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The American father insists that Israel is an egalitarian society, his daughter disagrees

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ben-gurion-airportI often encounter some metaphorical weirdness on my flights to Israel and true to form, on my layover in Toronto, my flight leaves from gate E69, but arrows point in opposite directions and the obvious glass doors to the indicated area are locked shut. Alice in Wonderland? Where is the white rabbit when I need him? A helpful info lady explains that that section of the airport is locked until shortly before check in.  Ahhhh. I settle into an anxious, watchful stupor, and once the doors open, I notice that E69 is also cordoned off and that another (mild Canadian style, sweep of the wand across my potentially explosive laden palms) checkpoint is required to entire the now safe-from-terror zone that is the flight to Tel Aviv.

The passengers are an eclectic group: a number of Christian religious tours, gold crosses draped around necks, tee shirts quoting Isaiah and scripture, a “Walk with the Bible” group, folks on the “Jesus Trail,” lots of prayer and blessings in general conversation, a large, unnaturally enthusiastic Taglit Birthright-Israel team complete with name tags and youthful happiness, eager to fall in love with the great Zionist outdoors. Families wearing yarmulkes, kids alternating “Daddy” and “Abba,” tee shirts in Hebrew, a woman in a hijab with five children, a man with thick grey hair reading a Russian newspaper.

Eleven-plus hours later, at passport control, the lines are full, hot, sweaty and slow moving. A US family behind me is coming for a wedding. The father is insisting that Israel is an egalitarian society and his determined teenage daughter argues intently that he is indeed wrong. There is a bank of security devices all made by Hewlett Packard, a US company.  Two little Chinese ladies in big hats chat with another Asian woman on yet another Christian Holy Sites tour. They are inexplicably turned away from passport control and led away to some unnamed place.  I watch my passport official carefully; she takes her job seriously, asks lots of questions and is constantly on the phone.  An ominous sign for me. I review my spiel: nice Jewish lady, loves Israel, meeting friend who speaks Hebrew, plus check out my last name. Rothchild. It seems to me that almost everyone sweating in the foreign passport queue is on some kind of pilgrimage: looking for Jesus, or for a love of Zion and a tan muscular Israeli soldier to play with in the great outdoors, or for family connections; and then there is me, looking for the contradictions in this booming, high tech, flawed, complicated so-called democracy.

I am trying to resist stereotypes, but as I board the sherut, (the shared taxi to Jerusalem), the bulky probably Russian driver and an elderly Orthodox Jewish woman began what appears to be a pretty intense argument with loud, angry yelling.  She is soon joined by her bearded husband in a long dark coat and yarmulke with wire rimmed glasses, and this noisy argument continues for a good 15 minutes into the drive. What happened to civility and “using inside voices” as I used to tell my children? (My slightly sleep deprived fantasy is that he does not want to sit next to a strange woman and I have already decided to take a moral stand: I will not give up my single seat, but that apparently was not the issue. My paranoia relaxes but the tension in the van is still palpable.)  I can feel this peculiar cultural insanity creeping into my pores. Shortly thereafter the couple begin chatting (loud but friendly) with another older man in a mix of Hebrew and Yiddish. It seems all the personality disorders are now under control.

The heat is thick and there is a haze over the landscape, tall cities cluster like stark giant grey Legos, the fields and hills are turning from green to straw-brown. We turn onto highway 443, past Modi’in, acres of Jewish National Fund pine forests, (often covering destroyed Palestinian villages), young Israeli soldiers wait at bus stops, gigantic cranes and concrete cities mushroom everywhere. We are soon on the segment that it is actually in the West Bank (does anyone else on the sherut know this???). The metal fencing begins, Palestinian houses in the distance have black water tanks on their roofs due to the erratic water supply, looming grey Israeli guard towers flash by.  The ancient hills are terraced, bleak and magnificent, rugged, graceful olive trees hug the soil. The separation wall is now concrete, there is more rolling barbed wire. We stop briefly at an Israeli checkpoint and then are waved through. I guessed we passed the ethnic profiling test. I see the ominous grey prison just near the turn off to Ramallah, probably Ofer Prison.  I think of all the Palestinian hunger strikers protesting in Israeli jails.  The walls along the highway are now turning more picturesque, patterned brick designs, (making the occupation pretty?) and then more imposing and concrete as we near the Holy City.

We return to highway #1 and head into Jerusalem and begin a brief tour of the Jewish settlements.  The two older “yellers” are met in Ramat Shlomo by their happy family and four grandchildren, all modestly attired. They leave their Yiddish buddy with a friendly, “Yalla” which is Arabic for “Let’s go.” We are then off to the Jewish settlements of Pisgat Ze’ev and French Hill, a former Arab neighborhood, an older Orthodox man shouts at a car that has stopped in the cross walk, gesturing fitfully.  We pass the refugee camp of Shuafat. More opaque walls. I watch with my x ray vision, all the history, the conflict, the players, the demons, are all here in living color, if one only stops to look.  Is anyone looking?

Alice Rothchild shared this diary entry with friends from American Jews for a Just Peace and allowed us to run it. We will be publishing other observations from Rothchild in days to come. –Ed.

Alice Rothchild
About Alice Rothchild

Alice Rothchild is a physician, author, and filmmaker who has focused her interest in human rights and social justice on the Israel/Palestine conflict since 1997. She practiced ob-gyn for almost 40 years. Until her retirement she served as Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Harvard Medical School. She writes and lectures widely, is the author of Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience, On the Brink: Israel and Palestine on the Eve of the 2014 Gaza Invasion, and Condition Critical: Life and Death in Israel/Palestine. She directed a documentary film, Voices Across the Divide and is active in Jewish Voice for Peace. Follow her at @alicerothchild

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15 Responses

  1. a blah chick
    a blah chick
    June 15, 2014, 11:51 am

    “They leave their Yiddish buddy with a friendly, “Yalla” which is Arabic for “Let’s go.”

    This part of Israel fascinates me, the way they adopt the language, food or fashions of the untermensch while pretending that they are culturally indebted to no one.

    • clenchner
      June 15, 2014, 2:38 pm

      Why would you write “while pretending that they are culturally indebted to no one.”?

      Do you really think Israelis aren’t aware that they borrow things from Palestinian, Arab or Islamic culture?
      Here’s an utterly Zionist source describing the direct borrowing from those cultures. I learned of this stuff in grade school, which is how I knew to find it.—beth-hashomer

      Hebrew speaking Israelis use plenty of Arabic words in casual conversation, and no one is confused about where those words come from. (Finjan, wadi, shabab come to mind. The last is used in particular by ultra orthodox folks to refer to wayward youth who skip class.)

      I suppose you might be forgiven if you meant that some non-Israeli lovers of Zion had no idea where falafel comes from, but that’s not what was written here.

      Anyway, the seepage of culture from the margins to the center is kind of universal.

      • Mooser
        June 15, 2014, 3:42 pm

        Hey Newclench, I see your point! If the Israelis are generous enough to acknowledge they have adopted some phrases or recipes from the Palestinians, all the land and lives won’t matter, huh? Damn it, they ought to be grateful we use their words and eat their food!

      • Basilio
        June 16, 2014, 12:16 am

        You’re missing the point. Yes, many Israelis know where certain words come from them and that they have co-opted a large chunk of the food, words, borrowed from Arabic grammar even in the past, dances, but they see no point in acknowledging the humanity of the Palestinians and to treat them like human beings. It is ridiculous. You borrow a ton of stuff from another civilization and see what they created as worthy of borrowing, but you don’t see them as worthy of the human being label.

  2. just
    June 15, 2014, 12:07 pm

    “It seems to me that almost everyone sweating in the foreign passport queue is on some kind of pilgrimage: looking for Jesus, or for a love of Zion and a tan muscular Israeli soldier to play with in the great outdoors, or for family connections; and then there is me, looking for the contradictions in this booming, high tech, flawed, complicated so-called democracy.”

    Stellar writing!

    Many thanks, Alice. I’m very much looking forward to more from you.

    The title of your amazing recollections made me think of this:

    • Pixel
      June 15, 2014, 1:24 pm

      Thanks for the video, J.
      Brings back lots of memories.

      Patience, understanding, and love are at least partial responses to each subsequent older generation as it struggles (or not) to comprehend new realities. The lens of the world and worldview through which its personal identities are formed serves also to mitigate against the possibility that it will ever be able to do so.

      True progress occurs one funeral at a time.

      • Mooser
        June 15, 2014, 3:44 pm

        “True progress occurs one funeral at a time.”

        Yes it does. Sadly Casey Kasem died today.

    • bintbiba
      June 15, 2014, 2:30 pm

      oh… just !!! You brought back so many memories. I love love love that song.
      Thank you.

  3. Citizen
    June 15, 2014, 12:44 pm

    Looking forward for more from Alice Rothschild. She gets it, in spades.

  4. Citizen
    June 15, 2014, 12:55 pm

    Alice has been active on this I-P issue a relatively long time now; here’s her piece from 2002:

    She exhibits the best of what some say earmark a true Jew: love of her people, combined with empathy for the oppressed other, justice, intellectual curiosity.

  5. James Canning
    James Canning
    June 15, 2014, 1:56 pm

    Very interesting.

  6. Daniel Rich
    Daniel Rich
    June 15, 2014, 4:31 pm

    The following might be of interest:

    Truth or Propaganda? Hollywood to Produce Film on Six-Day War Called ‘Jerusalem 67’.

    “One cannot see beyond the nearest hill, only imagine what life would be like behind it…”

    “Well, grams… back in the day, yes. But with all these elec gadgets… we can see it right away… Like right now… You can put lipstick on an Apartheid State, but it still will be racist and a stain on mankind’s-”

    “Oops. it seems our sponsor has withdrawn its funding… Over to you, Sarah….”

    • Woody Tanaka
      Woody Tanaka
      June 16, 2014, 7:13 am

      Well it looks like the Zionist Fifth Column in the US – Propaganda Division is at it again…

  7. DoubleStandard
    June 15, 2014, 8:20 pm

    Israel’s not entirely egalitarian. Such is the nature of living in the midst of people who want you gone for no reason other than you do not embrace their religion.

    Go to Egypt or Lebanon — see if you get the same treatment being a Jew.

    Why is Israel the issue?

    I’ve never seen so many hypocritical bigots in one place.

  8. just
    June 15, 2014, 9:12 pm

    You’re new here– welcome!

    “Why is Israel the issue?

    I’ve never seen so many hypocritical bigots in one place.”

    You’ve probably been hanging out in some shady places. Hypocrisy is not a hallmark of MW. Neither is bigotry. Hang around here a bit; you might find the truth you find positively exhilarating.

    As for this:
    “Such is the nature of living in the midst of people who want you gone for no reason other than you do not embrace their religion.”

    That’s patently weird and upside- down. You’ll have to try harder.

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