September 20, 2019

Everything Is Personal Here in the Middle East

Last evening I found myself channel surfing Israeli television when I came across a gripping documentary centered on an Israeli cyclist who pedaled the length and breadth of Israel and parts of the West Bank to meet people and learn about their lives and relationship to the land and state of Israel. He met them in cities, villages, kibbutzim, moshavim, in fields, cafes, bus stops, anywhere they gathered – Jews, Arabs, Muslims, Christians, Druze, religious, secular, Holocaust survivors, survivors of war and terror, soldiers in uniform, Jewish and Palestinian refugees, old, young, anyone and everyone.

Each had a story; every story was personal; each was a tale of heartbreak, strength, perseverance, and courage. Many of these people’s histories were so sad that I wondered how they bore their sufferings.  All spoke Hebrew, some not so well, as either a first language or a tongue acquired later in life. Everyone spoke honestly and from the heart.  As he rolled throughout the land we heard behind his narration poetry and song reflecting the dreams and truths of the peoples’ lives. The visuals were stunning as only they can be in Israel.

This film offered a snapshot of the diversity of people crammed into a small slice of territory and the consequent clash of identities and national aspirations. One young Palestinian originally from Haifa who was visiting family and friends from his home in Germany said; “I was born here. I speak Hebrew and Arabic. This is my home. But I am not an Israeli. Theirs is not my flag. I cannot sing Hatikvah [Israel’s national anthem emphasizing the longing of the Jew for our people’s ancestral home]. This is not my country. They don’t respect me, but I am from here. What can I do!  How can I live here?”

There was bitterness and anguish in his heart. I could not tell if there was also hatred or a desire for vengeance. He seemed resigned, and clearly had decided with his feet where he could live with self-respect and dignity outside this place.

Others expressed their passionate attachment to the land, the meaning of Hatikvah in their lives, and their desire that young Israelis and Jews the world over know the history of this place and why the Jewish state is so important.

Fear and hatred (though come by naturally) motivate too many people in this region and determine many self-destructive politics and policies.

In a separate blog I will tell of my tour of parts of the West Bank yesterday with a member of Shalom Achshav’s “Settlement Watch” team and the most recent controversy in settlement construction.

For now, mi’YerushalayimShalom!