Sunday, July 22, 2007


Vivian and Eric at the Mitzpe Ramon crater in the Negev Desert
We're home!

In memory, I will express the four week vacation with one word: "Family".
Eric, Vivian and myself spent hours together in close and often intense experiences and related at levels that can only occur when you live together, closely, in hotel rooms, taxis, airplanes and buses for a month.

We didn't starve. Israel's free hotel breakfasts are truly incredible -- enough often to satisfy hunger until dinner time (we often packaged a lunch sandwich from the breakfast buffet). The airlines got us where we wanted to go, mostly on schedule, at off-season fares (I used Air Canada points to get us to Boston, and Alitalia -- which got us where we needed to go properly despite all its labour and business problems -- to get us to and from Israel).
We learned. Guide Moshe Ben Baruch proved to be worth every cent of his daily fee. He provided us an in-depth perspective of the country.

We communicated. Verbally, yes, but also on much more non-verbal levels. As a family we played with our humour, or distinctiveness, and our shared values. I ruined a pair of shoes rafting with Eric through "rapids" on the Jordan River. Vivian and Eric spent hours in swimming pools together. And I and Vivian shared our thoughts on Israel's politics, history and economy.
I think our views and perspectives about Israel's place in the world are similar to the great majority of, for want of a better word, secular but observant Jews in North America and Israel.
We love the country, are proud of its accomplishments, and impressed by its progress. But we are troubled by some very difficult questions because the story here is not defined by our Western values, but by the extremists on both sides of the equation.
On the Palestinian side, we find Hamas, bent on Israel's destruction, and determined to impose Islamic religious values and rules on the population. Some Hamas spokespeople are careful in glossing over their anti-Semitism, but it isn't far beneath the surface. Hamas won a democratically fair election in Gaza and the West Bank, so, whether we like it or not, this organization represented the Palestinian majority opinions. (I'm sure some of its election supporters would change their mind knowing the cost of this hateful organization to the Palestinian economy, but on the other hand, we must not forget those images of Palestinians cheering the Al Qaeda attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

But the Israelis have their own challenges, including the "One Israel" settler movement which avoids the biggest problem in their vision that Israel should not give up an inch of the Palestinian lands in the West Bank and Gaza -- that Israel cannot occupy this territory without either giving up its democratic values, or its Jewish identity.
Throw in corruption, cynicism, and greed on both sides of the fence, plus international meddling (especially by Iran and the U.S.) and you have a story that might seem hopeless.
But there is hope. Israel's new president Shimon Peres said that Israel knows it cannot occupy the West Bank without compromising its values and identity. See this Jerusalem Post editorial -- and read the comments for another perspective). Meanwhile, his counterpart in the West Bank, Palestinian National Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has renounced terrorism and supporters within the Fatah movement are (at least temporarily) giving up their arms and coming out of hiding. Israel is not starving Gaza -- allowing humanitarian aid to cross the border -- but rightfully is insisting that Hamas must give up its hateful attitudes (or be deposed) before things can return to 'normal' there, and so far the International community accepts this reasonable position.
And the Israeli economy is booming, with the creative, innovative, and talented individuals making their way and creating business, opportunity, and growth.
So I'm cautiously optimistic. Maybe most importantly because of Eric and Vivian. We laughed. We gained some weight. We learned a little about the world and a lot about ourselves. We grew. I think Israel is capable of growth and maturity, too, and that reasonable Israelis and Palestinians -- while respecting their own identities and values and not being afraid to fight for what they perceive as being right -- will reach an understanding with each other and ultimately find peace.

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