Staying on the road in Israel and the Palestinian territories through a month of trial. And today from the Moshav’s green glens to arid Castillia la Mancha.
Two interesting invitations arrived over the past few days. One is to the police station in Hebron, where I am to be interrogated about the events described in chapters 9-11 of this travelogue. The phone call came as a bit of a shock, since I had thought we were through with the ordeal. Hebron police seem to think otherwise. Our date is set for the morning of Sunday, September 25th. I’ll be sure and report back to all of you. Knowing my readers are following will help me feel less insecure. “Insecure”, by the way, is the magic word of the day. It may not be what you would expect from us militant rulers of the desert. On the other hand, it may be the very reason we are just that.
Let’s hope I don’t get the slammer for loitering in an area prohibited by the army, at least not before the end of the month. There’s still so much traveling to be done. For one, I haven’t yet visited a single Hebrew-speaking farming community. Seeing as that is the case, I head today into the lush Sharon plane looking for one.
One thing makes my heart glad even more than the wonderful fruit groves, fields and vineyards: at least the hand of the law did not issue an order prohibiting me from leaving the country. This is because the second invitation is to Madrid.
When a call came from the financial newspaper “Globes”, commissioning a piece from Spain, I first said no. The trip is to last 72 hours only, but September is reserved for the September journey and the September journy has clear confines. It took me a little while to realize that this is exactly what my project needs most: a brief chance to regard things from outside.
Spain would be beyond ideal, as it figures in both of my main themes. Not only was the tent protest movement inspired by the Spanish M-15 protests, borrowing its language and techniques, Spain was also the first European country to express support for the Palestinian statehood bid.
Finally, the theme of the commissioned piece itself is relevant. Each year Israeli high schools send groups of students for study tours in Poland, where they visit concentration camps and other Holocaust related sites. I am sent to follow tour guide Lea Netzer, who dreamed up a Spanish version of this tour. Her aim is to teach youths both of the Golden Age of Jewish culture in Spain and of the expulsion, giving Sepharadic students a sense of history they were hitherto denied, and discussing not only Jewish victimhood, but also Jewish glory and more importantly: Jewish capacity for peaceful co-existance.
While Spain awaits in the distance, the town of Sde varburg offers its own Iberian touch.
Sde Varburg is a “moshav”, a Zionist farming community that is not communally run. I always wondered why such places aren’t simply called “villages”. The term village, in turn, is reserved for Palestinian communities and used even for massive towns of over 30,000 residents. My country is so peculiar. Everything here defies explanation, all the way down to the architectural diversity.
Here in Sde Varbug there’s the austere Bauhaus box,
the innovative stucco football,
the avant garde flight of fancy,
and the soon to be California mansion.
Many fine dreams are fulfilled here, yet a walk down the moshav’s endless main street leaves the traveler with an impression of cultural insecurity and confusion.
At the far outskirts of town, overlooking the basketball court, stands a different kind of house.
It was built by members of the “Agrarian Union” youth movement (Think of Israel’s youth movements as a Zionist version of the boy and girl scouts, or the Soviet Union’s “Pioneers”). Several of these unionized, agrarian kids are sprawled on a lawn.
I approach them with a simple question: does being a member of the Movement affect the way they view this month’s events?
They start off with “of course”, but then insecurity kicks in and I get a general faint mumble about how they are all taking care not to mix politics with values they bequeth to younger members.
“But Zionism is a set of values, right?”
“And isn’t Zionism political?”
I receive no answer, only more mumbles. I ask them where they are from. One girl, Avishag, rears from a community named Kfar Oranim, and a debate develops over the side of the Green Line on which it is located.
“It’s on this side of the Green Line,” Avishag defends her home town, “only the road getting there runs across the line, so you can’t go there without crossing over.” This must be a good parable for the state of the entire country. As I leave the lawn and head for Kibbutz Nir Eliyahu, the West Bank city of Qalqilya is spread wide before me, entirely engulfed by the Separation Wall. We have the bomb, yet we’re so insecure we feel forced to corral our neighbors. We don’t think ahead to the long term results of such a short term security solution. When you’re scared you just don’t.
The kibbutz is surrounded by a modest, self imposed fence, as most of them are. Kibbutzim in Israel 2011 have a good reason to express insecurity. They are in the midst of digesting a grand failed calculation. “The older people here have nothing,” says one member who meets me on the concrete paths among strikingly modest abodes.
On realizing I’m a journalist he rejects the lens and agrees to identify only as “Aleph” but doesn’t abandon the rant. “They have no pensions,” he says, “no savings obviously, nothing. We collect a tithing from younger members to support them.”
“Were you counting on funds that didn’t materialize?”
“We were counting on ideology that didn’t come to much.”
Aleph, a tall, fit middle aged man wearing dark shades, is double distraught. The shop selling Nir Eliyahu’s food products was burgled during the night and a computer was stolen from within. To him, this is akin to robbing a homeless person. “The Kibbutzim did so much for this country over the years. We recieved children from broken families, troubled children. We were the spearhead of this country’s industry. We strengthened what used to be the border during the 50s and 60s. Now what do we have? Debt and mistreatment by the authorities. I wish we had realized sooner this was where things were headed. As it were, we only did early in the previous decade. We had to adjust more quickly than any other human society ever did. We had to deeply change in order to become compatible with the outside.”
“Word has it the outside is farly flawed too.”
“We participate in that struggle in every way,” Aleph says, “we do wear the red string in our shirts, you know.” He’s referring to the regalia of “The young guard”, the youth mevement that established this kibbutz and is known for its particularly leftist attitudes.
It is time to leave the land of the red string and head for the land of the red flag. Arriba! Several hours later I fly over the Island studded Med, take a perfect aerial portrait of Palma de Mallorca,
then greet the proper Spanish coast, a mirror image of our own.
And the first sight of progressive, ecologically driven West European politics.
Next to me sits Lea, who dreamed up the Sepharadic tour, and our conversation already revolves around that other struggle. “I came back to Madrid from a tour with the students and was amazed.” She says that “everywhere I saw young people sitting in circles, exchanging opinions. There would be one girl organizing things with a laptop. It was beautiful and I instantly empathized, I mean, they had 21% unemployment. I felt that this image will reflect in my future. Then later in Tel-Aviv I saw the exact same thing.”
Lea is quick to note the big difference between the struggles: what each of them achieved. The Spaniards got to call new elections, the Israelis didn’t try. I feel more strongly than ever that our call for ״social justice” was far too obscure. Sure new elections would mean little change at this point but they would have at least proven that the protesters mean business.
“One thing I don’t like, though, is how they regard our protests,” Lea says. “They told me: Your people belong with the indignados, the angry people. I found that offensive.”
“But that’s a misunderstanding,” I point out, “Indignados is what they call themselves, it’s a term for those participating in the struggle.”
Lea admits she didn’t know that and I’m not surprised by her negative assumption. An Israeli abroad never expects to be liked. We are always careful to pack the insecurity for the trip. I’m surprised we’re not always forced to pay extra for such weight in our luggage.
Thanks for reading and taking part in the adventure. If any of you would like to pitch in for my travel and food, please do so using the “donate” button at the top of this page. Please be sure and specify that you are contributing to Yuval’s September Journey. I’m deeply grateful to those who already donated. Thank you so much! This trip would have been impossible if not for you.