In Israel things seem to be quiet and people are getting on with their lives. The schools went back on 1st September, to the considerable relief of parents. They are however about to break up again just before Yom Kippur and will be closed until after Sukkot. There are a large number of vested interests in the Israeli education system which needs a major makeover.
In the Knesset I anticipate some political bloodletting. Accusations are beginning to be exchanged regarding what did or didn’t happen in Operation Protective Edge, and how much was or wasn’t known about the tunnels. Jews have always been argumentative since the days of Moses, but the real problem in Israeli politics at the moment is that there is no credible leader apart from Netanyahu and until one emerges he is fairly safe no matter what does.
That is not to say that the Israeli government has in any way lost its disturbing ability to say the wrong things at the wrong time. I take no view as to whether or not another settlement is needed in the West Bank, although I am irritated by British (often Jewish) pundits who feel themselves entitled to express a view based on complete ignorance of the facts. The Rabbis were very wise when they said “Ain shemiya dome lireiya – hearing is not as good as seeing it for yourself.”
What does disturb me is the timing, which in politics is everything. If it is true that the pressure on Netanyahu to announce the new town on the West Bank came from other members of his coalition, then that is one of the major disadvantages of coalition politics. In Britain however you are beginning to understand the problems of coalitions!
I had the pleasure of visiting Rabbi Dee in Efrat this week, and received a totally new perspective on what is going on in the area generally referred to as the West Bank.
Efrat started life as a settlement in 1983, peopled significantly by national religious Jews who believed as a matter of religion that they should settle in Judea. It is probably true that had the Arabs made peace immediately after their crushing defeat in 1967 the various settlements and towns in the West Bank might never have been built. However the Arab ability to ignore reality, so carefully fostered by the Western democracies, created a vacuum which the Jews ultimately filled.
The leadership of the charismatic Rabbi Shlomo Riskin from New York and the establishment there of a modern Orthodox yeshiva (which among many others trained both Rabbi Sylvester and Rabbi Dee, both Rabbis of Radlett United Synagogue) caused Efrat to grow significantly.
The areas known in Israel as Judaea and Samaria are actually full of a number of flourishing towns. Maale Adumim and Gilo among others are suburbs of Jerusalem. Towns like Efrat and Gush Etzion are significant centres. Efrat is now a town with a fast-growing population of people who settle there not because of religious or political ideology but because it is a very pleasant place to live, with an extremely good school system and a very broad approach to Judaism in the modern age.
Efrat is surrounded by prosperous Arab villages with quality housing and cars. These Arabs are comfortable and settled being part of Israeli development. The education medical care and Social Security that they receive is superior to anything that the Arabs receive in other areas, let alone Gaza, and they come under the protection of the rule of law in Israel, rather than brutal anarchy.
It’s quite strange here at the moment. People don’t quite know what to make of the ceasefire, and whether Israel has actually won or has merely purchased a brief respite, and must be prepared to do it all over again in a couple of years.
The chorus of “victory” celebrations in Gaza was notable by its absence in Israel. There will be much soul-searching and investigation into what happened and why. Did Israel know about the tunnels from Gaza? Have all the tunnels been destroyed or is much of the network still intact? Was there a plan to infiltrate Israel on Rosh Hashanah and cause massive slaughter? And if so did Israel know about it, and if not, why not?
The loss of the PR battle, and the frightening resurgence of anti-Semitism all over the world as a result, is another issue. Israelis tend to discount the necessity to explain their motives, and we are living with the consequences all over the world. Why this has to be so is something that escapes me. Eloquence and the ability to teach facts were always great Jewish skills.
But life goes on and the future continues to be built. Last week I went to the wedding of two soldiers; the bride’s brother Eli wrote a good account of his time in tanks in last week’s Jewish News. The Chuppah took place in the Jerusalem hills just as the sun was setting. The groom’s family comes from Morocco, the bride’s from England. As the guests danced around with great ecstasy and happiness despite the hell some of them had recently been through, I knew that our future is still safe –“Am Yisrael Chai – The Jewish people is invincible”.
I was at the Dead Sea last week. Israel is an amazing and beautiful country. Contemplating the Mountains of Moab I had a feeling of direct connection with the Exodus, as if from my balcony I could see Moses leading the Children of Israel towards the Promised Land.
Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. It is the only place in the area where Muslims are not persecuted by other Muslims, where Christians are not threatened and persecuted, where women are free to develop their skills and personalities without being subservient to men. In the whole Middle East it is actually the only tolerant place across the whole gamut of modern behaviour.
And yet the State of Israel, and Jews all over the world, are regarded in the media as if we are the most evil nation on earth.
There are however ways of bypassing such media. On my iPhone are “The Jerusalem Post” app, most articles being free; the “Haaretz” app, which has very good news bulletins, and the brilliant “The Times of Israel”, which is a first-class Internet daily newspaper with extremely good and fair coverage of everything. In the UK “We Believe in Israel” is also a very good website.
In the meantime Israel is waiting cynically to see whether the latest ceasefire proposals will be accepted, and more important will hold. The weather is seasonably hot. At the Dead Sea the temperature was 47° so I waited until it dropped to 39° before I went swimming.
I believe that the temperature in England was also around 47° that afternoon!
The first casualty in any war is the truth, but the amount of lies accepted unquestioningly by the press in this war is unprecedented.
If all the dead in Gaza were civilians, then who was firing the rockets? If none of the Arabs were soldiers, how did the mortars operate? Was it really robots who dug, manned, and came out of the tunnels? Is there no more respect for truth and accuracy?
And why is it OK for Britain and America to attack IS, which is just a variation on Hamas, but not for Israel to defend itself?
When rockets rained on London in 1944 about 9000 civilians died. Churchill ordered the bombing of the factories and the launch pads. 20,000 died including slave labourers. I wonder if anyone told him that his response was disproportionate.
Did you hear about the photo of the unfortunate family who were killed by one of Assad’s bombs in Syria, and were killed again in the same photograph in Gaza? The ultimate depravity was Hamas’ use of a photograph showing the horrendous murder of a family. They were actually the Fogel family, parents and children butchered one Friday night without warning on the West Bank, but Hamas did not consider it necessary even to remove the picture of the Mezuzah from the door post. Such is the respect for truth shown by Western media.
There are major humanitarian crises all over the Middle East – Kurdistan, Syria, Lebanon. Christians are being murdered by Muslims, Muslims are killing each other in the world’s largest civil war, but you don’t hear of them because Israel can’t be blamed.