THURSDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2015 – DAY 4
8:30-10:00am Discussion with Bestselling Author, Etgar Keret
I woke up a little later today. Definitely feeling a little more tired. We started the morning off with a discussion with Etgar Keret, a quirky man with amazingly profound observations rendered into compelling but personal narratives. For Etgar, Israel was a way of life. He didn’t speak about the politics of the situation but rather hoped to portray life. He never contended he was the right guy on everything; rather he was unpopular but acclaimed, in some respects. For example, he published a recent memoir about him. For his son’s privacy, it wasn’t published in Hebrew; that made Etgar a target for criticism.
I asked Etgar about what’s important in portraying about Israel when he’s on This American Life. He said that it wasn’t the pro-Palestine/pro-Israel dichotomy – no, that’s wrong – but that being Israeli, means merely you’re a human when it comes to literature and to cinema photography.
11:30-12:30pm Getting to Know the Bedoiun Arab Israeli Community, w. Naim Shibli, head of the Shibli Umm Al-Ghanam municipality at the Mount Tabor
We drove north to Shibli to meet the mayor of a Northern Bedouin city. The Bedouins, a nomadic people, have settled in cities at the bequest of the Israeli government, who assert security and census as justifications. For the northern Bedouins, the integration – though not complete – was reasonable. Unlike the southern Bedouins, they fight in the army. They are monogamous. They receive governmental aid. Nahm Shibli, who was born in Shibli but moved to Canada (where he heard the happiest people are), professed an unaltered love and pride and faith in Israel. The Shibli family is the strongest and largest family in the area. We ate with some Bedouin men in a modernized tent. The food was amazing. The coffee was earthy. I wondered about where the women were.
Northern Israel is far more green around this time of the year and mountainous. There are Arab villages – black water tanks and square, homogenously structured buildings – and few Jewish towns. There’s agriculture. It’s windier.
1:30-4:30pm Understanding Israel’s Northern Borders, w. Brigadier General (res.) Nitzan Nuriel, research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-terrorism
We drove from Shibli to a vantage point at which you can see the Golan Heights, Syria, and Jordan. We saw the undeveloped, winding paths traveled sometime ago by the suicide bombers. We saw the areas of control: A (Palestinian), B (Palestinian Municipal control) and C (Israeli). The wind at the top of the mountain was almost unbearable; it was strong enough to draw tears and frigid. We spoke with Nitzan about the security threats in the area. He was an average-sized man, but well-built and intelligent. He’s a private man with a lot of knowledge of military affairs but is no longer a spokesman for them. Once we no longer could bear the wind, we moved the conversation to the bus.
Nitzan spoke about the threats to Israel. The first was Hezbollah. To him, Lebanon wasn’t a state but was being run by Hezbollah. And though Hezbollah was fighting against ISIL, it wasn’t a friend. Israel’s major deterrence to Hezbollah’s growing confidence derived from success in Syria is that Israel can hit 4,000 targets in a day. This deterrence does not imply an ability of carpet-bombing but unforgiving destruction.
The second was Syria/ISIL. Russian isn’t a concern militaristically, but only in the regard it may embolden Hezbollah. For Israel, the strategy is to secure Golan Heights and assist Jordan against ISIL.
The terrorism in the West Bank/Judea Samaria wasn’t of much consequence because of the security fences and good cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Moreover, Israel runs a good intelligence operation, investigating 10-12 alleged terrorists each night in Palestinian villages. For Nitzan, the settlements did not improve, but reduced security in the area.
After our discussion on counter-terrorism, we were going hear about humanitarian aid in the Middle East, as related to Israel, but our speaker had to cancel. Instead, we headed home.
I listened to music for the better part of the drive. The storm had picked up at the point, where amidst downpour, there was lightning. The security fence ran parallel to the highway. Beyond it were Palestinian villages. As well as Israeli ones too. The rain was sporadic. When it rained, the sky was dark as to create a sense of nighttime storm, but a few minutes down the highway, the sky was blue with white, encompassing clouds.
At the hotel, I met Ellie, a friend from Wellesley, for coffee and tea – she drove up for Jerusalem. We spoke mainly about the trip and perceptions of Israel. She asked if I felt a connection upon arriving in Israel. I said no, not in Tel Aviv, but I did think I would find in Jerusalem and I did feel a glimpse of it as we drove past Nazareth. I think most of the experience this time has been political and constructed. The speakers all had impassioned, rationale and systematic criticisms of Israel, but the undertone was obvious; they loved Israel and saw of it as a country that was struggling but on a path to greatness. I am curious about the Palestinian narrative and the closed-door resentments.
7:30pm New Year’s Eve Celebration at the Maganda restaurant with World Union of Jewish Students
Today was also New Year’s Eve. The Jewish New Year was in September, but the Gregorian New Year is celebrated in the secular Tel Aviv. In Hebrew, people wish one another Shanah Tova, but it’s controversial to some. Given the distinction of religion and secular, I stuck to English for this one.
We had dinner with the Californian delegation with AJC, though we sat at different tables. I didn’t say much during dinner. Innately, I’m more introverted than I seem – which makes incessant socializing exhausting.
The World Union of Jewish Students joined us for a New Year’s Eve party. Afterwards, Adrienne, Matt, Mary and I went to Cookeez for some amazing ice cream – it tasted like gelato. I had mascarpone and wild berries and hazelnut. We took a taxi home.