Saturday, June 30, 2007

Long Days of Summer

Putting politics aside for a while. It's almost too hot to think this week. We try to stay indoors (where it's air conditioned) but life requires us to leave the house every now and again, sigh.

Actually, IsraeliDad and myself stick to our workout routine quite well, I think! It's alternating between gym practice and the swimming pool still! We also take the kids to the pool as often as possible (2-3 times a week), so there's some added swimming practice for us there as well.

Sun, sea and fun. Enjoy summertime everyone!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Visions for the Future

I have been entangled in a couple of interesting debates in online forums/groups about the vision for the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict. One person has very eloquently presented us with a picture of future Israel as a bi-national state from the sea to the Jordan, inclusive of all its citizens, Jews and Arabs alike. On another board, an Arab member mentioned he does not see a distinction between Israel before 1967 and after - it is all occupied land for him and he will fight to have it all released and turned into a pluralistic democratic state with equal rights to all.

The idea of the bi-national state is one that has been on my mind since Khaled's visit. I never felt comfortable with it, and had a difficult time pinpointing why. In theory, it has this ring of a wonderful utopian idea. The easy answer to its promoters was, "it's just not going to work". The Israelis aren't ready, the Palestinians aren't ready - no way for it to work on the ground. I have been thinking more about it, and here are some more thoughts - by no means final. They do touch deeper strata though, at least to me.

They go back to what makes this my home.

This is my home because I am part of this unique cultural phenomenon of the Israeli Zionist Jewish State. Lots of adjectives and they all count.

I know that for many Arabs, Zionism (and maybe Israeli too) sounds like a cuss word... to get this out of the way: I am not any more proud of some things done in the name of Zionism, then they are proud of any single thing done in the name of Islam or the Arab nation. Yet, just like they are still proud of their heritage as a whole, I do consider myself a proud Zionist and a proud Israeli.

Values that I hold dear and see as part of Zionism include secularism (even atheism), science, pluralism, socialism (another dirty word to some...), enterprise, improvisation, activism and many more. These represent Zionist Israel to me. This, along with a rich culture of music, writing, art, movies that simply doesn't exist elsewhere. It's not a Jewish culture, although it has strong Jewish roots, obviously. It's a mix of things that I will leave to people like profession Oz Almog to analyse, as he does it so much better than me. I will say that though - it's a non-minority culture, and in that sense it is different from Diaspora Jewish culture.

Granted, there is a constant internal struggle in Israel to maintain that identity. Like many other societies, Israel's is ever changing. I belong to the part that wants to push (back?) towards a secular, science oriented, socialistic, compassionate, humanistic and democratic Zionist State.

In my vision of Israel, essentially the vision of the Israeli Zionist left wing, there will be no racism, no discrimination based on religion or ethnic group. In my vision, Israel withdraws from the West Bank and the Golan Heights and lives alongside with its friendly neighbors, with close ties of cooperation in the fields of science, industry, economy, health and culture. The only question that remains in my mind is, do we have partners for that vision on the other side of the border. The jury is still out on that one, as far as I'm concerned.

My point is, I don't want a bi-national state if it means I lose my identity. I don't want to be "a Jew" in a non-Jewish state either. Judaism is very much part of the national character of my country, and I want to retain that cultural uniqueness. Moreover, as a Jew, I do not want to be a minority in my country. If you offer me a solution which means I become an ethnic minority again, you are in essence indeed throwing me into to the sea, because it will no longer matter whether I live here or in Europe or America.

To be fair to Khaled's idea, he did also talk about a con-federation or EU kind of model, where each part retains its own cultural and ethnic character, but there's economic cooperation, right of passage to all and so on. That solution I can live with, but not the bi-national state one.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Local Version of Hope

The more I interact with people online, learning to see this conflict from various perspectives, the more I realize how difficult it is. I mean, it's complex enough to try and see it from the Israeli perspective... learning what it looks like through the eyes of other people is truly enlightening in that respect. I think that cultural exchanges can be a good way of letting others see what it's like on our side. Well, maybe. Or it might just confuse you more ;)

Enough blabbing, I'll try and keep this one short(er). I want to share a song today, a popular rap song, no less by a rapper named "Subliminal". Plays on the Israeli radio stations daily, at least on the one I listen to - Galgalatz, a military radio station that has little to do with the military and is mostly involved with fighting traffic accidents (one of those things you need live here to understand, I guess).

Here are the lyrics, in my own simplistic translation - my apologies to the writers, it does sounds better in Hebrew, especially with the music. Video clip will be embedded below, if I can get it to work. Please don't take these are representing my own personal political views. To me, more than anything, this song shows the confusion in Israeli society. The mix of wanting peace, wanting to remain militarily strong and secure, getting sick of wars and death, and just ending up being confused but still hopeful. The name of the song is "Hope", which is also the name of the Zionist national anthem: HaTikva, literally meaning "The Hope".

I saw how they went
Too many of them never returned
Friends said goodbye, homes were broken,
Tears were shed by families,
Young people, flowers that will never bloom,
The hope (HaTikva) in our minds, love in our souls,
The dream in our spirit, so forever we shall continue.

Gone is the silence, sounds of war again,
Another soldier returns wrapped up in the national flag,
Blood and a tear absorbed in the soil,
Another shocked mother, left only with a picture,
I lock the hope in my heart, a strong people won't break,
Because the SOB who will stop Israel wasn't born yet.

Give me the hope to accept what there is not,
The strength to change what there is.

Let us continue, life is ahead,
It's not too late, tomorrow is a brand new day,
The dream will die if we lose the hope,
So reach your hands for love.

You promised us a dove, we see an eagle in the sky,
Brother, the poisonous stinging nettle is not the olive branch,
Living like a dream, everyone talking about peace,
but they keep shooting, pulling the trigger,
In a world of terror attacks, innocent people still talk,
Living in an illusion of justice, they increase the gap in the people.

Going thruogh daily madness to survive,
Don't want to live to fight,
The Sub fights to live,
Planting hope, setting in roots,
Protecting the dream with my body, to stop it from shattering,
Enough, enough of pain, enough of drama
It's been over a year that the land bleeds and not sleeps, and why

Give me the hope to accept what there is not,
The courage to try and fix it.

Let us continue, life is ahead...

God, give me the hope to accept what there is not,
Give me the strength to change what there is,
Give me the courage to try and fix the world.

Sounds confused and ambivalent? It does to me, but in that I think it is not a bad reflection of Israeli society at this point in time. Anyway, here's the video, if I can manage to embed it here -

Monday, June 18, 2007

OD'ing on Politics and a little story

I have been spending way too much time lately on political boards and email groups... sigh, about to take a break, I think, or hope, before I seriously OD on it all.

It is soooo frustrating too. I feel like I'm this sort of bridge between people from both sides of the fence, and it's not a nice feeling, it sometimes includes feeling stepped over ;) I come back to IsraeliDad and other Israelis here, recounting things I hear on the boards from Arab fellow posters. I get bombarded with accusations to the other sides... I go to the boards, and get bombarded back with accusations about Israel... Here's the interesting bit, the people I talk to here, and the people I "talk" to online, are the pro-peace ones, on both sides. The moderates. Very upsetting, I mean, if we can't get the moderates to see eye to eye, then how on earth are we going to get to a stable agreement that will somehow put the extremists at bay?

As far as I can see, there is just so much mistrust on both sides. So many mis-perceptions, based on some fact and plenty of interpretations (derived from the initial mistrust). Here's a story I sometimes read to my kids here. The short, very short version of it, it is beautifully written in Hebrew by a well-known Israeli author here, Ephraim Sidon. The story is called "Uzo and Muzo from the village of Kakaruzo".

Uzo and Muzo were two loving brothers that grew up together in their peaceful village. One day they fight over some silly thing. First words, then some punches, and they solemnly declare they will never speak to each other again. What's more, they build a wall, right in the middle of the house. They no longer see each other ever since. When they bring their brides home, they are asked about the wall and reply saying a terribly person lives on the other side, and to never ever as much as look over the wall. Same tale is told to their sons, who in their turn tell it to their own sons and so on. As generations pass, the tale gets darker. The person is gradually transformed to a horrible man eating monster that lives on the other side of the wall. Nobody dare take a look, it's too risky.

Then one day, a young child from one of the sides gets really curious. His mom goes out for a while, and he can no longer resist temptation. He desperately wants to take just a quick look at the horrible monster. He pulls up a ladder and climbs up to take a look at the other side of the wall. Lo and behold! On the other side he sees a little girl! He calls out to her, anxious, telling her to hurry up, climb over back to the right side of the wall! The monster could come back and get her any minute! The little girl is just as shocked to see him, telling him to stop playing around and hurry down to her side - doesn't he know there's a terrible man eating monster on the side of the wall from where he just showed up?

After some frantic calls, they finally realize the amazing truth. There is no monster! On both sides there are only people! Amazed at the revelation, the little boy goes down on the girl's side and comes to visit her family. Her dad faints right into the soup when he learns the boy is "from the other side". Finally, they all head up towards the wall. Meantime, on the boy's side, his family are looking for him, realizing in terror that he has crossed over... The two families meet on top of the wall. Within days, after learning the truth, the wall is brought down and people on both sides are united. The little boy and girl end up marrying btw. And as the families sit together, they shake their heads in amazement at how stupid they were all these years, not to realize it's only people just like them on the other side of the wall.

Nice story, don't you think? I'll stop with that for now. Been meaning to post this one for a while. I think about it often when I keep crossing the wall in the virtual realms of the Internet, trying to convince people on both sides that there is no monster on the other side...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Is there such a thing as EVIL in politics?

Wow, I haven't posted in five days. It seems longer from here, I swear. Been working out like crazy, almost everyday, and spending the rest of the day either sleeping it off or the regular family/work routine.

I did find some time (not too much) for some political banter via emails and boards. Something occurred to me that I thought was worth posting about. I see the word "evil" used in connection with the current American government and it bothers me. Now, to make it clear, I am not a supporter of the current American President. I think he's done a lot of damage to the Middle East and probably elsewhere as well. However, can a government, any government (even the neo-cons!) be evil?

I can actually see how individuals can be evil. I am not talking about doing something that is hurtful, violent, "bad", but actually being evil. It's a psycho-pathological issue to me. Some people take joy in hurting others and exist for that end. Fortunately, they are uncommon and when they act by their sick drives they are hopefully locked away in some mental institution where they belong.

But whole governments/regimes/countries/societies? I think some people use the phrase "evil" too lightly there. What bothers me the most is that these are the exact words used by Bush and co. The "Evil Axis" is comprised of "Evil" countries and entities. According to them, some countries are evil in those very simplistic biblical (or comics - take your choice) terminology. Apparently, to the neo-cons, Iran is "Evil", Syria is "Evil", the Hezbulla is definitely "Evil", not to mention Dr Evil himself - Osama Bin Ladden who leads a whole secret evil empire from his hiding place.

I think that coloring any group of people as evil is wrong. I think Bush and co. are wrong to be doing this. By the same token, I think some of my leftie friends are wrong for coloring the American government as "evil". Governments are usually stupid, not evil. Maybe I spent too many years within "the establishment" lol, but I absolutely will not accept the conspiratorial theories of a group of people sitting together and thinking up "evil" plans. It just doesn't work like that. They may do horrible things, for sure, but they have some logic in which these actions are meant to serve some kind of good. The same is true for Al Kaida even. It's even true, dare I say it, for the Nazi regime.

We can and should question their world view and argue against it. But I think we shouldn't take the easy route out and label them as "evil" or "bad" guys. The world is more complicated than that and life just isn't a comics book... Trying to put yourself in the other side's position, trying to learn their logic, however thwarted it may seem to you, is the only way to move forward with some sort of bridge building process. It's the only way to somehow get the other side to change its views, at least soften them, and prevent more bloodshed.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Dona Nobis Pacem

I was invited to join in a special bloggers initiative where bloggers from all over the world will be posting with the same title today: Dona Nobis Pacem, which means "Give Us Peace".

I am not sure who is supposed to give it to us, and I have a feeling a little bit of activism might be needed along the way, but I liked the gesture, so I am raising my banner today to "Dona Nobis Pacem".

Thanks Mimi for asking me to join in!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

New Israelis

Saw this in the "morning e-papers" - Israel is Our Home

This article brings the story of the children of foreign workers, born and bred in Israel to non-Jewish parents who came to this country as illegal (or sometimes legal) workers. People from countries like Nigeria, Thailand, and the Philippines. From the article:
Recently the Ministry of Interior ran a campaign granting citizenship to the children of foreign workers. To be eligible, the ministry

stated, they had to be under the age of 18, and must have arrived in Israel before the age of 14. They need to have resided in Israel for at least five years and their parents must be in the country legally. The ministry expected 12 000 families to storm the offices asking for permanent citizenship, but only 800 families applied. Almost half of the applications were denied.
I've been meaning to say a word or two about the Israeli Law of Return for a while now, and this is a good chance to say it. I think it's appalling. I think it's terrible that someone can get into this country, get an automatic citizenship plus benefits just because he is Jewish. He doesn't even have to be a believing Jew, or share any beliefs or ideals with me - all that it takes for him to prove his "Jewishness" is some documents showing that his mother, or even his mother's mother were Jewish. That's about it. He can be a no good criminal with zero morals and the worst character imaginable with a record of God knows what, and he will be entered, given a citizenship, courses in Hebrew, money and grants.

Then you have these wonderful people from the Philippines or Nigeria. We all know them - they work in Israel. My grandfather has a (legal) caregiver from the Philippines. We used to have a wonderful guy from Nigeria working for us in housekeeping back when we used to live in Tel Aviv. Wonderful people, both of them. I would preferred to see them receive citizenship here, and be able to live a respectable life. I don't care if they are Jewish or not. All I ask is for them to learn and then commit themselves to the core values of this country, the way I see them. To the the Declaration of Independence (our closest equivalent to a constitution in many respects) which says that Israel
"will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture;"

Anyone who is willing to sign on to that is more than welcome to share this country with me. I don't care if they are Christian, Muslim or Jewish. I do expect them to accept the other parts of the Declaration, the ones dealing with the unique Jewish identity of this country, but that, in my opinion should not be too difficult to live with. Just like immigrants from all over the world live with "With God We Trust" on the American dollar (be them atheists or pagan), or with Sunday being the holy day on any Western country. There are unique cultural characteristics to every country. Israel differs from many by taking hers from Judaism rather than from other religions. This should not mean enforcing any religion on anyone, just living with cultural characteristics that should never be allowed to infringe on basic human rights. If you can live with that, I for one would welcome you here for generations to come.

So, for what it's worth, I strongly believe the Ministry of Interior should stop putting up hurdles in front of these people. If they wish to join us and share our lives here, we should welcome them, Jewish or not. We should feel secure enough within this country's Jewish identity element by now - I think I am - to allow others to join in and help us create a richer, more culturally and ethnically diverse society.

On a more personal note -
We had a lovely weekend here (yes, alas, it is over by Sunday morning). Swimming in the pool on Friday morning, playing a session of multi-player computer games in the evening (the grownups, yes, not the kids), then just taking it easy through out Saturday (which means some work hours for me but that's ok) and then a movie in the end - The third part of Pirates of the Caribbeans. Can't say we care for the movie too much... It was way too long (I was tired to begin with), too many sub-plots and too much "weirdness" all in all. Then again, comfy seats and popcorn, so not too bad either.