Poetry of Jewish Identity and Insecurity in Medieval Spain

By Rachel Ledeboer


SELF-EXHORTATION TO MAKE THE JOURNEY TO ISRAEL by Yehuda Halevi, translated by David Goldstein

Are you, at fifty, pursuing your youth,
As your days are preparing to fly away?
Do you run from the worship of God,
And yearn to serve only men?
Do you seek the crowd’s company and leave 
The One whom all that will may seek?
Are you slow to prepare for your journey?
Will you sell your portion for a lentil stew?
Your desire continually conceives new pleasures,
But does not your soul say to you, ‘Enough!’?
Exchange your desire’s counsel for that of God.
Desist from pursuing your five senses.
Please your Creator in the days that remain
To you, the days which hasten by.
Do not prevaricate before his will.
Do not confront him with magic and sorcery.
Be strong like a leopard to do his command,
Swift as a gazelle, mighty as a lion.

Let your heart remain firm in the midst of the seas,
When you see the mountains heaving and bending 
And the sailors with their hands like rags,
The masters of spells tongue-tied.
They embarked on a straight course, full of joy.
But now they are forced back, overwhelmed.
The ocean is before you as your refuge!
Your only escape are the nets of the deep!
The sails tear loose and lash,
The timbers tremble and shudder,
The grip of the wind plays on the waves,
Like bearers of sheaves to the threshing.
First they are flattened to the floor of the granary,
Then are thrown high into the stacks.
When they rise up, they are as lions.
When they break, they are like serpents.
The first are pursued by the second—
Snakes whose bite is incurable.

The mighty ship falls like a speck before God.
The mast and its banner cannot withstand,
The boat and its decks are confused,
Lower, middle, and upper together.
The drawers of ropes are in torment.
Men and women are full of anguish.
The sailors’ spirits are deep in despair.
Bodies grow weary of their souls.
The masts’ strength is of no use,
The aged’s counsel does not benefit.
The masts of cedar are no more than stubble,
The fir-trees are turned to reeds,
Sand thrown into the sea is straw,
The sockets of iron are like chaff.

The people say, each to his holy one,
And you turn to the Holy of Holies.
You recall the miracles of Red Sea and Jordan.
Inscribed as they are on every heart.
You praise the One who calms the sea’s roaring,
When the waves throw up their slime.
You tell him: ‘Foul hearts are pure now!’
He will remind you of the merits of your holy forebears.
He will renew his wonders when you perform for him
Song and dance of Mahlim and Mushim.
He will return the souls to their bodies, 
And the dry bones will live again.

And soon the waves will be silent,
Like flocks scattered over the earth.
And when the sun enters the ascent of the stars,
And over them presides the moon, their captain,
The night will be lie a negress clothed in a gold tapestry,
Like a purple garment scattered with crystals.
And the stars will be bewildered in the heart of the sea,
Like exiles driven from their own homes.
And in their own image they will make light
In the midst of the sea like flaming fires.
The water and sky will be ornaments
Pure and shining upon the night.
The sea’s color will be as heaven’s,
Both—two seas bound together, 
And between them my heart, a third sea,
As the waves of my praise swell once again.


Yehuda Halevi was a Jewish poet who lived in medieval Spain during the period after its golden age under Muslim rule. Without the protections afforded to Jewish people during the golden age, many, including Halevi, were forced to flee north to Christian Spain for safety. There, Jews were met with hostility, discrimination, and persecution. While Halevi’s early poems were mostly love poems, after he fled to Christian Spain, he became more connected with his Jewish identity, and his poems turned more to this subject. Unlike the earlier Hebrew poetry of Medieval Spain, Halevi’s work was much less influenced by Arabic models, and instead pulled largely from the ancient poetry of the Hebrew Bible, such as the Song of Songs. These poems were infused with the same language he used in his early love poems, expressing a fervent longing regarding his religious identity, his relationship with G-d, and his desire to return to the Holy Land.

Halevi’s poem “Self-Exhortation to Make the Journey to Israel,” displays his internal struggle that has manifested as a result of his experience living in the Diaspora. His poem can be seen as a kind of mid-life crisis, where he admonishes himself for not leaving Spain and traveling to the Jewish homeland in Israel– wrestling with the decision to either remain in a familiar but hostile land, or to undergo the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to an unknown land, but one which his people hold ancient ties to. Despite being a poem written almost 1000 years ago, its message is one that can still resonate with modern audiences, as it draws from timeless biblical imagery, as well as highlights the individual struggles and uncertainties of a displaced person. Although he is speaking about his specific experience in medieval Spain, this longing to return to one’s homeland is a desire that many people in subsequent eras can understand and relate to, and Halevi himself provides a powerful example of early Zionism.

Unlike the poetry of the Psalms, which are typically a dialogue between the speaker and G-d, Halevi’s poem is a conversation with himself and his own conflicting desires. He wishes to make the trip to Israel, but finds himself afraid of the journey and leaving behind what he knows. He conveys a sense of urgency to this decision, as he opens the poem with a reference to his age: “Are you, at fifty, pursuing your youth / As your days are preparing to fly away?” (Goldstein, 103). At this older stage of his life, he no longer has the luxury of just putting the decision off for another time; he must make a choice before it is too late. In Spain, he rebukes himself for “seek[ing] the crowd’s company,” and  “pursuing your five senses,” rather than spending time “pleas[ing] your Creator in the days that remain,” showing how his present circumstances distract him from properly focusing on G-d (Goldstein, 103). Perhaps it is for this reason that his poem is addressed to himself, rather than to G-d as the Psalms do— since his environment makes it difficult for him to prioritize his spiritual life, he finds himself unable to achieve a close relationship with G-d. The poets of the Psalms, on the other hand, writing in Israel across a 500 year period, were all still relatively close to the experience of ancient Jewish life. One of the characteristics of Halevi’s poem is his awareness of the distance, both temporal and spatial, between himself and the Jewish people of the biblical era— something which may also be a contributing factor to his feelings of distance from G-d.

Halevi highlights this distance is by using the Mediterranean Sea as the main setting and place of conflict for his crisis. It is this sea which separates him from his homeland, and its potential dangers show the fears and difficulties that he would face on the journey. In the first half of the poem, his internal conflict is made external through depictions of fierce winds and churning waves creating destructive storms, where “the mighty ship falls like a speck before G-d” (Goldstein, 104). He produces a violent image of ships being tossed about and destroyed, while the people onboard “are full of anguish. / The sailors’ spirits are deep in despair. / Bodies grow weary of their souls” (Goldstein, 104). All is hopeless, as the once powerful ship now “is of no use,” reduced from a strong singular unit to a mass of useless parts, and “the aged’s council does not benefit,” as no human is able to rescue them from their circumstances (Goldstein, 104). This section of the poem draws heavily from biblical imagery, particularly from Psalm 46, which depicts catastrophic events of nature— “when the earth breaks apart, / when mountains collapse in the heart of the seas, / its waters roar and roil, / mountains heave in its surge” (Alter, Psalm 46:3-4). However, the major theme running through this Psalm is that in the face of disaster, one must not despair, but instead place their trust in G-d. By invoking this poem, Halevi begins to convince himself that despite the dangers his journey presents, G-d will protect him and see him safely to his destination. 

After this detailed depiction of the dangers of the sea, Halevi strengthens the hopeful tone which was introduced by the invocation of Psalm 46, as he stops to “recall the miracles of Red Sea and Jordan” (Goldstein, 104). By reminding himself of the biblical stories in which G-d saves His people, he strengthens his convictions about G-d’s power and capacity for forgiveness. One of Halevi’s concerns is that since he has been somewhat removed from G-d’s presence while in Spain, he fears he will not receive G-d’s protection over him. However, he now proclaims, in the only line of the poem directly addressed to G-d, that “foul hearts are pure now,” expressing his renewed spiritual devotion (Goldstein, 104). He takes solace in the fact that G-d “will renew his wonders when you perform for him,” and therefore he will be able to be a recipient of miracles as well (Goldstein, 104). As his journey itself is spiritually motivated and rooted in a wish to “exchange your desire’s counsel for that of G-d,” he will receive protection from G-d, just as his ancestors did at the Red Sea and Jordan (Goldstein, 103). Both of these miracles feature the Jewish people safely crossing a body of water as they fled from an oppressive land, stories which Halevi was able to strongly identify with.

The last section of the poem is filled with beautiful and vivid imagery, as Halevi’s nightmarish storm fades, and instead he proclaims that “soon the waves will be silent” (Goldstein, 105). This part of the poem contains lush depictions which can be found in earlier Jewish poetry in Spain, back when it was still under a golden age of Muslim rule, where Jewish people had more freedom and were active participants in the flourishing multicultural environment. The poetry of this era is full of luxurious sensory engagement, as can be seen in the work of Dunash Ben Labrat— he elegantly describes a place “Where lilting singers hum / To the throbbing of the drum,” while “On every lofty tree / The fruit hangs gracefully,” and he proclaims that “we shall dine / On rams and calves and cows. / Scented with rich perfumes, / Amid thick incense plumes” (Scheindlin, 41-42). This poetry reflects a time of prosperity, as well as expresses a strong love of life and the many things it has to offer. Halevi cultivates this type of imagery at the end of his poem, despite the fact that he never got to live during this golden age himself. However, instead of focusing on luxury objects themselves, he compares these objects to the majesty of the untouchable natural landscape, that “The night will be lie a negress clothed in a gold tapestry, / Like a purple garment scattered with crystals,” praising G-d’s creations over man-made ones (Goldstein, 105). Rather than focusing on the present, or even wishing to go back to the past, he switches to the future tense, and imagines a new period of peace and beauty that will be given to him by G-d.

The poem’s ending presents a much different journey from the one Halevi initially envisions, as he works his way from fearfully imagining the worst case scenario, to finally arriving at a state of tranquility. Whereas the first half of the poem is fast-paced, full of self-depreciation and violent motion, the latter half slows down, and focuses on the praise of G-d and appreciating the stillness of the night. Earlier, when describing the people aboard the sinking ship, Halevi never mentions a captain to help guide them, but later in the poem, he describes “the ascent of the stars, / And over them presides the moon, their captain” (Goldstein, 105). He then links the stars themselves to the Jewish people, that “the stars will be bewildered in the heart of the sea, / Like exiles driven from their own homes” (Goldstein, 105). Just as the moon acts as captain of the stars, G-d will act as captain of the Jewish people, guiding them safely as they undergo the long and dangerous journey back to their homeland.

In the poem’s final lines, Halevi continues to focus on the power of G-d, as well as returns to a state of self-reflection. In his final description of the water, representative of everything the journey to Israel would entail, he states that “The sea’s color will be as heaven’s, / Both— two seas bound together,” recalling the beginning of Genesis where G-d divided the sea from the heavens (Goldstein, 105). In doing so, he reinforces his conviction that G-d is the one who created the world, and who still presides over it. By binding the sky and the sea to one another, he reunites these elements which G-d had separated, reverting to the earliest time of creation; he closes the distance between heaven and earth itself, mirroring his own efforts to bridge the spiritual gap he feels between himself and G-d. He proclaims that in addition to the physical distance he would have to overcome in order to reach Israel, “between them [is] my heart, a third sea,” showing how he also has to find a way to overcome his own personal misgivings in order to be able to go on this journey and truly devote himself to G-d, rather than remain in the more secular world he currently inhabits (Goldstein, 105). However, there is hope that he will accomplish this, as the last line of the poem portrays these seas in a more positive light, “as the waves of my praise swell once again” (Goldstein, 105). Rather than waves being a dangerous obstacle, they now are a means by which to convey his love for G-d, and a way to propel him forward on his journey, rather than deter him.

Yehuda Halevi’s poem “Self-Exhortation to Make the Journey to Israel” resembles a kind of pep-talk, or perhaps a stern talking-to that a parent would give to their child, as he tries to convince himself to put aside his fears and leave Spain in order to travel to the Jewish homeland. Although his life in Spain is not an easy one, it is still a familiar one, and he is able to meet his worldly needs. However, his life in Spain is spiritually unfulfilling, as he is in the midst of a hostile living environment, one which is not conducive tomaintaining a close relationship with G-d— something he is especially concerned with as he enters the later stage of his life. His poem is full of biblical references, and it is these biblical stories he has been steeped in, irrevocably tied to the land in which they take place, which have helped to develop his vision of Israel— a paradoxical place which is both unknown yet familiar at the same time— the birthplace of his culture and the home of his ancestors.

Jewish people in the Diaspora across the ages have had differing experiences and relationships with the land they were born in and with the land of Israel. Some, like the Jewish people in Spain during its golden age under Muslim rule, were able to thrive, and created their own unique cultural identity out of a mixture of their specific regional backgrounds and their ancient Jewish traditions. Other Jewish people, such as Yehuda Halevi, lived more precarious lives, where they were threatened by the often violent prejudices of those around them. When living in unstable circumstances, being exiled and displaced from every place they flee to, many Jewish people have developed a longing to return to their homeland, where they hoped to live more stable lives, embodying early convictions of Zionism. Halevi’s poem not only features a display of this early Zionism alongside familiar biblical references, it also reveals his own personal insecurities regarding his age, his lax spiritual behavior, his fears of the unknown, and his deep desire to be able to fully trust in the power and protection of G-d. The beautiful language of his poetry and his display of deep insecurities still holds the capacity to resonate with audiences today, and Halevi provides a powerful example of what it’s like to undergo the heartbreaking experience of reflecting upon the whole of your life, and finding that it does not match up to your expectations. However, he also provides hope that it is perhaps not too late to change your life, and he exemplifies the struggle to abide by one of the most influential teachings from Rabbi Hillel in the Talmud— “If not now, when?” (Davis, Pirkei Avos 1:14).


Works Cited

Alter, Robert, translator. The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary. 1st ed., W.W. Norton, 2007.

Davis, Menachem, et al., editors. Pirkei Avos: פרקי אבות = Ethics of the Fathers: With an Interlinear Translation. 1st ed., Mesorah Publications, 2002.

Goldstein, David, translator. Hebrew Poems from Spain. Routledge & K. Paul, 1965.

Scheindlin, Raymond P., translator. Wine, Women, & Death: Medieval Hebrew Poems on the Good Life. 1st ed., Jewish Publication Society, 1986.

The Inevitability Of Conflict In The Modern Promise Land

by Wayne Chien

There have been many times in history where conflicts between various groups have been deemed irreconcilable and unending due to the intractable nature of the conflict. Many, like the American Civil War or The Palestinian War of 1947-48, can be considered existential conflicts, as a defeat for a particular side would cause the demise of the entire nation. In Palestine, the day after the British Mandate ended, the Yishuv, the Jewish community of Palestine, declared itself to be an independent state. This was immediately followed by several Arab nations declaring war on Israel, under the assumption that the state of Israel was an illegitimate outpost of Western colonialism in the heart of the Arab world. This essay will attempt to show the irreconcilable differences between the State of Israel and the Arab Middle East through an examination of Zionist writings, as well as Ari Shavit’s retrospective account in his book My Promised Land, argues that these differences made the conflict between Israel and its neighbors inevitable.

The conflict between the Israelis and the Arabs of the Palestine region can be traced to the creation of Zionist thought and its implementation. Zionism can be best described as a sort of “returning home” movement for the diaspora Jews living in the world after being defeated and expelled from Palestine by the Romans circa 135 C.E. (1) The Jewish people migrated and settled around Europe and parts of Asia; however, they were almost always treated as second class citizens or worse, with waves of anti-Semitism rising periodically. In the late 1800s, a wave of anti-Semitism hit Europe in the form of pogroms against Jewish shtetls in the Pale of Settlement in Tsarist Russia. This was only one of many events occurred, and lead to the flowering of Zionist thinking.

The pogroms in Russia were mainly caused by false accusations leveled against the Jewish community after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. (2) The Russian government believed that placing the blame on the Jews would channel people’s attention away from the country’s economic problems. This lead to the Kishinev Pogrom, which saw 49 Jews killed and the destruction of multiple Jewish communities. The Kishinev Pogrom was unique in the fact that, although Jews have been persecuted throughout their history, no comparable level of state-sponsored violence experienced in Europe since the Spanish Inquisition. (3) This would eventually lead to high levels of migration to Palestine and cultivate a new attitude towards the existential need for Jews to establish their own state.

Before the Kishinev Pogrom, Jews in the West were targeted after the Dreyfus affair, in which a Jewish captain was accused of selling military secrets to Germany. Although Dreyfus would later be acquitted, Zionists such as Theodore Hertzl saw the event as proof of a virulent anti-Semitic sentiment in Europe. Thus, the Dreyfus affair drove his efforts to establish a Jewish state. (4) The idea was to “normalize” the Jewish people by giving them a state of their own and thereby eliminate the arguments that Jews were perpetual aliens in other people’s lands. 

The first settlements in Palestine were undertaken by pioneers from the Russian Empire and Romania, who eventually received support from sponsors such as Lord Rothschild. Herbert Bentwich, Ari Shavit’s grandfather, was another early sponsor of Zionist settlement. The Zionist pioneers shared the common principle of Zionism, which was the establishment of a sanctuary for the diaspora of persecuted Jews, but they did not attempt to rapidly transform the land like the Labor Zionists that came after them. They stayed at vineyards owned by Lord Rothschild, where hired Arab labourers completed most of the work. (5) This relationship between Jews and Arabs during this time was relatively peaceful, as the Jewish settlers provided a source of income for local Arabs. (6) However, this would change, as the ultimate goal of settling the vast diaspora of Jews started to threaten the existence of Arabs in Palestine, especially as the Labor Zionism of the Second Aliyah would endanger the agricultural relationship between the Jews and Arabs.

Labor Zionism and the establishment of the kibbutz would eventually lead to the disintegrating relationship between Arabs and Jews; however, the relationship was fairly amicable and beneficial to begin with. The kibbutz is a small farm in Israel, created by the Labor Zionists in an attempt to regrow the land from desert to forest. The first people to live in the kibbutz were idealists, believing that they could create a socialist community based on Jewish unity. Ein Harod, one of the first kibbutzim created, was rapidly transformed by the Labor Zionists, who drained the marshes in the Valley of Harod to produce arable and malaria-free land. This made the land much more attractive to live in; however, it would soon become a source of conflict between the local Arabs and the Jewish settlers, as now there was something real and tangible to fight for in the form of higher quality land and an increase in Jewish migration and agriculture. (7) Moreover, the pioneers of the kibbutzim intended to do their own labor, which left Arab workers unemployed and resentful of people whom they now see not as potential employers, but as intruders.

From the establishment of Ein Harod to the death of Dreyfus in 1935, the Jews and Arabs both benefited from agricultural and technological advancements undertaken in Palestine. Shavit tells the story of the Rehovot Orange Groves, which were extremely profitable and put Jewish produce on the world stage. The Jews had bought the land owned by Arab landlords and compensated the fellahin, agricultural laborers in the Middle East, living there with either cash or land grants. (8) The Labor Zionists at this time did not have the numbers to harvest the oranges by themselves, so they still employed Arab laborers; however, their ideology of Jewish cultivation of the land in anticipation of creating a productive Jewish settlement composed of Jewish labourers left the Arab inhabitants bereft of land they considered theirs. The relative peacefulness of Palestine at this time was still built on unstable ground, as Jews in Rehovot were starting to notice the widespread intolerance of Jews in Europe and a need to complete their Zionist vision, while the Arabs are beginning to become weary of the ever-increasing numbers of Jewish immigrants.  

Both the Jews and Arabs began acting on their mutual distrust of the others’ goals. The Arabs organized nationalist cells that targeted Jews living in Palestine, while the Jewish community began illegally importing munitions for the Haganah, the Jewish Self-Defence Organization. (9) The roots of a prolonged Arab-Jewish conflict would culminate in April 1936, as Arab and Jewish communities began carrying out tit-for-tat attacks on each other, which were completely different than the sporadic attacks the Jewish community experienced before this period. These attacks reflected the animosity and distrust between the two communities; however, both of them reflected a greater existential threat that was their common denominator. The Jews were afraid that their new country would be overrun by the large Arab populations bordering them, while the Arabs in Palestine began to form a national identity in reaction to the Jewish one. In 1939, the Arab insurgencies became more organized, as did the Haganah, which ultimately led to the seemingly unending violence seen throughout the history of Israel. 

The inevitability of the conflict becomes more clear when considering the ethos of Zionism. Although Zionists such as Herzl believed that a peaceful state inhabited by both the Jews and Arabs was possible, the early Zionists, captivated by their romantic mission of returning to the Promised Land, were less capable of acknowledging complexities of creating a Jewish state. 

Unlike the romantic Zionist leaders before him, Ze’ev Jabotinsky had no illusions about the role of Arabs in the new Jewish state. Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionism called for not only the settlement of Jews in Palestine but the rapid transformation of the land into a primarily Jewish state. 

The Jewish majority in Eretz Yisra’el: What then is, practically speaking, a Jewish “State”? When can it truly be said that our country has ceased to be “Palestine” and become Eretz Yisra’el? Only then, when there will be more Jews than non- Jews; for the first condition of a national state is national majority. . . . (10)

Zionists did not want to remain a minority after the Jewish return to their homeland like they had been in Europe, the Ottoman Empire, and the United States. Jabotinsky understood the Jewish need to become a majority in their new country of Israel, and the need to address the Arab question. 

In 1937, Jabotinsky submitted evidence to the House of Lords in the UK for both the need for a Jewish state and for massive Jewish immigration to Palestine, regardless of current Arab settlement at the time. His evidence implies peace would be achieved due to the bettering of the Arabs economic status under a Jewish state, but does not hide his intention of making Arabs a minority. (11) Jabotinsky’s attitude can be seen as colonialist in nature; however, his justification still comes from the Zionist theme of trying to provide Jews sanctuary in an increasingly anti-Semitic world. 

The existential necessity for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine is what ultimately makes the conflict between the Jews and Arabs inevitable. Though there were instances of relative peace, as seen in Ari Shavit’s depictions of life before 1937, the irrevocable differences between the desires of the Jewish state and the Arabs create a situation where conflict cannot be avoided.  The settlement of the Jewish diaspora must mean some relocation of Arabs, which was unacceptable to the growing Palestinian national movement that was reacting to the Zionist movement. 

Jabotinski’s and Herzl’s theories of economic development promoting peace between the Jews and Arabs also turned out to be untrue. They believed that Jewish settlement would improve the lives of both ethnic groups; however, as the land in Palestine became more valuable, the fighting over resources became zero-sum, as gains on one side were seen as stolen by the other side. As such, the Zionist project of statehood for the Jewish people who would redeem their ancient homeland by working the land themselves was bound to cause conflict with the current inhabitants, who resented the effort to convert them into a landless minority. Even if the Zionists had been more sensitive and tactful toward their Arab neighbors, Shavit suggests, they could not have altered the basic conflict between Zionist settlers and the Arab inhabitants of the region they were inevitably displacing. (12)

The displacement of Jews first occured after The Palestinian War of 1947-48, as the war caused an influx of refugees that had recently had their homes destroyed. After the war, many of Israel’s Arab neighbors started to pass anti-Zionist laws, which in the spring of 1951 caused over 15,000 Jews to flee from Iraq each month. (13) Shavit describes how the Israeli government bulldozed and confiscated Palestinian land to accommodate new Jewish immigration. He describes how there is widespread denial about the Palestinian tragedy, even as the Arabic names of the cities change. 

Asud becomes Ashdod, Aqir becomes Ekron, Bashit becomes Aseret, Daniel becomes Daniel, Gizmu becomes Gazmu, Hadita becomes Hadid. The Arab City of Lydda is now the new immigrants’ city of Lydda. A dozen towns and hundreds of villages and thousands of sites receive new identities. An enormous refugee rehabilitation project is carried out in the homes and fields of others who are now refugees themselves. (14)

Israel as a country could not have survived if it did not undertake this displacement of the Arabs. As Jabotinsky stated, the Jews needed to have a majority country, as this was simply not possible if the state did not conquer lands inhabited by Arabs. The goal of Zionism, a majority Jewish state that would support the entire diaspora of persecuted Jews, cannot coexist with the limited resources of Palestine, thus making conflict inevitable.


References

Dowty, Alan. Israel – Palestine. Cambridge: Polity, 2017.

Shavit, Ari. My Promised Land: the Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2018.

Thompson, Bruce “Origins of Zionism “ University of California at Santa Cruz, (September 30, 2019)

Thompson, Bruce “Labor Zionism and the Second Aliyah“ University of California at Santa Cruz, (October 4, 2019) 

Thompson, Bruce “Varieties of Zionism“ University of California at Santa Cruz, (October 2, 2019) Troy, Gil, and Anatolij Ščaranskij. The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland – Then, Now, Tomorrow. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2018.


Footnotes

  1. Bruce Thompson, “Origins of Zionism”, University of California at Santa Cruz (September 30, 2019)
  2. Alan Dowty, Israel-Palestine, (Cambridge, Polity Press, 2005) pp.31-35
  3. Bruce Thompson, “Labor Zionism and the Second Aliyah”, University of California at Santa Cruz (October  4, 2019)
  4.  Bruce Thompson, “Varieties of Zionism”, University of California at Santa Cruz (October  2, 2019)
  5. Ari Shavit. My Promised Land, (New York, Spiegel & Grau 2013) pp.6-11
  6. Ari Shavit. My Promised Land, (New York, Spiegel & Grau 2013) pp.51-52
  7.  Ari Shavit. My Promised Land, (New York, Spiegel & Grau 2013) pp.42-47
  8. Ari Shavit. My Promised Land, (New York, Spiegel & Grau 2013) pp.53-56
  9.  Ari Shavit. My Promised Land, (New York, Spiegel & Grau 2013) pp.59-62
  10.  Ze’ev Jabotinsky, “The Fundamentals of the Betarian Viewpoint (1934)” in The Zionist Ideas ed. Gil Troy (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2018) pp.68-71
  11. Ze’ev Jabotinsky, “Evidence Submitted to the Palestine Royal Commission  (1937)” in The Zionist Ideas ed. Gil Troy (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2018) pp.71-72
  12. Bruce Thompson, “Labor Zionism and the Second Aliyah”, University of California at Santa Cruz (October  4, 2019)
  13.  Ari Shavit. My Promised Land, (New York, Spiegel & Grau 2013) pp.147-151
  14. Ari Shavit. My Promised Land, (New York, Spiegel & Grau 2013) pp.161

 

Visiting Israel

Written by Amanda Leiserowitz

Photo courtesy of Amanda Leiserowitz

When I was about fifteen, the Temple Sinai youth group took a two week trip to Israel. Our new Rabbi and the Israeli woman who both coordinate the youth program were the only adults on the trip; the rest of us were teens of various ages and desert city high schools, maybe ten in total, including my older brother and me. 

Most of my memories of that trip are a blur; we travelled all over Israel in an incredibly short span of time, spending no more than three nights in any given place. Remembering it is like a slideshow of snapshots – the first is getting off the bus to eat falafel, pita, and hummus at a restaurant that had red-and-white checkerboard patterned tablecloths. The table was long to accommodate our whole group, out on a covered porch. The cups were plastic. The next snapshot: a nighttime scavenger hunt in a city where we were allowed to wander away from the adults, weave through Hebrew-speaking crowds. I think we ate ice cream. Another snapshot: walking along a beach at night near a noisy market. There was music playing nearby; maybe someone had a ukulele. Another: sleeping in bunk beds at a hostel. I had an upper bunk. Downstairs, there was a dining room, with clear pitchers of water, long tables, and a sliding door that led to a garden. And looking out from a hill over an ancient city, and walking through a crowded market, and floating in the Dead Sea, which stung every part of my body, and visiting the Western Wall, where I was awed by its height, before we went underground to the cool, dim tunnels, where more of the Wall still stood.

The trip was a fast-paced whirlwind, but one place that sticks out to me is the kibbutz we visited, our last stop before flying back to the United States. We stayed with host families who had kids our age, who made the place feel even more real than it had felt before.

One night, we walked through the neighborhood with them, talking in English. They’d grown up with English as much as they’d grown up with Hebrew, or at least nearly; they were far more fluent than I could even have dreamed of being in another language. 

It was evening, with long shadows cast down on the road from one-story houses with small yards—and beyond the houses, sand. It was like any other suburban neighborhood I’d been to, the heat and sand especially familiar, reminiscent of the Southern California desert I’d spent half my life in by that point. 

I slept on a mattress on the floor, in the bedroom of a girl my age. Her room faced the street we had strolled down, hours before. I remember the streetlamp shining in, and thinking of the bicycles, the culs-du-sac, the language, even the shadows we’d walked through—and the world felt small.

The next day, we piled into a roofless Jeep and drove through undeveloped land around the kibbutz. Someone pointed at some not-so-distant sand dunes.
“That’s the border,” they said. “We’re pretty much at the country’s edge.”

“It doesn’t look like anything.”

“Not really, no.”

“Where is it?”

“There, see?”

We all squinted against the sunlight. Was there a line in the sand? Any type of indicator that one land became the next? 

No matter how hard I looked, I didn’t see anything. It was all just desert, seeming endless from where we were. 

Eventually, we turned around and drove back to the kibbutz, hot wind rushing past us as we bumped along. We had traveled all over Israel for two weeks, from end to end. The country’s smallness boggled my mind. It was an entire country, smaller than my home state of California, far smaller—a fact that I had known, but hadn’t felt quite so real until I was there at the edge. (It wouldn’t be until years later that the vastness of California was clear to me, driving more than eight hours up and down the state—but that’s a story for another time).

We had Shabbat services at the kibbutz’s temple, separated from our old and new friends by gender. Shabbat dinner followed; we all piled into a huge dining hall with long tables, white tablecloths. Both the American and Israeli teens were seated at a table parallel to the windows, turned into dark mirrors as the sun went down. Before us on the table were candles, plates of chicken and vegetables, covered challah. The seating was mixed, unlike in the temple.

The conversation I remember from that night is fragmented. 

“Does everyone who grows up here stay?”

“No, no.”

What happens to those who left? Those who stayed? I don’t remember all the answers we got to our incessant questions, as there were many. But I do remember, clearly—one of the Americans asking, “Do you like living here?”

The answer was a clear, “Yes.” But it wasn’t a short answer; there were things they wanted to change, including the inequality of genders that was built-in to parts of their lifestyle. And they were prepared to make it happen.

Our last days were much more upbeat. We visited the cows that the kibbutz owned, as saw their mechanized milking process. The teens took us to a public pool with green-painted walls and a tiny convenience store filled with Israeli ice cream. Our last night at the kibbutz was our last night in Israel; they had a barbeque for us, outside, near the community center. We sat on the grass.

When my American group piled back into our van early the next morning, we took selfies with our new friends. It was dark, and we might have been illuminated only by the lights from the buildings—I don’t remember the drive to the airport, or even which airport we went to. I don’t remember the long plane ride home. I must have slept through most of it.

The kibbutz was a paradox of the familiar and unfamiliar. It was a world not unlike my own, with suburban streets, barbeques, and Shabbat dinners. But their society’s rules were different from my own; they followed Shabbat much more strictly than my family ever had. Their synagogue still had gender-separated seating, with women looking down from a second-floor balcony. The teens were bilingual, and brimming with the confidence to make change happen. The community of the kibbutz was tight-knit, but it was no utopia.

There, in the kibbutz, I think I understood what my parents signed my brother and I up for – to see the smallness of the world, and the similarities between people across the globe. Despite the different lives we led, the kibbutz teens and I had a lot that connected us – not just our shared (albeit different) Judaism, but our intersecting worldviews and cultural artifacts as well. It didn’t hurt that we all loved kariot, the chocolate-filled cereal, that we all ate for breakfast, unafraid of asking for seconds.

Sderot

Written by Hannah Carrasco

Illustrated by Rose Teplitz

Last year, I embarked on my second intensive Israel education trip, this time with Hasbara Fellowships. My delegation, made up of college students from the U.S. and Canada, traveled all across Israel and the West Bank during our 15 days. We would learn how to become effective campus educators and advocates for Israel through facts and first-hand experiences. Although I cannot recall everything we learned, not everyone we met, and not every place we visited, there is one place that clearly stands out among the rest: Sderot. This was not my first time visiting “The Bomb Shelter Capital of the World”.Sderot did not change during this time, neither did its inhabitants nor its security. But, Sderot changed me.

Sderot is a city less than a mile away from the Gaza Strip. Gaza is ruled by Hamas, a recognized terrorist organization. Thousands of rockets fired by Hamas have rained from the sky into schools, homes, playgrounds, and streets. Rockets fall regardless of wars. There is no knowing when, where, or how many. Because of the high volume of rocket attacks, an early-warning radar system was installed. By the time a rocket is spotted, there is only fifteen seconds until it makes contact. That means, that within that time, everyone has to run and seek safety in a bomb shelter. The alarm system that warns the city of incoming rockets is fallible. And because of that, people get injured and people, young and old, die.

There are four things from that visit that I will never forget: our initial conversation with our tour guide, the videos we watched, the displayed collection of rockets, and the fear in the eyes of three young boys.

When we arrived, we were greeted by Noam Bedein, our tour guide for the day. The first place we visited was an underground bomb shelter where, from what I understood, Israel Defense Forces soldiers watched security screens to identify incoming rockets from Gaza and sound the alarm. We all sat down around a large table and listened to the history of Sderot and the challenges its people face.

The most emotional part of this conversation was when we were told that around half of the people living in Sderot suffer from similar symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, including the children. But, alas, they are not in a post-traumatic state, Bedein told us. Sderot citizens currently suffer from ongoing trauma. We learned that the birth rate in Sderot was declining, not because of the fear of bringing children into this world, but because people were afraid to have sex. Would they have enough time to get to the bomb shelter if they did? They had to weigh the pros and cons of all of their actions to determine what they should do, and most decided better safe than sorry. Our barrage of questions included topics like “why don’t they move, get out of this place?” And “why do parents put their children through these horrors?” Bedein told us it was because of Jewish resilience. People did not move away because they didn’t want to give in to Hamas. They would not run away and let Hamas win. They would stay and weather out the storm.

Next were the videos. We watched a handful, but two were seared into my mind. The first one was a video taken during one of the many rocket attacks Sderot continuously faces. It showed a school where the young children were outside playing and having fun when suddenly the warning alarm went off. The teachers hurried them to the safety of the school shelter. Many immediately knew what they were supposed to do: run to the nearest shelter. They are taught this from the time they can walk; it becomes second instinct. Still, a few straggled as some children are bound to do. Teachers quickly ushered them inside or picked them up and hurried inside. And then, the video shows these little children, maybe around six or seven, all singing this song and purposefully moving their arms and legs about. They knew what was happening whether they really grasped the gravity of the situation or not. The song and dance combo is a strategic technique to prevent their little bodies from going into shock. It is to keep their blood moving and to distract them from what was happening outside. But, since they are young, the singing and ‘dancing’ was made fun. The song is in Hebrew and Bedein told us an abbreviated version of the lyrics. They all sing along and smile and follow the instructions the song lays out.

Hurry to the bomb shelter. Shake one’s arms and loosen one’s legs. Breathe in deep and breathe out slow.

They sing about how it’s happening because they are a little different, but that’s ok. They won’t get hurt today. Before the creation of this song, many children would panic and freeze when the alarm went off putting themselves in danger and some faced different types of developmental regression,  like bed-wetting, for example.

_________________________

We learned that the birth rate in Sderot was declining, not because of the fear of bringing children into this world, but because people were afraid to have sex. Would they have enough time to get to the bomb shelter if they did?

_________________________

 

The next video was not actual footage of events happening in Sderot; it was a representation of the short amount of time a person has to get to a bomb shelter. The video itself is about a minute long, but it feels like an epic journey. The first shot shows a three or four-year-old girl playing with her toys in the backyard. The screen changes then to her mother laying her baby boy in his crib. She walks out and stands near the back door watching her daughter. Then, the mother walks to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. Suddenly, the alarm sounds. Fifteen seconds on the clock. Her coffee cup immediately falls to the ground and shatters. The countdown begins on the screen. She runs to the backdoor and bangs on it trying to get her daughter’s attention. The little girl just sits there with her hands over her ears. Eight seconds to go. She has to make a decision. Continue trying to get her attention or run and get the baby from his crib and pray her daughter realizes to run to the shelter. She decides. Get the baby and pray. The mother grabs him. They rush to the shelter. She looks out of the little window at her daughter. Five seconds. The girl hasn’t moved. Four. Panic fills the mother’s eyes. Three. The camera pans back to the daughter. Two. One. The screen goes black. This video shows that decisions have to be made in a split second and those decisions can alter everything. One wrong decision, and someone can get injured or die. This is a reality that the people of Sderot live with every day.

We left the safety of the underground shelter to make our way to a playground. But on our way there, we took a detour to the Sderot Police Station. But it wasn’t the police station that we stopped to talk about. Rather, it was the collection of hundreds of exploded rockets displayed outside of it. Shelves full of metal rockets ranging in size. The ends blown off and the metal shredded near each end of the cylinder. Hundreds of rockets sitting right before us. The most shocking thing was not the rusted rockets sitting on top of each other in piles. Rather, the most shocking thing was a giant menorah, the symbol of the Jewish people, of Jewish resilience, of light and hope, constructed by the police department and made out of the scraps of rockets meant to kill them.

Lastly, our final destination was the aforementioned playground. Why was this on the agenda? It wasn’t to give us a break. When we got there, we all sat down on the picnic benches. Bedein pointed out two or three bomb shelters on the playground, but the one worth mentioning was the main ‘attraction’. It was a huge concrete capitellar snaking its way through the middle of the playground, brightly painted with yellow and green, with a silly face and big happy eyes. While we were there, there were three boys sitting on top of it, talking and playing. For them, it was a normal toy. Bedein told us that all parks and playgrounds have multiple bomb shelters because of the volume of children playing there during certain times. He pointed to the three young boys and told us that they have witnessed two wars. Bedein did not know them, but still his words are true for any child around their age in Israel, and especially in Sderot where the damage of the war is exacerbated.

____________________________

I get to walk away but they do not. For us it’s a visit. For them, it’s their whole lives.

____________________________

 

Now it was our turn. Not to experience a war, but to experience how fast fifteen seconds passes. He told us to go play around, walk around, do whatever we wanted to do, but as soon as he yelled “Tzeva Adom” to run to the bomb shelter. Tzeva Adom, or “Color Red” in English, is what the warning alarm system says as the siren blares. The female voice repeats “Color Red, Color Red” until the threat passes. We followed his instructions for a minute and then he yelled out “Tzeva Adom” and we ran towards the caterpillar. Fifteen seconds is very little time. As we were running for shelter I looked up at the boys. I saw their fear, their confusion. Why did that man just yell “Tzeva Adom” out of nowhere? Why were these 25 some-odd college students running for shelter? These are some questions that probably went through their heads. They knew it was not the real alarm, since Bedein was the one to yell it, but the words themselves invoke fear for it is those words that links the people to their survival.

“Just remember, at the end of the day you get to leave. They don’t.”

The words above were told to us by our tour guide for the day. He presented this statement to us at the beginning of our visit to preface what we would learn and see and at the end to remind us of Jewish resilience and of our privilege. The reason Sderot changed me lies in those words. The first time I went, I left. It did not occur to me that I would be back. It was another emotional stop on our trip, but one that I would soon forget. Returning to Sderot reminded me that I have the privilege to live a (not bomb) sheltered life where I can pick and choose when and when not to worry about others facing catastrophes on a daily basis. I can walk around my neighborhood without seeing bomb shelters looming at every bus stop or playground. The only thing that falls from the sky that I have to concern myself with is rain, not rockets. I just go about my business, as well as countless others, without having to worry about my life being on the line. I forgot what those that live in Sderot, and other war-torn and dangerous areas, face every day.

Visiting Sderot a second time was when those words stuck. This time, I made sure to recognize the privileges I have, especially when it comes to not having to worry if each day is my last.  I get to walk away but they do not. For us it’s a visit. For them, it’s their whole lives.

Tales from Tel Aviv

CamelBy Natalie Friedman

The Journey Begins

Birthright is a ten day program for 18-26 year olds in which Israel’s greatest qualities are explored. These quick-paced ten days of the Golan Heights, Eilat, Jerusalem, Sfat and Tel Aviv gave me the opportunity to understand the history and culture beyond what I already knew. The abundance of knowledge from the Birthright tour guide is something I would not have received while traveling on my own.

After ten days of Birthright, without hesitation, I extended my trip in Israel for two months. My time alone was very different from my group experience with Birthright. I learned in unique and important ways during both time periods. In Israel, I kept a journal with one page for each day of travel. A few days before the trip, I excitedly headed each page with the weekday and date, promising myself that I would at least write a few words about each day’s events.

During my travels, I kept a scrapbook of writing, bus tickets, flyers for events I had gone to, logos from restaurant napkins, stickers from the hostel, drawings of friends, quickly-scribbled directions to get home, museum tickets, artists’ business cards, and my plane tickets from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv. As the days went on, the tattered journal became an organized mess as quickly as it became more important to me.

Art Market in Tel Aviv

There were handmade journals at the lively artist walk that happened twice a week in Tel Aviv. I would buy more journals than I could fill with the desire and expectation of more adventures. The Art Fair on Nahalat Benyamin Street took place on Tuesdays and Fridays. While many people in the city rushed to the outdoor market known as Shuk Hacarmel, before Shabbat started (most everything closes from late Friday afternoon until Saturday evening), I would rush through the artist market. Artists from all over Israel would sell intricate one-of-a-kind jewelry, ceramic mezuzahs (a symbol of Judiasm placed on the door in a home), tiled challah boards, miniature ceramic statues, and stained glass for the garden (a perfect for gift for my grandmother).

Best of all, I bought a handmade journal coated with turquoise tissue paper that was “the wrong way” because Hebrew books read the opposite direction. On the front, there was a dream catcher with beads, and on the other side, a poem about dreams.  Each page held a string attached to a glass bead. In this journal, I would capture only beautiful places; the first thing I drew was Jaffa.  Much of the art in Jaffa focuses on the exquisiteness of the landscape rather than social issues in Israel. Here, my goal was to merge the beauty of my surroundings with the beauty of the journal.

Jaffa

Jaffa is a quiet, older, port city established in the 19th century next to Tel Aviv. I explored Jaffa several times throughout my stay in Israel. I could never find the same art gallery because of the town’s maze-like features. Walking between the cobblestone walls was an experience in itself. I often saw brides and grooms taking photos there. I would sit at the port, draw the boats, and drink my mint Wissotzky tea. Over the hill, as I sat in an amphitheater drawing in my new journal, a newlywed couple and photographer stood at the stage. As they paused for a photo, I drew the couple swiftly, over and over again.

Later, I walked along the roads in Old Jaffa through the narrow and high walls exploring the unique art galleries. Meeting with the interesting artists were some of my favorite moments. One team of artists in particular stood out to me. This team created felt art with spiked needles. After they wove the yarn into the burlap, 1400 needles compressed the burlap creating a flat texture. The designs include women in vibrant beautiful dresses, colorful birds, and impressionistic martini glasses. The lady at the gallery spoke to me in great length about their process and I was so delighted to hear each detail.

Sfeta, short for Sfetlana

At a bus stop in Tel Aviv near my temporary home, an older Russian woman, who spoke Hebrew, asked me about the bus times. The bus was late, so we began to talk about her family and her work. Next, she invited me to her house to help her make dinner. I walked to her house the next day and she taught me how to make a Russian type of ravioli called Pelmeni.

The whole process was unclear because of both of our broken Hebrew but it became slowly understandable from observation. She repeated “ תסתכל עליי” meaning “watch me.” I observed and drank delicious Wissotzky green tea. From scratch, she made a dough, sliced it up, flattened each piece with a machine, put meat in each piece, pinched the dough together and placed each piece into a pot of boiling water. Amazed with the process, I tried my best to help her.

After, I would be off to Netanya, an hour bus ride away. She prepared me with a yogurt, an apple and cake. She treated me as if I was family. I think this stemmed from her similar feeling as a foreigner. When I asked her about her move from Russia, she explained “בכיתי” meaning “I cried” implying that she was too emotional to speak about it. I think it was comforting for her to help someone like herself, a newcomer to a new place. Because of our Jewish connection, we felt linked.

Now, in the mornings at my house in Santa Cruz, I drink the Wissotzky tea, remembering the beautiful journey that I got to experience.

Hand In Hand

Bridging the Gap Between Israeli & Palestinian Schoolchildren

By Itai Weiss and staff

The education system in Israel and the Palestinian Territories offers a glimpse into the mentality of future generations in the region. The schools in Israel are nonexclusive yet very segregated. Since, in Israel, there are no laws that restrict or reject students in public schools based on ethnicity or religion, this segregation is perpetuated by individuals, not institutions. In order to understand this division, we must first look back at the social problems plaguing the Israeli community and its children. Public schools in Israel are divided into mostly Jewish and almost exclusively Arab schools. “Mostly Jewish” because it is common to have a handful of Arab children among the student body. In contrast, at the Arab schools, one would be hard-pressed to find a single Jewish student. Arabs in Israel make up around 20% of the overall population; however, outside of the big metropolitan cities like Tel-Aviv or Haifa, residential divisions are the norm. Jews and Arabs tend to congregate with “their own”—a phenomenon called de facto segregation —which stigmatizes and, in many ways, prohibits the integration of Jewish and Arab students.

Resistance to Change

The situation in the West Bank, under the administration of the Palestinian Authority (PA), is even worse. Many of its schools teach brazen hatred and virulent anti-Semitism.

“At a conference on Israel education organized by the government,” reads an article from the Jerusalem Post, Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs Director-General “showed reporters an image culled from the Facebook page of the Palestinian Authority Education Ministry in which a snake with a Star of David on its forehead could be seen strangling a young Palestinian.”

Not only is this a vile message—venomous Jews strangling Palestinians—but it is coming from the top down. People in PA positions of power do not hesitate to demonize Jews; as a matter of fact, they encourage such behavior. Even normalization through seemingly harmless activities, such as sports, is met with hostility. As reported by the Palestinian Media Watch in early September of this year, Jibril Rajoub, one of the most powerful figures in the PA government, condemned a football match between Palestinian and Israeli children at the Peres Center for Peace. He called the game a “crime against humanity.”

Heart of the Conflict

Relations between Arabs and Jews in the West Bank are usually tense. Some of the only interactions Arab children in the West Bank have with other Jews are when they are bullied by settlers or tear-gassed by the IDF. It is therefore all the more important that what kids learn about Jews in school does not affirm this mistrust.

While there have been reports of incremental progress, PA textbooks still preach intolerance. Many Palestinian textbooks deny the Holocaust’s veracity; or they claim that the Jews orchestrated the Holocaust in order to acquire Israel. “In Arab schools [in Israel], children learn about the Holocaust as history, but they do not understand what it meant and means for the Jewish people,” said an Arab-Israeli school principal in an article published by the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency). When lies and distortions are used to color a community’s perception of another population, it is inevitable that these prejudices will be passed on to the next generation.

Hope for Change

The Israeli curriculum also has room for improvement. However, in 1999, the introduction of new, updated textbooks marked a pivital shift in the way Israeli public education frames the conflict. As reported by the New York Times, classroom materials went from being virtually devoid of the word “Palestinian”, to liberally addressing both the Palestinian people and nationalist movement. In an exemplary attempt at mutual understanding, Israeli textbooks began using “the Arabic name for the 1948 war—the Nakba, or catastrophe—and [asking] the pupils to put themselves in the Arabs’ shoes and consider how they would have felt about Zionism.”

Ethnic vs. National Identity

Some particularly far-right Israelis argue that introducing “negative histories” to school children may hurt the strength of the Israeli identity. They strongly oppose giving concessions to the Arabs, including learning about their historical perspective, on grounds that it may be a threat to Zionism. They fear that it will undermine the case for Israel as the Jewish homeland.

Lee Gordon, of the school Hand In Hand in Israel, compared and contrasted Israel to America. While America is a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities, Israel, with its own extraordinary diversity, is not. Israel remains divided.

“There is a fear in the Arab community of assimilating too much,” Lee expressed in an interview. Retaining the Arab ethnic identity as separate is important; which is crucial for understanding one of the reasons why there is de facto segregation between Jewish and Arab students.

Cultural Obstacles

Many Arab municipalities are also organized differently. A hamula, which, in Arabic, roughly translates to “clan”, is a system of patronage that favors nepotism over professionalism— making it harder to get good education for Arab children. This system hampers the financial growth of the city and, in effect, the schools.

Although there is evidence of a growing Arab middle class in Israel, their schools are taught in Arabic, and Hebrew remains their second language. As a result, integrating into Israeli society and going to a university presents another challenge.

In a New York Times article, a father describes the dilemma: “Should his school-age children learn the Palestinian Authority curriculum to reinforce their national identity as Palestinians, or the Israeli one to ensure them access to Israeli universities and job prospects in the Israeli world?”

Meeting in the Middle

Hand In Hand is succeeding at bridging this gap. The organization opened its first school in Jerusalem in 1998. It now has eight schools scattered throughout the country, and is expected to build more.

Each school follows the basic requirements of Israel’s education ministry, but adds its own twist. They teach a billingual, bicultural curriculum— emphasizing the importance of both narratives.

The three major religions are taught in depth; all members of these communities are present in the classroom. According to Lee, this model of coexistence fosters an “institution of partnership”.

This partnership profoundly impacts the children as well as their parents for the rest of their lives. This past summer, during the conflict in Gaza, “Deaths to Arabs” was spray painted on the walls of one of the schools. Jewish and Arab community members decided not to reciprocate with hate; instead working together to paint over the vandalism. They made a sign that read: “We refuse to be enemies.”

 

Search, Fight, Birthright!

By Lilli Martin

In 2001, Israel experienced one of its worst civil disasters. During a ceremony at the Versailles weddinghall,aportionofthethirdfloor

fell through, killing 23 people and injuring 380.
In times like these, the Search and Rescue (SAR) Unit of the Home Front Command is called into action.

Their mission: Find and save trapped civilians. Last summer, I decided I wanted to learn more about the IDF and SAR, so I applied for a specialty Birthright trip that included a three-day boot camp at a SAR training facility. We Americans were going to learn about what it meant to serve in Israel.

We arrived at Bahad 16, the SAR training base in Tzrifin, and were introduced to our new military life by Sergeants One, Two, and Three.

Within ten minutes of arriving on base, dogtags were given out and rules were set. No laughing, no talking. Remain in a straight line when walking. But most importantly there is no “thank you” in the military— although we failed miserably on refraining from thanking people. It’s an American trait, I believe.

After settling into our barracks, we were sent to class for basic lessons and tool training.

Spray “>>” on rubble for air cavities, “X” for no entrance, “+” for sliding. Communicate with your team—if they need you, don’t hesitate. Someone’s life depends on it.

On a few occasions during training, alarms went off—requiring us to evacuate into storage rooms. We Americans looked and felt embarrassingly nervous; the Israelis seemed nonchalant about the whole ordeal.

The abrupt wake-up call on Day Two set us up for non-stop training. With our new uniforms and protective gear, we set out for the destructed training field, and searched for soldiers hiding within the rubble.

I’ve never been in a fight before; so when we were told to attack a packed sleeping bag full force, yelling, “Get the terrorist!”, I was surprised by how much strength I actually had.

Day Three. The final test before our training was officially over. Objective: Save a wounded civilian trapped inside of a blocked off room.

Our first obstacle was to break through a metal wall. This required the use of a power saw; which, after only two days of training, made me want to stay as far away as possible from any person holding the tool.

Once we broke through the metal barrier, we were faced with a concrete wall. For this, we were given jack hammers. As I drilled through part of the wall, I felt as if I was actually rushing to save a person.

We snapped the metal wires within the concrete wall and were able to finish our rescue. Bringing out a stretcher, we maneuvered and secured our person onto the cot. We finished with a lap around the site, switching positions to hold the stretcher above us.

I realized then that I took my carefree life back home for granted. I talked to many soldiers who loved what they do and are proud to serve Israel; I’ve also met soldiers who couldn’t wait for their service to be over.

I will admit that I was one of the only people who enjoyed the training; however, I think everyone gained perspective.Three days was just a small glimpse into the two to three years

Confronting Conflict Through Dialogue

Israel/Palestine in the Classroom

By Josh Frank

 

“Stonewalled in Jerusalem” art display at the Cowell Provost House
“Stonewalled in Jerusalem” art display at the Cowell Provost House

How do we find compassion in the heat of conflict? Here at UC Santa Cruz, a course titled “Conflict & Compassion”

took on this challenge. The class, offered through Cowell College, had another component: A weekly lecture series open to students and the public alike.

Cowell Provost, Faye Crosby, sponsored the speakers and funded the food provided. Given that the focus was on how to communicate about Israel/ Palestine compassionately, what better way to host a discussion than with falafel and hummus afterwards?

UCSC lecturer Christine King was the first guest in the round of speakers. She spoke about methods of active listening for constructive dialogue, which she teaches in her class “Non-Violent Communication,” or NVC. Conflict & Compassion and NVC promote strategies to communicate without hostility and emphasize reflecting another person’s emotions in conversation.

Psychology graduate student Ella Ben-Hagai, originally from Israel, hosted these weekly speakers, introducing them and facilitating Q&A afterwards. In her experience, we don’t always hear the other individual; we often only hear what we want to hear.

That this course exists speaks to the fact that so many of us are emotionally invested in the conflict. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict raises questions of human rights, particularly the right of an ethnic group to have self- determination, or a state of their own.

This issue struck a chord with UCSC

“Stonewalled in Jerusalem” art display at the Cowell Provost House

Professor Jennifer Derr. Largely inspired by her experience attending university in Cairo, she explained the history of Palestinian identity and the events surrounding Arab-Israeli tensions.

Although her presentation primarily focused on the Palestinian narrative, Professor Derr did touch on the Zionist movement. She reminded the audience that Jews were refugees without a home during the first half of the 20th century. Consequently, they settled in Palestine, a place where there has been a Jewish presence since biblical times.

Palestine was not an official state outside of the Ottoman Empire. Following World War I, the land was put on the real estate market for the nations of England and France; yet even in the years prior, Jews were making purchases.

But while Jews bought the majority of the land legally, it was purchased from the hands of wealthy Arab landowners who did not necessarily represent the Palestinian people as a whole.

Bruce Thompson, a lecturer of History and Jewish Studies at UCSC, marked this distinction. Communicating to a group may be easier, but it is more harmful in the long run. We should strive to view conflict through the perspective of individuals, and not the larger ethnic group we believe that individual represents.

Thompson expounded upon the emotional aspect of the Jewish movement. Especially after witnessing the death of six million of their own people during World War II, Jews all over the

world adopted a Zionist viewpoint: We need our own state where we can protect ourselves. This is a view many Palestinians can identify with as well; both groups find themselves embroiled in the pursuit of nationhood. Dr. Hatem Bazian of UC Berkeley elaborated on the notion of a Palestinian state in Week Four of the series. Dr. Bazian characterized the establishment of Israel as a colonial operation, stressing deep concern for the Palestinians who were displaced from their homes. Dr. Bazian declared that we must discuss the Israeli/Palestinian conflict inside of a “Colonial Discourse”—interpreting Zionism as a Western- influenced movement, rather than a crisis of refugees. On the flip side of the coin, lawyer and speaker J.J. Surbeck insisted that the change in discourse must involve treating Israel more fairly. The international community often holds Israel to a double-standard; the United Nations Human Rights Council puts Israel as a standing item on their agenda, making condemnations far more likely. Under this microscope, Israel is slapped with unwarranted human rights violations, damaging the international community’s credibility, and shutting off dialogue. The speakers raised heavy concerns, carrying over into heated Q&A sessions. Staff, students, and community members alike became enthralled in the discussions; in some cases there was a desperate need for debrief. Cowell Provost, Faye Crosby, one of the backers of the program, decided to expand the conversation into her own home. Yet she chose a different medium for introducing the conflict: Art.

Sarah Friedlander set-up a creative display inside the Cowell Provost House on campus. Titled “Stonewalled in Jerusalem,” the art installation fills a room with a collage of digitally-designed photos of scenes in Jerusalem, connected to form what looks like the Western Wall.

Viewers were encouraged to tear off a piece of paper so they could write down some of their thoughts, emotions, or hopes for peace. By slipping the notes into the cracks of the wall, participants emulated the same practice done at the real Western Wall in Jerusalem.

After thanking Sara Friedlander for her hard work and dedication to the question, “Can art have a positive influence on the conflict?”, Faye concluded with heartfelt and inspiring words.

She explained why she is so committed to the Conflict & Compassion course: “My mission as Provost is to engage intergenerational learning.” This attitude can serve as a model through which we can engage in constructive dialogue here at UCSC and the greater community.

Present and Absent in al-Ghabisiyya

By Rebecca Pierce

Shrouded by a young cypress forest and buried under layers of chalky yellow dust, the remains of al-Ghabisiyya lie nine miles from the ancient city of Acre in modern Israel, close to its border with Lebanon. Scattered sandstone, a flattened cemetery, and the battered Mosque are the only visible clues that the uninhabited space once hosted a thriving farm community. Ghabisiyya was one of hundreds of Palestinian Arab villages emptied before or during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, in what Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe. Many of the displaced villagers fled or were expelled from the area, but most of those who stayed in the newly formed Jewish State became citizens. Despite attempts by the displaced villagers to return, the Israeli government declared Ghabisiyya first a “closed military zone” and later “absentee property,”and subsequently razed the village. Today, most of the area remains empty and military orders still bar its former residents from their lands.

In the summer of 2011, I visited Ghabisiyya with an American peace-building delegation, accompanied by former resident and village committee member, Dawud Bader. The story of the village and its refugees can be pieced together through his testimony,  various historical accounts of the Palestinian exodus in 1948, and the experiences of Israel’s Arab citizens after the birth of the nation. The fate of Ghabisiyya and its “Present Absentees” is a poignant reminder that building a “Jewish and Democratic” Israel on indigenous Arab land created legal and humanitarian complications. These “complications” form a paradox that haunts the experiences of the country’s internally displaced and non-Jewish citizens to this day.

Prior to May 1948, the village of Ghabisiyya was a small Muslim community located in the Acre district of the Palestine Mandate, adjacent to the towns of Shaykh Dannun and Shaykh Dawud. Most residents supported their families by raising animals, tending olive trees, or farming vegetables and grains. Villagers made communal use of Ghabisiyya’s school and olive press, and worshipped together in the town mosque. By 1945, Ghabisiyya had a population of about 690 people who lived in close proximity to Netiv ha-Shayyara, a settlement that recent Jewish immigrants from Iraq built on village farmland. The town was located in an area proposed as part of a future Arab state in the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan.[1]

The years leading up to the British withdrawal from the Mandate of Palestine, and the subsequent declaration of the State of Israel, were marked with increasing violence and instability as the Zionist dream of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel clashed with the simultaneous nationalist desires of a Palestinian Arab majority. Attacks between the Jewish Yishuv and Palestinian communities proliferated as a full scale conflict between Zionist militias and allied Arab forces became more and more likely. Still some Palestinian towns, including the village of Ghabisiyya, remained friendly with neighboring Jewish communities. In late 1947, villagers negotiated a deal with local Haganah forces in which they agreed to supply the Zionist paramilitary group with resources and information in exchange for not being attacked. Despite this agreement, the Haganah’s Carmeli Brigade invaded Ghabisiyya on May 21, 1948.  Dawud Bader explains that when they saw the soldiers approaching, “the people of the village held here a short meeting near the mosque, and decided not the resist…One of the people climbed to the roof of the mosque and shouted with the white flag, a sign of peace…The attacking soldiers saw this person on the roof of the mosque. They shot him, they killed him.”

Over the next two days, the Haganah killed eleven residents, and the rest were forced to run from the fighting. Although he was just six years old at the time, Bader recalls, “My mother woke me in the early morning and [she] took some things on [her] head and we went to the east.”  Ghabisiyya was one of the last Palestinian communities to fall in the final phase of Operation Ben Ami, the final large offensive the Haganah launched before the establishment of the state of Israel and the creation of the Israeli military on May 15,1948.According to Israeli historian Benny Morris, the purpose of the operation was to “resupply and reinforce the settlements in Western Galilee…to extricate noncombatants…and, in general, to secure permanent Jewish control over the area.” [2]  A former Israeli military commander would later claim in a local newspaper that the attack on Ghabisiyya was justified because residents of the town were suspected of involvement in the ambush of a Haganah supply convoy in early 1948.[3]

The villagers who survived the strike on Ghabisiyya dispersed in many directions. Bader says, “During this period, a few months, about fifty percent of the people fled across the Lebanese border to Lebanon, became refugees there…We remained here about fifty percent, including me, my mother, and my father.” The residents of Ghabisiyya had joined the ranks of over 700,000 Palestinians displaced in the conflict of 1948. Israel still bars those who went to Lebanon from returning to both their village and the nation in which it now lies. Although most Jewish people have an automatic right to Israeli citizenship, Israel does not recognize the U.N. resolution detailing a right of return for Palestinian refugees. Bader sees this contradiction as a great injustice and longs for his family to be reunited, saying “My brother and sister also have a right of return according to the U.N. Resolution 194, for sixty years. Why do we implement for people who don’t know the country and not also for another people who have memories, who know everything here?”

By 1950, most of the 160,000 Palestinians who remained in the newly declared Jewish state became Israeli citizens, including roughly 300 displaced people from Ghabisiyya. Theoretically, the Israeli government was supposed to give these non-Jewish citizens equal rights, as outlined in the Israeli Declaration of Independence. However, until 1966, the government kept areas heavily populated by Israel’s Palestinian citizens under varying degrees of Hammisishar Ha-Zevai, or military rule.

During this period, the Israeli state viewed Israeli Arabs, as they came to be known, as a potential “fifth column” of enemy forces and governed them under strict ordinances based on British Mandate era laws originally intended to discourage Jewish and Arab resistance to colonial rule. Military governors could set up curfews and road blocks that restricted movement, and could hold citizens without charge, place them under house arrest, and bar them from leaving or entering their own lands. Military Police often disrupted journalism and political organizing and could threaten citizens  with expulsion from the country. In the vast majority of cases, the government did not apply these policies to Israel’s Jewish population.[4] The period in which Israel’s Palestinian citizens lived under military rule lasted nearly twenty years and it soon proved tragic for the people of Ghabisiyya. It also had a dramatic impact on how many Israeli Arabs, who today make up twenty percent of the population, view the country they live in.  Bader says, “I think for us it is very painful here. We are living good, we are working…we have good connections to the Israeli people…but at the official level there is discrimination.”

During the early years of the state, some of the villagers from Ghabisiyya returned to their houses and were able to reinhabit the town for a short period of time. But on January 24,1950, the residents suffered expulsion once again. According to Bader, “The Israeli military police came to the village and said to the villagers they must leave within twenty-four hours. Why? They need the area for security purposes.” Fearing what had happened to them in 1948, and believing they would eventually be able to return, the residents left for a second time. But their hopes of moving back to Ghabisiyya for good were never to be realized. Bader explains that “No promise was fulfilled and the people began to try coming back to this village. Every time the Israeli Army prevented them and ordered them to go back.” Those who tried to return to their homes faced arrest, imprisonment, and potentially deportation to Lebanon. In November 1951, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the military did not have the authority to bar the people of Ghabisiyya from their property and permitted their return.  Bader recalls that when the villagers tried to implement the decision, “Once more came the military police and ordered them to leave…The Israeli Government, under Ben Gurion at this time, had declared that Ghabisiyya was a military closed zone.” Still unable to reclaim their houses, most of villagers settled in the neighboring Arab towns of Shaykh Dannun and Mazra’a. In 1955, the Israeli Land Authority (ILA), the government body responsible for seizing and redistributing property vacated by refugees, declared Ghabisiyya “absentee property” and confiscated the entire village. The ILA carried out the seizure according to the Israeli Absentee Property Laws, which dictated that the government would declare “absent” any people who left their property during the conflict of 1948 and that the ILA would seize and redistribute everything they left behind. Two years later, in 1957, the Israeli Land Authority bulldozed the houses, school, cemetery, and other structures of Ghabisiyya, leaving only the mosque standing.[5] Bader believes the ILA undertook this destruction to eliminate any chance of the residents returning. The ILA then planted cypress and pine trees over the former site of the village, obscuring it from view. In most cases, during that period, the ILA would have redistributed the land it confiscated to accommodate growing Jewish immigration to Israel, but Ghabisiyya was still a “closed military zone” and the ILA could not legally transfer or develop it.

Although their village no longer exists, the people of Ghabisiyya are still trying to go home. Former residents, many of whom still have the deeds to their houses, have mounted several efforts to reclaim their property, but the Israeli government has largely rebuffed them. In the 1970s, villagers formed a committee and petitioned the ILA for the right to renovate and use the overgrown and crumbling mosque complex. The ILA told the village committee if it wanted to use the building, it would have to sign a document recognizing ILA ownership of the property. The villagers refused to give up their right to the land, but continued their efforts to return to it. In 1995, the village committee began to repair the mosque without the permission of the ILA. Dawud Bader explains, “We knew that we cannot have such permission. So we came and cleaned. And in order to connect the people with the holy place, the mosque, the people of the village decided to pray every Friday.” The villagers continued to meet at the mosque for Jumu’ah, or Friday prayer, for close to a year. But in early 1996, the ILA returned, emptied the mosque, and sealed the complex off to the public. Bader fumes, “Forty-Five Years [it was] opened, neglected for everything. But when we prayed, used the mosque for some holy moments, holy acts, they cannot accept such thing so they closed the mosque.” The villagers found their prayers seemingly answered during the Israeli elections later that year when the incumbent government of Shimon Peres wrote a letter promising to repair and open Ghabisiyya’s mosque, citing a responsibility to “maintain holy places for all religions, including, of course, cemeteries and mosques holy to Islam.” Their fortunes fell, however, when Shimon Peres lost the election and the right-wing government of Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s current Prime Minister, took power and shuttered the mosque once again.

Although Israel’s Palestinian citizens are technically no longer under military rule, to this day the area of Ghabisiyya is still a “closed military zone” and it remains under the control of the Israeli Land Authority, off limits to development by its former inhabitants. Today many of the internally displaced refugees of Ghabisiyya live just a few kilometers away from the site of their former homes. According to Dawud Bader, forty-five percent of the people in Sheikh Danun are refugee families from Ghabisiyya, as are thirty-five percent of those in Mazra’a, including the Mayor. These people are often paradoxically referred to as “present absentees.” The Israeli government has declared them “absent” from their land, but they are physically present as citizens living in the Jewish state. For Dawud Bader, these circumstances amount to a painful and paradoxical sense of inequality that haunts his experiences as a displaced Palestinian citizen of the “Jewish and Democratic State.” “We have the blue Israeli identity cards.” He muses, “We are citizens, and I understand citizens must be equal. All citizens; Arabs, Jews…But we are here, refugees in our own land.”

By Karin Gold

1. Khalidi, Walid. “All that Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated By Israel in 1948.” (Institute for Palestine Studies, 1992) 13-15.

2. Morris, Benny. “The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited.” (Cambridge Univeristy Press, 2004). 252.

3. Benvenisti, Meron. “Scared Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948.” (University of California Press, 2000) 141.

4. Pappe, Ilan. “The Forgotten Palestinians: A History of the Palestinians in Israel.” (Yale University Press, 2011) 18, 46, 51, 52.

5. Benvenisti, Meron. “Scared Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948.” (University of California Press, 2000) 201, 293-295

Published on page 24 of the Winter 2012 issue of Leviathan.

CJP’s Response to Defamatory Statements in Leviathan’s Fall 2011 Issue

Note from the Editorial Board: This response was written by the Committee for Justice in Palestine, a student organization that educates students and the local
community about the Palestinian struggle for independence. It has been our honor and privilege to collaborate with the CJP in order to demonstrate our aim to give equal voice to all perspectives.

The CJP meets on Tuesdays at 8pm in Bay Tree Conference Rooms.

The pervasive issues of violence and injustice affecting the people of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories are highly contentious and can evoke strong personal reactions in those who discuss them. As students in a university setting, we have a responsibility to address this controversial topic in a thoughtful and scholarly manner. It is with this responsibility in mind that the Committee for Justice in Palestine (CJP) is compelled to respond to defamatory statements an author made about our organization and events in an article titled “The Real Threat of Anti-Semitism,”  editors published in the Fall 2011 issue of Leviathan Jewish Journal. The piece alleges that CJP circumvented school regulations and crossed the line between free speech and anti-Semitism during an unspecified event. The author did not contact CJP for information regarding the event in question, nor did he give it a chance to comment prior to the publication of the piece.
While it is reasonable that people would have varying accounts of a single event, expected debate can slip into false characterizations of the actions and intentions of the parties involved. The article in question states that “the Committee for Justice in Palestine held a rally for the destruction of Israel…[with] signs and chanted slogans that called for the elimination of the ‘Zionist entity.’” The piece also claims that there were “students carrying balloons that had swastikas drawn on them.” It goes on to assert that CJP was in “clear breech of campus regulation and protocol” and holds that “the support of such events as those listed above would be akin to the university sponsoring a lecture by a leader of the Ku Klux Klan or some other White Supremacist group.”

These statements are incredibly inflammatory and could not be farther from the truth. The CJP is a multi-ethnic and ideologically diverse student organization brought together by a desire to spread awareness about the Palestinian struggle for human rights and self-determination. As such, it takes the issue of hate speech on campus and violations of school policy very seriously. First and foremost, CJP must state that the use of swastikas and other derogatory symbols or language is completely against the values of our group and would have been personally offensive to our members.
While the article provides no time or date information in reference to the alleged rally, the author has verbally confirmed that he was writing about an event in early 2009. CJP did hold a rally in the Quarry Plaza in January of that year, a collaborative event it organized with a now defunct UCSC branch of the Campus Antiwar Network. The purpose of this demonstration was to show solidarity with the people of Gaza and protest Operation Cast Lead, the 2009 Israeli military invasion that resulted in the death of 1,400 Palestinians in a single month.  Although demonstrators did employ white balloons during this rally to represent casualties of the conflict, CJP’s photographs confirm that no symbols or writing were included on any of the balloons the group distributed, other than one that said simply, “Respect.”

CJP does not believe that it contravened school policy or participated in hate speech in organizing the Gaza solidarity event or any other that it has sponsored. None of the CJP members who were present participated in or heard chants using the language the article attributed to them, nor did they hold any signs referring to the destruction of any people or state. CJP’s SOAR advisor was physically present that day, as were trained crowd monitors, in order to ensure protesters broke no rules and respected the free speech rights of student demonstrators in an opposing rally. Photos from the protest have been accessible to the public on our online forum since February 2009.
The article’s description of our event as a “rally for the destruction of Israel” pushes the boundary between liberal interpretation and blatant mischaracterization. Such unfounded allegations negatively impact CJP’s ability to organize in the campus community and grossly misrepresent its members, their beliefs, and intentions. Furthermore, they perpetuate an extreme and often uninformed way of engaging with the conflict that stigmatizes and distorts the actual experiences and perspectives of Palestinians and Israelis alike.

This article exhibits the type of overzealous approach that falsely characterizes Palestinians living under military occupation as hateful, violent, and “tribally backwards,” and also portrays Israelis in a similarly distorted fashion. This type of demonization renders honest and open exchange about Israel/Palestine nearly impossible and undermines intellectual integrity and academic freedom. For example, disingenuous comparisons like the one the author draws between university sponsorship of our events and that of the Ku Klux Klan are not only defamatory, but actively work to silence and delegitimize criticism of Israeli government policy. This silencing is especially detrimental in an educational community, like UCSC, where the free exchange of ideas is supposed to be a core value.

The Palestinian people, and those who support them, are not hateful or anti-Jewish by nature. We believe that educating our campus community about these issues is important because of the scale and scope of the historical and contemporary abuses that Palestinians experience in both their homeland and refugee diaspora (the largest in the world). This education is especially critical in the U.S. because our tax-dollars directly fund the Israeli military and many people often stigmatize or ignore the
Palestinian narrative in domestic discussion of the conflict. We thank Leviathan Jewish Journal for giving us the space to respond to the defamatory statements that it published in the last issue. It is our belief that open and sincere communication on campus can promote a positive and accepting environment for all students, Jewish, Palestinian, and otherwise.

Published on page 19 of the Winter 2012 issue of Leviathan.