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

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

Living in Israel


September 28, 1990


This is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when believers all go to the synagogue and pray for forgiveness from each for wrongdoings committed throughout the year. It’s an interesting holiday here. All transport stops, except for emergency vehicles. The streets become full of walkers, roller-skaters, skate-boarders and cyclists. The video libraries are emptied. Some time during the afternoon, neighbours start knocking on each other’s doors to swap videotapes. Traditionally, the 364-day eaters fast for 24 hours – supposedly even water is denied. I’ll see how it goes.




When Aviva read this, she felt that I should have explained the meaning of Yon Kippur a little more deeply. Until some years ago, it was a solemn feast. But the Yom Kippur War changed all that for the Israelis. In addition, it became the symbol of the fight for survival. There was the horror of the country being attacked on its most holy and solemn day, when the enemy knew that it would be off guard.



(In fact, the military and the politicians continue to look inwards to find out exactly why the country with what is claimed to be the most advanced intelligence service in the World, was not able to be better forewarned and be better able to protect itself. Over 2,000 Israelis were killed during the first 2 days of the war).


Added to that, there is the memory of those who gave their lives, so that we are able to walk safely in the streets, to ride our bikes and watch or videos.



Whenever I go abroad, I am asked what it’s like to live in Israel. Aren’t we worried, etc. etc. Of course, with the current Gulf crisis, the questions ae more frequent and far more intense. Well, we don’t nor cannot pretend that the danger does not exist. But it should be realised that this country has lived with some form of tension ever since its birth – and well before.




A newspaper article, in England I believe, discussed the Holocaust. The general feeling among non-Jews appears to be that the subject if ‘flogged like a dead horse’. Its enormity is not in question, but its validity as a means by Jews to emphasis today’s problems is questioned. (I have to mention here that because of my particular – and peculiar – upbringing, I feel myself to be well-positioned to judge this subject. I see the trees, but they do not cloud my view of the forest).




This attitude towards the Holocaust is understandable, but it is not reasonable. The Jews, those in Israel perhaps more than those in the Diaspora, have never known real peace. The Holocaust itself is over, but at no time since then has Israel been able to relax. From the day of its establishment, Israel has been attacked by its neighbours, surrounded by 100 million or so who wish the destruction of the country. Israel has not been given a chance to separate today’s belligerence from yesterday’s horrors.




The current crisis only emphasises the problem that is faced. For the left-wingers, this is a tragedy. I am a left-winger; I believe that talk is necessary. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I have always said that even there were no Israel in the Middle East, even if there were not one Jews, the nations in the region would constantly argue among themselves. One would have thought that the common enemy, Israel, would unite the Arab nations, but not even that is possible.



South Yemen against North, Iran vs Iraq (currently peace, only a million lives to be quickly forgotten), Egypt vs Libya, Jordan vs the Palestinians, Egypt vs the Muslim Brotherhood, Syria obliterates over 20,000 in Hama, and in Lebanon, everything happening to everyone. And now Saddam Hussein to top it all off.


How can one trust the Arabs, especially after the ways they treat each other. Fair question, but no reason for not trying to make peace. The signing of a treaty with Egypt did not immediately signal warm relations with that country. It should be remembered that Anwar Sadat, who signed the treaty, was the one who proudly proclaimed in his autobiography that it was he who launched the Yom Kippur War.



And even after the end, he claimed victory. No, but the signing was the first of what may be 100 steps towards normal relations with Egypt. So far, the treaty has survived many crises: the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the horrors of Chatilla and Sabra refugee camps, the massacre of Israeli tourists in Ras Burka, and then again, the Israeli tourist bus last year.


But there has been no war, and that is something. It Is not a matter of trust, it is a case of having to start somewhere. I sometimes voice the sick joke, to keep the right-wingers happy, that the easiest way to kill Arafat would be to sign something with him. He would immediately be assassinated by his own people.




In a cynical way, I pity the Palestinians. They have been so abused by their Arab brothers. One day’s revenue from all oil production (especially at today’s inflated prices) would solve their plight. The PLO itself is a very wealthy organisation (as was reported last year) – or at least the funds have been available. It is incredible that Israel is expected to help the Palestinians, the very people who wish for the destruction of that very country. And Israel has its hands full with its own immigrants (the numbers of Jewish refugees from Arab countries is greater than those who claim to be Palestinian refugees – and now hundreds of thousands are coming from the USSR).



We constantly hear of the problems Jordan has with the Palestinian refugee camps, which are said to be in as bad a condition as those here. Can you believe that! And of course, those in Lebanon and Syria are certainly no better.


The Palestinians have a fortune available to them – as long as is not used to better their quality of life. They must be kept in squalor to allow their feeling of desperation to fester. That makes it easy to understand why they backed Saddam Hussein. They saw him as a potential saviour; someone who dared to threaten the USA and, ultimately, their own enemy, Israel. Yet at the same time, when the subject is ‘the Palestinians’, that same people is killing itself in Lebanon.




I heard S. Africa’s de Klerk being interviewed during his Washington visit. He foresees a time when Southern Africa will be united in peace, when the neighbouring states will realise the importance of friendship with the whites. He’s dreaming, as far as I am concerned. But at least he is moving ahead with his attempts. He has been compared to Gorbachev; opening the door, yet being run over in the rush to escape the past.


It is wrong to compare this region with others; they really do not have so much in common. But I do wish for gutsier attempts to solve the crisis. There will be a miserable situation in the Middle East for the foreseeable future; at least be seen to be making the necessary efforts to bring peace.



I’m not sure where this letter is leading….With such a complex problem, one can easily get lost. No possible solution is good. It is sad to know that many feel was would be the best long-term consequence by ‘cleaning the air’.


Stalemate can be very bad; hundreds of thousands stuck in the desert is a scenario no one can envisage for too long.


Forcing Hussein into a corner could be dangerous – it has been suggested that he should be offered a tiny way out. A chance to retain just a little self-respect.




If the U.S. eventually withdraws, would they really take back the enormous quantity of arms they have brought with them into the arena. I cannot imagine the arms lobby in the U.S. allowing that.


And what on Earth is the U.S. doing supplying Saudi with further billions of weapons? Bad enough for now, but they could so easily fall into the hands of another despot. Saudi is constantly in danger of suffering a coup or an invasion. Certainly, if Saddam Hussein is allowed to remain in Kuwait, he may feel a strong inclination to take a step further.




And another point that is now being voiced. The UN resolutions on Iraq are being compared to those on Israel’s ‘occupation’ of the West Bank and Gaza.  Legally, according to UN law, that’s quite right.  But, apart from the fact that the two situations are completely different, two wrongs do not make a right. And, perhaps cynically, the UN, USA or whoever are often rightly accused of double-standards. So, like it or not, Iraq has done wrong and has to accept the consequences. The two subjects should not and cannot be intertwined.


Isn’t it ironical that the two languages, Hebrew and Arabic, use ‘peace’ as their most common form of greeting…




I can’t end this letter on such a sombre note. A couple recently wrote a letter to the Jerusalem Post weekly supplement covering Tel Aviv. They had for once decided against travelling abroad or in Israel to such a place as Eilat, the Dead Sea or Galilee. They came to Tel Aviv, and now wanted to write to say how surprised they were at the beauty of the city, and the great variety of fun they had during their stay. They wanted to congratulate the mayor on the terrific job that has been done.


Tel Aviv sometimes reminds me of Calais, a place to pass through on the way to better things. To  foreigners, Israel means so much, but Tel Aviv means a place to land in and depart from. For instance,




  • Beautiful beaches all along the city’s coastline. The ones near us are surrounded by lawns, flowers and other vegetation.
  • Many parks. Park Hayarkon, for instance, is slightly larger than New York’s Central Park. It contains a boating lake, coffee and snack places, peddle bikes for up to 6 people, an amphitheatre, an area the size of Central Park’s Sheep’s Meadow for events, where recently I witnessed around ¼ million young people at a pop concert. (And I have to add that we were happy to notice the complete lack of drugs, alcohol and general rowdiness.


Parents are always so worried about the environment           in which their kids are growing up, and to which they are exposed).

  • Theatres galore, some in English.
  • Street markets, from craft to fleas.
  • Rag’n’bone men, some still on Steptoe-like carts
  • And so on – Book your trips through Cohen & Son, and mention my name.




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