June 2010

Back in Sydney, some final comments on the trip.

The last official business of the trip was a meeting to discuss how it all went and how it could be improved. The major suggestion was to allow more time, perhaps two weeks instead of ten days with more free time.

Some other minor criticisms emerged but the overwhelming response was positive.

People set off to many different destinations, hardly any went straight back to Australia. I moved to a Northern suburb of  Tel Aviv to spend a few days with Joe Agassi and Judith Buber Agassi.

They were just back from the German launch of Judith's book on the Ravensbruk Concentration Camp where her mother spent several years (and survived). They live in a house with a lot of books, so if the walls fell down the roof would be held up by the bookcases. Joe said that most of their books are in the basement.

Judith's  mother was Margarete Buber-Neumann.  She married the son of Martin Buber, a big name in the Jewish hall of fame for theology and existentialist philosophy. She had two daughters with Rafael Buber, then divorced him and married a communist activist named Heinz Neumann.

They took refuge in Moscow after Hitler came to power and in 1937 Heinz became a victim of  Stalin's purges, he disappeared and Margarete never learned of his exact fate. She was arrested and did some time in Siberia until the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939 when she was given back to the Germans as a goodwill gesture so she could move to a German concentration camp.

She was sent to Ravensbruck which was for women and children. It was  a work camp , not a death camp although a lot of people died in it, including the woman who was the love of Kafka's life. Margrete worked in the office in the Siemens plant near the camp.

Anyway, after a few relaxed days of rest, reading and good conversation it was time to take to the air with El Al, spend a few hours in the Bangkok airport and then head for the emerald city, sadly shrouded by low cloud and so not looking its best as we came down at 7 am. It would have been worse two days later when heavy fog forced morning flights to land in Melbourne.

DEPARTURE  Sydney June 2

At the airport, stood in the line to check in with a young man who does fashion, he has two retail outlets one in King St Newtown the other in Crown St. In Thailand near the Cambodian border he has people making the goods to his designs, that is his story anyway he says he often has his bags carefully  searched on the way in because he travels regularly and looks like a drug dealer but it helps when they see his fashion designs. I said I was confident that the Israelis would let me in because I am carrying the itinerary of the Christians and Jews tour. He said that is just the kind of thing that a well prepared terrorist would use as a cover.

On the long flight from Bangkok to Ben Gurion sat next to an Israeli in communications, he Australians must be mad, he did a job to put satellite detecting location devices in SA ambulances so when the ambos are attacked while they attending a patient they can press a red button and help can he immediately directed to the precise location. He hopes to do the NSW ambulances as well.

ARRIVAL  Tel Aviv June 3

Driven from the airport to the hotel in an airport shuttle by a slightly homicidal driver, not that there was ever serious danger but on several occasions he made some moves with very little margin for error. This came to mind later in the evening when one of our hosts pointed out that Israel is  a very safe country, the casualty rate on the roads far exceeded other causes of death, including war.
Hotel: the Prima Kings is comfortable but has an atmosphere of faded elegance.  The Centre for Conservative Judaism is just over the road on one side and across the street is a large but anonymous building with a statue of Mary on the roof.

Evening: dinner at the Centre for Progressive Judaism, meeting the fellow travelers (now over 30) and an  introductory lecture. The tour is organized by the Anita Saltz Education Centre at The World Union for Progressive Judaism.

The two keys to understanding everything over here is (a) everything is connected and (b) nothing is the way you thought it was. 

We met our leaders and had a quick introduction to the theme of the seminar (tour) and the physical location, most activities will focus on the old city which is divided into four sectors, the Jewish, Christian, Moslem and Armenian. It is in clear view from the centre and we will be in and out every day for the five days we spend in Jerusalem. Then we go on the road to the Dead Sea, Nazareth and other sites on the way to Tel Aviv where we spend five more nights.

Adjacent to the Centre is a function centre, most sought after for weddings and other events with a brilliant panoramic view towards the old city. This was being built when the infitada started and all the  Palestinian workers stopped coming. They recruited Chinese to do some of the work, including the floor which became known locally as the Great Floor of China.

FRIDAY  First day of serious activity to follow the theme of  The Drama of Jews and Jerusalem, with a visit to the foundations of the temple and visits to two sections of the Western Wall. The guide is an archeologist and he adopted a very interesting angle to address the archeological findings and the history of the temple as well.

This involved scrambling through the water supply system under the outer wall of the old city, a deep well built with a protective tower - the problem is to handle the two requirements of safety in the old days, a high location and a water supply. In Istanbul some will recall the water supply was maintained by massive underground reservoirs filled by aqueducts from springs in the nearby hills. In Jerusalem the answer was a well from an underground spring near the walls. First built by the Caananites and later used by King David to enter and recapture the city.

An important part of the tunnel system was found by a certain Captain Charles Warren from England who joined a digging expedition in 1867, this discovery permitted excavation of the city from beneath. He later was involved as a leader in the team at Scotland Yard trying to find Jack the Ripper.

We moved on to visit two sections of the western wall of the temple, about 100m of the 400 can be accessed by Israelis at ground level but most is covered by buildings in the Islamic quarter.  [This evening, Monday, we visited the tunnel which gives access to  this part of the wall.] Above ground we stood in the shade of some booths which were occupied by the money changers who had their tables turned over by Jesus. Next to this is the highly sensitive area where pilgrims travel to lean against the wall, insert messages in the cracks etc, bag searches and metal detectors to negotiate to enter this section which is adjacent to the entry point to the Islamic section of the old city which we visited today: equally sensitive entry, with very visible presence of Palestinian military and police, also some men were maintaining constant watch on the Israeli section.

LAND AND RELIGION  based on a presentation by Paul Lipitz at the Centre.

Skipping ahead to a session two days later on the major political issues. Apart from the small matter of surviving in a place where most of the neighbours  want to burn down your house, the domestic issues are all about religion and land (or land and religion).

Left and right here is not about economics, socialism, welfare, or any of our familiar agenda. It is about the West Bank and occupied lands. There has been  a close alignment between orthodox believers and the hard line on lands but a new ingredient in the mix is 1M Russians who came since the 1990s, they do not align with the religious orthodox on religion but they align with them on the land question.

The population is 7.5 million, 75% Jews, 25% other, mostly Palestiniain.

On religion, maybe 80% of Jews are not strongly religious and at present about 10% are strong fundamentalists (this has increased rapidly because they average 7.5 children per family). They have massive political power because they vote as a block and tend to hold the balance of power when coalitions are formed. They are not united otherwise, with  70 different groups identified, possibly 71 since a rabbi died recently and half his group have not accepted his son as the new leader and they may go off and form their own congretation.

The national leadership  in the early years was traditionally left-leaning based on the socialists who settled first and established the kibbutz system, they adopted an internationalist perspective , and the new nationalism is a shock to their system. Then the  centre became dominant and the economic debate is over, it is accepted that capitalism won and socialism only persists as the welfare system, funded by private enterprise.

So to be right is to keep the territories “territories for survival”, to be left is to look for compromise or give them back. The leaders at the institute are inclined to introduce themselves as left, they deplore the  Foreign Affairs Minister who they tell us worked as a nightclub bouncer when he was a student.

Right wing: 4 groups of voters
The four groups do not include the ultra-orthodox, often called Haredim because they are not usually politically engaged, most do not recognize reforming (progressive) or even conservative Jews as Jews at all, and many don't even recognizethe state of Israel.
1.       “Modern orthodox” or conservative Judaism. Rapidly growing in numbers, regard Tel Aviv as sin city, hold to the Torah and the Old Testament, the real Israel includes the West Bank, Bethlehem and Hebron, some even want more of Jordan.
2.       Various groups from Arab lands, operating on the fear or the stories of grandparents that “Arabs want to kill us”.
3.       Russian speakers (1M, a significant addition to a small population). No nuance to their views, no appeal to religious authority: land is good, what I have I hold, kicking the weak is ok since we have been kicked around ourselves for so long.  The Minister for Foreign Affairs is cited as an example.
4.       Ordinary people of no particular religious persuasion.

Centre, mostly Labour supporters (whatever the parties are called)
Mostly a new middle class, not politically engaged.

The traditional, solid, ideological left.
Down to 5%.
On the land issue, back to the 1948 green line, pre six-day war.
Used to be strong,  probably dying out, socialism no longer cool. The joke is that the US officials get calls from the left because nobody else talks to them. Incidentally the US embassy is still in Tel Aviv, they have not officially acknowledged Jerusalem as the capital.

The influence of demography.

Age no indicator of orientation at present. In the 1980s at first Lebanese war the young tended to be left but there has been a huge decline in membership of the youth groups that traditionally fed into adult politics. Scouts strong (green, outdoors) but not ideological.

Some racist elements have attached themselves to the Jerusalem soccer team, mostly 20 and 30 somethings.

With busy days the caravan has moved on faster than the electronic fingers can keep up with the story.

First a story to indicate the intensity of religious feeling among the ultra-orthodox. The movement of progressive Judaism started small with very few congregations. I suppose at some stage there was only one! [The origin in Germany is described somewhere below]. Anyway there was a progressive congregation in Jerusalem which had no synagogue, they met in the  private home of the rabbi. A local orthodox rabbi was so scandalized by the thought of men and women dancing together in the Simchat Torah ceremony that he hired some thugs to break into the house during a ceremony and take the torah, the sacred scroll that is central to the ceremony. They achieved this although the people linked arms to protect the torah. When the mayor of Jerusalem heard the story he gave the congregation a plot of land to build their own place, which we attended on the first Friday evening in Jerusalem for the very important pre-sabbath ceremony of Shabat.

In Sydney we have a less dramatic example of orthodoxy in the Eastern suburbs around Dover Heights where the members of a congregation want a traffic light on South Head Road to be put on a cycle so they can get to services on the Sabbath without having to work by pressing the button to get a red light.

On the growth rate of the orthodox, checking my notes, the average number of children is 8.5, not 7.5!

It is now Tuesday evening [when this was first written] and we are packing up to leave early for Nazareth and Galilee. Will do what I can on the road and catch up later at Joe Agassi’s place.


Passed on the offer of a Synagogue service and went to Bethlehem instead. Back in time for lunch and rested in the pm prior to a discussion about the impressions so far.

SUNDAY  Christianity – (Friday was on the Jews, Monday is Islam)

Walked in a zig zag path down from the Mount of Olives past the Chapel of the Ascension, the Grotto and Garden of Gethsemane and recalled the final hours before Christ was arrested by the Romans, then into the city and along the route where Christ carried the cross, noting the 12 stations of the cross on the way, then other important sites in the Christian quarter of the old city.
In the evening a talk on the complexity of Christianity in the city and in the Middle East at large.


A very important day with a lot of notes. The central message is the way that Islam has inherited the spiritual legacy of Judaism and Christianity but is the one true faith.

The shared legacy is a lot of  mythology from both the old and new testaments (the prophets and patriarchs, the virgin birth, Jesus as a prophet)  and  the idea (shared by Judaism and Islam) that the origin of the universe occurred at the rock on the temple mount where the Jewish temples were built and later the mosques on the same site. Mecca became more important than the mosque at the rock because of the ascension of Mohamed from that spot. Actually I think he ascended from Medina rather than Mecca.

In the evening we broke from islam to visit the tunnel that runs along the underground part of the Western Wall, a remarkable excursion with amazing commentary on the engineering feats in building the massive retaining wall and the temple. Some of the bricks in the wall weigh over 500 tons.


Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum. On the way we were warned that this is a complex and controversial site and the two or three hours that we had to spend could easily be expanded to a day or more but there is a danger of over-exposure. How much horror can you stand?

The question of how to remember and how to respond to the Holocaust was a hot topic after the war, at one conference it was suggested to poison the waters of Europe but the idea of revenge was considered and then dropped. How to handle the collective memory? There is a day of remembrance along with other major days like Passover and Independence Day.

Various things along the way – the Knesset, the government offices, the Hebrew University. With 120 seats in the House and a dozen parties there is a lot of effort put into forming coalitions and a lot of very robust debate. The university is seen as more than just a campus, it is a sign of the return of  intellect to the region.

On the diversity of views in the nation, many conservatives do not want to visit the Holocaust Museum on account of photos of nude women in the camps. Others turn up with young children which is seen as problematic by many people.

We pass through a suburb with many buildings in brick, not the Jerusalem stone that was mandated under the British administration and has been kept in use as much as possible for all but high rise. These houses that  had to be built very quickly to accommodate a flood of people who came after the war of independence in 1948.

The property laws are very complex, and the legal system is awkward, being in four layers.
Land laws and property titles date from the Ottomans.
Personal laws tend to have a religious rationale.
There was a British layer of law during their administration.
Finally the laws passed by the Knesset.

The Supreme Court has to beat a course through these rocks and shoals with difficulty and often a lot of time is required to resolve complex cases.

On the way we pass a privately funded ultra-orthodox establishment which has the mission to provide free medical care for anyone who is in need or not getting fully serviced by the public system.

Preliminary lecture

Perspectives on the Holocaust: Bystander, Victim, Perpetrator.
Message: be an Upstander.
He must have been briefed that we are Australians because he mentioned an activist William Cooper who led a demo in Collins St Melbourne after the “night of broken glass”.
Two holocausts, one the death of 6M Jews during the war, the other the worldwide decline in yiddish culture.

The core of the museum, a long central corridor where you zig zag through a series of chronological displays to emerge at the other end looking out from a picture widow over  a breath-taking beautiful  vista of tree-covered hills.

I won’t go into the displays, there is a website that will have all the information and images that you might want. Our guide was an Australian, occasional he would remind us that he was being selective about the exhibits  where he stopped to give commentary, we could not see everything or we would be late for our lunch. This was probably a touch of irony, a subtext of the story was hunger. One of the victims kept a diary of their ghetto experience, it all became too much for his father and so his mother had to hide the rations that were handed out every five says, father would walk and crawl through the house looking for the food, hidden in different places, any that he found he ate, he was practically  mad with hunger.

A few statistics for people who like numbers. The toll was estimated at 6M taking the Jewish population of the world from 17M to 11M. It is now about 13M, less than half the loss replaced. Given that the Final Solution was planned in Germany it is surprising to find that Germany had just about the smallest  % of Jews in total population, (can’t recall exact figs, say 2%) of 250,000 half survived by escaping in time. Two countries saved 100% of their Jews – Denmark where the Danes ferried a few thousand  (all of them) to Sweden and Albania where there were only 200. You could add Spain and Portugal and Sweden  which were neutral and apparently untouchable.

We saw the big spreadsheet that was prepared for a Planning Day for the Final Solution, the numbers of Jews by country, in Europe and adjacent, including the north African French territories, all adding up to 11M. More surprises, nation by nation, the French where anti-semiticism was strong only lost half their jews compared with the more tolerant Netherlands who lost about 95% and Greece 85%.

In gross terms the big numbers were Poland (over 3M) and Ukraine (almost 1M).

After lunch, Mount Herzl for the cemetery of national leaders and soldiers.

Evening, a talk from the President of the Progressive Judaism movement on challenges facing Jurusalem.
1.       The need to maintain a mixed population by building up industry to keep secular professionals in town.
2.       Bad city planning (light rail some years behind schedule [have you heard that before?] and major cases of corruption at council.
3.       Demography, rapid growth of ultra orthodox Jews and Arabs (big families) which will soon combine to make a majority of the population in the city.
4.       Finding a way to share the city with the Palestinians, possibly including the creation of a Palestine with the West Bank of Jerusalem the capital.
Wednesday: through Nazareth  and Galilee to Sin City.
Details later, a big day for Christian sites.

Thursday: First Day in Tel Aviv

A lecture from Rich on the Jewish reaction to Modernity. In philosophical terms Modernity is a product of The Enlightenment which ushered in The Age of Reason etc.

Rich started with an illustration of action and reaction, the  way Jewish nationalism and the return to Israel created Palestinian nationalism.

Rich dated his story from 1789, the date of the French Revolution.
He drew a chart with two arrows running into each other:
Modernity  ->  <- Tradition

Then he drew arrows in different directions to represent the outcome of this “train crash”. He called the subsidiary arrows ‘vectors’ or Symptoms. Three arrows are Reformed Judaism, Zionism and Othodoxy.

The Progressive response
Progressive or reformed Judaism started in Germany. [A comment on this, recall the very small % of Jews in Germany. Anti-Jewish sentiment in the community was roughly proportional to the size of the Jewish population, Poland and Russia experienced local community-based pogroms but Germany never did, the violence had to be centrally organized. The elimination of Jews was Hitler’s obsession, clearly signaled in Mein Kampf but Hitler did not get elected on the appeal of anti-semitism, he offered revival  of German pride etc and his other agendas emerged later. The first German concentration camps were for political opponents, not Jews. The Germans carry collective guilt for the Holocaust because they actually did it (with helpers like common criminals called “Ukranian volunteers”) but it was by order, not because any significant number of Germans wanted it].

The reformers in Germany wanted to modernize and localize their beliefs. “Berlin is our Jerusalem”. They introduced the organ into synagogues, introduced the sermon, cut out references to Palestine and reduced the emphasis on kosher food, opened up debate on the 613 commandments with more emphasis on [Kantian] autonomy, thinking for yourself  rather than obedience to traditional authority [a central theme of the philosophical Enlightenment].

Around the world reforms took different forms and of course there were many degrees of reform. There are distinctions between Modern Orthodoxy (secular dress with minor signals like the male headpiece), Ultra Orthodoxy with less concessions and in the US Conservative Judaism.

A (progressive) Jewish joke about the kinds  of behavior as you move along the spectrum of beliefs from Secular through Progressive to Ultra O is the saying “Lazy, Hazy and Crazy”.


This takes several forms, all premised on the idea that Jews will never be really at home in Europe. A major influence was the journalist Herzl whose formative experience was the Dreyfus case in France when a Jewish officer was publicly humiliated and thrown out of the army on a bogus charge which ended up in court with all the leading public figures, politicians, intellectuals, artists etc taking  strong positions. The issue of anti-semiticism became the dominant theme of the case on a par with the rights and wrongs of the dismissal. Herzel never forgot the sound of “death to the Jews” that he heard during that ferocious debate.

Zionism has several aspects: Political, Cultural, Practical and Military.

Political Zionism is about establishing the state of Israel, outstanding early figures were Herzl  and Weizman.
Cultural Zionism is celebrated especially in Tel Aviv with figures like Ahad Ha’am among others who revived Hebrew literature. Practical Zionism was promoted by the young socialists of the kibbutz movement, breaking from the image of the nerdish, bespectacled man hunched over old manuscripts to promote “muscular Judaism”.
Military Zionism was a natural development of muscular Judaism and we were given the image of Charles Atlas for an explanation. Charles Atlas used to advertise a muscle building course on the back page of comics, using a carton series. In the first picture a thin weedy youth on the beach with his girl has sand kicked in his face by the bully who goes off with the girl. In the second picture the youth writes for the Charles Atlas muscle building course. In the third picture at the beach again the bully gets sand kicked in his face and the girl is hugely impressed.

Military Zionism would have been inspired by the heroic Warsaw ghetto uprising and it took shape in the form of the various armed groups, the militias, the Stern Gang, the Irgun and eventually the IDF created by David Ben-Gurion as a unified force,  who took on the British and the arabs to kick sand in the face of the local bullies. As Rich said “we live in a tough neighbourhood”.

1948       War of Independence. 1% of population lost (6000 people). (That is the same as our loss of 65,000 killed in WWI on a population base of 5M.)
1956       Suez Crisis
1967       Six day war (major territorial gains)
1970       War of attrition.
1973       Yom Kippur war.
1891       Lebanon (1)
1988       First Infitada
2000-4   Second Infitada
2005       Lebanon (2)

And that is not counting the Gulf War, not involved but due to threat of Scud missiles every household was issued with gas masks.

Walking tour to cemetery

Diaspora Museum

Independence Hall. Very important, will write more later.

FRIDAY  Walking tour of old Jaffa “Give us this day our daily bread”.

Jaffa has been the main port in the area for 6000 years although until the British did some work on the rocky approaches less than 100 years ago it was such a dangerous landing that a common form of abuse was “Go to Jaffa!” in the way you might have said “Go to hell!”.

Tel Aviv started as a suburb of Jaffa but now the relationship is reversed. The guide reports that Jaffa became a neglected area  but recently the city council has started major upgrading of public infrastructure (no light rail), and a parallel process of renovation and gentrification is under way so if you are looking to invest in real estate…

We pass through the flea market. Not interested in Dead Sea Mud in different sizes despite  attractive rates but look carefully at a VERY cheap factory seconds (as new) washing machine. Don’t actually need one at present but know where to go next time.

The sanctity of bread.  The guide talked about the importance of bread from the earliest days of civilization 6000 years ago with the domestication of wheat and the first use of pots. For the Moslems bread is sacred and central to many important ceremonies including the Thursday of the Dead and weddings. There is the bread at mass and communion. We speak of “breaking bread” together as a symbol of sociability. We speak of earning our daily bread, and “dough” is slang for money.
We stop at a bakery and the guide hands out several kinds of bread for us to share as we continue the walk.

She gives out a mix of ancient and modern historical information, some from biblical times and some from the time of the first Alia (return) of Jews to the Holy Land in 1882.

Jaffa has been built and rebuilt several times. The Crusaders built fortifications which were destroyed when they were eventually defeated, then Napoleon turned up circa 1800 and wrecked much of the city again.

We find the Franciscan Church of St Peter. Peter was one of the first apostles, a tanner by trade, he was recruited in Jaffa and ended up in Rome as the first Pope. Presumably on instructions from Christ he promulgated two important breaks from Jewish tradition (1) OK to eat non-kosher food and (2) OK to recruit non-Jews to Christianity.

There was some talk about the various Christian ceremonies involving bread – the Eucharist, confirmation, communion, weddings and anointing the sick.
At the end of the walk we were on the dockside and she pointed out a place called something like the “please touch” theatre, the base for a group of blind and deaf actors who take their shows around the world. Next door is a café where all the waiters are deaf.


Final walking tour of old Jaffa to describe more history, especially the emergence  of nationalism as a major influence in the 20th century. The guide starts with a some talk about the education system because he is involved with the local school which is an interesting case study, with a record of mixed Jewish and Moslem students, a rare situation but reflecting the 50/50 mix in the suburb of Jaffa. Generally the Palestinians and Jews attend separate schools but this is  an exception. In Israel there are 5 private schools and some Jewish religious schools.

He also explained the Moslem calendar, like the Jewish calendar this is based on “moons”, lunar months which results in a 355 day year. This is ok for merchants and city folk but farmers need to keep in step with the seasons, hence our 365 day year. The Jews put in an extra month each three years to keep in step with the seasons but the Moslems don’t bother to do that, so festivals like Ramadan always move forward (in our year) unlike Easter which moves in each direction and so ends up in more or less the same place.

History. From 1430 to the 20th century this area was  part of theOttoman empire which reached from Morocco to Yugoslavia. Islam was the unifying principle and within the empire there was no discrimination on the basis of nation or race. Christians and Jews were generally  safe though maybe second class citizens and it was possible to move around the empire with little culture shock, like the Slush family, merchants and Algerian Jews who moved to Jaffa for business reasons. Ottoman rule was disrupted for a short time when Napoleon marched through in 1799 after conquering Egypt, aiming to march all the way to somewhere until he was stopped at Acre, further  up the coast, then he went back to France to make his bid for the top job.

Until 1870 the Ottomans did not permit any development outside walls of the city, then it grew from 10.000 to 40,000 by 1900. There were indigenous (Arab) Jews already in place and during this time European Jews started to arrive but they did not integrate because the newcomers in addition to racial and cultural differences were mostly Zionists with an agenda to build a new nation. This contrasts with the locals who only aspired to a local identity with strong family ties and no sense of nationalism or internationalism. The newcomers rapidly became dominant in economic life and the others were left behind (local Jews and non-Jews alike). When the merchant Slush wrote his memoires in the 1930s he said that a chance for better integration was missed, presumably lacking strong  leadership from people like himself who had roots and affinities on each side.

In 1908 Tel Aviv started as a suburb of Jaffa, with two other suburbs, for Christians and Moslems. Strangely, school students are taught that Tel Aviv just grew up from the sands and don’t realize it was a suburb of Jaffa. At some stage TA became autonomous and then grew big and incorporated Jaffa as a suburb, but a sadly neglected and run down one.

In 1908 there was an explosion of nationalism in the heart of the Ottoman Empire when “Young Turks” in the army staged a coup, captured power and declared that the empire belongs to the Turks. This precipitated nationalist movements in reaction from groups like the Kurds and others who enjoyed  equal status in the old empire and did not previously have any need to assert national identity until the Turks made it an issue.

In the 1914 war the British recruited the Arabs to harass the Turks (Lawrence of Arabia and all that) then afterwards paid them off by carving up the Ottoman Empire (with the French) to draw lines on the map and create a heap of new nations on unclear and arbitrary grounds. This development put traditional communities like Jaffa in an awkward position because they had to orientate to new national politics, new parties and national issues which had never been any of their concern.

Arab nationalism received a boost from the British Balfour Declaration in favour of a Jewish homeland but the British still wanted to keep the Arabs on side with restrictions on entry of Jews. Each sided thought the Brits were backing the other so they ended up offside with everyone.

Tensions grew because Jaffa was the gateway for new arrivals and the locals had to watch the new arrivals landing and heading off to the suburb of TA and inland to the first settlements. Arthur Koestler turned up but only lasted about two days on a farm.

1921 first serious conflict. During the Mayday Parade there was some conflict or disruption at the parade and the word was spread that “Jews are attacking arabs”, resulting in a wave of attacks on Jews that killed 41 (we saw their grave site the other day). The guide considered that his was just an accident waiting to happen, if it was not the Mayday Parade something else would have done it.
In 1922 the British allowed Tel Aviv to become autonomous from Jaffa.

Between 1917 and 1948 Jaffa grew from 30,000 to 90,000 while Tel Aviv grew from 15,000 to 160,000.

In 1947 a UN committee recommended partition to allocate lands to Palestinians and Jews. Jaffa was designated as an island in Jewish territory, this was a hateful situation and many who could afford to do so moved to places like Cairo and Lebanon. The mayor of Jaffa did a tour of other Arab nations seeking support for impending war but got nothing,  at a mass meeting he urged the citizens of Jaffa to stay but when asked if he proposed to stay himself he had no reply. In the event he stayed for a few months and then moved to Jordan.

The story of the declaration of independence was told  at Independence Hall the other day (details to follow). When the serious shooting started the Jews turned out to be better armed and more especially organized and motivated so Jaffa was captured in three days and 50,000 residents left from the harbor and ended up in camps in Gaza and Lebanon.

to be continued...

Filling in some gaps.

Bethlehem. First Saturday morning (the Sabbath).
Four of us set off at 9.30 with several others in a minibus, traveling to the strangely incongruous but reassuring music of the ‘50s, Elvis Presley “Love me tender”, Connie Francis “Where the boys are”…

Love me tender, love me true, all my dreams fulfilled
For my darling I love you. And I always will.
Where the boys are, someone waits for me
A smilin' face, a warm embrace, two arms to hold me tenderly
Where the boys are, my true love will be…

After ten or fifteen minutes we stopped at the Mars Ellias souvenir shop which sold craft items and cognate memorabilia where a small, nut-brown man in a very stylish suit and tie introduced himself as the tour organizer, a Christian from Bethlehem, a catholic married to a Greek Orthodox lady. He advised that the shop was selling things made by the Christians of Bethlehem and implied that small children would die if we did not buy generously.

Another small barrel-shaped man in a hooped T-shirt appeared to walk us to the frontier a couple of hundred metres away. It was not a working day and nobody else seemed to be walking through, although there was a long line of cars waiting to get through the vehicle checkpoint. At each side of the border we had to show our passports but the Israeli and Palestinian on duty in the booths seemed to be having a competition to see who could appear the least interested in our documentation. They probably recognized our guide and realized that groups of pilgrims did not represent a threat to either regime.

On the other side our man introduced us to a tall, lean young Palestinian in a T-shirt labeled Iguana, Life Wear since 1991 who was the tour guide to the sites in Bethlehem. The main memories here are heat and dust, jumping in and out of a minibus and walking as quickly as possible in places where the bus did not go. The other people in the group were Spanish-speaking so the guide did his commentary in English and Spanish. The Franciscans were prominent, with a hostel and a grotto and shrine at the “Shepherds Fields”, although nobody is sure where the shepherds camped and two other sites compete. The main church has three faiths holding shared occupancy – Catholic, Greek Orthodox and the other I can’t remember but the Greek Orthodox dominates. The structure is very run down, having been built and rebuilt several times following earthquakes and other disasters. One of the stages is due to the compulsive builder Justinian, of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and the six-domed Church of St John at Ephesus. On the way out of the Catholic part of the church our guide quickly dipped his fingers in the holy water and crossed himself.

After a couple of hours of heat, dust and lines of pilgrims we went back to meet the hooped shirt and the bored security staff, then the dapper little man gave us another thimble of undrinkable Turkish coffee and exhorted us to save more young children.

Then into another minibus where unfortunately I sat immediately behind the driver. The first thing he did after pulling into the traffic was to pick his nose vigorously and flick the proceeds out the window. He seemed to regard red lights as a serious personal insult so a great effort of will and self-control was required to stop. Fortunately his will was up to the task on almost every occasion and we arrived back at base in time to catch the end of lunch were Rabbi Apple of Sydney was giving a talk.

The Iman’s widow.

Walking up and down around the Christian sites on the first Sunday with Danny Herman, we made our way to visit a special person, an Iman of the Sufis (a branch if Islam) who had made a name for interfaith work from the other side. As we approached the house someone darted out of a shop across the lane to talk to Danny. People who were nearby said that Danny looked as if he had been hit on the head with a brick. He called a huddle and said there was terrible news, the Iman died four days ago. After further consultations he advised that the widow wanted us to come in and have the traditional dates and coffee that  is served in houses of mourning. This was a very moving experience. On the way out we visited the site in the garden where the freshly turned earth marked the place where he was buried with the bones of his parents and grandparents.

Petra Heldt

On the evening of the first Sunday we convened after dinner for a lecture on “The Complexity of Christianity in the Holy City” by Dr Petra Heldt. I took no notes, possibly because my notebook was still damp from falling into the Pool of Siloam. One of the take-home messages was the difficult situation of Christians in the Moslem world with major and minor harassment the order of the day. She moves around the region and she was asked if she feels any sense of personal danger, to  which he replied that her most dangerous moment was in a marketplace in Jerusalem when two suicide bombers struck at the same time, one of them not far in front of her. Many people were killed and she was hospitalized for several months with severe burns followed by some years of rehabilitation before she was fully fit to work. One of the bombers was a biochemistry graduate, a reminder of the way militant Islam has been able to recruit advantaged as well as disadvantaged people.

She mentioned the practice under the Islamic Mamlukes of taking selected young children from Christian families with the girls going into harems or domestic service and the boys into the army where they formed an elite guard for the Sultan (not having links with rival political factions they were more trustworthy than other elements in the army).

This came up in regard to the status of the “dimi” in Islamic society. The dimi are Christians with second class or marginal status, including no right to own weapons, so there was no hope of resistance except in an episode where the Serbs revolted to protect their children.

She is engaged in inter-faith work across the Moslem/Christian divide and she said there are few people on the other side who are involved, perhaps because they don’t want to or because it is too dangerous. She mentioned a good friend and co-worker among the Moslems who died recently, worn out at 60 by the stress of his bridging mission. She didn’t say his name  or mention that he was an Iman but it was clearly the man we almost met earlier in the day.

Ibrahim’s Story

Going back to the first Monday for “Islam over the Centuries. The previous commentary described the major message of the day, that is the shared roots of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Our guide was Ibrahim Gazali, born in the Moslem quarter of the old city He was raised as a Moslem but is now secular. He went to year 12 in school and at uni majored in archeology and history. He reads the sacred texts of the three religions in the original languages. He has a very interesting and nuanced take on the social and political situation.

He thinks that the recently (post 1967) occupied territories should be returned, at least in part. As a Palestinian in Israel he has to put up with inconvenience (likely to be asked for his ID for no particular reason) and in one case during his uni studies, he was harassed by a minor uni administrator who demanded extra documentation. In that case, which he challenged, he received an apology and the person was shifted to another position.

His relatives had Jordanian passports; since reunification he can have an Israeli passport and ID but no voting rights in national elections (he can vote in local council elections). 40,000 people in the old city are residents without voting rights, mostly Arabs. Many who used to live outside (in Palestine?) now live in the old city for proximity to work.

His children can serve in the army, as can Suni Moslems.

He has contempt for the current mayor of Jerusalem who did not print any election material in Arabic despite the presence of many tens of thousands of Arab voters in the city.

He thought PM Rabin offered the best hope for peace when he started to pull settlers back on the West Bank but he did not survive to continue the work (assassinated by a young radical).
He wants Palestinians and Israelis to live side by side on both sides of the border. He wants people like him to have equal rights in Israel and he wants to stay in Israel because the Palestinian administration is incompetent and corrupt.

Taking up the themes of dimi and the Mamlukes from the night before, someone asked some searching questions. It seemed to some people (in later discussion) that he was struggling to maintain a consistent position. After some prevarication he accepted that the dimi are indeed second class, but because they are “people of the book” (the bible), at least they are in the right ball park and they can convert and become proper citizens any time they like.

This option is not open to people of other religions who do not believe in the same book, Hindus etc, who are third class.

He said the Mamlukes did not steal children, but bought them from families which were too poor to look after them. 

More research required.

Filling in more gaps 16 June

Jerusalem to Tel Aviv

On the way in to Jerusalem from the airport there is a line of deformed shells of military vehicles parked in the nature strip between the carriages of the highway. On the way out from Jerusalem to Nazareth and TA we were told these are a memorial to the battles fought in 1947 to relieve the siege of Jerusalem. Twice the Arabs repulsed desperate attempts to make a way along the ridge, then the Jewish forces found another road. We passed a village where the Moslem inhabitants sided with the Jews in the war, they were from Russia, perhaps they played along the lines of race rather than religion or maybe they just picked the likely winners. Not that the Jews were a sure thing in that part of the country during the early stages of the war.

This was a day of many biblical sites, Nazareth, the places on the sea of Galilee where Jesus first lived and started teaching, the possible site of the Sermon on the Mount. Some of these places and the churches located there, are very beautiful. I don’t have any photos but will hope to obtain some from other travelers or find some links.

This shows the church on the Mount but does not convey the beauty of the location and the outlook.

Most of us had Peter’s Fish at lunch beside the sea. The fish came from a fish farm because the stocks in the sea itself have been seriously depleted. The sea is 200 m below sea level  (the Dead Sea is 50m lower) and it contains fresh water which is piped off for domestic purposes across the country and also irrigation in the Negev Desert. The flow from Galilee to the Dead Sea has been reduced to  a tenth by damming the River Jordan but the situation is barely sustainable in the long term and they are looking forward to some huge desalination plants on the coast that are under construction.  We walked over the River Jordan (more of a creek than a river) just so we could say we did it, then we boarded the bus and crossed the river again in the other direction.


On the way to our lodgings we stopped to let me off the bus to meet Joe Agassi who will be my host at the end of the tour. At the hotel they had a minor shock, the rooms were bare apart from the bed. No chairs, no bedside tables, no fridge, no telephone, no tea and coffee, no hangers in the wardrobe. When I arrived after dinner there were a couple of chairs in the room. 

Next morning, another surprise, 1000 schoolgirls in the dining room. Not quite 1000, maybe 30 but you know what I mean. A backpackers lodge? No, a staging point for a “Going home” scheme to give Jewish schoolkids around the world the chance to spend 10 days in Israel. Around the country you see buses with the name of a school and the scheme in the window. During our stay the young transients were overwhelmingly but not exclusively female. Some of them travel with an armed guard, one of their number with a carbine. The first ones that appeared with hardware were young men but this morning a smallish girl was eating cornflakes with the weapon slung at her side. I can’t imagine that they have live ammunition, it is surely for show, a reminder of times past and a piece of local colour, there is no way they would let these tours go anywhere  dangerous and if they did the escort would be a platoon of regulars, not a kid with a toy gun. On the topic of regulars, every resident apart from the orthodox do national service immediately out of school, two years for girls and three for boys so the whole state is a standing army.

Independence Hall

This is the place in Tel Aviv where the independence and nationhood of Israel were  declared on the eve of the 1947 war. There was a film of the establishment of Tel Aviv among the sand hills and then a recording of David Ben-Gurion reading the declaration of independence. This followed a vote in the UN supporting the establishment of an independent state ( by a narrow margin with a lot of abstentions including Britain). Sitting in the front row I could see a map of the world with the nations marked in different colours according to the vote. Green was YES and I was pleased to note that Tasmania supported the motion although the person who drew the map could have taken more care with the shape of the little island that I used to call home. Maybe they were in a hurry, bombs were dropping on Tel Aviv the next day.

The Café Yaffo

This is an internet café which is helpfully located 200m from the lodgings. In addition to excellent food (in absurdly generous serves) it has internet, not computers but a wireless site. It is also a swinging hot spot, Tonight is Leonidas with Greek Folklore, tomorrow is “Back to the 90s” acoustic covers, tomorrow “The Shadows” 60s hits and Saturday “Tribute to Joe Cocker and Friends” blues, country and jazz. The following Thursday is Frank Sinatra and Saturday is the Beatles.

This is completely out of character with the district which is very much the Arab part of town, looking worse than Redfern of the 1960s and a long way from the part of Tel Aviv where the bold and the beautiful maintain the reputation of TA as the city that never sleeps. I don’t actually know where that part of TA is located and I passed on the opportunity to go shopping downtown the other day.

The political situation post-flotilla

People may be interested in the local fallout from the flotilla episode. The impact on the tour can be said to be zero. Likewise the impact on daily life in Israel appears to be negligible. The leaders of the tour deplore the lack of diplomacy on the part of the Foreign Minister. Lacking access to any news in English I am at a disadvantage though I gather from visuals on TV news programs that the issue remains topical, possibly because of the Turkish involvement.

I imagine that locally this is perceived as another instance of Hamas causing trouble. Not surprisingly local public opinion in the middle ground (apart from people entrenched at one end or other of the spectrum of opinion) is very responsive to actions from the Arab side. After a visit from President Sadat of Egypt public  opinion swing heavily in the direction of giving back territory to Egypt. The second Infitada (2000-2004) caused a hardening of attitudes on the occupied territories.

Some background on Gaza.

A real concern is the emerging role of Turkey. This should not be a complete surprise. While we were in Turkey last year popular support for the EU bid was down to 50% from a much higher level, a sign of declining interest in alignment with Europe. More significant was a report later in the year that noted three warning signs (1) cancellation of joint air exercises with Israel (2) signature of a significant strategic agreement with one of the neighbouring Arab states (3) can’t remember.  (1) was seen as a sign that the politicians have more control over the military who have been the custodians of the secular state since Ataturk.

It appears that the Turkish parliament is has been getting more aggressively Islamic, and the problem starts at the top with the PM who is claimed to be directly linked to Hamas.

Due to the forced relocation of minorities such as the Greek Christians Turkey is almost 100% Islamic. The secular state was legally entrenched under Ataturk but how long can that last under the current leadership?

One of the Prime Ministers tried to do something about the education system to help, and the philosopher/journalist/politician Bryan Magee recorded in his memoire a strange episode reminiscent of the time that C B Fry, the great all-round English sportsman was invited to assume the throne of Albania. The Prime Minister of Turkey, Bulent Ecevit, arranged for Magee to visit and advise on ways and means to introduce critical thinking into the education system. Ecevit saw a desperate need for some way to break the iron grip of Islamic taboos in family life, in religion and culture at large. The government could not interfere with families or religion but there might be some hope of reform in the education system. Magee spent two days with officials discussing teacher training. The situation was tense, with political murders reported daily in the news, and Magee was attended at all times by bodyguards who even stood at the door of the toilet. Ecevit was deposed in a coup six months after the Magee visit, so Magee did not have the opportunity to make a further contribution to the liberalisation of the area.

June 03-13, 2010
The ten day seminar is designed for an adult group of Christians and Jews from Australia who wish to delve into the central challenges of contemporary Israeli society.
Arrival in Jerusalem-Mercaz Shimshon
19:00 Dinner.
20:30 Panoramic view of Jerusalem from the Haas Promenade
"The Setting for the Three Monotheistic Religions" -lecture: Paul Liptz 
FRI JUNE 04  Theme: "The Drama of the Jews and Jerusalem"
Tour Guide: Ariel Fogelman
8:00-8:30 Breakfast
8:30-9:30 "The Jewish Story in Early Jerusalem"- introductory lecture Ariel Fogelman
9:30 – Depart for City of David
10:00 Jerusalem in the First Temple period – City of David Guided tour
13:00 Lunch in Jewish Quarter (On Own)
14:30 Visit the Western Wall in preparation for Shabbat
Return to Mercaz Shimshon
18:30 Jewish religious Shabbat services KKH
20:00 Kiddush and Dinner at Beit Shmuel (included)
Sleep at Mercaz Shimshon
SAT JUNE 05 Theme: Sabbath in the Holy City
9:30 Optional Shabbat synagogue services - Harel Synagogue
12:30 Kiddush & Lunch at Beit Shmuel (included)
14:00 "Walking Jerusalem through the Psalms” with Rabbi Rich Kirschen
16:00  - Shabbat Rest
18:30 Seudah Shlishit:"Debriefing Jerusalem"- discussion related to the first two days in Jerusalem
19:30 Havdalah
Dinner on your own in Jerusalem
Sleep at Mercaz Shimshon/Eldan
SUN JUNE 06  Theme: "Christianity: The Global Religion in the Holy City"
Guide Danny Herman
7:00-8:00 Breakfast
8:30-10:30 Church services in Old City
10:30-12:30Tour of the Christian Quarter of the Old City
12:30 – Fast Food Lunch in the Christian Quarter of the Old City (on own)
13:30 Church of Ascension, Gethsemane, Dormition Abbey 
18:30 Dinner at Mercaz Shimshon (included)
20:00 "The Complexity of Christianity in the Holy City"- lecture and discussion with Rev. Dr. Petra Heldt
Sleep at Mercaz Shimshon
MON JUNE 07   Theme: "Islam Over the Centuries"
7:30-8:15 Breakfast
8:30 "Islam: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow"- lecture with Paul Liptz
10:30 The Temple Mount and Muslim Quarter of the Old City
12:30 Lunch in Jewish Qrtr (on own)
14:00 Tower of David tour
16:30 – Return to Beit Shmuel
18:00 Dinner Beit Shmuel (included) – Briefing with Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs representative
19:30 Leave for Western Wall tunnel
20:20 – Tour of Western Wall model and tunnel
TUES JUNE 08   Theme: "Jerusalem: From Powerlessness to Power in the Modern State"
8:00 – 8:30 Breakfast
8:30 – Depart for Yad Vashem
9:15 Tour of Yad Vashem
12:00 Lunch at Yad Vashem Cafeteria (included)
13:00 Mount Herzl: Memorial to Israel's Leaders and the Military Cemetery - Paul Liptz
16:30-18:30 – Free time at hotel
18:30 Depart for Beit Ticho (by foot or by taxi)
19:00 Beit Anna Ticho dinner - "Challenges Facing Contemporary Jerusalem"- lecture and discussion with Dr. Debbie Weissman
Sleep at Mercaz Shimshon

WED JUNE 09 Theme: "Nazareth and Galilee 
Guide - Danny Herman
6:30-7:00 Breakfast
7:15 Early Departure and Travel to the Sea of Galilee
10:00 Mt.Beatitudes, Tabgha
13:00 Lunch at local Lebanese restaurant
14:00 Tour of Nazareth
Dinner with a Nazareth restaurant owner (times to be confirmed)
Travel to Tel Aviv-Jaffa
Late Check in to hotel…
Mishkenot Ruth Daniel - Jaffa 
THURS JUNE 10    Theme: "One Hundred and One Years- History in Tel Aviv"
9:00 Breakfast
10:00Trumpeldor Cemetery Old Tel Aviv -study tour - guide GL Rich Kirschen
12:30 Lunch – Kikar Rabin
14:00 Tour of Beit HaTfutzot – The Diaspora Musuem
17:30 Independence Hall : movie and museum
Dinner and free evening (on own)
Sleep at MRD-Jaffa

FRI JUNE 11  Theme: "Tel Aviv and its Secular Face"  
8:30 Breakfast
9:00 “Daily Bread Tour” Jaffa – Guide from MRD
12:00 Lunch (on own) & Shopping – Nahalat Binyamin
Free afternoon
17:30 Meeting and discussion with Esteban of the Israeli Beit Tfilah
18:00 Optional synagogue services –“Beit Tfilah Yisraeli”
20:00 Dinner at Mishkenot Ruth Daniel
21:30 Evening Program with Rabbi Rich Kirschen – “Jewish Public Culture”
SAT JUNE 12: Theme: Jaffa and Tel Aviv: Two Cities
9:15 Optional synagogue services – Beit Daniel
12:00 Early lunch and Kiddush (included)
13:00 Tour of Old Jaffa with Mishkenot Ruth Daniel
Afternoon rest
18:00Seudah Shlishit/Havdalah
Dinner on your own
Sleep at Beit Daniel
SUN JUNE 13: Theme: Perspectives and Analysis
Breakfast and check out
13:00 Final Lunch at Badolina, on Tel Aviv’s Old Port (included) - analysis and perspectives – Paul Liptz

Entry to the Website Rafe's Rathouse.Full List of Contents