Jewish Youths in Israel wave flags and stand atop a hill. The author recalls his own young days in Zionist youth groups..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A couple of weeks ago, just before my youngest son began his IDF service, we popped out to the Abu Ghosh for lunch. This Arab village off the Jerusalem- Tel Aviv highway is a favorite night-time hangout for youngsters from Mevaseret Zion, where they spend hours over shisha pipes, backgammon and thick, sweet coffee.
Given its Muslim character – a large glimmering four-minaret mosque funded by donations from Chechnya is a recent addition to the village landscape – Mevaseret parents like myself are happy for their teenagers to hang out there, knowing there will be no risk of drunk driving in the early hours of the morning.
Abu Ghosh is also noted for its very close ties with its Jewish neighbors. Back in the 1940s, the village sided with the Jews against the British, most famously helping Lehi underground fighter and later right-wing Knesset member Geula Cohen escape from a British military prison. Unfortunately, this has not always spared Abu Ghosh from Jewish hooligans spraying “Arabs out” graffiti on walls or randomly slashing car tires in the middle of the night.
Nor did Abu Ghosh’s pre-state support for the Jews particularly help it in the immediate aftermath of the 1948 war when, according to Salim Jabr, a former Abu Ghosh mayor, around 85 percent of their farming land was expropriated for new Israeli communities and military bases. But nevertheless, in today’s atmosphere of mutual suspicion and often hatred, Abu Ghosh stands out as a rare oasis of tranquility and proof that Jew and Arab can live side by side in harmony.
As we sat eating our humus and falafel (Abu Ghosh humus is rightly considered among the best in Israel), our conversation turned to my son’s impending conscription into the army, what he felt about it and what his thoughts were for the future. This kind of conversation is a rite of passage for many Israeli parents as they nervously count down the days until their child, whom they have loved and cherished since the day they were born, essentially becomes the property of the state, and no is longer bound to the safe orbit of the family home.
After chatting about what lay ahead in the army – gone, thankfully, are the days when 18-year-olds appeared at the recruiting center on the day of their conscription with no idea as to which unit they were about to join – my son turned to me and asked: Are you a Zionist? ON THE surface, a simple question, yet the answer is not quite so straightforward. By some criteria, I definitely am a Zionist. Not only do I subscribe to the belief that the Jewish people are a people and, as such, deserve the right to self-determination, I actually acted on this belief and came to live in Israel. I speak Hebrew (admittedly with a heavy accent and shaky grasp of grammar) and my home and family are here.
In this I differ from many self-declared Zionists, living in the comfort of Brooklyn or Golders Green. Far away from the maelstrom of the Middle East, the more vocal of these armchair Zionists seem to spend every minute of their waking day trawling the English-language versions of Israeli news sites (because they can’t read or speak Hebrew, the revival of which is one of the crowning achievements of Zionism), seeking to denounce any Israeli critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a self-hating Jew.
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Closer to home, in Israel, I’m actually an anti-Zionist, according to no less an authority than our prime minister himself. In the run-up to the previous elections, Netanyahu described the list of Zionist Union candidates as “anti-Zionist,” but this did not stop me from casting my ballot for them.
Of course, in Netanyahu’s eyes I’m not even Jewish because, as he disgracefully said in an earlier election campaign, “the Left have forgotten what it is to be Jewish.” As we know following the prime minister’s shocking remarks on the Holocaust, he can be relied on to twist the facts to suit his own narrow, hysteria-fueled agenda, regardless of the damage caused.
But really, as I told my son, in my view the question “are you a Zionist” is no longer relevant. The State of Israel, the only regional nuclear power according to the foreign press, is an established fact. The question that should concern us all is how to make this country a better place for all its citizens – Jew and Arab – to live in.
Zionism won, the State of Israel as a Jewish state was created. Our task now, even in today’s tense atmosphere, is to live up to the fine words of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, and create a society “based on freedom, justice and peace,” ensuring “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,” guaranteeing “freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture,” and safeguarding “the Holy Places of all religions.”
Does this make me a Zionist? The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.
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