Rehavia has got it all, an orthodox neighbourhood with lots of young mums pushing prams around. The little village of shops was just a 100 metres from my accomodation and has a bakery, a mini-market, Tommy’s burger bar, a hardware & plastic goods shop, women’s clothes, hairdresser, a news agent, laundry, money changer, ice cream shop, and a Post Office where I sent a postcard to mum.
Now I’m near Tel Aviv at Ben Gurion Airport with a few hours to spare before check in because I needed to check out of my Airbnb – but my flight is not until 8pm but I just couldn’t handle another day of getting hot and sweaty walking the streets of the Old City before a long flight. I feel I’ve seen as much as I want so for the morning I sat in the shady garden Rehavia playing guitar and drinking tea. Above I described the little neighbourhood of Rehavia that I got to like, and below, I’ll relate the things I learnt from talking to people here about the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Alon, our guide to the Dead Sea outlined the political situation in Israel from a completely factual position. He purposely commenced this topic at the end of our tour as we approached Jerusalem because he said it’s a can of worms and people bring all kinds of half-baked ideas, prejudices, out-of-date news, and various entrenched positions to the discussion. This is what he said; broadly, there are 5 groups in Israel; the Zionists who created the place and secure it with compulsory military service for boys from the age of 18 for 3 years, and girls for 2 years. The Orthodox Jews who wear the various big hats and coats and curls – he said they don’t need to serve in the military, they just study the Torah and don’t really care about the state of Israel, they just want to live in the Holy Land. The population of Israel is 9 million, of that 6 million are Jews and only half of those are religious, so that’s the 3rd group, non-religious Jews. Then 4th, 20% of the population, nearly 2 million, are Israeli Arabs, and the 5th group, about 5% are non-Jewish ancestry who are family members of Jews, Christian non-Arabs, and Muslim non-Arabs.
Alon went on to explain the West Bank is divided into 3 parts, it’s called the ‘occupied territory’ and was once part of Jordan but when Israel was attacked on three sides from Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon in 1967, Israel won the war and occupied the West Bank. The Oslo Accord of 1995 created the ‘green line’ and it was agreed at the time to be divided into 3 parts; Zone A, which includes a part of Jerusalem and all of Bethlehem and Ramallah, and is controlled by the Palistinian Authority, Zone B that is mainly empty desert is controlled by both sides, and Zone C that is controlled by Israel where the settlements are being established. The West Bank is not recognised internationally as part of Israel and as a result Israeli expansion into Isreali controlled Zone C is contentious.
On the train I met Raphella with her younger brother, she was 19 years old and has recently commenced her compulsory military training. She chose the combat military division of the IDF serving her 3 years (usually 2 but she wanted to be in a combat division so is signed up for 3 years). She’s an ex-Australian whose family moved to Israel very recently and spoke English like a regular Australian. She looked a bit like Amy Winehouse, kind of cheeky but very smart and with plenty of attitude. She calls herself a Zionist, ‘Without us there is no Israel’, The Orthodox Jews?, ‘We hate them, they’re useless, and without us they wouldn’t be here,’ and she showed me a video on her phone of some Orthodox Jews being dragged away at a recent protest. What about the Arab Israelis? I asked, ‘We’re fine with them, there’s no problem there.’ She said some kids don’t like the military, others do, she likes it but the pay is only about NZ$100 a week. Netanyahu?, ‘We hate him, he’s a liar’. She then explained all the different uniforms; dark blue is the Police, green is the military and grey is the border control. Interesting.
One of my lasting memories of Israel and Jerusalem is the piles are rubbish – there’s plastic bags and empty water bottles scattered everywhere. I guess this will change in time. Here’s a pic with Mount Zion and the Temple Mount in the distance beside the entrance to the walled olive tree garden of Gethsemane.