Monday, May 10, 2010
I thought this bullet ridden wall in the Old City of Jerusalem simply symbolized a country rich in culture, scarred by conflict, a small microcosm of national identity.
I was thoroughly impressed by the passion and genuine character of the people we met, their universal vigor entirely infectious. What a marvelous experience, that easily outweighed my high expectations.
I always knew that Israel was a complicated place, but proximity only elevates that sense. In many respects, the place is a "mess", and any fleeting sense I had of a near term peace now seems a bit naive. When you see the various "neighborhoods" and towns in the West Bank and Jerusalem, you see how close people live together, even though miles apart in so many other respects. From the Jewish side, an overall pessimism seemed the theme, those evoking "hope" were clearly in the minority. Israeli and Israeli referenced Oslo and the second Intifida, the assassination of Rabin, watershed moments, that clearly demand a before and after denotation. The looming proximity talks not taken particularly seriously, Obama viewed with suspicion, the kumbaya moment clearly elusive.
I was asked a few times what "surprised" me during the trip. One thing that was striking, how often Israelis mentioned Iran, the country interwoven into every conversation. Iran itself, but also their influence in Lebanon, Gaza and some villages in the West Bank that border Israeli populations. The word that comes to mind is paranoia, but maybe that characterization doesn't correctly justify the hard facts. People are genuinely worried about Iran, worried about their support of Hamas in the occupied terrorities and their relationship with Syria and Lebanon. The anti-Semitic and holocaust denying Iranian regime evokes all the historic concerns, the country clearly pre-occupied with the thoughts of this mentality having advanced arms and close alliances. Given the past, it was hard to argue with the obsessive concerns, a cozy Canadian has no right to question the learned sensitivities.
It was nice that we were able to travel much of the country, with the exception being the south. Israel isn't a small country, it's "tiny" as I was reminded many times. While our exposure to "Palestine" was limited, we did get to visit a couple of West Bank towns, speak with Palestinians, as well as tour Arab villages. I would describe the trip as fairly balanced, given the limitations, we were exposed to a wide array of perspectives. Some of my own views were challenged, and if anything some of my flippant ideals need re-assessment. I still believe in a two state solution, still criticize certain Israeli reactions, still support the Palestinian plight, but it is fair to say I've developed a more sympathetic view for the Israeli perspective- there are no easy answers, complication reigns supreme. I also feel lucky to be Canadian, which provides the intellectual luxury that relative stability and security provides.
What a fantastic, rich and tortured country. Maybe someday....
Jeff has a great detailed rundown of daily events here.
Here's a quick clip of a UN helicopter flying over Lebanon:
Posted by Steve V at 7:58 AM