Saturday, July 05, 2003

At one period, before this Terror War, known as the second Intifada, a name that is unacceptable to me, I used to visit the West Bank settlement of Elqana on a regular basis. This is a very lovely village just on the other side of the Green Line, near the town of Rosh Ha'Ayin, the unofficial capital of Yemenite Jews in Israel (which is on "our" side of the Green line). Funnily enough, my regular visits were part of my Buddhist meditation practice. We had what's known as a "Floating Sangha", a Sangha being basically a community of practice (It's actually much more than that, but I won't get into that right now). This meant that we met each week at someone else’s home.

Yossi was our only religious member. The Jerusalem group had many religious members, but Tel Aviv had one. It may sound strange to you that a Buddhist group should have Jewish religious members, but this particular stream was low on ritual. Yossi said the practice enriched his Jewish religious practice.

The first time Yossi suggested we meet at his home in Elqana, he was met with polite, but uneasy and embarrassed opposition. People told him that they were worried about traveling through the West Bank at night. I wondered how much of their unease was political, not wanting to go to a settlement, however mainstream. I confess part of my unease was political. But this was a Buddhist group. We practiced acceptance and understanding. The next meeting was not in Elqana, but Yossi persisted and eventually I found myself one dark evening uneasily driving my car along the high road that leads to the Jewish West Bank town of Ariel. After Rosh Ha'Ayin I came to a checkpoint. The soldiers glanced at me and waved me on. Now I knew I was in the Israeli controlled part of the West Bank. When I was a child, we used to travel the West bank freely. I had heard of the green Line but I was never sure exactly where it was and what it meant until I was well into my teens. Nowadays you know when you are in the West Bank, even where there are no checkpoints.

Further on I came to a bend in the road. There seemed to be an Arab village there and scores of young Arab men were lining the road for some reason. It was very scary, but I just drove on, praying I didn't run anyone over and was soon relieved to see the signposts for Elqana.

Yossi's home was lovely. It was a very Jewish home, full of beautiful Judaica and artwork depicting Jewish life. I always especially enjoyed the many meetings we held in Yossi's home after that first one. From Yossi I learnt to not be so judgmental of people whose views I oppose. On one occasion he shared with us his feelings of being deserted and betrayed by PM Yitzhak Rabin, during the early Oslo years leading up to the assassination of PM Rabin. In my euphoria at the outbreak of peace with the Palestinians at the time, I personally had chosen to take little notice of Rabin's impatient and rather harsh treatment of the settlers.

Sometime later, Yossi drifted away from our little group, as I did myself soon after. I doubt anyone of us Tel Avivis would have traveled to Elqana at night after September 2000.

* * * *

I once discovered that someone had linked to me, calling me sassy. Being a very shy person in "real life" I found this amusing. I have now noticed that this same person finds me "irritatingly provincial". I guess this is because I make no attempt at offering any solutions as far as the big picture is concerned and have no use for grand theories. All I have to offer is the world as it passes by my window. I have never seen, with my own eyes, Israeli soldiers beating up Palestinians at checkpoints. My eyes have never witnessed the sight of human bodies strewn all over the street after being blow up by a suicide bomber. All the grand theories that I have ever believed in have been proved wrong, including the paradoxical grand theory that grand theories are inherently a waste of time and should be avoided. Life has proved to be too complex to tidily organize into neat ideologies.

Of course, provinciality is always relative. Calling someone provincial can be interpreted as the ultimate defense against an outlook that differs from your own, a more polite version of the Israeli left’s common claim that Israelis who vote for right wing parties are either halfwits, or certifiable.

I don't write about Palestinians, or how they feel or what they are experiencing. How can I write about these things when I have no opportunity of learning about them first hand? I read about what is happening to the Palestinians in the paper, just like you. I don't write about Jewish settlers in the territories either, although I have more opportunity to meet them. I only know what's happening to me. If this is provincial I am quite happy to be provincial, even irritatingly provincial. I'll take it as a compliment.