Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Israel Diary: Day 3

I do not know what a Jew is, we only know what human beings are.
Pastor Andre Trocme, August 10 1942

It's been such a full day I am not quite sure where to start. We left the hotel in Tel Aviv to spend the whole day in Jerusalem. The traffic there has to be seen. The morning started with a briefing by one of President Peres's advisers. We talked about the history of Jerusalem and its very confusing geography. For those who haven't been here, it's almost impossible to explain without being on the ground. We were taken to a vantage point high up on a hillside overlooking the Mount of Olives and the old city. From there you can also see the security fence and the West Bank.

We then took a tour of the Old City with an absolutely superb tour. It was great walking through the Suq - row upon row of shops. The variety was astonishing. They don't do political correctness in Jerusalem. I nearly bought a supply of T Shirts with VISIT ISRAEL BEFORE ISRAEL VISITS YOU for some of the anti Jewish commenters who have infested this site of late. There were also T shirts of Yasser Arafat.

To stand where history was made - rather like when we went to the Sea of Galilee on Monday - was an absolute privilege. To trace the path to the crucifiction and see the spot where Jesus died was incredible. We then visited the holy wall just under the Mount of Olives. I have to say it was bizarre to hear the Muslim call to prayer while looking at the Mount of Olives, but people should realise that Jerusalem is a city which welcomes people of all religions. I suppose I had thought of it as primarily a Jewish place, but it is far from that, with peoples of all backgrounds and religions finding it a place of religious significance.

After that we headed of to Yad Vashem, the new Holocaust museum and memorial. It was only opened in 2005 and is a very impressive building. I have to say though, having been to a couple of concentration camps, I found it less emotional than I was expecting. On visits to Buchenwald and Dachau I found it incredibly harrowing, but here - perhaps because of the crowds - I didn't. Even typing that, I feel slightly guilty.

We then finished the day at the Knesset, where we were due to meet the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, who is Druse, but he couldn't make it. Instead, we had an hour with a fascinating memebr of the Knesset, Binyamin Elon. He is the leader of the National Union party, which holds nine of the 120 seats in the Knesset and was Minister of Tourism under Ariel Sharon. His party is certainly right wing, but he holds some very unconventional views on the future of the West Bank. He is firmly against a two state solution and favours a confederation on the West Bank, with Jordan and Israel holding joint sovereignty of the area. He argues that there has never been such a thing as a Palestinian nation and that up until recently, the inhabitants of the West Bank have always been called Arabs.

We didn't get back to Tel Aviv until 8.30pm. I tried to find a bar showing the West Ham v Man U game but failed lamentably. Just as well considering the result.

Before I came here, several people told me that Israeli food was awful. They could not be more wrong. The breakfast in the Carlton Hotel has to be seen to be believed (the Carlton is highly recommended - one of the best hotels I have ever stayed in), and every single meal has been memorable. And for all the right reasons! Today in Jerusalem I had the best smoked salmon and cream cheese onion bagel I have ever had.

I'm very much looking forward to tomorrow, when we will be spending the day in Ramallah and Bethlehem. We're seeing Mahmoud Abbas's Chief of Staff, a representative of the UN and the British Consul to the Palestinian Authority during the course of the morning, as well as visiting a refugee camp.


Ted Foan said...

Are you sure that the Sunday Times haven't employed as a travel writer? This is excellent stuff. Look forward to the book!

PS: West Ham were awful!

Obnoxio The Clown said...

"Crucifixion". Crucifiction is when you only pretend to be crucified. :o)

Jeremy Jacobs said...

"He argues that there has never been such a thing as a Palestinian nation and that up until recently, the inhabitants of the West Bank have always been called Arabs".

I think you'll find he's historically correct. Going forward, his idea for a confederation doesn't seem unreasonable. Others may disagree.

Anonymous said...

" until recently, the inhabitants of the West Bank have always been called Arabs."

Am I the stupid one? Palestinians are a sub set of the arabs ? Like saying UK is part of the west?

Can't see the politicians point

PS enjoying your blogging of your visit.
I find the cheerleaders on both sides boring and we know who they are anonymous or not


barry monk said...

The word Palestine has the same root as the word Philistine (as in Goliath ), the letters "p" and "f" being interchangeable in Arabic and hebrew; so clearly the Palestinians have been around for a while!

I have thoroughly enjoyed your rportage, Iain. Israel is a wonderful country with a lot of wonderful people. They deserve peace

Anonymous said...

You are without doubt a most charming blogger, Iain.

The notion that you have had more than one smoked salmon and cheese bagel is without doubt the most thought provoking comment I think I have ever read on-line ...

Anonymous said...

I don't think you'll have a problem sleeping on the way back, your head's gonna be fried. I hope you're being the geek we all know you really are and are taking notes. I'm certainly no expert but I like Abbas, he's perhaps got the hardest job in politics - tough gig.

Anonymous said...

For info, Yad Vashem has actually been open decades, it is the new museum that opened in 2005. I agree that, although impressive as a store of information, this is not that emotive. However, the pre-existing memorials there - the Children's Memorial, Hall of Rememberance, Avenue of the Righteous, and other outside statues etc are far more powerful. You cannot do it all justice in one visit (almost a choice between memorial/museum) - suggest a return trip in the future.

Look forward to you cracking a gag about Richard Makepeace's fantastic name in your next posting...

Anonymous said...

"..nearly bought a supply of T Shirts with VISIT ISRAEL BEFORE ISRAEL VISITS YOU for some of the anti Jewish commenters who have infested this site of late..."

It is not 'anti-Jewish' to want a fair and balanced view. This is what annoys me - unless you are 110% in favour of everything Israel does and loves everything they say, endorsing all their views, one is 'labelled anti-Jew' or worse...

This is what makes balanced debate impossible, and leads to ludicrous situations where Cameron has to dismiss the 'Israeli boycott' as being the work of 'loonies'. How is that intelligent debate which moves the argument on ? He does it because he knows anything less, and he will be labelled 'anti Jew/Israeli/Semitic' and be treated as radioactive waste come the next election.

Some of us are 'free-thinkers' and prefer to avoid that facile pigeon holing which is more suitable for arguments between football fans than for serious discussion.

Jeremy Jacobs said...

"The word Palestine has the same root as the word Philistine (as in Goliath ), the letters "p" and "f" being interchangeable in Arabic and hebrew; so clearly the Palestinians have been around for a while!"

I think you'll find it was the Romans who changed the name to Palestine originally. Ethnic cleansing if the Jews.

Try Simply Jews blog. Loads of historical stuff there.

Anonymous said...

agree with diablo - you may have missed your calling as a travel writer

Anonymous said...

When discussing Israel it is important to get the terms of address correct. When people are accused of being anti-jewish, often they are being anti-zionist. Zionism is but one branch of the jewish family.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, both Arabs and Jews only occupied this part of the Middle East, i.e. Palistine and now the land Jews have as their "State of Israel". But if you investigate the history of that part of the earth, you will find that long before both of these cultures, those land were inhabited "First" by the Black children. Decescendents of YHWH.

Anonymous said...

it's not anti-jewish to be anti-israel

next you'll be saying that being anti west ham makes you anti football!

Kcila said...

Great stuff Iain but do you mean to say you didn't stay in the bar to watch Spurs' fantastic recovery against the Goons? And in Israel too!

Anonymous said...

Iain I believe your diary is a great illumination of Israel. It really makes me want to visit the country. Keep up the good work.


Unknown said...

"I suppose I had thought of it as primarily a Jewish place, but it is far from that, with peoples of all backgrounds and religions finding it a place of religious significance."

I find this admission of ignorance quite astonishing- of course its important to both the Christian and muslim religions and consequently has large populations of both these religuos denominations. As any fule knows its where Jesus was crucified and buried and hence, surprise surprise, is of signifiance to Christians. Furthermore it is where Muhammed ascended into heavan and is thus the third most ascred place to muslims. Quite how you can not have appreciated these things before going is beyhond me.

I speak incienatlly as a confirmed supporter of the State of Israel but the sheer ignorance of a supposedly educated political commentator is amazing!!

Anonymous said...

The most telling comment - "Jerusalem is a city which welcomes people of all religions" Not only are they welcome but their places of worship are protected - unlike every other Middle Eastern country.

Anonymous said...

Please consider posting this video and passing it along, it’s amazing. It’s great at showing the distinction between MaCain and Obama in regards to the economy. Please pass this along to everyone you know. We have to get McCain elected… E

“Some may try to tell us that this is the end of an era. But what they
overlook is that in America, every day is a new beginning. For this is the land that has
never become, but is always in the act of becoming.” Ronald Reagan

Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff - thanks. It reminds me of what I think is the best book written by William Dalrymple 'From the Holy Mountain', which blows apart the idea of the Middle East as shared between Muslim and Jew (though, predictably enough, the stupider elements of Islam are trying to kill off the Christians and other deviants). Wonderful book.

BTW, there's a bit going on over here, too. We could do with some comment, but dunno where you'd find the time. The 'I was on holiday' defence is now discredited by the oik running (ruining) the BBC whose chav standards are seen in all aspects of its output except for Ed Reardon's Week and In Our Time, with the sainted Melvyn Bragg.

Come home soon - your country needs you!

Anonymous said...

"He argues that there has never been such a thing as a Palestinian nation and that up until recently, the inhabitants of the West Bank have always been called Arabs."

He's right. Mostly Syrian Arabs.

Anonymous said...

You're being childish now Iain and it does not become a serious blogger. You don't need to be anti-Jewish to see that the Palestinains continue to suffer a great deal of injustice. How would you like it if you and your family had no choice but to live in a refugee camp since 1949? How would you like to be Stateless even though your family had lived and peacefully farmed in Palestine for hundreds of years? There was and is very little evidence in your posts that your visit to Israel was going to be anything more than another pro-Israel propaganda mission. I hope you keep your mind open when you do get see a little of the Palestinian side. Meanwhile keep enjoying those bagels ...

Anonymous said...

What about some support for the Plaestinians who are constantly being crucifed by the Isrealis?

Iain Dale said...

Anonymous 4.45, Again, you deliberately twist what I said, but I have come to expect nothing less from those who can see no good in Israel at all.

I have spent a very illuminating day on the West Bank, so don't give me any bullshit about propaganda. I have experienced no propaganda since the moment I arrived. If they wanted to brainwash me they would hardly have arranged talks with senior Palestinian Authority people, or organised for us to tour a refugee camp, where we were at liberty to talk to anyone we wanted to.

Anyway, I shall write it all up later. Make of it what you will.

All I can say, is that I am so very glad I came on this trip. I have learned so much about a conflict which I could never have done by staying at home.

Iain Dale said...

Anonymous 4.53. Clearly you have no idea what the word crucified actually means.

Read my diary post later on this evening and I will explain about my trip to the West Bank today.

Anonymous said...

All travel writers should show their holiday snaps
How boring is this

Anonymous said...

Completely OT but a nice compliment for Iain in the CHome comments here.

Abe Bird said...

Jeremy Jacobs / barry monk;
There weren’t any Palestinian nation in any time in history but the Jews. Palestine is a Roman name given to Israel land by the Roman occupier and has nothing to do with Arabs or Muslims. The British while occupied Palestine renewed the political use of the name and called all the civilians there "Palestinians": Jews, Arabs, Russians, British, French etc. While Israel was established the name "Palestine" stayed free to others. Even than the Arabs kept call themselves "Palestinian Arabs" as to differ themselves from other kind of "Not Arab Palestinians". Only in 1975 and since, they sometimes and in some documents call themselves "Palestinians" with out mentioning being Arabs. But even now days they keep calling themselves, from time to time, "Arab Palestinians", as if to express their failure to adopt their new title of being called a nation.

Biblical Philistines are a Greek sea people that settled in Gaza-Ashkelon area (southern sea shore of the land of Israel) in the 13th century BC. They weren't Semites at all. The fact is that through the 5th - 7th BC they were assimilated among the other local peoples: Moabites, Edomites, Assyrians, Egyptians and even few among the Jews (in times of the end of the 1st House of Israel). Now days Arabs in Palestine have not any direct connection to those Philistines, but only by name of the land in Latin (They stole the name from the Jews through the last century). Now days Arabs in Palestine, are mostly descendants of Saudis and Arabs from all over the ME that poured, invaded and conquered Palestine since the 7th century in waves. The Arabs adopted the name "Palestine" from the British occupier.

There is no "P" in Arabic at all! How could a "people" calling themselves a name that its main and leading letter doesn't exist in their language at all? For many years and even now, many Arabs call the land as "Balestine", because "B" substitutes the "P" when words are translated to Arabic. They found a softer solution for their Arabic defect, and pronounce the name as "Falestine" = "Falastin". I would call that development as a Falsetinian trick that put the Arabs in the land of Israel at the proper gloom.

I'm aware of trying of the Arab Palestinians of today to link themselves directly the Greek Sea People. It's shows only their frustrations to reality and their efforts to build a new history and identity that will fit their political aims. That's OK, but I think that no one else should pay for their dreams but themselves. Sure not the Jews. Arabs have 22 states, and that's enough if the cost is not to have even one Jewish state.

Any way, you should remember that Jews always dwelled in Israel's land (Palestine) through the last 2 millennia and the fact that more than 30 foreign nations came there and conquered their land doesn't make that land of others than of the Jews.

Any way, welcome to Israel. Enjoy every minute and collect some sites and rythm (-:

Abe Bird
Netanya, Israel

M. Hristov said...

Your reportage has been great.

The National Union gentleman’s view is not unconventional. “Jordan is Palestine” is one of the oldest Israeli right wing chants and has been around since at least the 1970s.

Other sure fire indicators of a right wing stance are reference to the West Bank as “Judea and Samaria” and extreme annoyance when you refer to Jordan as a moderate Arab country.

One of the problems with a quick visit to Israel is that this tiny country is quite overwhelming and so it takes time to get into the culture and understand the nuances. You’ve made a fantastic and eloquent start but ideally you need to go back for a few months to soak everything in and work out the many shades of grey that inhabit the Holy Land. A counsel of perfection for a busy man, such as yourself but something I urge you to do.

Abe Bird said...

M. Hristov;
"Palestine" is the geographic term of the land and has nothing to do with nationality. The British occupation of the land in 1917 brought that name back to the land, not the Arabs invented that name nor were they link into it. "Palestine" was located in both sides of the Jordan River. The eastern side was greater that the western one. When people than said "West Bank" they were referring to the whole land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean sea shore, which includes today the new small version of the "west bank" (aka, Samaria and Judea districts of Palestine) and pre-1967 Israel. These terms: WB and Israel are political terms and not geographical.
In 1917 political Palestine and Geographical Palestine were identical – both sides of the Jordan River. Britain planed and promised the Jews to hand them Palestine to be their base for their national entity. But as the days passed the British failed to accomplish their promise. On the contrary, they gave the eastern side of Palestine, aka "East Bank", to a Hashemite Bedouin Saudi prince after he fought against his brother in Mecca and escaped north. They called the frame-state "Trans Jordan" of Palestine. Only in 1947 they got full independence and changed the name to "Jordan". The British failed to accomplish mission and give the Jews the other part of Palestine, the original "West Bank" of Palestine, from the river to the sea, because of inter-junction regional interests. The fact that at this time oil has been found and produced in Iraq (before the name even had born) and later in Saudi , made the Arab interests heavy attributed and considered in the eyes of the British than the Jews ones. The British ignored their historical duty to create a new tribal structure in the ME for the sake of their temporary interests. That is the basic reason for the Jewish Palestinian and Arab Palestinian conflict.

Let me remind you that Yasser Arafat himself said that Jordan is Palestine and between 1968 and 1975 he tried for some times to bring down King Hussein the Hashemite, and free the Arab Palestinians majority from the Saudi Bedouin regime and create the New Palestine, before he continues to combat Israel and push her into the sea, as he said. In September 1970 the Jordanian army, mainly the Bedouin corps, fought and killed about 20,000 PLO and other Arab Palestinian movements' men. Israel and the US were alerted to pull the invading Syrian army out of Jordan in order to protect King Hussein. Arafat and the PLO staff escaped through Syria to Lebanon. Even from Lebanon Arafat made efforts to throw down Hussein and take over Jordan. Only in 1975 Arafat changed course and adopted the "stages theory" to deal with Israel. This theory espoused the idea that the Arab Palestinian mission could only be achieved by stages, political and terror actions combined. The first stage was to arrived at the "West Bank" (the later and second meaning of the phrase) and than by advanced efforts to bring Israel to collapse, either by terror and by pushing back millions of refugees into Israel, by agreement or by infiltration. (Btw, do you know that since 1993 'Oslo year', about 150,000 Palestinians moved into Israel and live there, with or without permission?).

There is no real reason to create a second Arab Palestinian state next to Israel. Jordan is the first state to be built in Palestine. More than 70% of the Jordanians see themselves and are Arab Palestinians. Families live in Jordan, WB and Israel; The same families. I see no reason why parents living in Jordan and kids living in Ramallah and Jaffa have the right to live in 3 different states, 2 Arabs and one Jewish. There is no reason and even no place to build a second Arab state in the West Bank. No wonder that the Arabs can't establish their tiny Palestinian entity for years. The main effort should be Jordan and the border between Palestinian Arab Jordan and Palestinian Jewish Israel!

M. Hristov said...

abe bird

Thank you so much for proving my point and even using the words "Judea and Samaria" in doing so.

I remind you that I was merely saying that the National Union view was hardly unconventional for a right wing Israeli commentator.

Your long ‘history’ lesson proves this.

Abe Bird said...

I just have brought the historical line that usually covered and hidden in the British and Western Media as well. I wanted to correct the impression made on the average Westerner, that the call "Jordan is Palestine" is only since 1970 or that it is only Israeli right wing chant. Jordan and Israel are both combines as the two halves of modern political Palestine. The Arab Palestinian's tactics is to keep fighting for controlling of Palestine but in the sense that Palestine is the area that Israel holds: Israel itself and the WB, and to ignore the area that Arabs (Palestinian, Jordanians) already controlling. It won't be wise for them to put into dialogue what already they have. It is more efficiency as we all see, to quarrel over the rest of Palestine which controlled by Israel. That's why when people hear "Palestine" they see in front of their eyes the "occupied territories/ 'WB' of the second version" only (applies mainly to Westerners), or the "area from the River to the Sea/the 'WB' of the original version" (applies to the Arab Palestinians and some western "liberal"/left and even some right wing circles). In any case time and daily struggle erased the origin and the source of the conflict and delayed any real possibility for solution.

Abe Bird said...


With all respect I think that Jesus was Jewish. Jesus never Christianized. Christianity was born years after Jesus death and it was a sect inside Judaism until flourished over the local other nations around the Mediterranean.

"significance to Christians" doesn't mean that you have many Christians today in Israel.

How do you know that "Muhammed ascended into heaven" from Jerusalem while Jerusalem doesn't mentioned even once in the Koran?

"Palestine", the Holy Land which means the land of Israel is holy for Christianity because of being the land of Israel and not because of being "Palestine". That's why Islam olso looked for any clue to be tied upon to Israel, the holy land. The story of Muhammed ascending into heaven from Jerusalem is just a late motivated interpretation of the Kuranic chapter.