My travel blogs are basically aide memoirs to allow me to relive the experiences in years to come. Sometimes, I need to step back by blogging because overloaded with information, I need to sort out a framework to present facets of the experience.
It’s hard to find a framework to talk about our trip to Israel; there are so many prisms operating here. You don’t go to Israel for fun. There is bad business afoot. This blog is basically my sorting through the information I need to understand Israel on the ground. It is to hammer key facts into my head.
More traditional travel blogs with pics on Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth will follow.
I could background how Israel has come to this sorry pass but history is available in many places, analyses of it are myriad and this blog is about my observations and experiences.
The photos below are a small smorgasbord of the range of facets of Israel.
However, here are some key facts in a nutshell:
The State of Israel is predicated on the fact that 1100 years BC for a period (variously reported as from 80 to 208 years) there was a Kingdom of Israel ruled by David and then Solomon. Over the next 3 thousand or so years the land was ruled by many nations from the Canaanites to the British.
Zionists, in the late19th century in the face of increasing hostility in Europe, identified the need for a homeland. Long story short, the turning point was the Balfour Declaration, a public statement issued by the British government during World War I announcing support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine then an Ottoman region with a minority Jewish population (3 to 5% of the total).
From that point it was game on. The Jewish State of Israel was declared in 1948 and the Palestinian exodus (known as Nakba or The Catastrophe) followed. More than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes.
There is a litany of words and a parade of characters associated with the Jewish occupation of this tiny, contested area of land, the Haganah, Exodus. the Oslo Accords, the Camp David Accord, Arafat, Ben Gurion, the Six Day War etc. etc. All dramatic, all failing to resolve anything.
Before I went to Israel I attended a series of lectures about the history and current dilemmas. It wasn’t till I got on the ground that I began to understand. To help with that understanding we spoke to the excellent Jonathon Cook, a former BBC journalist who now lives in Nazareth with his Palestinian wife and family. Jonathon has a web site and blogs regularly. I cannot recommend his work too highly. My Facebook feed also gets regular posts from Jewish Voice for Peace. As soon as I arrived home, I joined the Australian Palestinian Advocacy Network, such was my horror at this apartheid State.
Israel has many stories starting with the justifiably angry besieged Palestinians, to the Arab Israeli citizens, to the seemingly decent secular Jews who simply shake their heads and say they don’t know what the solution is, right through to the frightening ultra orthodox Jews who believe Israel is their destiny at any cost.
For me the 2 photos below say much about Israel today. The first is the ultra orthodox Jew praying wherever he might be; the second a tired seemingly beaten Palestinian man outside his business in the souq in Nazareth.
Israel, ruled by the Knesset, consists of 2 lands:
- the Israeli state and
- the Occupied Territories, that is the land of the Palestinians increasingly being controlled by Israel.
- a colonial power
- a theocracy
- an apartheid State
Israel is financed through:
- $5.4billion a year in US aid
- $2.4billion a year from rich US Jews
- high tech and arms development and sale
- African diamonds
- the sale of military and security expertise through companies said to be owned by some senior military people
Jewish Israel seems to be at various levels of conflict on 4 fronts:
- Gaza– occupied in 1967 where 2+ million people are confined to an area about 20 miles by 10 miles, probably the most densely populated in the world. Gaza is governed by Hamas, the bete noire of the Israeli Government. Although coastal, Israel blocks 85% of the maritime rights of Gaza as agreed by the Oslo Accord,
- the Old City and East Jerusalem where about 400,000 Palestinian people live. Although Israel absorbed East Jerusalem in 1980, 7 UNSC Resolutions have declared that Occupation null and void.
- the West Bank (pop 9 million), also occupied in 1967, but negotiated in the Oslo Accords to consist of 3 Areas A B and C. Israel is slowly cannibalizing those Areas with Israeli settlements so the West Bank, (notably Area C where 62% of the West Bank is under Israeli control), looks like Swiss cheese. The Palestinian Authority governs the remainder of the West Bank.
- IN 2012 THE UN ACCEPTED THAT THESE AREAS KNOWN AS THE OCCUPIED TERRITORIES SHOULD BE KNOWN AS THE STATE OF PALESTINE.
- the demographic struggle and war of attrition within its own territory – e.g. a Nazareth story (see following blogs)
Here is the top of the fence the Israelis have built to keep the Palestinians out of the State of Israeli. It is likely the new white high rise Settlement in the distance is on West Bank occupied territory.
There is also the war Israel is fighting with much of the world through the Blockade Divertissement and Sanctions (BDS) movement and the ever-bubbling conflict with Iran.
Outside these mostly Jewish/Palestinian Muslim struggles, overlay the Christian Arabs and the significant Christian holy places. Curiously although the Christian myths seem on an international scale to be the most dominant in the region, in reality, on the ground their manifestations are quite modest in impact.
Who are the Israelis?
We met many charming Israelis who were quite prepared to talk about the problem but in every instance finished the conversation by repeating the mantra, “It’s complicated”.
One conversation with a delightful leftish young man who had worked with a Jewish NGO helping children with cancer in Gaza, said how the good works had to stop “in case Hamas found out”.
Nothing more than that brought home to me how the Zionist narrative about the evils of the Palestinian leadership in Gaza is totally part of the Israeli Zeitgeist. I couldn’t help comparing it to the way German people absorbed the rhetoric of Hitler when it came to the Jews.
This young man who had Palestinian friends also said: “We know the world condemns us and we don’t like that.” Hopefully because of these sentiments, the BDS and other movements will have some impact on the Knesset.
I also talked to a secular Jew visiting from Atlanta who was going to meet Palestinians and who had tenuous contact with Jews for Peace. Like so many others, all she could say was: ”It’s complicated.”
Another note about the power of rhetoric was the way people spoke of the current defined large area of Israel as if it has always existed. Conceptually they seemed to have dismissed other nations like the Romans and the Ottomans who had ruled for much longer than the 75 years Israel has existed contemporaneously or the 80+ years they ruled 3000 years ago.
- In 1914 Palestine had a population of 657,000 Muslim Arabs, 81,000 Christian Arabs, and 59,000 Jews.
- The population of Israel has grown to 8.8 million in 2018; about 1.1 million are Palestinian and have had some limited form of citizenship. As of July 2018, Palestinians with some form of citizenship now have no recognition as citizens because the Knesset passed legislation recognizing only Jews as full citizens.
- Resulting from this July 2018 legislation Palestinians can only be second-class citizens. The law says that only Jews will have the right of self-determination; Hebrew will be the only language of the State and that Jewish settlements are a national value and should be promoted.
- This is outright apartheid and at the time of writing there had been large demonstrations against this law especially by Druze citizens. Many of the top ranking IDF officers are from that community and have resigned from the army since the legislation was passed.
- Around 40% of Jews are secular, 40% traditional Jews and 20% ultra conservatives.
- There are 120 nationalities so the State of Israel cannot be defined by nationality.
- Despite the founding documents that said all peoples were to be treated equally, only Jews were allowed the right of return even before the latest legislation which excludes all others from full citizenship.
- All Israeli citizens serve in the army for 3 years from the age of 18.
- One million Russian Jews arrived in 1990 all claiming heritage; some people think their entitlement was tenuous.
- For 10 years new immigrants pay no taxes and there are grants and other incentives to entice Jews to immigrate.
- Under the Law of Return only Jews can immigrate which is seen as a key tactic in controlling the demographic.
- There are now 700 Jewish commercial farming communities receiving benefits such as cheap water
- In 1948 Palestinians owned 94% of all land; now Jews own 82%
- In 1968 the city of Jerusalem was 6 sq k now greater Jerusalem is 70 square ks
Who are the Palestinians?
- In 2018 the Palestinian population of the State of Palestine is just over 5 million.
- The Palestinian population in Palestine is growing at about 2.4% per year, which is 33% higher than Israel’s growth rate. The population is also the youngest in the region, with a birth rate of over 4 children to every woman.
- It is estimated that more than 6 million Palestinians live in a global diaspora. The countries outside the Palestinian territories with significant Palestinian populations are: Jordan 3,240,000. Israel 1,650,000.
- There are now 600,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank eating into Palestinian land. There were only 40,000 in 1989
- 20,000 to 30.000 Palestinians pass through border posts each day to work in Israel.
- The World Bank 2013 estimates of the annual cost to the Palestinian economy of the Occupation to be $3.4billion
- The Israelis recognize 124 Palestinian villages in Israel while 80 unrecognised villages get no water or electricity. 1 in 10 Palestinians in Israel live in unrecognized villages.
- Bedouin villages 4/5miles outside recognized villages get no water or roads.
- The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) can raid a refugee camp in the West Bank, such as the one near Bethlehem that I will talk about in another blog, up to twice a week.
The Palestinians we spoke to were articulate and knowledgeable about their history. Not far underneath one could sense their frustration at the unfairness of their treatment. It seemed agreed by the few we discussed it with, that any hopes of a Two State Solution had been irreparably damaged by the Israeli settlement strategy and the blockading of Gaza.
They saw the best option now to be equal rights in the One State. Since the Israelis will never grant the Palestinians a Right of Return and are fearful anyway of their demographic vulnerability, even the Palestinians do not know how this could be achieved.