Balfour Declaration centenary events, President Reuven Rivlin will be in Spain to mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Spain and Israel, together with the 100th anniversary of the return of Jews to Spain after almost half a millennium in exile, following the inquisition and expulsion in 1492.
The fact is that while Israel was never totally devoid of Jews, neither was Spain. The late Gloria Mound, who died early this year after having dedicated almost four decades of her life to researching the dispersion and fate of the Jews of Spain, discovered during her travels that the Jews of the islands of Ibiza and Formentera had never abandoned their faith.
In April 1992, Chaim Herzog, Israel’s sixth president, was the first Israeli president to visit Spain. The visit was one of reconciliation on the 500th anniversary of the Spanish Inquisition. During the visit King Juan Carlos accompanied Herzog to services at what was then Madrid’s only synagogue. The king subsequently visited Israel in 1993.
President Moshe Katsav visited Spain in June 2005 and president Shimon Peres in February 2011.
Yitzhak Navon, who was Israel’s fifth and first Sephardi president, could actually trace his ancestry back to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. After he was no longer president, Navon authored an eight-episode television series in which he took viewers on a journey to Spain through the prism of Jewish history.
Rivlin will be in Spain from November 5-8 as the guest of King Felipe, who was in Israel last year to attend the funeral of Peres, and who had previously been to Israel when he was crown prince.
Rivlin may have a slight problem in swallowing the fact that one of the titles of the king of Spain is king of Jerusalem. It is doubtful whether Felipe can prove lineage from King David.
Rivlin will be accompanied by a high level business delegation specially selected by the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute and the Israel Manufacturers Association. The delegation will meet with heads of leading Spanish companies with a view to enhancing trade and cooperation and Rivlin will open an economic seminar.
In addition to a special reception at the royal palace hosted by King Felipe and Queen Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano, Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, will also be feted by Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena and by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Rivlin will also meet with Spanish parliamentarians and leaders of Spain’s Jewish community.
■ OTHER THAN those Israeli Jews who mix socially and culturally in Arab circles, few Jews in Israel have personal relationships with Arabs. At best they might have a regular vegetable vendor, house cleaner, or gardener who happens to be Arab, or notice that chances are that at least half the labor force engaged in any construction project is Arab.
Jews who visit the Muslim sector of Jerusalem’s Old City may be aware of the gift stores and restaurants, and perhaps even a mosque other than Al-Aksa, but there’s little likelihood that they know much about Arab culture.
For those who are curious enough to wander in the direction of the Old City’s New Gate, Al-Ma’mal, founded in 1997, might be the Arab equivalent of Mishkenot Sha’anim as it serves as an advocate for contemporary Arab art and a catalyst for the realization of art projects in Jerusalem.
Through its artists-in-residence program, it invites artists to develop, produce and present their works to the public and also serves as a channel for Palestinian artists to reach a wider public. Located near the New Gate, it will host the opening of a new exhibition, Letters to Fritz and Paul, on Wednesday, October 11, from 7 p.m.
The exhibition explores the expeditions of Swiss second cousins, lovers and scientists, Fritz and Paul Sarasin, who ventured across the Dutch and British colonies of Celebes (Indonesia) and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) respectively between 1893-1907 as well as parts of Africa and the Middle East.
Working with original material from the Ethnographic Museum of Basel’s archives, curator Inas Halabi explores the relationship between colonialism and science, ethnographic objects and their collectors, and the settings in which these objects have been placed.
The exhibition will be on view till November 24, and on Wednesday, October 25, Halabi will conduct a gallery talk with Swiss curator Josiane Imhasly at 6 p.m.
■ IT DOESN’T really matter whether one is Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or an atheist, or whether one is ethnically black, white or yellow. The words that Shakespeare put into the mouth of Shylock, have resonated for centuries and are valid to this day.
“I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means, warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is?” Israeli and Palestinian women have realized that, whatever their differences, their common denominator is a desire for peace, which is why those who could get permission to enter Israel at this time are participating with Israeli Arab Muslim and Christian women, Jewish women and women of other denominations in a peace march that calls on leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to find a way to resolve the conflict that will enable people on both sides to live in dignity, safety and security.
The women are convinced that peace will contribute in many ways to both sides and assure a brighter future for coming generations. They have been marching across Israel under the banner of Women Wage Peace.
Their organization, which continues to grow, is one of the largest peace movements in the Middle East, but one without a political agenda.
Women Wage Peace was founded in 2014 the aftermath of Operation Protective Edge. . Its diverse membership includes women from a multitude of backgrounds, including religious settlers, secular women of all ages, bereaved women, and mothers of soldiers, new immigrants, veterans and sabras.
Palestinian women, just like Israeli women, do not want to lose loved ones to war or to terrorism. The movement works tirelessly with established groups within Israeli society and empowers women from development towns, settlements, kibbutzim, and cities to use their voices now for the sake of generations to come.
Among the marchers is social entrepreneur and WWP coordinator in the Lod-Ramle area Manar Abu Dahl, a member of the Beduin community of Lod, and the first Beduin from there to be admitted to a university.
There is also Yahgaloma Zakut from Ofakim, who is a member of the WWP steering committee, and Pascale Chen, the director of Hosen (Resilience) Center and the mother of soldier, singer and composer Yael Deckelbaum.
This year’s journey to peace began on September 24 and will continue until October 10. Details are available on Facebook. The numerous places the women have been through debating, laughing, dancing, singing, crying and embracing include Sderot, Yeroham, Beersheba, Dimona, Gush Etzion, Rosh Pina, Naharayim, Tiberius, Nazareth, Jerusalem and many others.
There has also been male support from people such as MK Amir Peretz, Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai, Nazareth Mayor Ali Salam, and Faradeis Mayor Ahmed Basia.
Understanding that not all participants have time to do the whole journey, organizers welcome people who have come for a day or simply just for an event.
Part of the reason that WWP has been so successful is because it is apolitical. The women don’t see themselves as negotiators for a peace deal. Their common call is for a solution to be found and implemented.
In Jerusalem Sunday evening, October 8, there will be a huge rally in Independence Park, followed by roundtable discussions. All participants have been asked to wear white to signify the purity of their intentions.