said, "as such".

    The state is "wishful thinking"? It's actually a bloody good start, given the preceding decades' history, that has been largely squandered.

    The question - again - is why?

    It couldn't possibly be that Yasser, the old warhorse, and his cohorts never really gave a flying fuck for peace? Because the destruction of Israel is still very much an objective?

  23. Beer O'Clock

    Talk about regulations!
    Taybeh palestinian brewery

  24. Hamas dosen't fit into that peaceful lifestyle, that's my point. It feeds on discontent, hoplessness and anger at Israel.....??

    Hamas' life work is creating chaos, Israel is dedicated to cosmos



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