On the personal level there is something quite surreal about this year.
When I am in Israel, the situation is quiet, when I leave, it’s like another world……………..
Visiting Israel in June immediately after the 3 boys were kidnapped in Gush Etzion, whilst there was a mood of shock and concern, people still went about their summer activities almost normally and there was generally an atmosphere of summer holidays. Only a matter of days after I left Hamas started raining its missiles down on Israel’s citizens and it was war.
A couple of weeks ago we were in Israel again and there was relative calm. The ceasefire was holding, the weather was unseasonably warm, Tel Aviv beach was alive with people and restaurants were full.
For Shabbat we moved to Jerusalem and whilst Sydney was enjoying the Shabbat Project we walked to the Kotel on Shabbat morning. We davened there in perfect sunshine with people everywhere and not a thought of any terrorist activity.
We went down south for 3 days to see the aftermath of the Gaza war.
What contrasting themes we witnessed there!
We spent quite a bit of time in 2 yishuvim –Nahal Oz and Netiv Hasara – both right on the Gaza fence, literally.
By chance back in November 2012 I davened mincha in Netiv Hasara whilst rockets were falling there during Operation Pillar of Defense.
And here we were again. It was this yishuv where the Thai worker was killed in the fields during the Gaza War.
We spent time with Moira, an olah from Glasgow who came to Israel in 1974 and settled in Sinai. As a result of the peace treaty with Egypt, she moved to Netiv Hasara in 1982.
Moira told us of her friend Halil and his family, just across the fence in Gaza. She said that he had rung her to see if she was all right after any rockets Hamas launched into her area. And she likewise rang him to see if his family was okay after Israeli retaliations.
Halil she said to her dismay, had voted for Hamas in the one and only Gazan election because of the corruption of Fatah – now he regretted it – but there are no further elections in Gaza so…………………..
Yet this yishuv is thriving and we were told that only one family had left it. The rest are determined to carry on and the most important sign, the youth, well, the youth are staying.
We asked Moira, a self declared “leftie”, what she thought about the situation.
Whilst she said she was disillusioned with the Palestinian leadership and that there was no point in talking to Hamas, she said the
“Israeli government has to do something!”
“What” we asked?
I guess Moira expressed all of our frustration when she answered
“I don’t know. Something!”
Nahal Oz, what a tragedy. That’s where 4 year old Daniel Turgeman was killed by a mortar on the 22nd of August.
However we felt that the whole of Nahal Oz was dying. Many families have left, there are virtually no youth. And that is the death knell of any community. Lack of youth equals the lack of a future.
And then the community decided to partner with the Mechina programme, the pre army academy.
20 High School graduates, living for 1 year in Nahal Oz before their army service. Boys and girls. And this to be an ongoing programme.
Unbelievable what this has done to Nahal Oz. Everyone is excited. This is a real game changer – youth!
When we were there we only met the head of the Mechina, the rest of the group were still in the process of arriving.
Youth volunteering to go to this area, to help secure the future of Nahal Oz and Israel’s line in the sand.
Amazing! Truly amazing!!!
We also visited Sderot. The last time I was there it almost looked like a ghost town.
Amigour, the Jewish Agency’s subsidiary building company, had undertaken a herculean effort.
To build over 5,000 safe rooms, one for virtually every apartment in Sderot.
Now this project has had 2 benefits, it has provided each family in Sderot with a degree of safety they never had, but it also gave each family an additional room to their apartment – a safety and a social policy benefit.
What a difference, people have returned to Sderot and it was a joy to see.
One of the most positive factors that we were able to witness in various absorption centres were the numbers of olim who had kept coming to Israel and literally landing during the Gaza war – olim from all over the world including Australia.
In my memory this is unprecedented.
In terms of the larger numbers who came from France, Ukraine and Ethiopia however, it is also a sad comment on what it means to be a Jew and to want to be part of Jewish life in those countries.
That French olim felt safer in Israel during the Gaza war than in France says all that needs to be said about the sanctimonious moralising that European leadership dares to engage in – have they no shame?
And finally, some words on the so called “Nationality Law”.
What a mess.
Israel has existed since her beginning as a Jewish State with equality for all of her citizens. And by the way, in that order.
What is happening now is politics. On Bibi’s right are people who feel there is a need to emphasise the Jewish nature of the State of Israel as if it is in some danger. And on his left those who feel that Israeli democracy is under threat.
The truth is that both of these views are extremist and alarmist.
Neither Israel’s Jewish character nor her democracy are in any danger.
But both extremes are happy to play politics.
Either there will be no such law at all, or it will be greatly modified from the ambit claims of individuals. For that is what they are, individuals. The Government has not, as yet, put any legislation forward itself.
At time of writing, the Government has withdrawn any actual bill proposals to the Knesset for this week, but Netanyahu has announced a “set of principles”.
The real damage?
Israel is being hit from pillar to post even by her friends and allies and by Jews around the world who perceive from the debate that Israel is either about to become less Jewish or less democratic.
Again, neither is true.
It is a lose lose situation.
What is needed is leadership from the Prime Minister to end this nonsense and some calm and realistic words from all sides of mainstream Israeli politics.
President of Israel, Ruby Rivlin, is one example of how that might happen.