Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Another New Year???

Well that was quick!

Only 20 days after the last new year, we have another new year upon us.

Of course, I'm talking about Tu B'Shevat - the Jewish festival also known as the new year for trees.

So apart from lots of trees getting together for drinks and then thinking "What an anticlimax" - what is this festival all about??

Originally associated with the tithing of harvests and fruit trees, this festival is definitely a 'minor' one wit little associated ritual apart from eating a new fruit (traditionally one from the Holy Land - dates, figs and the like) and planting trees.

When I was young, we had a blue & white JNF charity box in our hallway. Every so often someone would call and collect the money, leaving us the box to refill. "What for??" I hear you cry... well although I now realise that the money probably went towards all sort of charitable causes in Israel I always thought it was for planting trees. When I turned 12 and did my Bat Chayil, one of my awards was that some trees had been planted in Israel for me. We often bought trees for people as Bar Mitzvah gifts (when it wasn't a Parker pen or Head bag), and once a year on 'Green Sunday', the Sunday nearest Tu B'Shevat, a load of us would help JNF plant more trees in Israel by calling the entire Jewish community of Leeds to ask them (not incredibly successfully) to buy some trees that JNF would plant on their behalf. I have only actually physically planted a tree in Israel once - in 1994 with some friends on an FZY Tour

So what's the mishegas with tree planting then?? Well, it's to do with the Zionist dream of 'making the desert bloom' and developing the agriculture in Israel but this year it surely holds a particular resonance for Israelis and Jews all over the world following the horrific forest fires that destroyed around 4 million trees on 10,000 acres of land in the Carmel last month. YNet news reported that the Israeli Agriculture Minister has announced that this year Tu B'Shevat activity will focus on the conservation and restoration of this region with the JNF announcing that the aim is to plant 1.5 million trees.

I am pleased to see however that in addition to this goal, the JNF is also focusing on what they cal the 21st Century Zionism project of planting in the Negev. This is so important as well as highly symbolic, evocative as it is of the original Zionist slogan of making the desert bloom.  I think it's so important to develop the Negev which has traditionally been used as something of a dumping ground for Israel's second class citizens who have struggled to develop cities in places like Dimona.

Ben Gurion saw the beauty and importance of the Negev region and indeed he spent his final years there and rests there to this day. Ben Gurion, and much of the Knesset, knew in 1948 that Israel could not be a big state if it was to remain a Jewish state. Development of the Negev, which encompasses a large proportion of Israel's limited area, could be a real and sustainable alternative for many Israelis who settle on the other side of the Green Line because it is cheaper. Of course, my argument ignores the ideological element of settlement (that people settle out of ideology, and it continues to be encouraged by the government for ideological reasons). But for a significant number of people, a viable existence in a Negev city supported by the government and international community (Jewish and non-Jewish) would be a great answer to the overpopulated, overpriced central and Sharon regions.

I wonder if this is what the JNF has in mind with the title of 21st Century Zionism?

And I wonder if they could also give Israel a kick up the arse regarding water desalination while they're at it...??

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Democracy in action (cont. from previous post)

I was reading Ha'aretz today and saw that there's been a fair controversy about the death of Jawaher Abu Rahma. Israel has accused the PA of propagandising the story for the sake of another martyr yet the IDF's 'official explanation' of Abu Rahma's death has endured a number of forms. It seems that it is most likely that she died from some sort of allergic reaction to the tear gas, but I am not sure whether this is really the most important point any more. For me, Israel's official, ongoing response to the unravelling events (death of a young Palestinian woman, ongoing demonstrations in the West Bank and then in Tel Aviv) is the saddest thing as it becomes ever more defensive and aggressive.

My sadness is that we begin another year when the cycle of violence continues to revolve and hateful rhetoric continues to increase. Another young generation of Palestinians grow up with hatred towards Israelis and and another young generation of Israelis grow up in an increasingly intolerant and even racist society. And that's before they get the chance to face each other down at demonstrations and checkpoints.

A more recent story grabbing the headlines today was the parliamentary panel, established at the suggestion of Yisrael Beiteinu and supported by a majority of MKs, to examine the funding sources of certain left-wing and/or human rights groups in Israel. These groups have been accused of 'delegitimising the IDF' and the stated aim of the panel is to decide whether these groups are being supported by 'other groups with known links to terrorism'. I'm not sure who gets to decide what constitutes 'delegitimising the IDF' or whether the government plans to examine the negative effects of right-wing activities on the perceived 'legitimacy' of either the IDF or Israel but I can bet that Avigdor Lieberman won't be opening up his own party's books any time soon....

Spot the one who will always be remembered for pushing democracy forward....

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on programs of military defence than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death" 
Martin Luther King (Sunday sermon, the Sunday before his assassination 1968)

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Happy New Year? Same sad old story...?

Bi'ilin is an Arab village in the West Bank, near the Israeli settlement of Modi'in Illit (not to be confused with Modi'in, the main city which is inside the Green Line). Since the security fence in that area closed off close to 60% of Bi'ilin's land, weekly demonstrations have been held every Friday. The Bi'ilin residents are supported by some international activists and now, since the unfortunate death of Jawaher Abu Rahma, a 36 year old resident of Bi'ilin, I am pleased to say that Israelis are also protesting against this government's and the army's tactics against protests in the Occupied Territories.

The video above was taken at the Tel Aviv demonstration on the 1st January 2011, opposite the military base at HaKirya, protesting the death of Jawaher Abu Rahma, caused by teargas inhaled at Bil'in the previous day. The slightly heavy handed approach of those policing the demonstration is nothing compared to the regular use of force and tear gas when demonstrations take place at villages or checkpoints in the West Bank.

I would just like to say that it makes me very proud to see hundreds of Israelis protesting the actions of the government and army that is there to protect them. The thing that makes me saddest is the fact that hundreds simply isn't enough. Where are all the thousands upon thousands of Israelis who mourned Rabin? Where are all the Israelis who want peace??

Come on Israel! Can 2011 be a year when Israelis mobilise for peace?

to be continued...

also worth a read - Lisa Goldman's article on +972