In that uniquely Israeli time zone around Holocaust Remembrance Day, Remembrance
Day for Fallen Soldiers and Independence Day, questions of national identity
naturally come to the fore. This year they seemed heightened.
with the royal wedding. Nearly 63 years after Britain finally ended the Mandate
and the State of Israel was born, the marriage of the prince and his bride
captured the country’s heart. More than 30 years after I left Britain, I, too,
got caught up in the wedding fever, belting out the words to “Jerusalem” from my
humble home in the holy city; wondering about the guest list, and how British
Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was coping with the service; and pondering such
important fashion issues as why Samantha Cameron, the prime minister’s wife, had
strangely decided to go hatless, and whether those extraordinary fascinator contraptions
would ever be acceptable headdress in an Orthodox shul (slightly more likely
than Sacks attending a service in a Reform synagogue, I concluded).
ceremony was completely in keeping with the likely future role of Prince William
as head of the Church of England. Amazingly, it didn’t even wink at
multicultural Britain. This was traditional Great Britain.
The Britain of
myths and legends of yore.
Did I feel homesick? Not at all. But it
occurred to me that I am so firmly entrenched in my Israeli identity that,
unlike during my first years here, I no longer try to downplay my British roots
– and it was nice to have a reason for some communal pride for a
Incidentally, the charismatic Jewish British ambassador Matthew
Gould, also demonstrably proud of both sides of his heritage, is proving to be a
local media hit, due as much to his British sense of humo(u)r as to his
A FEW YEARS ago, I became friendly with a Pakistani
journalist I met during a press trip in Turkey. He had made his equivalent of
“aliya,” moving from Britain to Pakistan – an unfashionable direction even
before the turmoil there of recent years.
Unfortunately, it seems that
not only decent people looking to build a better future have been attracted to
move to Pakistan.
The death of Osama bin Laden gave another reason for
celebration. I am particularly pleased that the Americans were the ones behind
it. I’m not the first person to note that had Israel carried out a targeted
assassination in another country’s sovereign territory, let alone then burying
the body at sea, the international community would have called a special session
of the UN to condemn the crime.
Israel would have ended up in the
International Court of Justice in The Hague had it eliminated the arch-terrorist
in front of his daughter, a few days after killing the son and three young
grandchildren of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, even if he is suddenly World
Public Enemy No. 1.
The only regrets I have about bin Laden’s death are
the fact that he was discovered to be living in a luxurious home (I’d rather
hoped he was still hiding in caves in Afghanistan), and the knowledge that
getting rid of him does not mean the end of al-Qaida or its many cancerous
That Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh denounced the killing of
“a Muslim warrior” a few days before signing the ostensible unity pact with
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – another step toward declaring an
independent Palestinian state in September – is not encouraging, to use good old
Actually, the situation in Pakistan is pretty
frightening from wherever you are sitting. Unlike Iran, Pakistan already has
nuclear capability. And it obviously also has terrorist organizations which feel
at home. That is a marriage made in hell.
I am also concerned about the
I remember the wave of refugees who arrived in
England in the 1970s. The circumstances surrounding the crisis resonated
particularly strongly with me when the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 under
the slogan “Gaza and Jericho first.” As a Jerusalemite, the question of what was
“second” and “third” or after that seemed to be pertinent, but above all, I
queried the wisdom of trying to create a Palestinian state in two separate
regions, with guess who in the middle. It reminded me then, and it still reminds
me now, of how Pakistan was created when Britain pulled out of that part of the
Indian subcontinent in 1947. The situation in which East Pakistan was separated
from West Pakistan by more than 1,500 kilometers and different traditional ties
was unsustainable. Hence, after a bloody war, East Pakistan ultimately became
Bangladesh in 1971.
It’s safe to assume a Palestinian state divided into
two wings with different traditional affiliations will not work either. In fact,
that is the only safe assumption, given that the inevitable split is bound to
have an impact on the Jewish state, squeezed uncomfortably between the
Palestinians in the mountainous east and those bordering the sea to the
THE NEWS OF bin Laden’s demise created a stark contrast with the
mood on Holocaust Remembrance Day this year. Nonetheless, the country marked the
day as always with a two-minute siren, ceremonies and special activities and
One of the most remarkable radio spots I heard was broadcast
from Tel Aviv on Yaron Deckel’s morning current affairs program. Israel Radio
technician Gershon Meital brought to the studio a Nazi Morse code transmitter
that had been found by his uncle during the war and which Meital had fixed.
Proving it was now in working order, reporter Alon Shani, who learned Morse in
the Israel Navy where he still does reserve duty, twice tapped out the message:
“Am Yisrael Hai,” the people of Israel live. I hope the Nazi who once operated
it was turning in his grave with every letter transmitted over the Israel Radio
Israel Television is also marking this period. On the first
program of the “Scorched Memory” series, Liat Regev hosted religious Zionist
leader Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau and writer Nava Semel, a well-known figure strongly
associated with the Tel Aviv cultural milieu.
The program examined
questions of Israeli identity, and couldn’t have been more Israeli itself.
Firstly, it turns out that Lau (whose father, Naphtali Lau-Lavie, saved the life
of his younger brother, later chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, in Buchenwald) is a
cousin of Semel (also the daughter of Holocaust survivors and the younger sister
of local singing legend Shlomo Artzi).
Secondly, Regev comfortably called
the learned rabbi “Benny” throughout (unthinkable in the Britain I grew up in,
even if you are personally acquainted) and lastly, as Semel pointed out: A
discussion like this wouldn’t take place in England.
But despite the
differences, were Queen Elizabeth or the honeymooners to decide to visit the
country, they would be assured of a royal welcome, Israeli-style: not
necessarily polite, but enthusiastic.The writer is editor of the
International Jerusalem Post.