By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Blogging from Israel: Random impressions

 I am in Israel with a group of Boston-area academics (mostly political scientists) invited to meet with senior Israelis and Palestinians for almost a week. I haven’t been in Israel since 1968 (!!!), and I will confess that, as a Jew, my heart fluttered the first time I saw the blue-and-white Israeli flag at the airport. Some random impressions so far, from Jerusalem:

* My flight from the United States had a lot of Israelis on it, but the next largest group was made up of older people with Southern accents – a Christian tour group headed to Israel. Since arriving in Jerusalem, I’ve been amazed when visiting tourist sites just how many Christian tourists are here. Today at Yad Vashem (the Holocaust memorial and museum), I suddenly noticed amidst the very large crowds a group of 10 or 15 Chinese! Even stranger, one of the women was wearing a Jewish star around her neck. I went up to her and asked her why she was wearing one. I couldn’t understand the key word of her answer in Chinese. When I asked her if she spoke English, she said: “Christians.” So this Chinese tour group was Chinese Christians.

* We met with Natan Sharansky, the former Jewish human rights advocate in the Soviet Union (now head of the Jewish Agency, which is in charge of helping absorb new immigrants to Israel), and with two young people who are recent Russian immigrants to Israel. Somebody in the group asked Sharansky how Jews in the Soviet Union learned about Jewish history, customs, and religious practices. His answer was that they could get no such information at all. The only thing they knew about being Jewish was that their internal passport listed their nationality as “Jewish” (not Russian) and that some people hated them – their parents told them they had to be the absolute best at whatever they did, because that would be the only way they could overcome the barriers of discrimination. Somehow this turned into a Jewish identity. Then, somewhat later on, American tourists smuggled Jewish books in for them.

* Overall, there is less security here, and less sense of apparent threat, than I had expected. Secondary security on the US Airways flight out of Philadelphia was much, much less than I had expected (no questioning, just a passport check and a secondary TSA-like screening). There are lots of young soldiers on the street in groups, but most seem to be tourists on leave, not patrolling (though they are carrying submachine guns). No security checks at restaurants so far, though I believe there are still security checks entering shopping malls.

* Israelis are filled with worries about threats – Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, which apparently has 40,000 rockets with ranges that cover most of Israel. They are worried about what is happening in Turkey. Nobody presented a simple solution, although clearly they believe or hope that it may be possible to reach agreement at some point with the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank (which is apparently also now beginning to improve its economic situation).

A further report will follow.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Jun 14, 2010 at 12:08 PM


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