Simon's Diary

Israel 2004

Day 3

I sat in the lobby of the hotel last night working on the diary, at one point a woman who was sitting near by started talking to me in Hebrew. She looked pissed off when I made it clear that I'm linguistically challenged when it comes to Biblical languages, in fact any languages except English and Rubbish!

It's possible the negotiation of a fee was the aim of her "hello" so without a common language, plus the further difficulty of a lack of fingers to indicate an offer, her plan was foiled. My father had once been accosted in this lobby and had used me as an excuse for not taking up the offer, something like "my son needs me to help him fluff up his pillow". Needless to say the next day at breakfast the woman gave me a pretty dirty look.

I'm not keen on having breakfast unless I've been awake a few hours. I have a theory that night owls, of which I am one, tend not to wake up hungry, where as early birds get up feeling peckish. The problem is that an "eat as much as you can" breakfast makes you eat even more than you ought so that by the time you get back to your room you feel like a snake who's just eaten an elephant, requiring at least 3 hours of recovery sleep.

Today is Saturday which is the Jewish day of rest. So that means no items are to be cooked while you wait - such as freshly cooked omelettes or fried eggs - and as it's still Passover no cereals or bread are available. So what was on offer? Salads, pickled fish and fruit (OK I suppose, but a bit too healthy for my liking). These were complimented with slices of Swede in a sweet and sour sauce, macaroni cheese and the worst cold Spanish omelette I've ever tasted. I didn't realise at the time but summasized afterwards that this section of food is to be eaten if you want to prove how devouted you are.

Last night as we took the lift down to the lobby on the way it stopped to let a woman in, I said, "Come on in we're having an orgy", and the woman burst out laughing and said "in that case I better hurry up", we all laughed -we did honestly! Later as we sat in the lobby the woman walked past crying - I hasten to add "nothing to do with me" -. I put on a sad face and said "Maybe I should go and comfort her", Boris laughed - at least some one appreciates me -. Anyway this morning at breakfast I tried to catch her eye but she wasn't having any of it. I blame the lack of good food.

Photo of a street sign with the word Arad on it and an arrow pointing left

Journey to Arad

Eddie and Miri picked me up from the Hotel this afternoon. As we drove along the coast road we could see the beaches were full with people. The weather is like England on a hot summer's day. The Middle East and North Africa would be one of the winter holiday hot spots for Europeans if it wasn't for the conflicts and resentments.

Walk past these players at your peril. So far this was the most dangerous experience I've had in Israel.

For the last few years the conflict over here has caused an economic depression. Holiday makers and investors have avoided bringing themselves and their money in to the country. Recently the tourism, investment, and housing markets have started to recover, but whether this will continue will have to be seen.

Thirty miles south of Tel Aviv the Palestinians are living in far worse conditions. Their economy has been strangled by the Israeli Government's policy of closing off resources to them. This has partly been borne out of an attempt to stop attacks on Israelis and partly as a way of "convincing" the Palestinians that violence will not result in them getting what they want. The walls of division between the two sides are becoming even more concrete, quite literally. The Israelis are building a huge wall to keep the bombers out.

To live in a world where you may be killed by a hidden enemy requires, as Zipi put it to me yesterday, one to build a golden bubble around one's self, but the background hum of hatred becomes a dominant feature of the landscape if you listen for it.

As we travel along the motorway Eddie tells me that over the last few years he's noticed he's become far less tolerant, more prone to road rage and less left wing in his political point of view.

Photo of a grey renaulkt clio registrationnumber 32-670-29
This driver really pissed Eddie off, going slow most of the time
until Eddie would try to over take at which point he'd speed up

When I first came to Israel there was a feeling of hope, that some agreement between Israel, the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world might be reached. The Israeli Prime Minister at the time, Barak, made offers to the Palestinians way beyond what had been brought to the negotiation table before. Still an agreement could not be found, mainly because the issue of who had control over Jerusalem could not be resolved.

The main message that Israelis seem to have gotten from that process and the subsequent break down in negotiations is a feeling that ultimately the Arab world wants them out of the area for good. Many Israelis also feel that if at any point their country is seen as vulnerable then the surrounding Arab states will do what they can to oust them. this combined with a predominent perception within Israel that the only language Arabs respect is that of force and you can begin to see that an Israeli's starting point is very different to many other Western cultures.

Last night I was speaking to an ex very high ranking Israeli army officer. I'll call him Mr. X. I put it to him that while it's easy to see the situation as a conflict between Jews and Muslims, it may be more accurate to consider it in terms of Europeans and Americans colonising a part of Arabia. This in Arab eyes is a continuation of the crusades. Mr. X said that he felt that the Muslim world was on a collision course with the rest of the world, and in time this would become more apparent. I said to him that I had heard this argument before and had asked Muslims I know about this idea and they'd answered that while some extremists may believe this most moderate Muslims don't. Mr X replied that it's the extremists in any culture that tend to be the most dangerous. During 1999 he had had to deal with Christian extremists wh were aiming to blow up the Golden Temple in Jerusalem in order to bring about World War 3. For Israelis though it's the Arab and Muslim extremists that are a main threat to them.

The feeling that one culture is attempting to take over another one is often a prerequisite to racism, nationalism and oppression. The same thoughts about Jews and Blacks fuel the hatred in the hearts of nationalists in the UK and USA. In the same way Arabs feel that their culture and religion is under threat from the West, especially America. So for them the desire of the West to democratise their countries is seen as part of this process.

Mr. X asked me to cite a case where two democracies have gone to war against each other. His point was that the democratic process makes going to war far harder than it would be for a dictatorship. It's not that democracies don't go to war it's that they rarely go to war at the whim of a single person. The USA and the UN are partly pushing for democratisation around the world in order to stabilise regions. The stabilisation of the Middle East is something the US wants for many reasons but obviously the supply of fossil fuels is a significant one. In this way maybe those who oppose democracy are right but for me, it's hard to understand why people wouldn't want some form of democracy, even if democracy isn't the panacea it's made out to be.

Many Arab countries are endeavoring to secure a lasting prosperity beyond the day the oil runs out and in order to do this they need to become more stable themselves. This may include some form of democratisation to take place. The consequence of this is that an inner conflict arises where elected Government's become at odds with Muslim clerics.

Mr. X's views are shared by many in Israel, but certainly not all, but for the purposes of this diary they give an insight as to why they seem so uncompromising to those of us from outside the region. In their eyes the Palestinians are adversaries who only pretend to negotiate in order to get to their ultimate goal which is the destruction of Israel. They also see the Muslim religion as one that ultimately wants to take over the world. When you hear that the Palestinians are without hope, remember that the Israelis feel the same way too, even if their hopelessness is experienced in somewhat more comfort and sanitary conditions.

A complex of houses with two grave stones to the right lower foreground
An Arab settlement

The mayor of London recently said that the Israeli leader President Sharon should be locked away for crimes against humanity. I can not judge whether there's merit in this but what it does highlight is that Israel's image in the eyes of the rest of the world has been affected in such a way that the core issues regarding Israel are being sidetracked.

One Israeli told me he'd like to put a nuclear bomb in every major capital of the world and destroy the world if ever Israel was destroyed, a Muslim also told me that he'd like to do the same thing to ensure his culture's survival. I put it to both of them that if they had to choose between destroying the world if their religion / culture / country was destroyed or letting the world survive what would they do. Both said they would let the world live on but there are plenty of people on both sides who would not.

So this is the other, more subtle war, the battle between those of us who are on a self destruct course towards Armageddon and those of us who want to preserve life and freedom.

graffiti on a wall that says the word "fridom"
Word for walls doesn't come with a spell checker



A police car pulls up a driver
Things not to say to a police officer when they ask "So sir can you tell me why you were going so fast?":

"Why don't you tell me you fascist pig!"
"Well I put my foot on the accelerator, more fuel went in to the carbeuretta, there were more explosions,
the pistons moved up and down more frequently and the wheels spun at a greater rate.
Can I go now I got the correct answer?"

A bleached out image of a car driving off in to the light


We pull up at a McDonalds and I have a Kosher burger ( A Mc'Kosher Hamburger - is that possible?). Good quality meat in a Mcburger...... Now that's a new experience for me.

At Eddie and Miri's I am able to connect to the Internet. One of the emails in my inbox is from a woman I got an email from asking if I'd like to meet up with her. I wrote back to see if it was a genuine offer. [It was just for research reasons I can assure you- honest-]. (If anyone ever says "honestly" to you prepare to be told a pack of lies. That's the first lesson in psychoanalysis) Anyway she wrote back saying she wanted to meet up at a single's party this weekend. My first thought was "what's the scam?" What is she after, what's the nature of her swindle? I did a search over the net and came across copies of the same email sent to other people, so I knew something was amiss. So I wrote back to her to ask what she's after. If I find out what it is it'll be the subject of a section of a book I'm working on which tries to give people a street wise understanding of computers and the Internet. If I find out I'll let you know, but so far, just like the woman who walked off in a huff last night there's been no further communication.

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