• Recent Posts

  • Recent Comments

    The Scoop: Why Trump… on The Scoop: Why Trump & Net…
    Phil Fine on Anti-Semitism: See Under Hate,…
    David L. Mandel on Anti-Semitism: See Under Hate,…
    ralph propper on In the land of Israel
    Gus Ballis on The Jewish Cultural World: Bes…
  • Top Posts

  • Search by Category

  • Archives

  • Pages

  • Twitter

  • Meta

  • Advertisements

In the land of Israel

Amazon.com

In the land of Israel—modern Israel, that is—never lived a finest man than Amos oz. As a writer; as a salt-of-the-earth farmer and warrior; as a peace-loving man and activist; as a man of his word and vision. And when he died unexpectedly from a sudden illness at the end of last year, at age 79, a voice whispered in my ear—it was him, I believe—that his optimistic outlook of Israel just couldn’t stand the disaster—cry for the ages, as we like to say in Hebrew—of the coming elections, and of what they might bring upon the country and people he so much loved.

About the latter I will write in the next month or two, just before the elections, but about the former—the man and his vision—allow me to add my humble voice to the many who spoke and wrote so appraisingly about him. To my sorrow, though he was one of the founders of the ‘Peace Now’ movement (and in a way, so was I), we never met. But that’s not exactly true, since I’d met him so often through his essays and books. One of which I’ve found in my library, in a section reserved—one shelf for fiction, one shelf for non-fiction—for the best works I ever read.

I reread ‘In the Land of Israel’ in his honor. And though his fiction was always more to my liking—The New Yorker just published his beautiful short story, “All Rivers,” from which you can learn so much about the man and his origins—I found plenty to admire, and to fear, in this book from 1982. In it, Amos Oz chronicled his interviews with everyday Israelis, which he had conducted throughout the land, and the occupied land, allowing them to speak their mind freely. It was first published in the Israeli morning paper ‘Davar,’ and later collected into this book.

He took a journey while writing it, becoming “a tourist in his own country in order to explore and record the cauldron of emotions, fears and prejudices” of Israelis. As he writes in his ‘Author’s notes:’ “Every place is an entire world and every man is a world in himself, and I reached only a few places and a few people, and even then I was able to see and to hear only a little of so much.”

In line with his words, I’ve chosen to highlight only two people who spoke to him, from two different “worlds,” though they lived so close to each other. The first person (he names no names, generally, in this book), it that of a resident of the development town of Bet Shemesh, whom he met at a Café in the center square, together with some others, all of them Mizrachim: Immigrants from Arab countries and North African countries. What used to be referred to back then as the “Second Israel.” Among so many other things, he’d said this:

“When you were on top (he meant Ashkenazim, kibbutzniks, the “First Israel,” H.D.), you hid us in holes, in moshavim and in development towns, so the tourists wouldn’t see us; so we wouldn’t stain your image; so they’d think this was a white country. But that’s all over now, because now we’ve come out of our holes. You still haven’t figured out what hit you, have you?”

And still more: “You guys, your time is past. Even after Begin (the Prime Minister then, H.D.) you won’t make a comeback in another hundred years. We are sick of you and your squabbles. Yes to the Palestinian state or no to the Palestinian state… To give back or not to give back, peace in the Galilee or not… Anything goes.”

Two things strike me here: First, the force of the hurt and resentment that existed back then; second, the prophecy ingrained in his simple words. It may be that, as to the former, the equilibrium had changed, but if so, just a bit. What used to be the “First Israel” is now centered in Tel Aviv and around it, no more just Ashkenazim but liberals, secular Israelis of all backgrounds, who emphasize democracy first and Jewish second.

The “Second Israel” is now centered in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the settlements of the West Bank, and it’s not only Mizrachim there now, but everybody who put the emphasis on Jewish first and democracy second. Moreover: As the second quote indicates, the “Second Israel” is still in power. It is actually the “First Israel” now. And the hell with the rest. The occupation is not occupation; the West Bank is Judah and Samaria; the rule of law is our law; the hell with the rest of Israel.

Here’s then is the second quote, from a veteran member of Amos Oz’s kibbutz, Hulda: “Ask them—hand on your heart, as they said to you in Bet Shemesh—whether now, when the power is in Begin’s hands, and in theirs, they really think it pays to settle accounts with us like this, the night of the long knives. And ask them another thing as well, hand on your heart: Was everything we did in this country in 50 years, or 80 years, so bad? Was it all malicious? Everything we built here at such great sacrifice, everything we created out of nothing, including the mistakes we surely made? What would the Land of Israel look like without the Labor movement?”

There would be no Land of Israel, if you ask me. Certainly not the “Land of Israel” where Amos Oz walked and wrote. He left us very poor, I’d say that, teetering on the edge of an abyss.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

Advertisements

The Absurd Regions


To mark the tenth anniversary to the launch of my Political Blog, Good4Jews, and the seventieth anniversary to the launch of the Jewish State, Israel, I’ve decided to take a diversion and make an exception. To that end, I’m publishing here—for the first time in English!—four short vignettes (out of twelve) that were published way back in ‘Iton77;’ the esteemed literary, cultural Israeli magazine. In the future, I may revisit this reportage, which was titled then, ‘The Absurd Regions’ (you may argue, with some justification, that the title still applies today), and publish more of its lyrical impressions, which I wrote during the First Lebanon War of 1982-85. So stay tune, and here goes:

First Gathering

No smiles on the rough faces. The regular questions: How things? How’s life? The answers are heavy, occasionally harsh: shit, life’s in the dumpster. Ninety percent of our battalion’s command personnel identify with the ‘Peace Now’ movement. Objecting to the war. Objecting to the stay in Lebanon. Detesting what’s require of them to do next. One of the officers demonstrated yesterday in front of the Prime Minister’s house in Jerusalem. Before that, he marched from Rosh HaNikra up north to Tel Aviv. His wife advised him not to come this time. Refuse to go. But he is here—of course he is. Maybe because his friends are here. Who is he that he will allow them to be fucked with this shitty job without him. Maybe for the sake of democracy he came. The democracy Sharon and Raful crushed when they started this war. It’s been proven already before that there are more important things than this war: you, me, son, daughter. Life.

Traveling

The visions passing by us reflect a mixture of the bizarre and the absurd. Beautiful countryside, on the one hand: the small villages are cuddled by the rolling hills, while the mountains merge so nicely with the scenery and don’t bite at it, like some of our mountains do back home. On the other hand, dirt and filth everywhere. Ecology is a nonexistent word in the local jargon. Here, one does as one pleases.
It’s harvest time now. The small fields in the bottom of the hills are harvested using sickles, and the sheaves are gathered by hands. An old combine then sorts the wheat grains apart and fill the air with golden dust, fog like. Peaceful cows are grazing in the meadows. The shoulders in the narrow roads are littered with potholes. And with old cars, scattered about here and there. One of them, you know that, is a death trap waiting for you.

Lawless Country

In Lebanon there are no taxes; no licenses; no one pays for electricity. Teenagers drive the cars on the roads. Kids drive the tractors, with dark covered women walking beside them, majestically balancing sacks of wheat grains and tobacco leaves on their heads. New, shiny vehicles zoom by, passing by old ones whose guts are exposed.
Muslims, Christians, Druzes, Shiites and Khomeini supporters coexist in this country side by side. Mixed multitude. And there are, of course, the Christian Militia and the Chadad Falangists. The latter are the road-robbers of this country. They reside under the shade of the Israeli Army’s camps and wear its uniform. “Tell me who your friend is, and I will tell you who you are.” So say the soldiers here, who play bad cops in this grotesque drama.
The circle is rounded and closed with the UN soldiers from Holland, France, Senegal, Ireland… you name it. Some are friendly to us; some hate our guts and look down on us. A black soldier wearing blue uniform and brown overcoat stands in attention in a remote, forgotten ravine. His rifle is erect in his arms. No enemy in sight, though. He belongs, like all of us, to a different world.

The Village Women

Before sunrise the women of the village go out into the small tobacco fields that close in on their houses. They pluck the green leaves and put them in their brown sacks. After that, in full morning light, they carry the sacks on their heads to the houses. There, with their children, they sort the leaves and hang them on thin ropes to dry them up in the hot sun. Later still, they will milk the cows, lead them out into the field to graze, feed the children and clean the houses. They shoulder their responsibilities with primeval dedication.
The husbands, meanwhile, will enter their Mercedeses late in the morning, and will drive to town to attend to their businesses. Maybe visit the coffee house in a nearby village. Play backgammon there with friends and smoke the narghile. In the evening they will return home and receive from their dutiful wives what they’re owed: food, love, and respect. The Bible, in certain terms, is alive and well here.

* Art by Yitzhak Shmueli: Border Crossing

** The “Leave a Comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

%d bloggers like this: