Saturday, 7 November 2009

Days 4 and 5: Bet Guvrin and Sabbath

Yesterday and today have been blisteringly hot: well into the high 20s and possibly 30 degrees C. It is good that we had the hottest days yet to do as we please rather than having to work on them. I still find it funny that winter here is better than summer in the UK!

We went on saturday to Bet Guvrin, which houses a collection of ancient caves including olive-pressing machinery and tombs. It is next to the biblical city of Maresha, reputedly built by Rehoboam. In a slightly interesting side note, Rehoboam is also the name of a 3 litre Champagne bottle - at the bar I worked in we had an empty Balthazar (16 litre) bottle on display. Customers used to ask how much it was, not realising that it contained nothing - I said if they gave me a fiver they could have it.

Yesterday I joined the breakfast table in the middle of a discussion about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Marc, as one would expect, is very knowledgable about this and I listened attentively in order to learn more about the Israeli point of view from someone I believe to be compassionate and intelligent. He believes it unlikely there will be a solution in his lifetime. I find this a troubling issue because I have heard much from both sides. Each has their own narrative which, in isolation seems justified but do not appear to connect in any way. It is my nature to attempt synthesis, in order to reach a correct image of the facts; a single story which will describe events objectively and demonstrate what has happened, what is wrong and right, and what therefore is the solution. In this case I find that there is no such single story to be found. In recent times it has seemed to me that the common opinion is more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israeli: the Israelis are seen as occupiers unrelenting in their dominance and abusive in their exercise of power. The facts as they are clinically reported seem to present this case. The Israeli narrative rests on a deeper sense of cultural history and displacement which is often forgotten about in attempts to understand their actions - really there is so much about the history of the diaspora and the events of the 20th century (even without beginning on the Holocaust) which must be taken into account in understanding the background to the state of Israel and the feelings of Jewish Israelis. It is too easy to present the Jews as receiving Israel as compensation for the Holocaust. Issues of identity and the human need for community and homeland and self-rule must be related to the two thousand years of diaspora history which have always been perceived internally as exile from the ancestral home. The Versailles Treaty and the British Mandate are cases usually not brought into the discussion, for the clear reason that the multilayered complex of events is too overwhelming to integrate into the reportage of day-to-day happenings in the 21st century. It is also too easy to forget the imposed nature of any statehood in this area and the history of the Middle-East prior to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. I am impressed by the work of the One-Voice Movement who seek to bring people together and share the narratives which often are not known by people on either side - or even outside - the conflict. The only conclusion I can come to about this is to refuse a single report of events, instead allowing for a multiplicity of points of view which each tell their own story. Events must always be joined together in a subjective pattern in order to give them meaning - to attempt to do so objectively and thereby acquire a true meaning is to misunderstand the essential subjectivity of meaning itself, which always occurs from within a point of view. I am certain that a peace can be achieved, but to do this requires an understanding and willing acceptance of other narratives rather than an attempt to obscure these with one's own. Peoples' interpretations cannot be shouted-down but must be listened to sympathetically.

In other news, I have finally had an acceptance from Neot-Semadar. I had assumed they were full as they had ignored my last few emails (Josh also is trying to find a place there so far unsuccesfully). I am now in a quandary, as I have contacted the African Hebrew Israelite Community in Dimona, and requested to stay there for the second half of my trip. I await their reply but do not know what I should do if they also accept. I undoubtedly want to visit them as their history and lifestyle are fascinating (I won't go into detail here, their website and articles on Wikipedia offer better information than I can collate). It may be unrealistic to think I could spend just a few weeks with each. I will have to consider, but I am feeling more interested in experiencing the community in Dimona at the moment.

No photos today - I have dozens from Bet Guvrin, and some from the British Park which we visited today but it's late, I'm tired and we go to work again tomorrow. I may add them later in the week when I have more energy.

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