A House Divided
IN THE LAND OF ISRAEL
A RECENT one week tour in Israel, provided gratis by the Ministry of Tourism, gave me a chance to talk to some Israelis about the problems they face. The Ministry's tour, geared primarily for travel agents to promote tourism hit all the famous tourist spots, put us up in fancy hotels and fed us extremely well. Yet we were given little time to explore on our own.
I did break away from the tour for a couple of days, but others on the tour who did not complained that the Ministry officials seemed like they "were hidding something. "One day while driving alon the Jordanian border in the South, our tour guide mentioned that the border was very safe, and that there had been no problems with terrorists for years in that region. "Shhh," said the Ministry official on the bus, under his breath, and the two argued heatedly-in Hebrew. The official obviously didn't want those aboard to hear too much about terorism. But it was difficult. If no impossible, to hide several divisions within Israel.
One can understand a tourism official glossing over such aspects of Israeli life. Yet this sam attitude surfaces in the views of many Israelis:" Americans aren't aware of what's going on, they won't understand it," one said. In fact, there is more room for the discussion of the ugly aspects of Israeli life-like the oppression of Arabs-in Isareal than there is here. And when one does raise the questions here. American Jews often feel like they are being attacked.
The backdrop to the Israel Arah conflict within Israel's borders has to be seen in the context of what is going on now within the dominant camp the Jewish society in Israel. And the back ground to the Jewish camp, Holocaust survivor Ben Don believes, is the army.
Everyone serves in the Israeli army, though only men till the combat positions. This his psychological and political effects, Ben-Dori says, "Young-sters are full of ideas. The army makes them grown-up, deep-thinking." Also, the army is a cultural common dedominator in a country of immigrants. And since what the government decides may determine whether one or one's children will die or live in peace, Israelis are more concerned with and feel a more personal stake in politics than we do here.
The unique quality about the Israeli situation is not that army service is universal, but that it has been crucial for the existence of Israel from 1948 on. When the government decided to go into Lebanon, and then to keep going, there was an outery--but soldiers usually overcome their doubts and misgivings "I hate the army, but I need to go because I understand that I'm fighting for myself, my family, and my country," says Shalom Sagiv, a reserve artillery commander.
But this unity is apparent only in military activity. Currently in Israel the political, religious, and cultural tensions among Jews are increasing. And there is a deep division between those who welcome this pluralism and those who fear it.
Perhaps the most important split now is between those who supported the invasion into Lebanon and those who did not Sagiv, who went into Lebanon, believes the operation was necessary. "The PLO was developing an army; they had bunkers of weapons there," he says. But Hadas Enoshi, who was an army social worker at the time of the invasion, disagrees "Some people say that if the aim of war is good, it doesn't matter what the cost is. But I say you have to take the cost into account. And life, because the Palestinians will just build up their armies there again."
THAT THERE are different views on the invasion--as well as on the economy, the settlements, the West Bank, and so on--is not surprising. But these differences have begun to go beyond politics. These divisions have started to segregate people socially, which has not been the case before. And a Jewish terrorist group has emerged: TNT (Terrorism Against Terrorism).
This group is feared to be behind the grenade--killing of a Jewish demonstrator at a Peace Now march protesting the Lebanese invasion. And there is concern now in Israel over the weapons, explosives, and grenades that are missing from army stockpiles. These are disturbing developments for a population which already has become accustomed to threats from Arabs and the PLO; now it is Jewish extremists who are causing troubles.
There is also a long-standing split between the Eastern "European Ashkanazi and the oriental Sephardic immigrant Jews, a split which greatly affects Israeli political life. The Ashkanazim came to Israel first, early in this century, and hold most of the professional and prestigious positions. The Sephardim came later and are generally of the lower-class. Menachem Begin and the Likud party appealed to the Sephardim, who felt ignored and snubbed by the Labor party. While a tenuous generalization, it has been largely (but far from wholly) the Sephardim who have supported Likud's expansionist policies.
The last major split is between the very religious Jews and nearly everyone else. Some religious fanatics hold that there can be no Jewish state until the Messiah comes--thus the entire state should be returned to the Arabs. Other religious groups force weak governing coalitions to accede to demands for the inclusion of religious laws into the state Sometimes, though, religion is used as blackmail. For example, a religious group recently complained to the mayor of an Israeli city that the city was violating certain religious laws. But instead of asking that these violations cease, they asked the city for more money for their Yeshiva, or religious school.
WHILE THE division of Israeli society were becoming more intense after the Lebanese invasion, the world was focusing on Israel's supposed break with its moral soul. Founded largely because of the Holocaust, Israel had until recent years been looked upon as the threatened underdog. The occupation of the West Bank and Gaza changed some minds, but it was the Lebanese invasion--according to some, an offensive not defensive action--that became the symbol of Israel's eroding morality.
But many Israelis quickly reject international criticism. 21-year-old Enoshi says the world is "still full of anti-semites--people talk about every little thing Israel does. The world is like a hypocrite--they're not better than us. Everyone conquers another. Everyone has an interest in the Middle East and acts on it. Nothing else."
Reuben Ben-Dori claims Israel has a historic quest, he seems part of an older generation of romantic settlers. He proudly boasts of having brought the first tractor to the Holy Land. Young citizens though even on an traditionally idealistic kibbutz, are not prone to Biblical visions of a "greater Israel." Shalom, 28 years old, says "We have a state because we're strong. That's all."
But there is a sense in Israel that they are becoming more like Americans, copying fashions and fads, desiring more material benefits, and losing a unique moral vision (whether secular or religious). This, though, has nothing to do with the Lebanon. Instead it has to do with the process of institutionalization encountered by a second or third generation of settlers.
One young Israeli says, "Maybe we have lost our ideals. Maybe these ideals were good in the past, but maybe we need something new now." A young woman who just got out of the army says, "I'm frightened about us copying America. Maybe we'll just lose what is so special."
"No," her friend said, "we're not special. We just went through different experiences. We have a different frame of mind and we love our country more." But still, even without a "special" quality, said an old man in a cafe. "In Israel you feel that you're in the middle of what's going on. You're never just living; always something is happening."
Through all these different voices, one senses that there is indeed something different--and perhaps special--about Israelis. It has been said that Jews in the Diaspora look to Israel for qualities that are not found by Diaspora Jews at home. Israel depends on the support of such Jews. This support, though, may be threatened when the idealism, egalitarianism and spiritual fervor of the early settles dissipates, and Western--and seemingly amoral--materialism begins to reign.
ISRAELS ARE also wary of allowing the world to see that there are splits within society and politics there. As Ben-Dori says, the Arabs only respect strength, not weakness--and this is achieved through unity. He feels the peace was possible after the 1967 war, but that Israel missed its chance because of heavy infighting within the then-ruling Labor Party. Division is the country's biggest mistake and weakness, he says. A taxi driver in Jerusalem agrees, but for different reasons. "I was in Lebanon for 40 days. When I come back, I want there to be peace in my house What do I think of the situation in the parliament? I don't think."
Yet others see pluralism and internal struggle as a good thing. Some, following the footsteps of those several years ago who called for "normalization" (the emergence of Israel as a normal state with standard modern features), see pluralism as a shared chracteristic with the liberal West. Some offer additional justifications. A mos Oz in the recently translated In the Land of Israel: "A living civilization is a drama of struggle between interpretations, outside influences, and emphases, an unreleating struggle over what is the wheat and what is the chaff, rebellion for the sake of innovation, dismantling for the purpose of reassembling differently, and even putting things in storage to clear the stage for experiment and new creativity."
It is important that people in the U.S. realize that there are important and evolving splits in Israel--that everyone is not the ideological heir of Begin--and that there is the problem of Palestinian Arabs which must be addressed, not ignored whenever possible. There always is hope in Israel, even when inflation runs at 190 percent. As Enoshi says, "The situation is like an infection of the body. It is coming out now into the open, and this can either mean that it will poison the body or the body will become cleansed. And what happens its the next year will be important for the future--it will set the tone for years to come."