Israel's demand for its neighbors’ recognition of its right to existence as an independent state is essential. Which country would not seek it or fight for it, if need to? But there is another facet to this, one which came to my focus while there, Israel's right to existence as the Jewish state. This is an all together other, vastly more complex an issue. The objective here is to insure that Jews maintain their majority, and thus government, within their own Jewish state. Yet, given so many non-Jewish people residing in this small country such a balance is, sooner or later, going to become unattainable. And there swirls a modern-day Gordian knot. It is becoming more tightly knotted with each new generation. For as this volatile conflict lingers it intensifies, while cultivating new generations of young people who are progressively and more aggressively determined to resolve it, one way or another, at any cost.
Meanwhile, construction of new settlements endures, invading, pushing out and taking over more and more land from those who will need to find, somewhere, a new home for themselves, where to build their and their families futures. Mind you, is this not in a way reminiscent of the uprooted and displaced Jewish survivors of an intense persecution unleashed against them in not so very distant a past?
Yet there is a bright side. The West Bank is evolving, Ramallah is booming economically. Unexpectedly, in a middle of the West Bank a new development named Rawabi is sprouting in the mountainous land, out from the sand. This newest undertaking, clearly with some, even if only a silent approval of Israel, is special not only because it is design to bring a sense of stability, hope and prosperity to the Palestinians but also because of the green approach utilized in its current construction. Thus, as the mountains are being torn to make room for the city, the material excavated from them is recycled into the building blocks from which the structures are erected. Nothing, so it was explained to me, is being lost in the process by which one organic matter of the long past is being inverted into another, one of the future.
Such a development is in some way reminiscent of an other, a very ancient other, the David's Tunnel. It was built 2700 years ago in order to secure supply of fresh water to Jerusalem, a city always facing invaders. Using wooden tools the workers set out to dig the tunnel from two opposite directions. Yet, amazingly considering the times, as planned, they managed to meet in the middle. Back then and with use of such primitive tools and such limited knowledge and technology… I found it amazing.
When asked, the Israeli students I spent these few days with, had as many diverse opinions as were their numbers. The common tone sounded a lack of resolution to the dynamics of the world they are born into, the one in which they are now growing up, and one that will likely shape their own future.
As you might know, most Israelis are required to serve in the army, young women for 2 years and men for 3. Thereafter most of them work for a year and then travel around the world for another. As a result most of them start their university studies at the age of 27, making them more mature and experienced. As we spoke about their society an issue of those orthodox Jews came to the surface. These young men who dedicate their lives to religious studies are excused from military service. This is perceived as unfair to those who do. Furthermore, I learned that some of the super orthodox communities supposedly do not even recognize the state of Israel, which I have found confusing, and in addition to it they refuse to pay taxes, as all the other are obliged to do, and yet they receive financial support from the very government they refuse to recognize or support in the ways all of the other citizens are obliged. Isn't this most “odd”? Seems like a uniquely liberal yet somewhat twisted form and expression of the democratic freedoms.
One of the many timeless facets of the Old City of Jerusalem was bestowed upon me by a church within which, while you step down its ancient stairs, you are also stepping back in time, ending up in the carved in stone times of the primal catacomb. This is where the very first Christians were secretly able to gather.
Emerging from the mysterious underground to world above, one discovers endless and equally amazing tunnel like streets of the Old City of Jerusalem. While some of it was reconstructed following the past, or more recent wars, the ambience of the entire city is saturated with ancient sense of time and mystery.
Yet while walking the city’s streets above, one becomes acuity aware of the fact that this entire present city in not so ancient, since beneath it lay hidden many other cities of the even more distant civilizations.
In fact the entire city could become a one vast excavation site, but then where would the current city be? Therefore it is not unusual to find the new building being erected on top of the ancient cave like edifices.
As it is in old cities around the world, in Jerusalem too, the old market intertwines through the Old City.
But coming back to reality as is, especially here in the Old Jerusalem, this city which is synonymous with so much controversy that has persisted from its very origin, I can not but asked myself, also questioning those I came in contact with, what are the prospects for the future? Some see the future resolved by a war on the scale that will far surpass those which occurred until now, one that will engulf not just the immediate region but also expand to the whole Middle East, and then further beyond it, swiftly pulling in all the major powers as well. This terrifyingly gruesome vision was offered to me by a couple of relatively young Palestinians currently building up their own families and personal careers. Listening to this vision I thought of my daughters and how such a global conflict would impact them. And yet those two men, speaking to me in a matter of fact, so very calmly, had their own families. Is it not amazing how the milieu in which they are growing and building their life can impact the ways they think, see and feel?
To intensify such gray prospects, a yet another thought provoking facet of the situation has been brought up, by both the sides. In the recent shuffle within Israel’s governing party, one that is representative of the right wing, the few members who were considered to be more liberal have been pushed out, leaving Benjamin Netanyahu, the current prime minister, as the most “liberal” within his party. And while the labor party is fractured and currently incapable to compete for governance, the ruling one is becoming more dependent on, on one hand, the increasing in prominence political group dominated by the Russian born Lieberman, representing people who are passionately nationalistic in their perspective and vision for the future, and on the other by the orthodox Jews whose views are likely equally and deeply nationalistic. For them their rights to the land of Israel were spelled out by the G-d himself. Who can argue with that? Who can argue with any religion? And so, for now, religions persevere in continuing to keep us apart.