“In the last 17 years, this country has been invaded by murderers, thieves, prostitutes…and spies,” says David, dramatically, a Georgian migrant to Israel, who works as a security guard at the Yad Vashem institute in Jerusalem.
We had only met the guy two minutes before, after stopping to ask the way out of the vast and beautiful complex of Yad Vashem, set up as a permanent reminder of the Shoah, or Holocaust, situated on the edge of a forest on the outskirts of the Israeli capital. But already - true to his Georgian roots - David has offered us something to eat - a tray of meatballs, mashed potato and pasta - and is now pouring us a huge glass of vodka. Lovely guy!
David, the security guard - so he must have been bored out of his skull (cap) - says he came to Israel in the mid-1970s, after working for the KGB in some aircraft surveillance capacity. He was on duty for the Soviets in Prague in 1968 and was ordered to shoot people - something he says was “terrifying”. “If you don’t shoot then they [the Soviets] shoot you,” he said, as the vodka liberated his tongue.
Eventually he had had enough of working for the Russians and left for Israel. Now, as he pours the second, huge glass of vodka for me, he says how Israel has changed for the worst, mainly due to some of the recent immigrants, he claims.
We were at Yad Vashem to see the latest name to be added to the list of over 22,000 people from 41 countries, honoured as the Righteous Among Nations, those who helped Jews, often risking their own lives to do so, during Nazi occupation. The last name, which was added to the list on November 11 this year, was of Catholic Pole, Stanislawa Slawinska, who sheltered ten Jews in her home, while a Nazi officer lived next door.
The list - laid out by country - resides, elegantly, in a garden about five minutes walk from the main museum building. So after passing through the museum - a harrowing experience, but one of the most extraordinary exhibitions I have ever seen, telling the whole gruesome story of Nazi horror - we set off to look for the garden, the lists and the name of Stanislawa.
You can imagine the disappointment, then, when I discovered that though her name had been put at the end of the long list of names of the Righteous from Poland - far bigger than any other nation - it had been mysteriously rubbed off - as you can see by the photo below.
I am presently trying to establish why this is so.*
But David is right about how Israel has changed, certainly since my days working on the Megiddo Kibbutz, quite near Nazareth in the north, in the late 1980s.
For one thing, things have got a lot more expensive. Having to pay up to 20 euro a bottle of wine, in many places, is not a sustainable price for a wine-enthusiast anywhere, let alone one coming from Poland! (Israeli wine is now very drinkable, thankfully - another change from 20 years ago!)
Another, more important, change, is the growth of religiosity in Israel. It was very noticeable to me how many more of the ultra-orthodox there are, but also how the Muslim community has become more religious, too. I was given two explanations for this.
We were sharing a taxi with a Jewish guy from Cockfosters in London, a place only known, as he said, for its position at the opposite end of the Piccadilly line from Heathrow airport. He was on a business trip for the chief rabbi in London - something to do with education programmes. I was asking him when and where his family came to London from? He said he didn’t know for sure, but it was probably somewhere in Poland, certainly before the 1860s.
He then pointed out that the ulra-religious in Israel has many more children than the more secular Israeli - up to eight children a family, on average! - so the growth of religiosity is a simple numbers game.
Though from London, he referred to coming to Israel as like “coming home.” But after we dropped him off at his hotel, our driver - who had been quiet throughout our ten minute conversation - immediately became very animated.
“You asked good questions,” he said. “He says he is coming home. But whose home is that?”
Our driver was a Palestinian who lived in the Old Town in Jerusalem. And whose home Israel is, of course, is at the root of all the problems there.
“They talk about something that happened 60 years ago. But what are they doing now? Here. Today!”
I asked him why I could see more signs of religion among the Palestinian population.
“It‘s simple - we don’t like seeing the western way of life.” I asked him, however, if he didn’t think that the problem was more about politics than religion - the old pan-Arab, secular nationalism has failed, leaving the door open for more religious groups like Hamas to take over.
“No, I hate politics,” he said, and then proceeded to give me a lecture about Palestinian politics.
“If they have another election then Hamas will win it, not Fatah. Fatah came from Tunisia, not from here. They have no roots. And they were only in it for themselves. But Hamas have roots in Palestine, and they do good for the Palestinian.”
“But you know,” he said, waving his hand out the window at the Israelis of Jerusalem, who were hurriedly going about their business on Jaffa Street: “We have fought wars with the British, and they went. We have fought wars against the [Crusaders], and they left. These will have to leave too, one day.”
Whether the growth of religion in Israel is a numbers game, or childbearing patterns, or because of western decadence is open for debate. But I still maintain that it is actually the failure of the old leftwing-rightwing politics in Israel and elsewhere that is leaving the way open for ultra-conservatives, both Israeli and Palestinian - and that means the end of this long conflict is getting further away, not nearer.
photos by traczka/beat productions
* Yad Vashem mystery solved.
It appears that the name of Stanislawa Slawinska was rubbed off the wall in the photo because somebody put her name on the wrong wall by mistake! So it was rubbed and the name was engraved, later, at the proper place. The photo below shows the unveling ceremony, November 11.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Posted by beatroot at 11/23/2008