View from Kilimanjaro (Extract)

Extract of an article in Issue 2, May 12, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. At daybreak, the view from the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro is literally breathtaking. Not that climbers have much breath to spare: At nearly 20,000 ft. (5,935 meters), the oxygen that reaches your brain is 60 percent less than at sea level. As the orange light of dawn reflects off Rebmann Glacier, painting the fluffy clouds, the exhilarating wonder of the summit spectacle is amplified by the giddiness caused by thin air. Our son Yochai recently completed seven years in the army and as young Israelis are wont to do after they're discharged, he set off to see the world. Before heading to Nepal and a long trek in the Himalayas, he invited me to join him to climb the highest mountain in Africa, an inactive volcano rising in splendid solitude from the fertile plains on Tanzania eastern border with Kenya. "Kili," as Tanzanians affectionately call it, is one of the world's highest peaks that can be reached without crampons and ropes. Yochai and I and eight others in our group, made up of people from Iceland, Australia and Canada, walked for seven days and covered 67 kms (40 miles) to reach Uhuru Summit. Our route was circuitous to give our bodies time to adjust to the altitude. We had five guides and some 30 porters, who carried our clothes, tents and food. On our final leg, we rose at midnight and walked in the dark for six hours in order to reach the summit by sunrise. Our fingers and toes froze as a fierce wind blew the minus 20 degrees C (minus 4 degrees F) cold through our gloves and boots. "Pole, pole!" (slowly, slowly) the guides repeated incessantly. If you build an oxygen debt by walking too quickly, it's hard to replenish it at such a high altitutde. After hours of hard tedious hiking, you come round a bend - and suddenly you're there, at the top, hugging and high-five-ing! Our guides let us stay only briefly, 15 minutes or so, to take photographs, because the oxygen-poor air can cause vertigo, nausea and headaches. It is strange to look down at the cloud cover far below us, rather than look up at it. Despite the clouds, atop Mt. Kilimanjaro I saw my own country Israel, 4,179 kms (2,507 miles) away, about to turn 60, clearer than ever before. What I saw from Kili were the Tribes of Israel. Tanzania is a huge country, twice the size of California and with about the same population, 40 million. It is very poor. Israel's per capita income is 30 times larger. Despite this, Israel can learn much from it. Tanzania has 120 tribes. But its great leader Julius Nyerere, a high school teacher who led his country to independence from Britain in 1961, saw that tribal allegiance was inimical to nation-building. He urged the tribes to intermarry and abolished the power of tribal chiefs. In contrast, in neighboring Kenya, tribal chiefs are wealthy and powerful and foster tribal rivalry for their own ends. Last December, tribal violence exploded following disputed elections. Over 1,000 people were killed and 300,000 refugees fled. Tribe fought tribe with machetes and spears. This is unthinkable in Tanzania, we are told. Tanzania's fierce Masai tribe has a warrior tradition of fighting lions barehanded. But the Masai have widely intermarried with the Chaga tribe. Chaga and Masai do not and will not fight. For some 30 years after Israel gained its independence, the nation was cohesive, united against a palpable external threat to its existence. And there were no real income-based "tribes." As a university lecturer, my salary in 1967 was pretty much the same as the salaries earned by bus drivers and corporate managers. An Israeli billionaire was unthinkable, and the few millionaires kept quiet about their wealth. And army service for all those fit enough was unchallenged, although even then large numbers of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students were exempt. In his preeminent textbook, "Economics," first published in 1948, Paul Samuelson noted that Israel had "the greatest equality" (of income and wealth distribution) in the non-Communist world. Today,"greatest equality" has been replaced by "greatest inequality." Millennia ago, tribal splits made it easy for for Babylon to conquer and destroy Jerusalem. The lost tribes of Israel have disappeared into history, but tribalism of a different sort has returned with a vengeance. "A country is the shadow thrown by a nation," Arthur Koestler once wrote, "and for 2,000 years the Jews were a nation without a shadow." Why? Because, I believe, when we had a country, we Jews could not get along with one another, and tribe fought tribe. The new Israeli tribes reflect very deep divisions in education, income, wealth and religion: The Tel Aviv tribe vs. the periphery tribe; the educated tribe vs. the uneducated; the ultra-Orthodox tribe vs. everyone else; religious vs. secular; left vs. right. The tribe of those who work vs. those who do not. The tribe of those who serve in the army vs. those who evade. Arab vs. Jew. Sephardi vs. Ashkenazi. And some of the most damaging social and economic tribal divisions have been created by our own hands. Extract of an article in Issue 2, May 12, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.