Saturday, December 29, 2007

It's very complicated

We're off to meet Neomi and Uri who live in a small place called Klil in the north west of Israel. We met them in the Kackar mountains of Turkey in the summer and they had given us an invite to stay with them. We take a bus to Tel Aviv and hop onto a train going north up the coast. The public transport is heavily used - both bus and train are full. There are a lot of youngsters in uniform, some with guns. It's hard to get used to seeing them. Uri meets us at the station and drives us back to their house in the countryside - set amongst olive groves with a view of the sea in the distance. We are put up in one of their comfortable chalets. (They run a guesthouse with two chalets and a yurt.) Neomi has prepared a wondeful meal, the first of many, with home-grown vegetables. We talk a lot. I mean a lot. We talk all afternoon. Of course we want to hear what it's like to live here, to live the Good Life out of the rat race, to live in a country overshadowed by the conflict with the Palestinians, to live in a country made up of such a mixture of peoples and opinions, to live in a pretty valley within rocket-range of Hezbollah. Neomi explains many things to us in a careful and thoughtful way and Uri adds acerbic and witty comments. They are trying to give us a balanced but honest account of things. Later we meet their eldest son who has just finished his national service - two years community service and two years of guard duty, checkpoints, observation posts etc. He's an intelligent and sensitive young man who has experienced and seen things first hand and he's obviously happy to have completed his duty.

The next day we are given the "Zionist Tour" (as opposed to the "Religious Tour") of northern Galilee and around the Sea of Galilee. We visit Rosh Pinna, one of the oldest settlements of the zionists who began returning here at the end of the 19th century. A quick detour across the River Jordan and around the foothills of the Golan Heights and down to the first kibbutz, set up by intellectuals and idealists from Russia before the Revolution, who were determined to work the land and produce something with their labours. As one poet put it "We wrote with our spade and painted the earth". This kibbutz eventually split into two over support for Stalin. The kibbutzim have drifted away from the early socialist days, and are now more like mini-production units. They still have schools, communal dining, housing, shops and sometimes medical facilities, but there are also now Thai immigrant farm workers too. Our interesting day ends at wonderful hot springs several metres below sea-level on the border with Jordan - we are on the great African/Syrian divide here.

Christmas Day is spent out on the coast at Acre - the Crusader's port. The old town can't match the hyperbole of our guidebook, but we have a pleasant day meandering around and also ring our families at home - which leaves us with mixed feelings. At first we can't get a phone card to work, and a man stops and offers us his mobile to ring the UK with the phonebox number. We catch a bus back up the coast and Neomi kindly comes to pick us up. We wait at a road junction. There are lots of people hitch-hiking on their way home, some with ready-made cards with their destinations. It seems refreshingly normal. We have another leisurely day in Klil ending with a beach walk up by the Lebanese border, before we say goodbye to Uri and Neomi and their family. It feels like we might have been asking them questions ever since we arrived, and we are offered stories and opinions aplenty in reply. Inevitably, whenever we talk about the situation here, the phrase "it's very complicated" crops up. No surprise really. We head back to Jerusalem via Tel Aviv and visit the holocaust museum in the capital. It's a depressing story that bears retelling and gives plenty of clues to the current national psyche - although there's clearly more than one at work here. The next day we visit the Dome of the Rock - a lovely building and, as they say, it's in a great location.........

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