My Word: From Korea to the Kotel

Some people are determined to ruin the seasonal feeling of goodwill.

November 27, 2010 22:26
Liat Collins

liat collins 58. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Israel is taking its role in the global village very seriously lately. While what was once known as “the civilized world” condemned North Korea and sympathized with the South for the shocking missile attack on Yeonpyeong Island on November 23, Israel could actually empathize with the victims. As decent people everywhere mutter, “Imagine how terrible it must be,” Israelis actually know what it’s like to have hundreds of lethal missiles landing literally out of the blue, indiscriminately hitting both soldiers and ordinary people going about their ordinary lives.

We don’t know yet what it’s like when those missiles are sent from a rogue nuclear state. But it doesn’t take much imagination to predict our situation once North Korea’s ally, Iran, achieves atomic weapons. The West should take this into account.

Iran is watching the response of the rest of the world to North Korea, and North Korea is waiting to see how the winds blow concerning Iran’s nuclear plans.

There is, of course, one essential difference when it comes to Israel and the Korean situation. Israel both suffers the missiles, like the South, and is increasingly condemned as a pariah state, like the North.

In our own way, we also displayed an affinity for Switzerland last week.

After decades of discussions of various versions, the Knesset finally passed the National Referendum Law setting out certain conditions and procedures for a plebiscite. None of these conditions included the possibility of banning mosques from having minarets. That’s something only the Swiss can get away with. In Israel’s case, the law refers to the need for peace agreements based on ceding territory – namely any part of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights – to be passed by a special majority in the Knesset and a public referendum.

The Swiss, whose country might run like clockwork, don’t seem to be the most imaginative of nations when it comes to the realities of the Mideast. Somewhere in cloud-cuckoo- clock-land, indeed, there are people still making a lot of money out of deals with Iran. However, it’s hard to imagine them willingly ceding slices of territory to any of their neighbors – even if they haven’t been at war since 1815.

For their peace and tranquility, I envy them. Several years ago, at the height of the intifada, as I stood chatting to a Swiss visitor outside Jerusalem’s YMCA, we noticed an unattended bag by the entrance. Our different responses demonstrate the different realities in which we live.

“Oh,” sighed the Swiss woman, “some poor kid has forgotten his school bag.”

“Don’t touch it!” I yelled. “I’ll alert security while you stop people from coming too close.”

When it comes to security, I prefer to be a disappointed pessimist than a disappointed optimist.

Our experience in this area – especially as terrorism and missile attacks usually increase during peace talks or whenever a neighbor needs to divert attention – is incorporated in our everyday routine.

In North Korea, one likely motive for the attack is the passing of the leadership from father Kim Jong Il to son Kim Jong Un. Similarly, Hizbullah to our north could easily throw a few missiles or more at us to distract the world from the findings of the UN tribunal into the assassination of Lebanon’s ex-prime minister Rafik Hariri; his son, Saad, is the current premier.

Israel’s situation also means that we could understand the red-hot security alert that swept much of Europe last week when Germany and the Netherlands arrested at least 10 people on suspicion of planning an Islamist attack in Belgium.

On a different note, we had a sex scandal that would titillate Italian President Silvio Berlusconi. I don’t want to go into the sordid details.

Suffice to say, only police Cmdr. Uri Bar-Lev and however many women were involved at any one time really know what went on behind closed doors. Like former president Moshe Katsav, whose trial for sexual offenses seems to be dragging on so long one wonders if we might not have a peace agreement, or at least a plebiscite, before it finally draws to a close, Bar-Lev is meant to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

Like former minister Haim Ramon, found guilty of forcibly French-kissing a female soldier on the very day that the Second Lebanon War broke out, it might be reasonable to think that Bar-Lev would nonetheless have other things on his mind.

We can’t rival the UK over its royal wedding – we can only send a hearty “mazal tov!” There has been, however, much speculation in the local press recently over whether supermodel Bar Refaeli is going to tie the knot with Hollywood superstar Leonardo DiCaprio.

And we’re still discussing the weather like seasoned Brits, with, as I pointed out on these pages last week, the notable difference that Israelis are complaining of the lack of rain.

Forget about a white Christmas; a showery Hanukka would do us fine.

For, yes, while we were busy warily watching everything that was going on in the world, the Festival of Lights crept up on us.

It’s one of those holidays celebrated by Jews everywhere, but only really felt in Israel, where candles burn in windows of both religious and secular homes. The same commercialism exists, but instead of Christmas shows, children are being enticed to the Festigal – an entire genre of overpriced song-and-dance extravaganzas; museums are running Maccabeebased activities; and every shopping mall is selling doughnuts, dreidels, holiday gifts and massive doses of festive spirit.

But not so far from the real Bethlehem, history is not so much being rewritten as replaced by a “narrative.”

This holiday, Jerusalem is being repackaged by some Palestinians for their own consumption.

As The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reported, an official paper published on November 22 by the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Information in Ramallah claims that the Western Wall belongs to Muslims and is an integral part of Al-Aksa Mosque and “Haram al-Sharif” (a.k.a.

the Temple Mount). The paper, presented as a “study,” was prepared by Al-Mutawakel Taha, a senior PA official who seems to have drawn on his considerable skills and powerful imagination as a renowned poet and writer. Calling the Kotel by its Arabic name, Al-Buraq Wall, he claimed – despite all evidence to the contrary – that the Jews had never even used the site for worship until the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

People like Taha probably find the Hanukka celebrations particularly difficult to accept with good grace. The fact that we Jews still commemorate the rededication of the Second Temple at the time of the Maccabean revolt of the second century BCE suggests that we’re not likely to suddenly give up on Jerusalem now.

It might be hard to understand the depth of that emotion in places like Switzerland, but there is no doubt that were it to come to the vote in a national referendum, the majority of the public would opt in favor of keeping the Kotel and changing the government. That’s part of the Hanukka spirit, after all.

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