Sunday, 14 September 2014

'The British'

I have now been in Israel for two months, as of yesterday.

I really don't know where the time has gone - between waiting out the war and settling into ulpan, it seemed to have just slipped away.

Lately I've kept myself busy writing satirical news reports at (because the only way to deal with the ever-present situation is to laugh at it, really): I've written about Kate Middleton's pregnancy; The West Bank starting their own bank; Evangelical Christians becoming radicalised by IS. A little bit close to the cuff, perhaps, but why ever not?

Anyhoo. Not much has been happening, as I've been a working lady. My job finishes at 9pm, so my social life has been pretty non-existent, as I'm usually exhausted and starving afterwards.

But, ladies and gentlemen. The real reason for which I write is to tell you of a particular, varied experience I had one day this week.

On Wednesday last, the ulpan took us on tiyul - a trip - to the north. The north of Israel is a very interesting place - beautiful scenery, very hot heat, as opposed to the humidity down south and in Tel Aviv, and an all-together different sort of vibe to the rest of Israel.

The last time I went up north on a tiyul, I ended up on a drip, having dry-retched for 3 hours after a 6 hour hike, although out of iron deficiency, not dehydration. It was perhaps one of the worst days of my life. So I was quite excited that we'd be going back north-wards, as last time that whole business had overshadowed my previous visit somewhat.

The day began at 6am. Yes, 6am in the morning. Us ulpaners seem to have some issues when getting up for 8.30am class just downstairs (I look back on all of those 6am wakeups in London and wonder how I did it/how I became so lazy), and this was no exception. What should have been a 6.15am leaving time became a 6.45am one instead - Israeli time.

But, no matter. Off we went to Ganei haNadiv - the Gardens of the Benefactor. It is next to the lovely, picturesque (and eyeballs-bleedingly expensive) town of Zichron Yaakov. We visited the gardens, which is actually a collection of different gardens , which our tour guide (called Ben Hur - am I the only one who finds that funny?!) told us included a traditional European rose garden; a garden with all fauna and flora from each different world continent and a sensual garden especially for blind people. Amazing, innit? there's also a wildlife park surrounding, which is home to many wild animals, and is more like a nature reserve. I have to go back and explore it all properly one day.

We were knackered and starving, and so we were fed (a very interesting Israeli 'continental' breakfast, of two rolls, some cheese, cream cheese, a pot of tuna, a pot of salad, butter and jam. I loved it!) and then taken off to our next location: Mount Carmel, just before Haifa.

Last time I saw the Carmel was on that disastrous trip up north, a month or two before I returned to England for a Very Long Time. Aside from that, I have many fond memories of Carmel - I stayed for a time in a youth village up there called Yemin Orde, where - coincidentally enough - my old school used to take the Year 9s on a trip. Just after I left Israel that last time, there was a massive forest fire, which destroyed a lot of the forest, scars which are still visible today from most angles. It also burned down Yemin Orde (which I believe was relocated somewhere else) and an artists' village just below it.

And off we went for what had been described as a 'stroll'. Maybe I hadn't been listening, but everyone seemed to be wearing proper walking shoes. I had on my favourite sandals, which, while comfortable, are unsuitable for a 'stroll'. I was also wearing - for some stupid reason - a little dress.

Readers, never EVER trust an Israeli 'stroll'. We were schlepping up and down vertical rocks (everyone must have seen my knickers when I was climbing) and going over sand and cliff edges - it was quite unlike any stroll I'd ever been on - way more exciting, for a start. It was absolutely amazing. And the views! Totally worth it. It was also lovely just to be in the fresh air, as opposed to cooped up in an alternatingly freezing cold/sweltering classroom.

After a pit-stop to view the memorial for those killed in the forest fire(the explanation of which I listened to in the French group, because I couldn't find Ben Hur), we went to our last destination of the day - the Atlit Detention Camp.

It's a name that I've seen so many times in books I've read, and never really taken in. I didn't really put two and two together until I realised that we were walking into something that looked like a DP camp; we were near Haifa and it was fairly modern looking - not from the 'ancient' side of Israeli history, but from the 'other' more recent bit.

Now, non-Brits reading - I want to tell you that people of my generation - unless they've studied History in university - don't know much, if anything, about the British Empire. Even if you'd attended Jewish schools your whole life, as I have, you learn absolutely nothing about the British Occupation and the British Mandate, pre-State of Israel. Except for those times when your dad holds up a map and exclaims, 'all this used to be pink!', which, I confess, used to leave me confused, and wondering if half the world used to maybe be gay.

The long and the short of it is, the British were very, very bad in the region. That part of history is pretty much why everything is so f*cked in Israel and the Territories today. It's a tragedy partly of (unclear) promises made and then broken; anti-Semitism; people-pleasing, downright lies and some other random shit.

It always makes me a little bit uncomfortable.  Everywhere I go, there seems to be a plaque commemorating a tragedy where 'the British' did something inexcusable. Not to say that the Jews didn't - the Lehi and the Irgun certainly attest to this! - but kidnapping randoms and torturing them just isn't cricket.

 In Atlit, we heard about the ways in which the Jews - the majority of which had just survived the Holocaust - were gender-separated, bundled up into barracks and sometimes deported back to Europe. Not like a concentration camp, but not exactly welcoming  treatment either. We also heard about how Britain harshly restricted immigration to Jews; other countries refused to accept Jews and how the fledgling state were begging for the Jews to 'come home', yet the British refused, so as not to create a Jewish majority. So then the Jews began commandeering boats to get to Haifa, which the British then intimidated and refused to allow in to port, or would allow them to dock and then deport/detain those inside.

And - and - and. It always seems to be a story with so much more to say - they never mention the ramifications on British Jewry. According to Grandpa (who is my source of information on all things WW2/post related), those young enough to do so left to Haifa to fight/help etc (such as the late Vidal Sassoon), or stayed behind as wave upon wave of anti-Semitism hit the community in Blighty.

But I digress. It's always interesting to learn a bit more about one's history - both the Jewish/Israeli side, and the British side. Britain is what bred me and made me, and is an integral part of who I am. I've always felt that I was too Israeli for the Brits, and too British for the Israelis. I fit into this weird middle ground,where I find myself saying exactly what I think of something/someone, and then needing a cup of tea and to demonstrate the art of queueing.

With this new knowledge in mind, off we went back to Jerusalem, another place which the British f*cked over majorly, and continue to do so nowadays, politically and foreign policy-wise.

But maybe I shouldn't be so harsh. After all, I have the strongest British/slightly French (don't even get me started...!) accent when I speak Hebrew. I'm immediately identifiable - I out myself.

To be honest, it's not even an issue here in modern Israel. There are so many British tourists here- all of those I met during the war were non-Jews, actually - that it seems all has been forgotten. It's never something that is made an issue, just a historical, commemorated issue that I keep inadvertently noticing. I suppose it's inevitable, really. And a wee bit surprising.

All in all, an exciting, varied and pensive - if not all-out knackering - day out. Nice one, Etzion.

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