Friday, 23 October 2015

Holy Land: Secular Pilgrimage: Part V: Living for the Moment

world-map israel


As most visitors will doubtless have noticed, I posted a V-log midweek, my first in a very long time. In fact, I have been making lots of videos, just not editing them and posting them. Well, slowly that is beginning to change and there’ll be more on the way: Ireland, Scotland and of course North Korea. Behind the scenes, my biggest task this week has been downloading hundreds (literally) of video clips from my DPRK trip which now need editing and sorting. Something for those long winter’s nights indeed, but in the meantime, in case you missed it, please enjoy and share Day 1 of my Oslo trip.

Enjoy and share also my latest offering on Cultured Vultures, this time a brand new story entitled ‘Veritas Girl’. Never one to shy away from controversial subject matters, this one deals with the difficult topic of paedophilia. Once again, please read it, share it with you friends and pop Cultured Vultures on your favourites too!


Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

Flickr album of this trip

Flickr album of my 1997 trip

Links to other parts of the travelogue:

Sacred Pilgrimage

Part 1: Tel Aviv

Part 2: Ash Wednesday in Jerusalem

Part 3: Bethlehem with a Baby

Part 4: Exploring the Old City

Part 5: Hebron

Part 6: The Armenian Quarter

Part 7: Up the Mount of Olives

Part 8: Further explorations of Jerusalem

Part 9: The Lord’s Day

Secular Pilgrimage

Part 1: A Bus to Beersheva

Part 2: An Introduction to Kibbutz Living

Part 3: A Pioneering Vision

Part 4: The Silence of the Desert

Part 5: Living for the Moment

Part 6: Tearing down the Wall!

Part 7: Beautiful (?) Beersheva

Part 8: The Volunteers

Part 9: Reminders of Troubled Times

Part 10: The Chicken Kings

Part 11: Two Tombs


Back in 1997 I kept a little diary of my days on the kibbutz and so I thought it would be a good idea to pull it out and let it jog my memory when writing this account, expecting to find some fascinating little gems that I’d clean forgotten about. How disappointed was I! Nothing in my possession demonstrates so clearly how different I was back then, how much I’ve changed. The entries are short, bland and of little help to any travel writer. Take this typical offering from 18th March:

Missed brek. Work washing plastic boxes with Si. At night bonfire & vodka nite. V. pissed. Me & Tom did Hotel Calafornia [sic] duet. Di a good laugh (she had shagged Si earlier). Vodka from G-S Philippe.’

You tend to look at yourself as being the same then as you are now, but it’s not the case. In that diary there is no reflection, no attempt at writing and the nearest thing to analysing I found is ‘thought a lot about Orwell’s views on Totalitarianism’ after reading Homage to Catalonia. But then that is what being nineteen is all about, is it not? Living for the moment, having a drink, throwing it up, having some more, lusting after girls who you’ll never sleep with, rejoicing when you’ve found one you will but then getting all nervous about it, finding Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix unbelievably deep and everywhere and everything is an exotic, random, incredible adventure…

Oh, why can’t we stay like that forever?

revivim21Have a drink, then throw it up… oh to be 19!

I am, however, in good company it seems. Patrick Leigh Fermor, one of the greatest British travel writers of all-time wrote his most famous works – A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water chronicling a walk across Europe undertaken when he was eighteen, some sixty years after the event and in doing so he reread an old journal which he had fortuitously recovered from exile in Romania:

‘The first volume of this story tells of a thick green manuscript book I bought in Bratislava and used as a notebook and a journal and finally, five years later, at the outbreak of war, left behind by mistake in a friend’s country-house in Rumania where I was living. A few years ago, after decades of separation, I miraculously got it back, with its green binding bit frayed and faded, but intact. The pencilled journal in it is a great help, but not the unintermittent stand-by it should be. I started it in Slovakia with a long entry for each day; but in towns, thanks to morning headaches perhaps, it was sometimes neglected: and it didn’t always pick up at once when the journey was resumed. The same happened in Budapest and the earlier parts of the ensuing travels. Szolnok, for instance, just has the names of the town and the cheery doctor who put me up: the delicious, boiling hot, scarlet and orange carp soup bursting with paprika we had for dinner is remembered but unrecorded; the rest has gone. Next day mentions ‘Baron Schossberger’ and ‘Pusztatenyƶ’, a small place about a dozen miles to the south-east. Szolnok itself has left only a shadowy recollection.’[1]

Another change made to the kibbutz, doubtless triggered by laws Health and Safety rather than economic, was the replacement of the rickety homebuilt children’s playground in front of the dining room with a brand-new professionally manufactured one. With little else to do during the day, we took Tom there and introduced him to the exciting world of swings, slides and roundabouts for the first time in his life. Although somewhat wary, he gave them all a go and soon found a new favourite activity. The look on his face when sat at the top of the slide – half-fear, half-joy – I shall treasure forever, though his favourite piece of equipment was a rocking horse on a giant spring. To this day, those are always the first things he heads for when he sees a playground.

clip_image002Tom on the Revivim Rocking Horse

In the evenings I talked to Yankalei. I asked him about Revivim’s early years and he told me this story: “When we came to the local Bedouin sheikh and asked him if we could buy this land, the sheikh said, ‘Why do you wish to buy it? What are you going to do with it? Keep goats like me?’ ‘No,’ we replied, ‘we will farm it!’ At this the sheikh laughed. ‘Farm it! Can you farm this too?’ he asked, showing us his bare hand and stroking a furrow down the middle of its palm with his finger. ‘I tell you, this land cannot be farmed, there is no water here, it is impossible! Trust me, my people have lived here for generations and never has anyone farmed this land! Buy the land off me if you want, foolish men, but I tell you, within a year you will leave!’”[2]

The rest is, as they say, history.

The Bedouin are, in so many ways, the forgotten people of Israel. Everyone talks about the Palestinians and the Jews but these people are neither Jewish yet have no common cause with the Palestinian Arabs either. Yankalei however, has dedicated his life to them and for many years he was the Labour Party’s spokesperson for Bedouin affairs, and it is well known that he is welcomed in all their tents. That bond of trust that he shares with his Arab neighbours comes in no small measure from his own personal history, for although he was – and still is – a fervent Zionist, his Zionism is of a very different type to that which is commonly discussed in the media. His is the Zionism of those 1950s banknotes, a Zionism which has room for Arab as well as Jew, a Zionism built on material progress and egalitarian principles, not the fulfilment of Biblical law, a Zionism that is a world removed from the Zionism of Moshe Levinger and the Hebron Settlers.

“We looked at the land and said, ‘There is room for both of us here.’ The Arab could stay where he has always lived, in his villages surrounded by olive groves; the Jew would settle on the pieces of land that the Arab did not use. The first Zionists that came went to the malarial swamps by the sea. They drained them and today that area is called Tel Aviv. With Revivim it was the same; there was nothing here before the Jew came, now there are more Bedouin than there was then. We worked hard, it was difficult, but we found a scientist who said that there was water under the desert. That is what we use. It is salt water but you can grow crops with it. Our olive trees have won prizes!”

“But even if the Jew has built this kibbutz himself, he must still be friends with the Arab. This land belongs to the Arab as much as the Jew. It is important for the Jew to speak Arabic as well as Hebrew.”

Yankalei speaks fluent Arabic; it is almost a first language for him. He spent his boyhood in Jerusalem where it was the lingua franca. His family had emigrated from Persia in the early 19th century and were well-established and respected in the Holy City. With his nut-brown complexion and handlebar moustache, he is as much an Oriental gent as any Arab.

“The Bedouin has always been a friend of Israel; he fights bravely in our army. In 1967 the local sheikh was contacted by the Egyptians. ‘We are your brothers,’ they said, ‘fight for us!’ ‘Maybe you are my brother,’ the sheikh replied, ‘but you are far away and you do not care for the Bedouin. The Jew is here, he is my neighbour and he will be here after you have left. I will fight for him!’ This same sheikh, for many years he was a good friend of Israel, but I will tell you another story about him: In 1999 when King Hussein of Jordan died, he went to Amman to go to the funeral. Anyway, when the sheikh got to the border, the Israelis would not let him through and would not say why. Naturally, he was very angry and so he contacted me. ‘Yankalei, why are they doing this to me? I, who have always been a good friend to Israel!’ I promised to help the best I could so I asked around but no one would give me any information. In the end I called a friend of mine who is very high up in the government and he explained it all. ‘Mossad have received reliable information that certain Arabs are planning to assassinate him at the funeral because he is a friend of Israel. We are not disrespecting the sheikh, we are saving his life!’ Well, I told this to the sheikh and he thanked me and Mossad for their efforts but said that a brother monarch had died and it would sully his honour if he did not attend the funeral. So, he was let through and he went to Amman. When he got to the room, he took out his dagger and pistol, laid them on the table and declared to the crowd, ‘Here I am, an unarmed man! I know that some of you are planning to kill me, well go ahead and do it, but for my honour and the honour of our departed brother here, wait until after the funeral!’ Well, the Arabs were so impressed with his bravery that they did not kill him and instead he died in his bed of old age a few weeks ago. He will be sadly missed, he was a good friend of the kibbutz…”

As I said before, in his speech and appearance, Yankalei was an Oriental gent, akin to any Arab. Yet in so many respects he is also very different, for he has dedicated his life to a secular and modern ideal alien to the Arab mind. Arab society is based on family, it is based on hierarchy, it is patriarchal and it is intensely religious. One can only imagine what the Bedouin must think about Yankalei’s kibbutz where everyone is equal; where there is no hierarchical structure; where women work in shorts and T-shirts in the fields and orchards alongside non-related men; where children are brought up communally whilst their mothers’' work;[3] where marriages are love-matches and where there is no House of God. Is it any wonder that some Arabs refer to the Jews as infidels?!

Next part: Tearing down the Wall!

[1] Between the Woods and the Water, p.60

[2] A somewhat different story concerning Revivim’s establishment is told in Martin Gilbert’s ‘Israel: A History’, p.115.

“It was a chief of the Azazma tribe, Salama Ibn Said, who had sold the land for Revivim to the Jews. A poet from the same tribe, Ayyad Awwad Ibn Adesan, travelled from encampment to encampment reading a poem that he had written opposing the sale of land and criticising both Ibn Said and another chief who sold land to the Jews, Id Ibn Rabia. Adesan warned of the danger of the Bedouin being disinherited from their own space and freedom, and mocked the use to which the chiefs put their new found wealth:

Look at Ibn Said and Rabia, Oh my!

They’ve built houses of stone, painted red and so high!

Their wives stand around in a thin chemise gown,

Fried foods and soft bread are their only renown.

Adesan’s poem also contained a warning:

The land was spacious, yet narrow will be,

You’ll find nowhere to rest ‘tween the hills and the sea.”

[3] As was the case up until the mid 1990s on Revivim. Sara caused a stir when she removed her two daughters from the children’s house and brought them up herself.

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