I promised readers I would write blogs on each of the three nations I visited in the Middle East: Israel, Jordan and Egypt. Given the season, I'll start with Israel, the two millennia loci of religious events and contemporary loci of political and social events.
I find to hard to write objectively on Israel, since it has ancient religious and contemporary political foundations. On the one hand, Jews have been in that geographical area before Christians and Moslems existed, yet on the other hand, the State of Israel was determined by European powers in the early part of the twentieth century. The latter resulted in the displacement of non-Jews when the State of Israel was founded in 1948 and the beginnings of a Palestinian identity.
I feel this duality permeates life in Israel. Jews in the past 2000 years have rarely been permanently successfully assimilated or fully integrated into most nations. According to some estimates, half of all Jewish deaths in the past 2000 years are of unnatural causes, especially violence. This has led to a mind set of Jews needing a place for their own, Israel. Unfortunately, in the zero sum games of polity, this resulted some non-Jews, especially Moslems, leaving the area when the modern state of Israel started, engendering the Palestinian problem recently reaching it head with the Gaza situation.
The result is an almost fortress mentality among Israeli Jews and a victim mentality among Palestinians in Israel. The fortress mentality is most prevalent at Masada, the isolated fortress above the Dead Sea where there was a last stand against the Romans. Masada is more than the Israeli Alamo. The mentality and need to exist is paramount at Yad Vashem, the 'museum' dedicated to the holocaust. When we visited Yad Vashem many visitors were new Israeli Defense Force troops, giving a socialization of 'why we fight'. My lasting impression, and those of others, is a room at the of the 'museum' about the size of a small auditorium holding all the records of those murdered by the Nazis.
By the victim mentality among he Palestinians I mean an internal ethos of focusing on real or imagined past grievances, regardless of the historical record. The Israeli view is the Palestinians were welcomed to stay in Israel when the nation was born, while the Palestinian view is they were expelled and their property not compensated. This results in a view like a sociological revitalization movement of the better times in the past for the self called Palestinians. I am torn between the view they are displaced and the view they left of there own will and were not kicked out. Currently, the issue that is perpetually discussed is the 'two state' solution: an Israel and a Palestine made us from what is considered 'the territories'. I was shocked to find out there are different laws and courts depending on if you are Israeli or Palestinian and the legal event occurred in 'the territories': Palestinians and not Israelis are subject to military courts for torts and crimes.
Jerusalem is a fascinating city, modern and old at the same time, such as a new light rail system in century old residential areas and modern malls at the foot of century old cemeteries. The well known religious sites are worth visiting, from the Garden of Gethsemane to the Dome of the Rock to the Western Wall, despite the crowds. The religious areas have a peaceful patina divorced from the tensions of the previous two paragraphs. However, other areas have subtle reminders of underlying problems: UN vehicles and signs of names in red paint indicating the names of people who were victims of terrorism at that site.
I also spend some time around the Sea of Galilee, also called the Kinneret. Driving to this area was similar to driving in the US, with the same 'convenience' store products attached to gas stations, but frequent bus stops on the roads. However, some roads had barb wire at the side and warning signs of land minds, legacies of the 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1983 wars fought in those areas. The Sea of Galilee seems smaller than Lake Winnipesaukee and the Jordan River much narrower than the Concord River. I found it one of the most peaceful places I've ever visited, as if there is a permanence of the words of the Beatitudes and the site of the multiplication of loaves and fishes. Groups like the League of Nations and United Nations should hold peace conferences at the Sea of Galilee.
I'd be interested in reading your impressions and reaction to this blog.
Finally, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We should all resolve to be a 'poster person' for a cause we believe in 2013.