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Before Israel

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When you read these words, I’ll be probably on my way to Israel already, to visit family, friends, and the old country. While I’m not making Aliya, it’s certainly feel like I do; in the sense that I haven’t been in Israel for so long, according to my “book-of-visits,” that it does feel – no matter how much I try to convince myself that it does not – like a “Return to the Homeland.” Or חזרה למולדת. Emotionally it feels this way, you see, even if I’ll be there for just short of three weeks.

I used to go more often, in the first years after I’d left the country. Mind you, it was never that I left the country “for good,” really. It was more like one big road trip across the sea and ocean to the land of new opportunities, with a new American wife. Will see what happened, I told myself, see if we can fulfill some dreams. And here I am still, thirty years later, older but hardly wiser. And now that I’m getting on in years, and the boys are striking it good on their own, both in Israel and in America, and money is fixed and in short supply, it simply that much more difficult to embark on such a long trip.

In fact, the last time I was in Israel it was on the sad occasion of my father’s death; also on Chanukah, as it happened, only then it came at the end of November. He just turned ninety-year-old, but I was not there for his birthday, as I’d promised I would be. And now I remember it every day, as I talk to him daily. And it is why I’m eagerly looking forward to this trip, when together with my adapted brother we will visit his grave in the kibbutz; there in the Jezreel Valley, under Mount Gilboa, where I grew up. A village and a childhood I miss so very much. Even though I know that the place I left behind is no longer the place I left behind. It is a “community” now, whatever that means. A “Bed and Breakfast,” as a friend who came back from a visit once observed. And yet for me it is – always will be – home.

Because home is where the heart is, isn’t that how the saying goes? Or where you left your heart. Where all the memories permanently reside. But of course, I have plenty of memories from my crazy days in Tel Aviv as well, after leaving the kibbutz, and later on upon returning from my studies in London. And there in Tel Aviv my family now lives, including the new arrival, a granddaughter, whom I’m yet to hold in my arms. She is the daughter of my Israeli son and his bright and beautiful wife. How sweet that’s going to be to see them all, and celebrate Chanukah together. And for me, to learn how to be – even if for such a short time – a grateful grandfather.

And of course – first and foremost – my mother still lives in that city. And even though she had experienced the horrors of the Holocaust, and all that had followed, she is reaching another milestone, as she turns ninety-year-old while I’m there. How cool is that, I ask you. And also the most important reason for my visit, my friends, to make sure I see her one more time. Enjoy each other’s company, talk things over, make a lasting peace if possible. As my Israeli son had pointed out when visiting me here two years ago: It’s better to see her while she’s still alive, even with her health deteriorating, than to come over for the funereal service. Well said.

I will meet and visit with my sister, of course, in the hope of spending some quality time together, help each other in preparing for the years ahead. And then there’s a woman friend in Tel Aviv as well, going back to those crazy days in Tel Aviv of the early eighties, both of us in the filmmaking business back then. We will meet, and hopefully reconnect. Who knows what we will find in in our hearts. Feeling young never gets old, they say. I will see, too, what’s new on the streets and cafes in Tel Aviv. I hear and read that the city, very much alive and crazy back then, is even more so now. A modern metropolis by the Mediterranean Sea, where every wave that comes ashore creates a ripple effect of renewal for the city itself and its people.

A “perpetuum mobile” of sorts, that what is. And so it is for me: a perpetual motion. Maybe a renewal awaits me there as well. Who knows. A new adventure. A new discovery. This is not a political visit, my friends, I promise you that. It’s a personal visit. Will I remember the road not taken? Of course I would. Reevaluate the road I had taken? You bet I would. I hope you’d forgive me this once for being so personal, and look forward with me for my report – After Israel – when I come back. Shalom.

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Masters of War; Masters of Peace

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When it was announced that Bob Dylan was chosen as the recipient of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature (a somewhat controversial choice), one of the first songs of his that came to my mind was the iconic Cold War area protest song “Masters of War.” And since that announcement came just a short while after the death of Israel’s eldest, and most distinguished politician in recent memory, Shimon Peres – and again, some new revelations and controversy came to light following his death, too – somehow (though one is dead and the other is alive) both legacies intertwined in my mind and made me think again about war and peace. And in particular, in this regard, about Israel’s leaders since independence in 1948.

The first one is, of course, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister (PM from here onwards), who was so instrumental in Israel coming into being, in the language of its Declaration of Independence – a most wonderful document, still – the War of Independence and the building of the Israeli Defense Forces (i.e. IDF), and so on and so forth. Growing up in Israel, I still remember him declaring that Israel seeks peace with its Arab neighbors, and will sit down with their leaders without any preconditions, anywhere anytime. He meant it, too, I believe. And when Israel captured some of the Sinai desert in 1956, and word came from Washington to get the hell out of there, he did so right away.

Following him, at least in my order of “Masters of War; Masters of Peace,” came Menachem Begin. He, who was the head of the Irgun; he, who was involved in and commanded plenty of operations, and fierce resistance to the British Mandate – the terrorist attack of the King David Hotel in 1946 comes first to mind – and he, who had been carrying the torch of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his philosophy of “Two Banks has the Jordan” (river). But when it came to peace with Egypt, he’d made a complete turnaround and did the right thing. He didn’t initiate it, but when push came to shove – by President Sadat of Egypt, and by the ‘Peace Now’ movement and forces in Israel, both among the citizenry and the army, and by the inevitable march of history – he did the right thing and made peace.

Later came Yitzhak Rabin, possibly the best example for the headline above, and the one who had paid the ultimate price. A protégé of Ben-Gurion, a Palmach & Haganah Commander and a builder of the IDF, who became its Chief of Staff and led its forces to its greatest victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, no one could accuse him of loving Israel’s Arabs neighbors too much. But again, he first initiated and signed the peace treaty with Jordan, and then, when time came to understand, and to realize the complexity of the situation in Israel with the Palestinians, the debt we owe them (for their Nakba, in which he’d played a major role, as described in Avi Shavit’s book My Promised Land), he chose peace over eternal war. And paid with his life for it.

Ehud Barak, Israel’s most decorated soldier still, the commander of Sayeret Matkal, and the IDF Chief of Staff, was also a master of war, until he became a man of peace. When he became PM, he declared and even put forward a plan for a comprehensive peace, in which Israel was supposed to have given back most of the territories captured in 67, including the Golan Heights, in return for peace. One might say he was naïve, and faced resistance first and foremost within Israel and the IDF itself. He was later ready to do just the same thing in the Camp David negotiations with Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat, but the folly of the latter, time constraints and other elements in the peace equation as well, worked against him.

Then came Ariel Sharon, believe it or not. He also became PM after being first a warrior and an IDF hero. He had led the settlement movement to an extent, and was the architect of the buildup of Jewish settlements in southern Gaza, Gush Katif as it was known, and in Northern Sinai previously. He, who fought the Arabs so viciously, was so extreme in his views of our never-ending war with them, had made a turnaround too, realizing his mistakes, and pulled Israel out of Gaza. It was later reveled, after he’d succumbed to his life-ending coma, that he had talked with his close confidants, and had begun to developed a plan of withdrawal from most of the West Bank, in order to make a lasting peace with the Palestinians, as he’d come (even if belatedly) to the realization of how crucial the demographic issue was, still is, to the future of the Israeli democracy, its Jewish dominancy and character.

Which brings me finally to our current PM, Benjamin Netanyahu. He is not a war hero (though he served honorably in the IFD in Sayeret Matkal), and most defiantly he is not a man of peace. Shimmy Peres, as we mentioned above, was also not a war hero, but worked tiredly under Ben-Gurion to establish Israel’s security capability, and to build its first nuclear reactor, but then in later years turned to making peace; i.e. the Oslo Accords. But what about PM Netanyahu, really? Will he finally realize, like the aforementioned leaders, his predecessors, the need for peace? The futility of constant war, and ruling over other people endlessly? Will he finally understand that his support of the settlement endeavor and movement leads to an Apartheid State, de facto, or to the end of Herzl’s Zionist dream of a secure, democratic home for the Jewish People? It remains to be seen, as this page hasn’t been written yet.

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