Sunday, October 19, 2008


One reason that the wall is so packed is that our visit corresponds with the Jewish festival of Sukkot.

The old city is thronged with people in orthodox garb, carrying palm branches (possibly losing a little of the agricultural festival/shelter theme, most of these seem to be encased in a plastic sheath). To see ultra-orthodox and othodox Jews is not unusual in certain areas of Manchester, but here there is a key difference, they are common-place, they form a good part of the norm. The Eastern European fur hats and heavy satin overcoats may still stand out in the sunshine (diaspora over, time to re-engage with more climate-appropriate attire?), but they are so common as to become unremarkable very quickly.

I catch a tiny glimpse here of what Israel as a Jewish state means to so many. A place where after 1900 years of displacement and cycles of extreme persecution, they can call home. A place where they are not the exception, but the norm; a place where, whether religous or secular, their identity can be openly celebrated.

Here to be Jewish, is just to be a person. No need for adjective, no need for explanation.

I can see the freedom in that.

To belong to a dominant grouping in society often makes us blind to how poorly the world fits for those unrepresented in its formulation.

I can understand the desire to no longer be the outsider.

To have suffered centuries of persecution at the hands of other nations, to have the memory of the holocaust so close in the collective memory.

I can appreciate the desire to take one's security into one's own hands and never let go.

To have survived against the odds, through so many battles, battered and abused.

I can see how you face the world with fists ready.

But there's the rub; at what point do you become that which you seek to defeat? At what point does your freedom become someone else's prison sentence? At what point does your creation of shelter, deprive others of their sanctuary?

As we wend our way through the narrow streets of the Jewish quarter (much of which was raised to the ground in the Six Day War and rebuilt in the image of the victors), a postcard stares out at us with beligerence.

Oh Israel, born of the hopes of one people and the fears of another, have you become the monster?

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