And I Cry…

I’ve been on the verge of tears all day. They flowed this morning, a bit more a few hours later. Now again at dinner with my husband. There’s a lump in my throat, just won’t go away. Its hard to swallow. I have to put thoughts to paper, so here goes:

He was stabbed yesterday, a knife thrust in his back, piercing organs, severing blood vessels. How does that feel? Ok, tears rolling again. How does it feel to have a knife cut through muscle and bone… Does it hurt much?

Because as he was stabbed he instinctly whirled around, pulled out his pistol, started chasing the stabber, jumped a ledge, barreled into a glass door as he stumbled from the pain, then fired his gun. He hit his assailant, injuring him and dropping him to the ground. Its all on the video. I’ve seen it several times. There are cameras everywhere here. We need them exactly because of this. So we know what happened.

I cry. Ari Fuld was only 45 years old. He died of massive bleeding at the hospital. He had a wife. He had four children that look so sweet in the photos in the newspapers. Four little ones that no longer have their Abba. The lump in my throat is for them. For his family. For him. He won’t see them grow up.

I cry for his murderer. Only 17 years old. Seventeen, for fuck’s sake. I have a seventeen year old child at home! What makes a seventeen old throw his life away like that? Oh, its the occupation. Yeah, the occupation.

I hate the occupation. But you know what? Its OUR LAND! I cry because the Jewish people have been living on this land for over 3,000 years and how DARE they say we don’t have roots and connection and the right to be here.

I cry because Ari Fuld loved this land as much as I love it. God, do I love this land. I cry because he refused to compromise and share… and I cry because I AM willing to compromise and share. But our LOVE is equal. Was the same love. I still love. He loved. He’s no longer is able to.

I cry for the murderer’s father, who insisted his son was not interested in politics, only in school. Did he watch the Hamas facebook page propaganda encouraging stabbers to kill Israelis?  Was he moved by Islamic Jihad videos calling for the murder of Jews? What pushes a seventeen year old to sneak a knife to a mall and stab a total stranger in the back. Oh, its the occupation.

I cry because Hamas and Islamic Jihad both praised the murder and called for more killings of my people.

I hate the occupation. How DARE we say they don’t have a right to this land? Muslims have been in these parts for over 1,300 years, empire after empire, in control, in charge, the bosses. Seriously, that’s a damn long time to completely disregard.

I cry for the murderer’s mother, who it appears approached some soldiers to report that her son was planning a terror attack. I cry for her. Had she come to them a bit sooner, maybe her son would not be laying on a hospital bed, headed to life in prison. He would have his life back. Alas. And if what she did is true, what courage she had to try to avert this attack. I cry for her.

I cry because those that claim the right to the land for over 3,000 years are COMPLETELY RIGHT! And those that claim the right to the land for over 1,300 years are COMPLETELY RIGHT! And what does one do? How can one side be right and the other side be right as well?? At the same time?!? That’s crazy.

I cry because a month ago Ari Fuld made a video trying to raise money for 10,000 neck coolers to donate to IDF soldiers who stand guard over our intersections and our bus stops and our checkpoints and our streets and it was so HOT they were melting out there. And he was doing his usual good deeds for our soldiers and it was a great thing. One of the many great things he did.

I cry because I love our soldiers so much. My dad was a soldier, I was a soldier many years ago, my older daughter was a soldier and my seventeen year old will be joining the IDF soon. Very soon. Will she need neck coolers in the hot summer days? Who will give her one? Ari is gone.

I cry because I SO MUCH DISAGREED with Ari’s politics! But that does not give anyone the right to murder him. Never! I cry because even though I did not personally know him, I have friends who knew him and I have facebook friends who knew him. My people are hurting right now and that makes me sad. Because as a people we have been hardened just a bit more. We’ve suffered another trauma, deepening our national Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We don’t get breaks between PTSD episodes. They’re constant.

I cry because the murderer’s family’s home will be destroyed soon. That’s the law. Their lives will be destroyed. They will suffer another trauma, deepening their national Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They don’t get breaks between PTSD episodes. They’re constant.

I cry because in one of the classes I’m taking for my Masters degree, we read the book Cataclysms by Dan Diner and are to write a paper about something that struck us in the book, and I chose to write about Diner’s explanation of the causes of the Armenian Genocide. You know, its not easy to research material about genocide. It wrings your heart, breaks it to pieces, over and over again. Mass killings and massacres previous to the 1915 Armenian Genocide: massacre of 500,000 Turkish speaking, Central Asian Khazak nomads by the Russians, deportations of Galician Jews, ethnic Germans, Baltic Jews, Greeks who lived too far in the interior, 1894 and 1896 massacres of thousands of Armenians, Greeks killing Muslim Turks, Turks killing Greeks, violent forced conversions of Muslim Bulgarians (Pomaks), Druze and Maronite massacres of each other in 1860, massacres of Cretans in 1866, Greek expulsions of hundreds of thousands of Muslims, revenge killings of Greeks… 1st Balkan War, 2nd Balkan War, Italo Turkish War, Russo Turkish War, Crimean War, Greko Turkish War. Oh my God. I can’t even count them anymore. How can I write this paper?

And you know what? I cried at dinner tonight because I know that if it were not for the amazingly strong Israeli Defense Forces, we the Jews in Israel would be a statistic just like those peoples I’m researching. Like what happened to us before there was an IDF. Before there was an Israel for us as a safehaven. There is NO DOUBT in my mind, that were it not for our strength and ability to defend ourselves, we would be another statistic, another genocide among many. We would be at the whim of those countries around us that would slash our throats or hit us with chemical weapons without blinking an eye. HAVE YOU HEARD WHAT HAPPENED TWO HOURS FROM MY HOME ACROSS THE SYRIAN BORDER??  Over 500,000 Syrians killed by Syrians. Thank God for the Israeli Defense Forces. And Ari loved our soldiers so. And I understand where he was coming from, because I love them too. And my seventeen year old will be a soldier soon. Tears flowing again…

And I cry because I hate the occupation. Because they have a right to a place of their own. Just like us. And we can live side by side in peace and security and work together to raise our children and prosper. But we don’t. We senselessly lose our loved ones. Both sides lose. Both sides hurt. Both sides are HARDENED every time there is violence, every time someone gets shot, someone gets killed, someone stabs, someone humiliates, someone loses their life.

And losing one life is equal to losing the whole world.

 

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The Day I Turned Five

It was 50 years ago today in 1967,  and we were living in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  Now, I don’t know if what I am about to tell you is exactly the way it happened, or if it is the mish-mash of stories I heard and photos and family films I have seen,  or if it is my inner child’s skewed memory of an event that shaped my life on the day I turned five.

We were part of a small community of Israeli families in this lovely East African nation that had just achieved its independence in 1963. My father had been sent there by the Israeli government as an Officer of the Israel Defense Forces and a fluent English speaking Electronics Engineer, and was put in charge of helping the nascent Tanzanian Police force design and manufacture their first transistor radios. He taught the Tanzanian police students engineering and electronics, and together they built these first locally made radios.

zvi with tanzanian police

My father,  Zvi Harrel (first row, second from the right )  with his class of graduates of the Tanzanian Police Academy

There were other Israeli families in Dar es Salaam at the time, each sent there to help the new African country with building infrastructure such as roads and construction projects, improving agricultural technology, business development, arms sales and my dad with his radios. Israel was desperately trying to make friends among newly independent nations and many Israeli specialists and advisers spent the 1960’s in Africa. Like us.

On the morning of my birthday, I eagerly waited for my friends to arrive at our home, excited about the presents I would receive and the fun time we would have playing in our sandbox and up in my tree house

As my friends started to arrive, the moms directed the kids towards the front yard and all the dads went inside. I clearly remember the inside that day, as my father had prepared it ‘for the party.’ From the Dar es Salaam police headquarters, he brought home what to me appeared to be humongous, gray machines with lots of black buttons and lights. I remember them being taller than me.

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My five year old self, riding my bike in front of our house in Dar es Salaam

These huge radio transmitters were placed in the living room and as the fathers came in, they put on head phones and huddled quietly around them, listening intently to radio transmissions, waiting for the familiar two-word codes that meant you were needed in a national emergency. Israel was at war and Arab countries were already broadcasting that Egyptian forces had reached Tel Aviv. Israeli radio broadcasts were somber and eerily silent about events on the ground.  I seem to remember the dads were smoking, which doesn’t surprise me because Israelis awaiting orders of whether to hop on a plane and join their military units to fight for the survival of their small country,  always smoke. Its a thing, one of those unwritten rules. You fight for survival, you smoke.

Little did I know, but in the  weeks before my birthday, there had been rising tension and increasing threats by Egypt, Syria and Jordan against little Israel. They had been amassing their armies on the borders, making death threats on the airwaves and the print media, and Egypt blocked the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping,  itself an act of war. Israelis were worried. Very worried. War was looming and the only questions were when would it start and how would we survive.

Israelis had been preparing for an inevitable war with their Arab neighbors.  Israelis living abroad, especially the men, had already packed a small suitcase and were anxiously awaiting the moment they would get the word from their reserve units to return and help defend the homeland. Everyone was on edge. So was my dad. And so were all the Israeli dads in Africa.

I learned later, that my parents decided to go on with preparations for my birthday party despite the tension and uncertainty and invited the whole Israeli community so we could all be together. A great excuse for moms and kids to play and the dads to huddle around the great big radio receivers and listen to the latest news from Israel.

As chance would have it, the war began at dawn on the very day of my fifth birthday, June 5th, 1967. My birthday party became the gathering place, the headquarters for all Israelis in Dar es Salaam as we eagerly awaited news from home.

It turned out that Israel, our little David of a country, defeated Goliath that week and in only six days destroyed the armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, soundly defeating them against all odds. Our fathers were not called up to join their units and after a week of fighting, Israelis breathed a sigh of relief.

However, the most amazing, exhilarating and important result of the Six Day War happened on June 7th, 1967, two days after my birthday. Israeli forces pushed the Jordanian army back,  re-entered the Old City of Jerusalem, re-took the Jewish Quarter and once again, the Jewish people were able to touch and to pray at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount.  Our eternal capital was again in our hands.

Today, May 24th, 2017, is a day of great joy in Israel, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary (according to the Hebrew calendar) of the re-unification of our capital. Thousands of Israeli Jews are celebrating in Jerusalem at this very moment and my heart is with them. I will leave it at that, as this is very complicated. But wow, it has been 50 years.

I felt the need to put pen to paper since I am emotionally very attached to the events of the Six Day War, as if I had played a part in that history. And I guess I did. After all, we share the same birthday.

Harrel photo 1967

The Harrel family in 1967, Zvi, Pola, Anat and baby Micah.

And He Doesn’t Even Know

A few months ago, I received a Facebook message that moved me to tears. A student of mine from 20 years back, 6th grade, tough neighborhood in Salinas, California, so long ago, a different life. She said she was glad she had finally found me because she wanted me to know what a difference I had made in her life, how I had influenced the life she lives today. Turns out that due to my planting the seed and encouraging her to play basketball, learn about history and other cultures, look forward towards college, she not only became the first in her family to graduate high school, she also graduated from college and then, hold on to your hats, law school! But wait, it gets better. She decided to forgo a prestigious for-profit law career to work in the public sector helping low income residents of public housing projects. I cried. A lot. My heart grew 3 sizes that day.

And that got me thinking. Who are the people that influenced and touched MY life in such a way that they made a real difference, affecting life-changing decisions ? Especially those people that don’t even know they made a difference.  The thought of someone being out there, having inspired and changed my life and them not knowing about it  has been gnawing at me ever since. Who?

And then, it happened. Bang! The Universe worked its mystery once again.

First, let me take you back to the best time of my youth, my army service in the Israeli Defense Forces.  Although I had been born in Israel, I spent my childhood years abroad. I graduated from the American School in Lima, Peru, and unlike the rest of my classmates who went straight to college, I decided to fulfill my duty as an Israeli and complete my military service. I had always had an intense love for Israel, its history, its people, and the land.

So in 1980, I left my family back in Peru and headed to Israel to enlist in the IDF as a Lone Soldier (one without close family in Israel). Let me tell you, it was scary, but beyond that, it was exciting and a powerful experience. I became one of the first female Basic Training Instructors for male recruits, carried an M-16 and even got to parachute a few times. Yeah, it was quite amazing.

But the best part of this experience was what Israelis carry with them throughout their lives, the deep, enduring bonds, friendships and connections they make in the military. Serving in the Israeli Army cemented my bond with this land. Forever.

My best friend and fellow basic training instructor, Adeena

Yours truly, Sergeant Anat 1981

And being an impressionable young woman, one with a weakness for men in uniform (till today, may I add), one of the figures I most admired and remembered from my time as a Basic Training Instructor was the base Chief Sergeant Major, Shimon Deri.  He was so proper, so fit, his boots always so spit shining perfect and so gorgeous! Take a look at the photos I took of him as we participated in the 1981 IDF Physical Fitness Competition. Do you blame me for being taken with him?

Sergeant Major Shimon Deri at our tent camp on the beach next to Wingate Physical Education and Sports Center

Yes, we played soccer on the beach

I think not.

I remember him clearly, how nervous I got around him, how he was the butt of many a joke because he was our commander after all, but we also deeply respected him. And the girls, well, we swooned.

I fulfilled my military service and in 1983 left Israel for the United States in order to study. The plan was to return to Israel after getting my degree, but life happened and I ended up staying in the US for a long time.

Over the years, I would reminisce about my military service days, my deep longing to be in Israel, the friends I left behind. I would pull out my photo album and cry as I looked over the pictures of the happiest time of my life.

And there was Shimon Deri, always front and center with his big smile. He was my father figure from Israel.

Spring forward 13 years, to November 4, 1995, to the day Yitzhak Rabin, one of my heroes, was assassinated in Tel Aviv. I was devastated and decided to watch the funeral live on CNN, from my home in Salinas, California. I stayed up all night as the funeral started at 3 a.m. Pacific Time and cried throughout. I was overwhelmed with grief, I felt such a deep sense of loss. I wanted so much to be there, but alas, here I was, sitting alone on the rug in front of my TV in Salinas, in the middle of the night.

Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral on November 6, 1995

And then, oh my god, I suddenly recognized him. Shimon Deri! There he was for a fleeting moment, in uniform, on the screen, leading the Honor Guard at the Rabin funeral!! I immediately recognized him, jumped up screaming… there he was, representing ME at the funeral, someone I knew was THAT close to Rabin, right there next to him!

There he is, facing the camera in the back, wearing a black beret

Shimon Deri, with his back to the screen  in the right side corner, black beret, walking past the Honor Guard

Apparently, my favorite IDF Chief Sergeant Major had stayed in the army, rose among the ranks and was now in a position to lead the Honor Guard at this State Funeral.  I was overjoyed to see him. And yes, it made me cry even more.  What more, seeing him there, at the very place I wanted to be, bonded me with Shimon and with Israel and with Rabin and with my people even more. And he didn’t even know.

It took me a full 28 years to finally come home to Israel. I moved back 6 years ago and my heart is finally at peace. Now I tear up because of the joy I feel at having returned. Yes, I know, I’m a basket case.

Today, I am a tour guide in Israel. I often take my tourists to the very place where Rabin was assassinated in Tel Aviv. I tell Rabin’s story, my personal connection to the story, how this tragic event affected my people and my country and how we have yet to recover.

And Shimon? He was still in my album. Until a couple of weeks ago, when the Universe spoke to me once again.

Every Independence Day since I moved back to Israel, I have either participated in or attended our kibbutz celebration out on the grass, with songs and speeches and dancing and fireworks. Just lovely. This year, my knee was aching, I was a bit tired and decided that this time I would watch the national festivities on TV.

Final practice for the flag bearing parade, opening Independence Day celebrations (Times of Israel)

Every year at this time, as Israel transitions from the somber remembrance of Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror to the joyous celebration of our Independence, we hold the main, national ceremony on top of Mt. Herzl,  next to the grave of Theodore Herzl, the visionary who foresaw the creation of this country. This year I felt the need  to see the flag-bearing parade, the beautifully executed marching formations, to see some pomp and circumstance which is typically lacking and downplayed in our military. So a few minutes before the opening of the ceremony, I parked myself in front of the television set.

And, at precisely 7:45 p.m., the announcer came on:

” Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the opening of our Independence Day celebrations in Jerusalem. And this year, in his debut as the new flag-bearing ceremony director, please welcome Lieutenant Colonel Shimon Deri.”

I, of course, jumped out of my skin. ” What?!? OMG, OMG!” And there he was, in full dress uniform, so polished and straight and proper and so gallant, my Shimon, marching towards the VIP box.

Shimon Deri in his new role

I cannot express to you my joy and surprise at how the Universe brought me here, to this very moment, to see Shimon Deri in his debut, right there on national television.

Tears streaming down my face, I immediately picked up the phone and dialed.

Me: Adeena!! (my best friend from the Shimon days, pictured above) What are you doing RIGHT NOW?

Adeena: Cooking (figures… I’m going out of my mind with joy and excitement and she’s cooking)

Me: Turn on your TV! Do you know who is the new director of the flag ceremony at Mt. Herzl???

Adeena: Shimon Deri? (smart cookie she is, this Adeena)

So there you have it. How I ended up sitting on my couch in Israel, in front of the TV to witness as one of the anchors of my life, one of my inspirations, debuted right there on national television in one of the most respected and beloved roles in our military… how, how does that happen?

Looking good

And he did great! It was a superb parade, precise, elegant and very professionally done. Just like the Shimon I remember.  Congratulations, sir. Proud to have served under you. And thank you for all you meant to me. Thank you.

And, he doesn’t even know.

The Beautiful Israeli

There are expressions in Israel that describe certain behaviors typical of many Israelis. One is the Ugly Israeli (similar to the Ugly American stereotype) which covers such awful habits as trashing the national parks and forests,  peeing on every tree and highway, rudeness, impatience, pushiness, and just being abnoxious. You know the ones I am talking about, I’m sure you’ve met them.

And then there is the Beautiful Israeli, the one that does something so generous, so selfless and kind, that tears well up in the eyes and you melt from ‘naches’ (pleasure). Those Beautiful Israelis make you realize how much you love this country and how proud you are when they step up and do the ‘right thing’.

Case in point…

A devastating earthquake hit gorgeous Nepal a little over a week ago.  The quake brought down homes, buildings, historic temples and buried thousands of people under rubble. As of now, over 7000 people have been declared dead and the number is expected to rise. The devastation is horrendous.

As in previous disasters, natural or man-made, the Israeli government immediately pledged and sent medical personnel, field hospitals and search and rescue teams.

Israeli help was sent to Izmit, Turkey after the quake in 1999 and to Haiti afte the quake of 2010. The Israelis were among the first to arrive and help in Fukushima, Japan, after their tsunami and nuclear disaster and also sent help to the Phillipines after the typhoon of 2013.

Israelis are in the forefront of emergency response around the world.  It is quite extraordinary how this little country manages to outshine others and send help. (Click here to read more about how the Israel Defense Forces helps around the world)

We are used to our government and military sending help. That is the Beautiful Israeli.  And it makes us proud.

However, this one was different.

Word spread like wildfire here in Israel. The airwaves, social media, phone calls, media … Nepal, earthquake, destruction…

What’s in Nepal that interests us so?

That, my friends, necesitates a story. Actually, two stories.

Story #1:  Most Israelis serve in the Israeli Defense Forces, either a two or three year compulsory tour of duty or even longer. 75,000 Israelis end their military service every year and then about 30,000 – 40,000 of them put on a backpack and travel the world. About 60% travel in Asia, 30% in South America and the rest in Australia, New Zealand and Africa. They’re everywhere!   (Click here to read a great Forbes article about this overseas travel trend)

And Israeli parents stay home and worry. And stress if their kids don’t check in on Facebook. And complain they don’t call enough.  But, what can you do? Not much but sit home and wait.

And what is one of Israeli backpackers’ favorite destinations?   NEPAL, of course!

Israeli-Backpackers

So as news of the devastating earthquake in Nepal spread,  Israeli parents, family and friends, and anyone who traveled or knew someone who traveled, which means basically the whole country, went into high alert. Because who doesn’t know someone’s child traveling in Nepal ?!?

And when our kids or our Jewish People need help, we go and help them. We don’t leave them stranded or helpless, not in Yemen, not in Ethiopia, not in Entebbe, not in the Ukraine, and not in Nepal. That is also the Beautiful Israeli.

The Israel Foreign Ministry and the IDF immediately assembled its emergency responders, medical aid providers and supplies, field hospital units and search and rescue teams and got to work, not only to help the people of Nepal but to search for, rescue and evacuate all Israelis stranded by the quake.

Within hours, we knew that there were between 600 – 700 Israelis traveling in Nepal at the time of the quake. Contact was made mostly through social media (Facebook does it again!), satelite based emergency notification devices and cellphones. Many of the Israelis hunkered down at the Israeli Embassy grounds and at the local Chabad House, and waited. They knew we would come to get them.

Due to the efforts of the IDF and the Israeli government,  all but one Israeli backpacker have been accounted for,  and all those wanting to be evacuated have arrived in Israel to loud cheers, hugs and kisses from family and friends.

חוזרים מנפאל

 

Story #2: When gay couples and single dads in Israel decide to have children, they don’t have many choices. Adoption and surrogate parenting are limited only to heterosexual couples, and Orthodox Jewish families have first prioritiy. Therefore, gay couples have resorted to using surrogate mothers abroad, in countries where surrogacy is allowed.  First it was in India, until Indian government laws changed, then it was in Thailand until it changed its laws last year and now its in Nepal.

Much paperwork and beauocracy and patience is needed to bring these babies home to Israel from abroad. Since the surrogate mothers are not Jewish, a paternity test has to be done. Once Israeli paternity is proven, the babies can be brought to Israel as Israelis. This can take weeks. Its maddening, but it works. And we love children, so we’ll do anything to have them.

25 Israeli gay couples were in Nepal last Saturday, having arrived to either await the birth of their babies or to pick up the newborns. These newborns are usually born twins and some are born prematurely, needing extra care and supervision during their first weeks of life. The earthquake severly damaged the hospital and all patients, newborns and premies alike, were moved to the parking lot, where they were exposed to the elements and left without oxygen, proper medical care, formula or even water.

A big cry was heard in Israel… Bring our babies home!

And the Israeli government, known for its beaurocracy, stubborness, maddening slow-moving wheels, stepped up!

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Rules were set aside, paperwork expedited and within 36 hours a small jet with incubators and oxygen and all medical aid necessary was on its way to bring the preemies home.

Four preemies and their beaming dads landed in Israel on Monday, while the rest arrived on an El Al flight the next day.

Click here to see their joyful arrival and reunion with family at home. 

 

The Israeli disaster aid delegation to Nepal is by far the largest of any other country, with 260 members, including logistics personnel and medical staff. Israeli field hospitals have been set up and are already treating about 200 patients a day. Search and rescue teams equipped with the best sensors and highly trained dogs are on the ground looking for survivors. That is the Beautiful Israeli.

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However, what Israelis will always remember with a smile is how we were able to bring our kids home; grown kids, babies and preemies alike. That is the Beautiful Israeli as well.

 

Sadly, Or Assraf, the one Israeli not accounted for, who fought and was wounded in last summer’s war, and was traveling in Nepal, was found dead this morning by his army buddies and his father who had flown out to Nepal to search for him.

His army buddies physically carried his body several kilometers to the closest village and are now awaiting evacuation by helicopter.  Apparently Or was trying to find cover under a small bridge when he was fataly injured by falling debris caused by a huge landslide.

May his memory be a blessing.

or asraf

Or Asraf in one of the last photos he sent home from Nepal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playing Indiana Jones

Smitten.  That’s what I was from the moment I saw Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981.  I mean, seriously… weren’t you? Harrison Ford and archaeology became intertwined and favorites in my world. I even applied to study archaeology at the Hebrew Universtiy in Jerusalem in 1983, which never happened,  and has remained one of my life’s regrets.

A walking tour to the nearby monastery of St. Gerasimus, led by yours truly.

How else can you explain the fact that, 30 years later, I came back to Israel to became a tour guide in this land of biblical archaeology?  I even try to dress a little like Indy when I guide.

Come to think of it, I need a better hat.

However, I digress.

This past weekend, my husband and I decided to get away and spend some quality time together. I had just finished two weeks on the road and will be taking off for another twelve days of touring this week.

So where, oh where can we find a sweet place to stay? I have wanted to explore the small community of Zippori, only 10 minutes away, and asked my husband to find us a nice B&B there. Little did we know, but we were in for an Indiana Jones style adventure!

I can see Zippori National Park from my house (literaly); the Crusader citadel on the hill, giving a great vantage point to whoever controled it through the ages, also giving the place its name – Zippori, from the word ‘zippor’, Hebrew for bird – a bird’s view.  From the Neolithic era, to the Iron age, to the Hasmoneans who first build a Jewish town there, Zippori has been an important urban area, being the largest city, the capital of the Galilee during Roman and Byzantine times. It was in Zippori that the Mishnah was compiled by Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi. Until the 7th century, it was a mixed city, inhabited by Jews, Roman pagans and Christians.

Ongoing excavations started in the 1980’s have uncovered an amazing city of synagogues, churches and pagan temples, private villas, streets and public buildings, gorgeous mosaics and exquisite evidence of Zippori’s grandeur during the Roman/Byzantine/Mishanic/Talmudic times from the 1st to the 6th centuries CE.

After the Crusaders fortified and rebuilt it in the 12th century, it was taken over by the Mamluks and became a small Muslim town for several hundred years.

Today, next to the National Park and the excavations, lies the lovely, modern village of Zippori. Nestled away among lush greenery and rolling oak hills, it includes family homes and agricultural farms, horse stables, the Rish Lakish organic olive press, and several B&Bs.

We headed to the Makom Lachlom, ‘a place to dream’, a couple of nicely furnished, quaint log cabins, equipped with luxurious jacuzzi, small kitchenette and plenty of quiet. Perfect.

However, what caught my eye was what I saw when I looked out the window of our cabin.

An ancient Roman pool ?!?

Owner Avi Hazan told the story:  When he and his partner bought the land to build a small farm and a B&B, they began digging the foundations for three log cabins. Lo and behold, they found the remains of what seemed like a Roman era pool. They called in the Antiquities Authority who immediately began a salvage dig, putting Avi’s plans on hold for almost a year and many tens of thousands of shekels over budget.

romanbath2 IMG_4785

What the Antiquities Authority found was the foundations of a large Roman bathhouse, with three pools and aquaducts leading water from one pool to another. Two of the pools were not well preserved so they were filled in and the cabins were built over them. The middle pool, however, was in good shape and was kept.

Avi told us that several families in the village had found Roman remains and even the ancient tombs of well known Jewish rabbis.

” Are there other Roman remains we can see?” I interrupted.

“Oh yes, there are ones that you can see still buried in the ground.”

“Where? Can we see the now?” I was getting more excited by the second.

“Sure. Follow the cattle fence about 100 meters, cross it and take a right. You’re looking for a large hole in the ground.”

Avi explained that a while back, some antiquities robbers had dug a large hole in the ground and found some Roman sarcophagi before they were driven off by the police.  The archaeologists don’t have the budget to propely excavate, so the site remains untouched. Avi keeps an eye out for robbers and notifies the Antiquities Authority if he notices anything suspicious.

Yitzhak and I were off like a flash. And we found it!

hole2 IMG_4777

The first thing we noticed were two sarcophagi half buried in the dirt. A sarcophagus (from the Greek for ‘flesh eater’) is the common name for an ancient Egyptian, Greek or Roman coffin). Yikes!

I was so excited, my ‘Indiana Jones’ instinct took over and I immediately jumped in. With both feet. Yitzhak followed.

We found an small opening on the side and crawled in.

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It was a family burial cave, with niches for laying the bodies of the dead. About a year later, when the flesh had rotted, families collected the bones and placed them in ossuaries, bone boxes, that were usually kept in the home. This form of burial for wealthier familes was very common in the 1st – 6th centuries CE.

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The limestone hill we climbed must be dotted with many of these burial caves. That was logical because we were across the small valley from ancient Zippori and these could very well be Jewish family burial caves, excavated as tradition dictated, outside the city walls.

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We explored some more, got dirty and LOVED IT!  We crawled in an unexcavated burial cave from Roman times, touched sarcophagi that were still buried in the dirt… real Indiana Jones moment.

As were climbed out, our attention turned to some collapsed concrete buildings that were around us. There were six or seven of them, one sitting right on top of the hole we had just climbed out of.

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Yitzhak and I tried to figure out what they were. Concrete doesn’t fit ancient times, so it must have been from the 20th century. Then,  we both knew.

The Arab village of Saffuriyeh was originally built by the Mamluks in the 14th century on the ruins of the Crusader town, on the ruins of the Byzantine, on the Roman/Jewish ruins. It maintained remnants of its original Jewish name Zippori, via the Greek name Sepphoris. It stood here for several hundred years, through the War of 1948-49.

After six months of civil war, the British Army left Palestine on May 15, 1948,  and then several Arab armies attacked Israel on all fronts.  The Arab Liberation Army (ALA), headed by its Iraqi leader Fawzi al Qawuqji, was headquartered only 5 kms away from Saffuriyeh, in Nazareth. In early July, the newly formed Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) started its main offensive in the Galilee, named Operation Dekel, and designed to push the ALA back.

Most of the villages in the area presented little or no resistance to the advancement of the IDF.  Benny Morris, the well known historian and author of 1948 writes that, “emboldened by its successes and the weak ALA resistance” the IDF finally decides to take the town of Nazareth, al-Qawuqji’s headquarters.  “On 15 July, Golani Brigade units captured the villages of Ma’lul and al-Mujeidil… while an armored column of the Twenty-first and Seventy-ninth battalions drove straight down the road from Shafa-‘Amr, taking Saffuriya (Zippori), a large village north-west of Nazareth.” (Ch 7, pp 280-81)

The village was known to harbor ALA fighters, so as the soldiers approached, the village was attacked with mortarshell fire, causing villagers to flee their homes in panic.  Many villagers from Saffurieyh ended up in refugee camps in Southern Lebanon. Others settled in several of the villages closer to Nazareth, such as Ilut and Raame.  Four hundred villagers remained in their homes in Saffuriye and eventually received Israeli ID cards, although they were all removed from the village and made to re-settle elsewhere in the early 1950’s.  Click here to read the story of one such family, the al-Alzharis.

After the war, however, the Arab population that had fled the fighting had begun returning to their villages.  This presented a serious problem for the newly created State of Israel. The authorities worried about a fifth-column growing among the Arab villages and didn’t want to have to ‘capture the land all over again’.

Morris writes, “During the war’s first, critical months Zionist energies were directed at defending the Yishuv (Jewish community in the Land of Israel). But in mid-April, within days of the strategic switch to the offensive, the national institutions began to establish new settlements, not only to assure control of the main roads linking the Yishuv’s concentrations of populations and the border areas, but also to consolidate its hold on newly conquered territory.  Initially, the new outposts were set up on Jewish-owned land within the November 1947 Jewish state partition borders. Within months, though, such niceties were thrown to the wind, and settlements were established on Arab-owned land and outside the partition border.” (Ch 7, p 307)

Over a million Jews streamed into the newly founded State of Israel within its first 5 years, tripling its Jewish population. Finding them places to live became a high priority, and several new immigrant families founded a new Jewish village by the name of Zippori, on the lands of the Arab village of Saffuriyeh.

This beautiful land, with its layers of history and archaeology is a complex place, ripped apart by war and strife, conquests and conflict. Living among these stories, within sight of archaeological marvels like Zippori, and walking the land like Indiana Jones, knowing that somewhere beneath my feet are buried the remnants of some ancient civilization… is mind boggling. And so cool!

P.S. I send Harrison Ford my most sincere wishes for a Refuah Shlemah, ‘speedy recovery‘ after his flight mishap.  Please take care of yourself.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Israel is so much more than the sum of its parts.

This piece was difficult to write. Difficult to digest. Difficult to explain. But I’m giving it a shot because its been on my mind for over two months and I feel it helps me understand why I love this country so much.

Its been a tough summer in our neck of the woods. And that is indeed an understatement.  Now the fighting is over and the negotiations have begun and we hope ‘they’ come to some kind of agreement. Both of ‘them’, Israel and Hamas.

Within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there are many sides, many issues of paramount importance that can be argued, discussed and learned, ad nauseum…

But for me, this time, there is one thing that has especially moved, affected and stayed with me these past few weeks. It is a deeper, more visceral understanding of the relationship between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews in Israel; this dysfunctional, co-dependent drama that makes this country so special and worth getting to know.

Fact: 20% of Israelis are Israeli Arabs.

Fact: Israeli Arabs are generally divided into four groups; Muslims, Christians, Bedouins and Druze. All Israelis. With Israeli citizenship. And civil rights. And voting rights.

But what does that mean?

What does it mean to be an Israeli Arab during a war between the country you live in and the extended family and relatives you have across the border in Gaza?

Where do you stand? What do you do? Where do you direct your anger and frustration?

What about feelings of guilt for living in the safety of a democratic Israel, while watching Arabs in neighboring countries being slaughtered, gassed, bombed by their own Arab brothers?

What about Hamas rocket strikes against your own home? Where do you direct your anger then?

What happens to an Israeli Arab soul when at the same time he is fearful of incoming Hamas rockets, angry at Israeli bombings of Gaza, feeling guilty for living in Israel, feeling thankful for living in Israel, frustrated with the Israeli government’s inability to adequately address his community’s needs, upset with Israeli Arab leadership that has lost touch with its voters, furious at the way Arab governments kill their own people, horrified as images of dying Palestinian children are flashed over and over on TV screens as the world media cannot get enough of the suffering of the people of Gaza?

And despite of it all, life goes on here in Israel. Israeli Arabs work, study, shop for groceries, do business, raise their kids. Alongside the Jews.

The complexity of Israeli Arab life in Israel is absolutely fascinating and at times unbelievably ironic.

Cases in point. All from this past summer.


Aug. 24th – Hamas mortar shells fall at the Erez Crossing, injuring several  Israeli Arab taxi drivers waiting to transport sick and wounded Gazans from the border to receive treatment in Israeli hospitals. Three of the taxi drivers were Bedouin and one was from East Jerusalem. (Read more)


 

Aug 4th – The life of a Israeli Jewish soldier seriously injured by an Arab drive-by shooter was saved by an Israeli Arab doctor, Professor Ahmad Eid, head of surgery at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem. Professor Eid insists “There’s no drama here.”

Oh yes, professor, there is. There certainly is.  Read about Dr Eid’s amazing story here.

Prof Ahmend Eid, Head of Surgery at Hadassah Hospital. (courtesy of Haddasah)

 


 

July 20th – Ghassan Alian, an Israeli Druze Arab and Commander of the elite Golani Brigade in the Israeli Defense Forces, was wounded in the first days of the military operation. His demand to be patched up quickly and to return to his troops endeared him to the Jewish majority and made his Druze community proud.  However, not all Israeli Arabs were impressed. Alian was criticized and even received death threats for his role as an Arab commander in the IDF. (Read more)

 

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Ghassan Alian, Golani Brigade Commander (courtesy IDF spokesman)


 

July 29 – Israeli Police decide not to investigate Israeli Arab Member of Knesset Haneen Zoabi’s apparent praise for the kidnapping of 3 Jewish teenagers, whose abduction and murder ignited this summer’s Operation Protective Edge.

In this article, we read of the story of Israeli Arab Mohammad Zoabi, a young, family member of that same MK Haneen Zoabi, who unabashedly spoke out on Facebook against the kidnappers of those 3 Jewish boys. His mother told the media that her son had to escape to a safe house abroad due to the threats to his life.

“My son dared to express his feelings toward the Jews who had been kidnapped,” she said. “As a mother, I am proud of him. I received many threats. One reporter wrote that my son should be kidnapped and raped. With all due respect, I am not impressed with the Israel Police. I am disappointed. They wait until something happens, and only then do they get involved.”

The Zoabi family, a very prominent Israeli Arab family from Nazareth, exemplifies the internal conflict of being Arab, and Muslim and Israeli, all at the same time. Their struggle for identity is certainly not easy. (Read more)


 

Two Israeli Arab Bedouin IDF Army doctors are being court-martialled for desertion. This is the story as far as I understand it: Two Bedouin brothers, outstanding students in school, decided about 9 years ago to follow the ‘Atudah’ program in the Israeli Defense Forces, where top students first attend university with an all paid scholarship from the IDF, then enlist for several years and serve in their corresponding profession. These brothers became the very first Bedouin ‘atudah’ doctors in the history of Israel.  They became officers and served in the IDF as doctors, providing care for all patients, regardless of their background.

This summer, as the Israeli Air Force began bombardments in Gaza after many days of rocket attacks from Hamas, these two brothers, like many other Israelis, became distraught at the media images of dead and injured Palestinian Gazans. As they knew their unit would eventually join the fighting, they became conflicted, didn’t know how to respond and where to turn, so in an act of desperation they abandoned their posts and went home. They deserted.

After a week of gut wrenching soul searching, they reconsidered, decided they had made a terrible mistake and returned to their base, apologized to their commander and asked to return to their duties. However, they were arrested and have been sitting in jail since then.

Although they had abandoned their post, deserted in fact, the story of their pain and anguish and their eventual return and regret has touched the hearts of many Israeli Jews and there are many who petitioned to have their punishment reduced. Read the latest on their ongoing trial here.


 

July 19 – A rocket shot from Gaza towards the Negev desert  landed in an Israeli Arab Bedouin encampment, killing Ouda Lafi al-Waj, an Israeli Bedouin man and seriously wounding his children.  (Read more) Most Israeli Arab Bedouins in the Negev live in towns but there are several tens of thousands who live in unauthorized, unrecognized encampments without adequate facilities. Because the encampments are not authorized by the government, they are considered open areas and are not included under the Iron Dome protective airspace. Crazy.  And painfully unfair.

 


May – The Israeli Defense Forces began sending draft notices to Israeli Arab Christian youth, inviting them to enlist as do their brothers the Israeli Druze and the Israeli Bedouins. This move came after several years of campaigning by Israeli Arab Christian Greek Orthodox Father Gabriel Nadaf, who believes that Israeli Christians should enlist and do more to integrate into Israeli society. In fact, more and more Israeli Christians are joining the ranks of the Israeli armed forces in an act of solidarity with the only country in the Middle East where they are free to practice their religion and are safe from persecution. Its quite scary to be a Christian in the Middle East these days and Israeli Christians struggle to define their role as Israeli citizens. (Read more)


And finally, this past Monday I attended the Galilee Arab Jewish Conference – Fighting Racism and Working for Cooperation. One of the speakers was Dr. Khawla Abu Baker, an Israeli Arab psychologist and college professor, and it was during her talk that I finally realized I was able to put pencil to paper (in this case fingers to keyboard) and write what was on my mind. I now had the words I wanted to say.

Dr Abu Baker’s specialty is the psychology of Arab Israelis, mainly their mental and emotional profile.

As she started her talk, I began to take notes and furiously translated her thoughts into my journal. I want to share some of her words, as they still resonate for me. The following are some of my notes:

Palestinian Israelis suffer from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); they constantly struggle on the outside and from within, always angry and fearful; when the brain is under constant stress, it changes itself and adapts to its environment, always under danger; this causes psychological and cognitive changes that affect thoughts, behavior; this PTSD must be treated and if not addressed gets relived over and over; we don’t have periods of calm long enough (need to be 6 months or more) to get over our PTSD and recover from our trauma; all Israelis, Palestinian and Jewish alike.

In 1948, 85% of Palestinian Arab society had to relocate and build a new life somewhere else; they lost their place in the world; many still carry the keys to the homes they lost; every war reawakens that trauma; every war causes them to relive traumas from previous wars, never ending; leads to depression, helplessness, loss of hope; these feelings of rage bring on the need to take revenge

And now, an important personal note — Her use of the term Palestinian Israelis bothered me. When I guide tourists, I clearly state there is a difference between the Palestinians (which are those who live in the West Bank and Gaza) and Israeli Arabs (who live in the state of Israel). I find this definition helps the tourists understand how complex the situation is.

However, as I was listening to Dr Abu Baker, it dawned on me that MY defining and labeling THEM as ‘not’ Palestinian was part of the problem! They ARE Palestinian and are proud Palestinians, with a Palestinian heart and soul and language and culture, with family across the border separated from them a mere 65 years ago and then again 46 years ago. My problem with labeling them as proud Palestinians was MY problem, and if  Israeli Arabs want to call themselves Palestinian Israelis, who am I to say it isn’t so? I need to get over it. Huge aha moment for me!

And that’s when it struck me. I am also traumatized! So is my family and my community. I started this post by saying how difficult this summer has been. For all of us here in Israel. All of us.

Dr Khawla Abu Baker continued: What we have here is almost identical to a domestic violence situation; it passes from generation to generation and without treatment it becomes a cycle of violence and abuse; victims and perpetrators both develop their own ‘narratives’ to justify their behavior.

Question from the audience – “What is the medicine?”

“both Jews and Palestinians need to understand there are two sides to a coin; both have to be compassionate and accept each other’s pain and injury as real”

Compassion.

Understanding that the Palestinian – Israeli – Arab – Muslim – Druze – Bedouin – Christian is stuck in a precarious, delicate and sometimes impossible situation.

Between a rock and a hard place.

And that Palestinians and Jews will heal from their trauma only after long, long periods of calm, free of violence.

First peace. Then healing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nowhere Else but Here

 

Where in the world can you do what my family and I did for Passover?  Nowhere else but here.

Passover full moon rising over Gilgal

Passover full moon rising over Gilgal

But first, let’s recap one of the greatest stories ever told.

Around 3,500 years ago, the Israelites escape from slavery in Egypt.  After wandering in the desert for forty years, their leader Moses dies without ever setting foot in the Land of Israel.  God chooses Joshua to guide the people and orders him to lead the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land.

The crossing begins as the priests walk ahead carrying the Ark of the Covenant on their shoulders. They step into the rapidly flowing Jordan River, trusting that God will protect them as they cross.

From the Book of Joshua 3:15 Now the Jordan keeps flowing over its entire bed throughout the harvest season. But as soon as the bearers of the Ark reached the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the Ark dipped into the water at its edge, 16 the waters coming down from upstream piled up in a single heap a great way off, at Adam, the town next to Zarethan; and those flowing away downstream to the Sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, ran out completely. So the people crossed opposite Jericho

The Bible states that God performed a miracle and the waters of the mighty Jordan stopped flowing and allowed all the Children of Israel to cross safely to the other side. 

Joshua 4:9 And the LORD said to Joshua: ‘Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.’ So that place was called Gilgal, as it still is. 10 Encamped in Gilgal, in the steppes of Jericho,  the Israelites offered the passover sacrifice on the fourteenth day of the month, toward evening.

So seeking adventure, camping, meaning and spirituality, my family and I joined a group of about 120 Israelis and celebrated the first day of Passover in the wilderness. This group, organized by the remarkable Dvir Raviv, a student of archaeology and Jewish history, started this tradition five years ago.

We camped in Gilgal,on the steppes of Jericho, where tradition states the ancient Israelites stayed upon crossing the Jordan River. We ate the Passover meal, the Seder, where the Israelites held their first Passover meal in the Promised Land.  And we did this on the fourteenth day of the month of Nissan, the first day of the festival of Passover.

Talk about meaning! It was mind-blowing.

The ancient/modern city of Jericho is seen in the background, a mere two kilometers away

Jericho is seen in the background, a mere two kilometers away

The ancient (and modern) city of Jericho lay two kilometers to our west; the ancient city of Adam, where the waters of the river were miraculously held still, was a little distance to the north; the Jordan River and the place of the crossing was a mere kilometer to our east; the Dead Sea, a short ten minute drive south.

Judge for yourself. Here are some tidbits and great photos from our experience:

The site of the Israelite crossing of the River Jordan was a revered place for generations. In the 4th century c.e, it became a Christian pilgrimage site as the traditional site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. Today it’s called Qasr el Yahud, (Arabic for ‘the crossing of the Jews’), and the countries of Israel and Jordan offer baptismal facilities on both banks of the river.

Muslim visitors approach the waters of the Jordan River at Qasr el Yahud, the Baptismal site.

Muslim visitors approach the waters of the Jordan River at Qasr el Yahud, the Baptismal site.

We camped in a deserted date-palm tree grove amidst the gorgeous beauty of the Jordan Valley.

Our date palm tree grove, with the Gilead Mountains of the Jordan in the background

Our date palm tree grove, with the Gilead Mountains of the country of Jordan in the background

Our fellow campers

Our fellow campers

We managed to find an isolated spot among the palm trees

We managed to find an isolated spot among the palm trees

The food was pre-cooked and delivered by caterers a few hours before the feast. Some of us were in charge of digging a fire-pit and warming up the food, while others set tables and prepared the kitchen area.

The food was warmed in a fire pit

The food was warmed in a fire pit

The tables being set for the communal meal

Setting the tables for the communal Seder meal

 

As Jewish tradition mandates, all 120 of us began reading the Haggadah together, recalling the story of the Exodus, how God led our people from slavery to freedom, from Egypt to the Land of Israel. Pretty soon each table went off at their own pace, reading and laughing, singing and bellowing into the desert night. It was quite a wonderful cacophony!

The next day, first day of the festival of Passover, included many activities to choose from: resting,  praying, hiking, roasting the Pascal Lamb for lunch, sleeping, tai-chi or study lessons from our sacred texts.

A tai-chi class let by my friend Gil Cohen

A relaxing tai-chi class led by my friend Gil Cohen, with the Jordan River and the Gilead Mountains as a backdrop

A walking tour to the nearby monastery of St. Gerasimus, led by yours truly.

A walking tour to the nearby monastery of St. Gerasimus, led by yours truly.

The Pascal Lamb was roasted for a few hours in the fire-pit

The Pascal Lamb was roasted for a few hours in the fire-pit

Most of the group packed up and left after dark but some friends and us stayed on for another night . We lit a bonfire, cooked some potatoes and onions in the flames, pulled out a guitar and had a great time.

A kumzitz, (bonfire) is a typical Israeli pastime

A kumzitz, (bonfire) is a typical Israeli pastime

Following in the footsteps of your biblical characters of choice — Joshua and the Israelites, Jesus, King David, Jezebel or Samson… it can only be done here, in Israel.