# 04 – Living in Israel by Stephen Pohlmann - Ourboox.com
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# 04 – Living in Israel

Helping others to understand Israel - and Israelis to understand others...
  • Joined Sep 2016
  • Published Books 409

December 14, 1988


We complain about the exaggerated attention the World pays on this area, yet forget that we ourselves give our problems far too much thought. What you hear about is nothing; it is often said that the Arabs are stupid to keep attacking this country. Why don’t they just leave it alone, and it will destroy itself.




Religion. Just as in Christianity, there are several sects within Judaism. The ‘religious bloc’ you recently read about as having balance of power after the last elections can be divided simply into 4 very clear groups:

Ashkenzi – European Jews

Sephardi – Oriental/Spanish Jews


Anti-Zionist – Yes, there is actually a strong group that does not believe in a secular State of Israel. They will only recognise the establishment of Israel after the coming of the Messiah.




Some of the religious are exempt from national service, and yet receive equal rights in society to those who do serve the 3 years (or 2 for females). And they get financial support for their religious schools, plus benefits for each of their many children. That creates a lopsided image of the religious, as there are many others who serve their term and contribute fairly to the defence and structure of this country.




There is one religious section which is insisting on a change in the Laws of Return. That is, that any immigrant from the Diaspora must prove their Jewishness, according to (their version of) Jewish Law. If conversion is deemed to necessary, it must be authorised by an Orthodox rabbi. One can argue the wrongs and rights of that, but what hurts is the ridiculous timing. At a time when the support from the overseas Jews is ultra-important, Israel threatens to theologically cut them off. In effect, the law concerns only a small number, but the others, including perhaps 90% of American Jews, feel insulted.




A small minority of the country wants everyone to observe the Sabbath by closing down just about everything. The list goes on, forever widening the rift between the silent secular majority and the noisy religious minority. And I should make it clear that the last election fairly accurately reflected the status in this country. Only about 15% are orthodox. Perhaps another 20% are ‘quietly observant’. Most of the rest of the Jews are respectful of religion, but are not practicing. And of course, some are agnostic. Yet many now more about the Bible than most, having read it (the Old Testament, of course) as their history book at home and at school.




The economy – the country is in an absolute mess. Not only have we had to spend exorbitant amounts on Defence since the establishment of the State, we have been strangled by the power of the unions, who not only rule the labour in this country, but control about 25% of the industry. Typically, many of those industries, mostly state-owned, are now collapsing, and the country is trying to save them. Who pays…?


The Shekel has been fairly stable, but this is illusional, and there is a constant danger of inflation taking off again. A 15% devaluation is expected within a month or two. The currency black market rates continue to flourish. The authorities turn a partially blind eye. That is, there are occasional arrests, while the black rate is printed on the front pages of the national newspapers. (Thatcher – help!).



Social life – I am pleased to report that this potentially explosive situation has taken a back seat for the time being. Yes of course, there is the usual class distinction: better residential areas with better schooling and facilities etc. But that’s natural. The potential for problems is, however, there. Again you have the usual division of the Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews. But among them, you have different colours, customs, politics, language etc. They are all Jews, but that common denominator is wearing thin.




Politics – This does appear to be a dirty part of the life here. Not enough of the politicians put country first. The recent election stalemate exposed a lot of ‘bottom-kissing’. It will be interesting in the next few days when, presumably, another coalition government is formed between Labour and Likud.

Initially, Shamir (Likud) signed agreements with the very right-wing religious bloc. As far as I’m concerned, he should now tell them where to go. But he might be scared to do so – just plain yellow.




Hopefully, the new coalition will eventually introduce a new electoral system which will make it more difficult , although still not impossible, for the small parties to hold the balance of power. The subsequent elections could then give this country a chance to move forward. If ever there was a country (a democracy) that needed a strong government, the this is it!


Foreign policy – Of course, this primarily concerns the ongoing situation with the Arabs/Palestinians.




[I met Shimon Peres recently in the lift – he’s moved back into the building. Perhaps he feels luckier here. I was saying to one of the neighbours that I would love to have a chat with Peres. I ravel so much, and it is becoming more and more difficult to explain Israel’s side. I need first-hand advice. The neighbour told me to ‘drop in’ next time they have their bi-monthly chat with Peres and some of the other neighbours! They would even have no objection to a short session in English.]




[This is quite a building: our next door neighbour had a party recently for Ruth Westheimer, the little sexologist. Another neighbour is a top TV personality; another was in charge of the Taba negotiations – that silly little piece of land over which the Egyptians and Israelis have been arguing for years; another is the head of the dental department at Tel Aviv University, and so on.]




What a predicament this country is in. I have read quite a lot about the Holocaust. Yesterday, having read the book, I saw a film with Alan Arkin called ‘Escape from Sobibor’, which described the greatest breakout of the war from any prisoner-of-war or concentration camp (which Sobibor was). Does the World really have an idea of what happened then? Read Primo Levi’s ‘Survival in Auschwitz’, which describes how low humanity can go, both perpetrator and victim.




In ’45, the remains of European Judaism wandered around, trying to find a home. Understandably, going home was not high on the list. Palestine beckoned; surely this was the moment to have a country where they could be a majority, where they could be at home. The World ‘owed it to them’. I don’t mean that arrogantly. Hitler was the terrible straw that broke the Jew’s back. Pogroms and the other forms of persecution had followed the Jews for centuries.




Most other peoples have histories of living in countries where, whatever the political system, they have been part of the majority. There are other refugees today who are being denied in a similar way; Kurds, Armenians, Biafrans, and they too certainly deserve the dignity of having their own country. But their tragic histories are short. As is that of the Palestinians.


Consider the immigrant in another country: the Mexican in the States, the Sikhs in B.C., the Asians in the UK, the Turks in Germany, the Vietnamese in Israel etc. etc. They are perhaps 2nd-class citizens. This is the fate of most minority groups of differing backgrounds to the local majority. But we donpt; go around trying to destroy them!




In 1947, UN Resolution 181 declared the partition of the Mandate of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state (yet another). The fascinating fact is that, given time, the Israelis would have been very reluctant to accept the status quo. As a result of the previous wars, the borders were far worse than those in 1967.


Imagine the horror of coming out of post-war, post-concentration camp Europe and trying to get to Palestine. Who stops them? The good old British. To appease the Arabs, boats were turned back (the Jews in the famous ‘Exodus’ ship were eventually deposited in Hamburg of all places). Others were sent to Cyprus and incarcerated for many months in more camps until the establishment of the State of Israel.




They arrive in Israel. Who are they? Jews were never farmers, and certainly never handled guns. They join the pioneers who came during the first immigration, early in the 20th C, and the communities which had populated the area for hundreds of years (as in the case of Aviva’s family).


They are constantly attacked by the local Arabs. And when the State is declared by the UN, 5 Arab countries attacked. What would have happened if they had gained the upper hand? Who would have come to their help? That question has been asked every time Israel has won a war. Would the World have stopped the Arab armies reaching the Med. Sea?




Today, Arafat talks of peace. For 40+ years, his people, with the backing of all neighbours, have refused to accept the existence of a Jewish state. When you fly by air and have to go through the enormous expense of security, remember who caused it all. Remember…


Black September, 1970. King Hussein got fed up with the activities of the Palestinians in Jordan. (They still are the majority in the country). On just one day, Black Saturday, his forces annihilated an estimated 20,000 Palestinians. Today, Hussein and Arafat kiss each other.

Many people associate Black September with the terrorist group that killed the Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics in 1972. They should remember where that name came from.




Hama, Syria, 1982. A Muslim Brotherhood uprising in this small town in Southern Syria. Asssad ordered the destruction of the town, with over 25,000 of the inhabitants killed.


Sadat, 1973. Read his book, how proud he was to have started the October War, how clever he was to have started the war on the Jewish Holiday of Yom Kippur, knowing Israel would be ‘sleeping’. This is the man who came to Jerusalem in 1979, having convinced himself that he wanted peace, not for his love of Israel, but for his realisation that nothing else could work, and that the economy was screaming out for peace.


Sadat was assassinated for that decision; the fate of many who dare to talk to Israel.




West Bank. The World constantly reads about this, watches reports from there and still insists that Israel give it up to a Palestinian state. How many have actually studied of the proposed states? What is the distance between the West Bank and Tel Aviv, on the coast. Only 10 miles as the crow flies. Did you know that the Palestinians demand Israel’s capital as their capital?




Gaza. Nobody wants that area. It used to belong to Egypt, but they refused to take it back during the Camp David accords. Despite the uncalled-for support for the area from Israel, and the money earned by many of its population over the border in Israel, it is one big slum. Hove you ever considered that 1 day’s profit from Arab oil production would provide the Gazans with all their material needs to rebuild their lives.




But of course, the Palestinians ae not real refugees. (A reminder that a similar number of Jews were expelled from the Arab countries, and have been absorbed by an Israel with no money, who returned their only oil fields to Egypt at Camp David). They are political footballs. Accept them and give them homes and work in neighbouring countries, and the excuse for this situation will have disappeared.



I can see that I’m getting stuck in the quagmire of this region. But I have a couple of pertinent observations:


  1. Even with no Israel in the Middle East, there would be arguments and wars in the area all the time. It’s a tribal mentality here. In fact, the presence of a Jewish state should be a uniting factor among the Arab and Muslim nations. Just look at them: Iran/Iraq, N. Yemen/S . Yemen, Libya vs almost all neighbours, Syria/Iraq etc. .


2. I have often said that, despite all the above, Israel has to ‘play the game’. I have been firmly in favour of talking to the Palestinians, even Arafat, and have cited the propaganda ploy of placing beautiful tables on the borders of our enemies, with an Israeli official sitting there permanently. On the table would be the Israeli flag and that of the relevant neighbour. The cameras would continuously picture the scene and would illustrate Israel’s invitation to its neighbour to come and speak, without preconditions. If you don’t play, you don’t win.




Unfortunately, the right wing in Israel has been strong, supported greatly by the fast-increasing population of Jews who have come in recent years from oppression under Arab regimes. They want revenge for their sufferings.  (And, by coincidence, the other right-ring groups are among the religious, who also have large families. Numbers count in a democracy).


The Intifada was the only damaging weapon Arafat could use; ‘unarmed struggle’, although stones and Molotov cocktails hurt and kill. This is the way to fight a democracy. (Look at Northern Ireland, although the circumstances are totally different).




It’s a sad thought: over 300 have been killed in the first year of the Intifada. And it continues, the daily stand-off between violent kids sent out by their mothers and fathers, and young soldiers, sent out by their country. In any Arab country, those 300 (and more) would have been killed on the first day, and maybe the World would have complained…for a day.


Now Arafat calls for peace. An hour ago, Schultz announced that the U.S. would speak to the PLO. That was inevitable; it is certainly the direction I recommend. You’ve got to start somewhere. It may take generations to attain peace, but without that first piece of paper, and the initial peace, nothing happens.



Look at where we are with Egypt. A little piece of paper, and the peace, albeit fragile, survives the assassination of Sadat, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, The Chatilla and Sabra camp massacres (indirectly connected to that invasion) and the killing of Israeli tourists in Ras Burka in Egypt.


Now the prediction is a renewed series of terrorist attacks by the Syrian-backed Palestinians. These will presumably be on Israeli/Jewish targets, as they wish to discredit Arafat. Any attack on Arafat’s people would only illustrate the split amongst the Palestinians. (But Assad is stupid. So…).




I have written enough; you have fallen asleep. Here the sun is shining, the tennis courts are full, ten-pin bowling is reincarnated, new beaches are opening, surrounded by grass and flowers. There is skiing in the Golan Heights and snorkling in the Read Sea. The mud of the Dead Sea is as black as ever, and Tel Aviv gets greener. The Israeli Philharmonic remains one of the greatest international orchestras, and Ofra Haza has hits all over Europe. Israel has 3 basketball teams in European competition and plays France in the Davis Cup. Les Misérables is playing a long run in town and Shira is attending a weekly drama class.


Thanks for your attendance.

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