What I Loved About Israel

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
on 23 Comments

David Bloom tells me that Richard Witty challenged me to say something nice about Israel. I can't get on my site for some reason, but it's a fair question.

I've only been to Israel 10 days in my life. (Want to get back, need to make some money.) But here are the things I loved in Israel:

I think of a night in Metulla in the north, an old settement I believe sponsored by a Rothschild. I loved the scale of the houses, I liked the humbleness of the place, I liked its relationship to the dramatic landscape–Mt. Hermon nearby, the Golan Heights. The trees were beautiful, the walkways, the restaurants. I thought, these are sensitive Jews, and you could feel the idealism of Zionism on those walkways.

I spent most of my time in Jerusalem, and there is nothing like walking around Jerusalem. I love my mother's friend who moved out there in '68. I stepped in a pile of dogshit walking to her place on the Sabbath and she just laughed at me and pointed me to the hose in the garden. She is a very salt of the earth person. It was Sabbath, the door was open. I love the way the place shuts down on the Sabbath, it's a good feeling. What is there to say about Jerusalem (which is partly in Israel)? There are great shocks of cultural recognition running thru the place. Melville was there, I stayed in the rooming house he'd stayed in; and this really out-there black guy in purple robes was working at the desk, with an American accent. That's Jerusalem: it calls to the seekers of the world, including that black guy and Muriel Spark, and Melville (then gay, lost, and not doing his laundry), and yours truly. I loved the pageant of Jerusalem, the Hasidic guys in long silvery white gowns and of course the Arabs and their carts in the Arab quarter. The light and stone in Jerusalem.

I spent a lot of time in Jewish houses with neurotic cerebral Jews like the ones I'm familiar with from my family. One guy was a little disturbed. I had great compassion for him. He had bombed out of the army. I would have been in the same spot. He spent a lot of time in his room and was mistrustful. In those little Jerusalem neighborhoods I recognize the Ashkenazi neurotic Jews I grew up with, too smart, too thoughtful, too self-involved, not ready to run a country, maybe, but very comfortable to me. Hannah Arendt knew them too, luftmenschen, crackpots.

I liked the toughness of the kids on the buses and in the bus stations. I liked the lack of bullshit, I liked that There are No Philip Rothian Brenda Patimkin Jewish American Princesses. The chick who's doing her nails has an Uzi hanging off her shoulder. I don't like the militarism, but I like the toughness a lot. I like that people aren't rich, I like that people are all trying to get rich and there's creativity. The air in the bus station is very unpretentious. The air throughout Israel is unpretentious, people aren't putting on airs. I really enjoyed that. The soldiers wearing Crocs. I enjoyed the orange juice sellers in Tel Aviv, and walking down Dizengoff Street and thinking, a Prime Minister lived here, I think Begin, in a humble place. The beach at Tel Aviv is great. I didn't know about the ethnic cleansing of Jaffa then, so I could enjoy it. The girls are pretty great on the beach. The beach culture is cool. I love that Israel has an outdoors culture, a physical culture. Much more than Jewish American culture which yes strikes me as a little effete. Israel isn't effete, I love that feeling of Jews not being effete, I'm as bad as any Revisionist Zionist on that score.

I love Jerusalem at night, I loved East Jerusalem. Yes it's Arab but I was "in Israel." I loved the good feeling in the cafes of East Jerusalem, with the concerned people of the world mingling, Christians and Muslims and Jews. The Arab kid who was supposed to give me a Wall Tour said he didn't have enough people to go, and so it was the neurotic kid who bombed out of the army who hooked me up with Breaking the Silence. I loved going on the Breaking the Silence tour of Hebron, it changed my life. I could feel Jewish and also dislike Zionism with those people. I loved the fact that Yehuda Shaul who led the trip speaks really good English but he spoke in Hebrew the whole time and a grad student from University of Chicago who's writing her dissertation on the settlement culture had to translate for me. Shaul wasn't going to kowtow to the American journo in any way. I loved him for that.

No doubt there's a lot to love in Israel. The difficulty is that I am the sort of person who would have loved the American South back in the day, too. I actually did love Syria, too, though I gather it has police state aspects. And that returns me to the issue of pogroms. Israel is a place that I found beautiful to be in, that I found kindred types, and yet Ghassan Khaled, whom I wrote about a few weeks back, a Palestinian instructor who has done nothing wrong that anyone has shown in court, has been in detention for 8 months now for some trumped up reason having to do with a Hamas student group in his school. David Bloom sent me the following yesterday:

We sadly announce that Dr. Gassan Sharif Khaled
will be subjected to 6 additional months of jailing ("administrative
detention"), so ruled Big Brother Shabak [Shin Bet; sure sounds like Savak or Stasi]. We will continue to walk
hand in hand with the brave Khaled family, that shall continue to
bear the consequences malicious decision of the evil occupation
Our heart is with Ghassan, abducted from
his loved ones and his life of creativity and givingness since January 2008.
Friends of the Khaled family,
David Nir

Let's be clear: Khaled's detention is the measure of Israel right now, notwithstanding anyone's pride in the place. That country is oppressing Palestinians and permitting pogroms to go on. The settler violence is Hauntingly Similar to the pogroms (and I am not even talking about the discrimination) that my great-grandfathers experienced in Russia and Poland and wanted to escape. Rich German-American Jews helped my ancestors to escape by pressuring the U.S. government at the turn of the century. Segregation was the measure of the American south, too, and my generation changed that–including a lot of idealistic Jews working with other idealists, as Obama reminded us in his speech at AIPAC invoking Cheney and Schwerner and Goodman, who were "willing to die," he said, to change this country. This spirit will also come to Israel and Palestine, just you watch, and then maybe other people can love it too.

23 Responses

  1. Joachim Martillo
    October 4, 2008, 2:45 pm

    Just keep in mind that the brutality of Zionist intent to dispossess the native population was very much present in the purchase of the land that became Metula.

    From Metula:

    Metula was founded in 1896 on 12,800 dunams of land bought from a Lebanese Christian from Sidon by Baron de Rothschild's chief officer the previous year.[1] It had been inhabited and cultivated by more than 600 Druze tenant farmers. The tenants received paltry compensation and were driven off the land in the spring of 1896. The settlement suffered prolonged harassment, including the murder of a man in his sleep, from the dislocated families until 1904 when the settlers paid them a further 60,000 francs (3,000 Turkish pounds).[2]

    I discuss the role of the French branch of the Rothschild family in Petroleum: Driving Force in Zionism.

  2. Leila
    October 4, 2008, 5:23 pm

    Something everyone should know about Israel and their lobbies.
    AIPAC – J Street, there is no difference.

    Please read.
    link to informationclearinghouse.info

    “Several videos shot by Palestinians with our cameras have shown not only shocking images of settlers attacking Palestinians but also of the armed forces standing by and watching as it happens.”

  3. Richard Witty
    October 4, 2008, 5:36 pm

    Thanks for the beginning Phil.

    There is politics to love as well.

    Take a look at ANY country in the same light. It sickens some to come to the US, that the US could possibly have harbored the wonderful idealism of Thomas Jefferson ("All men are created equal with certain inalienable rights"), while still accepting slavery, forced relocations (as late as 1944), ethnic based discrimminations (Jews even weren't allowed to vote in some American states) "In Maryland, voting rights and eligibility as candidates were extended to Jewish Americans in 1828."

    From wikipedia "link to en.wikipedia.org;

    In Lebanon, are Jews allowed to vote for example?

    In Israel, non-Jews vote as equals. Even in occupied Palestine, Israel facilitates (inconsistently) equal suffrage, including those in some regions that Israel regards as not Palestine.

    The Dershowitz thesis is that the degree and selection of criticism of Israel is prejudiced. That, too many individuals (for a gamut of reasons) willingly hold a double standard as to the degree and kind of criticism that they are willing to publicize when it comes to Israel.

    While your appreciative comments on Israel are very important and changes a great deal of the quality of your habit, the pattern of habitual criticism remains, and most importantly the LACK OF FOCUS of dissent remains.

    You site a great improvement in Jewish experienced life and public stature since the late 40's (when it was still a career path to take an anti-Jewish form of "Arabist" stand in the state and defense department).

    What was that attributable to? Do you think it should be reversed? Do you think we should move backwards and reject health?

    Or, should be we move forward and become more effective by being more ethical, more service oriented, than self-punitive?

    I had an experience yesterday meeting a prospective new employer, as financial director of a moderate sized Jewish services agency. 90% of the agency's services evolved from serving the Jewish community (before the New Deal), to serving the community at large (but from mostly donations from Jews and Jewish foundations).

    It reflected the evolution of Jewish culture. I'm sure there are idiots that are not sharing the benefits of their success. But, there is a culture of establishment Jewry that affirmatively is.

    That you don't see it, or that I didn't see it in my isolated rural utopian community, is a failing of our perspective.

    A part of the ground to that is there, but we are too scared, or too biased, to walk on.

    I'm inspired by what I see, not apologetic.

  4. Richard Witty
    October 4, 2008, 5:38 pm

    Also, I'm sure that you've been confronted about your somewhat passive-aggressive use of language.

    "Mommy", "Nice".

  5. Leila
    October 4, 2008, 7:04 pm

    Richard Witty "In Lebanon, are Jews allowed to vote for example? In Israel, non-Jews vote as equals. Even in occupied Palestine, Israel facilitates (inconsistently) equal suffrage, including those in some regions that Israel regards as not Palestine."

    There are few jews left in Lebanon, they like many Lebanese fled after the country was basically killed off as an Arab country with a christian majority/ muslim minority that lived totally in peace. Then Palestinian refugees, then Israeli invasions.

    Yes, Lebanese jews vote in elections, like all Lebanese citizens not like Arabs in east Jerusalem who are refused israeli citizenship and not allowed to vote in israeli elections. these Arabs are inside Israel but these with no 'permanent status' have no say in their own country.

    many of those settlers who attack Palestinians and their villages are American jews. There is no justice for Arabs muslim or christian from israel. can I come to your country and take your house, Richard Witty? can I attack you, your children even kill them and get away with it? this is what is done to Arabs in Palestine. who sponsored hamas? israel, that is who. who caused the radicalisation of Lebanon, who made the refugees from Palestine?
    who is the worlds biggest liars, the worlds biggest war mongers. who wants America to attack Iran, isn't your aipac lobbying away. how much more can the world take before it finally snaps and tells you and your people, NO MORE, I hope before you have destroyed America because that is what is happening. Lie to yourselves it's someone elses fault all you want, the world is waking up.

  6. syvanen
    October 4, 2008, 7:39 pm

    Witty writes: "In Israel, non-Jews vote as equals. Even in occupied Palestine"

    Is this serious? Are you completely unaware or is this just a plain old lie?

    Jews living in the West Bank can vote in Israeli elections but nonJews most certainly cannot.

  7. Leila
    October 4, 2008, 7:50 pm

    syvanen, what do you expect from Witty or his kind. no non jew from the occupied territories can vote in israeli election, only jews. please remember that Arabs who dont have permanent status but lived in Jerusalem all their lives even, they can't vote in israel election either. Israel does not make all Arabs who live in Israel citizens, this is the big lie. israel is not democratic and it is spartheid. even the south Africa under apartheid didnt have seperate roads. in West bank, on occupied Arab land no Arab can use the roads only Jew. when the settlers attack palestinians, the army watches. the settlers are in the idf, some very high up in idf.

  8. Leila
    October 4, 2008, 7:53 pm

    not all Arab residents of east Jerusalem have israeli citizenship. israel will not give all Arabs citizenship even inside israel.

  9. otto
    October 4, 2008, 8:24 pm

    "What I loved about apartheid South Africa."

    It's a sign of bigotry from Witty that he baits you to write these pieces.

  10. syvanen
    October 4, 2008, 11:49 pm

    Besides the absurdity above that Witty makes about Palestinian voting rights, we also often hear that Arabs living in Israel also have full rights of citizenship. This is also disingenuous in the extreme.

    Israel has a parliamentary system. Which means if your party wins seats in Parliament, then there is a chance that that party will become part of the government. For Jewish parties that win seats the chances of being invited to join in forming a government ranges from about 1 in 5 for some of the minority parties to about 1 in 2 for the major parties. That is Jewish parties have a reasonable expectation of being represented in government. Being part of the governing coalition is much like being part of the admininstration in American government.

    The Arab parties have never been invited into a governing coalition. It is true, that they may make up about 20% of parliament, but they know that they will be excluded from the governining coalition (and please Zionist apologists, please refrain from citing the one Arab that was offered a minor porfolio in the last 60 years, that was a mere token and his party was not part of the governing coalition. This is called the exemption that proves the rule.)

    In short the rules of the game mean Jewish votes can influence state policy, Arab votes count for little.

  11. Richard Witty
    October 5, 2008, 7:20 am

    Is this the Leila who used to write here? Or another?

    The Palestinian suffrage is relative to Palestine, not Israel. Israel has allowed, periodically facilitated, periodically hindered, the free and equal suffrage of Palestinians to elect THEIR government, within areas that are subject to contested sovereignty.

    While nowhere near the clarity that sovereignty affords, it is excellent and helpful.

    The question "whose fault it is" is the wrong question to ask, especially if that is the only question that gets asked.

    The right question is "what needs to happen to improve the lives of Palestinians and Israelis?"

    For me, the answer to that question for Palestinians is clear sovereignty, self-governance, that includes access to trade (not only with Israel and Jordan), establishment of color-blind rule of law (order and fairness), and access to international commons and the creation of bi-lateral commons.

    For Israel, safety is paramount, recognition as a means to that safety. And, certainly, some benefit from becoming an equal accepted participant in a regional society/economy, for which Arab/Jewish(Israeli) relations are synnergistic and mutually helpful, rather than mutually antagonistic.

    To state that the "cause" of all troubles is Israel, rather than to describe and resolve the conflict that occurs there as a conflict, is OFF.

    Many are past the ideological, and willing to just be good neighbors.

    Too many remain ideological, and hold multiple bases of rejection of the other, and few bases of acceptance and interaction with the other.

  12. Richard Witty
    October 5, 2008, 7:24 am

    Those here that think simplistically, brand me as "pro-Israel" as in pro-Likud, or complicit in the strategy of evil.

    Its kind of odd for noone posting to encounter my comments, and even ask for clarification if they encounter a point that conflicts with my oft-stated objective of mutual improvement.

    That is why I wondered if the Leila posting was the same Leila.

  13. Alan
    October 5, 2008, 7:37 am

    If that's Abu Saba it must be that time of the month, but I have a feeling it is another Leila. Abu Saba is not normally so shrill.

  14. A blogger from Lebanon
    October 5, 2008, 7:37 am

    "In Lebanon, are Jews allowed to vote for example?"

    Um, I'll take that….
    Is that question a joke, or what? Yes, in Lebanon Jews are allowed to vote… I don't know where you get your information from that they're not allowed to vote.

  15. Ed
    October 5, 2008, 8:00 am

    Arab leaders have repeatedly made clear their animosity toward Jews and Judaism. For example, on November 23, 1937, Saudi Arabia's King Ibn Saud told British Colonel H.R.P. Dickson: "Our hatred for the Jews dates from God's condemnation of them for their persecution and rejection of Isa (Jesus) and their subsequent rejection of His chosen Prophet." He added "that for a Muslim to kill a Jew, or for him to be killed by a Jew ensures him an immediate entry into Heaven and into the august presence of God Almighty."3

    When Hitler introduced the Nuremberg racial laws in 1935, he received telegrams of congratulation from all corners of the Arab world.4 Later, during the war, one of his most ardent supporters was the Mufti of Jerusalem.

    Jews were never permitted to live in Jordan. Civil Law No. 6, which governed the Jordanian-occupied West Bank, states explicitly: "Any man will be a Jordanian subject if he is not Jewish."5

    The Arab countries see to it that even young schoolchildren are taught to hate Jews. The Syrian Minister of Education wrote in 1968: "The hatred which we indoctrinate into the minds of our children from their birth is sacred."6

    After the Six-Day War in 1967, the Israelis found public school textbooks that had been used to educate Arab children in the West Bank. They were replete with racist and hateful portrayals of Jews:

    "The Jews are scattered to the ends of the earth, where they live exiled and despised, since by their nature they are vile, greedy and enemies of mankind, by their nature they were tempted to steal a land as asylum for their disgrace."7

    "Analyze the following sentences:

    1. The merchant himself traveled to the African continent.

    2. We shall expel all the Jews from the Arab countries."8

    "The Jews of our time are the descendants of the Jews who harmed the Prophet Muhammad. They betrayed him, they broke the treaty with him and joined sides with his enemies to fight him…"9

    "The Jews in Europe were persecuted and despised because of their corruption, meanness and treachery."10

    A 1977 Jordanian teachers' manual for first-graders used on the West Bank instructs educators to "implant in the soul of the pupil the rule of Islam that if the enemies occupy even one inch of the Islamic lands, jihad (holy war) becomes imperative for every Muslim." It also says the Jews plotted to assassinate Muhammad when he was a child. Another Jordanian text, a 1982 social studies book, claims Israel ordered the massacre of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila during the Lebanon war, but does not mention the Christian Arabs who were the perpetrators.11

    According to a study of Syrian textbooks, "the Syrian educational system expands hatred of Israel and Zionism to anti-Semitism directed at all Jews. That anti-Semitism evokes ancient Islamic motifs to describe the unchangeable and treacherous nature of the Jews. Its inevitable conclusion is that all Jews must be annihilated."12 To cite one example, an eleventh grade textbook claims that Jews hated Muslims and were driven by envy to incite hostility against them:

    The Jews spare no effort to deceive us, deny our Prophet, incite against us, and distort the holy scriptures.

    The Jews cooperate with the Polytheist and the infidels against the Muslims because they know Islam reveals their crafty ways and abject characteristics.13

    More Zionist Propaganda is available at link to jewishvirtuallibrary.org

  16. Richard Witty
    October 5, 2008, 8:09 am

    Blogger from Lebanon,

    Are Palestinian refugees born in Lebanon allowed to vote in Lebanon?

    They are not allowed to be citizens.

  17. Judy
    October 5, 2008, 8:16 am

    Phil: I would encourage you not to go back. Progressive American Jews should refuse to visit Israel as long as Palestinian Americans are forbidden entry and/or held captive once they arrive.

  18. M14
    October 5, 2008, 8:17 am

    OMG! Could Witty have a point?

    link to yalibnan.com

  19. M14
    October 5, 2008, 8:21 am

    link to thejewsoflebanon.org

    Perhaps Witty was confusing Lebanon with Jordan or Saudi Arabia?

  20. Richard Witty
    October 5, 2008, 9:45 am

    If you are to report on this topic at all in the future, it is NECESSARY for you to visit and interview widely, including the people that you habitually condemn.

    And to STUDY widely and comprehensively.

    Even if you end up concluding similarly, you then bring an informed perspective, rather than anything that can be described by anyone as biased or habitual or conformist.

    And, you can then describe your differences as "I understand what you are saying, but I also include x in my math. I conclude y. If condition z changed, I would conclude differently."

    Its a different process than agitation and repetition.

    There is a place for that, but that is definitively partison, rather than fundamentally informative.

  21. MM
    October 5, 2008, 12:42 pm

    And now, Richard, leading by example, is going to say what it is he loves about the anti-colonial, anti-zionist perspective, which he has STUDIED, and to which he can say, "I understand what you are saying…" right before unleashing superior xyz kungfu, using the secret Witty code, making everyone's heads explode.

    Until then, the Weiss-Witty Sutra has been somewhat of a yawner.

    How could Phil FORGET to even MENTION the hedonism that's flowering on the desert beaches over there!?

    Babes holding M-16s, government commercials using booty shots to boost tourism, respectable pornographic and gentleman's services industry…

    While certain organs in my body can resist the zionist state, one… cannot.

    'Honey you know that army costume is just kinky as hell, but don't you think we could get to know each other a little bit first?'

    [To buy my book 50 Sureshots not to Bomb in the Jewish State, contact my agent, Paul Easton, of Benson Beast, (800) 666-GUTS. Ask about quantity discounts and about when he's gonna finally get married.]

  22. Jacqueline_Hyde
    October 5, 2008, 7:45 pm

    What a resume!

    The victimhood, the superior tone,
    the pretense of balance, the ambiguous statements meant to sound profound, the red-baiting.

    The bigot's full quiver.

    Witty's got it all, baby!

  23. Todd
    October 6, 2008, 12:22 pm


    It's great that you can find nice things to say about Israel, but why should you care any more about Israel than you do about Fiji?

    I can trace ancestors to exact villages in England, Germany and other nations within the last 300 or so years, but I'm not torn over a loyalty to the lands or people, and I feel no need to balance the people and their pasts.

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