by: Michael Berg
I went up north to see Acre and Haifa.
Acre (or Akko in Hebrew) used to be a fortified crusader city. After Saladin conquered Jerusalem from the crusaders (I believe in 1187), Acre became the crusader capital. It was a largely Palestinian city until the birth of Israel in 1948, when 3/4 of its Palestinian inhabitants were pushed out. It is now a mixed city - about 70% Jewish and 30% Palestinian.
The old city is quite interesting, the way you would expect a medieval fortress to be. Its inhabitants are almost all Palestinians, but the Israeli tourism department controls the interesting crusader sites, so you need to buy a ticket from them to enter the tunnels. When you get out, you are in an Israeli gift shop, selling all sorts of things, including a wide variety of IDF merchandise.
(On a side note, this makes me think of how it struck me that so many of the Palestinian stores in the old city of Jerusalem sell both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli t-shirts and knick-knacks side by side. They are obviously looking to maximize sales over any ideological conviction).
I slept that night in Haifa, the holy city of the Baha’i faith. Haifa is also a beautiful town. It is a port, and immediately there is a hill. The nicest places in town are on the hill. It also has a strange underground cable car subway system going up and down the hill. There is one line and six stops.
When I got to Haifa I had trouble finding an open bed to sleep in. Walking down a street I saw a tiny sign on a door that said "Dama Guest House". I paid the man running the hostel for a dorm bed. He said he had no change, so I had to go down the street to look for change. Nobody had change down the street. I came back and told the man that it was his duty and not mine to find change. He agreed and put me in a room with this other woman, whom I was supposed to treat like my sister. I actually never saw the woman awake. I went to sleep early and when I woke up she was asleep.
In the morning a noticed in the front of the guest house there was a book of the writings of Rachel Corrie, the young woman who was run over by an IDF bulldozer in Gaza in 2003. I asked the young man running the guest house (his name is Alfred) about the book. He told me that Rachel Corrie's parents, Craig and Cindy, often stay at the guest house and that they are very nice people.
Alfred told me that he admires the Corries and that he used to be involved in politics, but he got burned out because it is frustrating to have your leaders ask you to take action and then sell you out by shaking hands and cutting deals with the people that they had recently called your sworn enemies.
He said that in 2001 in Haifa a Jewish man stabbed and killed a Palestinian while yelling something like "Death to Arabs!" The man ended up serving two months is a mental health facility and was then released. Palestinians in Haifa got upset and blocked streets, but nothing really came of all the action.
Alfred said that he was the only Arab in an all Jewish school. He is glad he attended the school - he got a good education, he made a lot of good friends and he learned very good Hebrew. He thinks that all Palestinians in Israel should study more Hebrew so they can communicate better in the dominant language of the country.
He also said that other kids at the school were scared of him. At the beginning of his time at the school kids would peek into his classroom to see what an Arab looks like (he actually doesn't look any different than most Israelis). He said he enjoyed having the ability to easily spook people and that more than once he broke up fights between kids by coming to where everyone was gathered and yelling "Allahu Akbar", which would scare the kids, who would then scatter.
I headed from Haifa to the Ein Gev, where my mother used to live. On the way it really struck me how many people in Israel are carrying loaded machine guns. Most of them are uniformed soldiers, but in addition there are a lot of people in civilian clothing carrying weapons.
Ein Gev is a kibbutz on the eastern bank of Lake Tiberias, or the Sea of Galilee, or Lake Kinneret (the body of water has a lot of names).
When I got off the bus I was a little unsure about what I was going to do. So I walked to what seemed like the center of the kibbutz. I ran into a young man and I asked him if he is going to eat lunch. He is and I go to the central lunch hall with him and his father. The man is named Ma'or and his father is Aria, otherwise known as "Aria of the Bananas" and also known as "Mr. Knows It All".
We had lunch together. They told me about the history of the kibbutz, from its beginning in 1937. He said that when it began there was nobody around except for the Arab village of Samach. I asked him if the people of Ein Gev and the people of Samach got along. He said sometimes yes, and sometimes no. He said the Arabs were not stupid, and they knew what was happening. The people of Samach left in 1948. I don't know the details of their leaving, only that they weren't allowed back.
The two men explained how the kibbutz began the way many kibbutzes began - through the Wall and Tower method. The early Zionists knew that if they took a year or so to build a kibbutz, they were likely to be attacked, even if they had title to the land they were building on. The neighboring Palestinians correctly saw the Jewish kibbutzes as a threat to their well-being. So Jews would send hundreds of people to an area and in one day they erect a wall and a watch tower, kind of like the Amish do. Most of the builders would leave that day, and a small number would stay and begin building the community.
Ein Gev was a very ideologically communal kibbutz. It still retains some of its communal structure, although according to both men I talked to it is not like it used to be. It really began to change in the mid-1990s, with the community deciding that it needed changing, because of financial realities and the fact that many of the members felt stifled by the traditional structure. For example, all meals used to be eaten in the central dining hall, and all food was available freely to everyone at any time. Now the dining hall is only open for lunch, and members are charged kibbutz credit according to what they consume.
Aria told me that he didn't really like the changes, but what can you do? I said you could fight them, and he told me that he tried, but it didn't work. Ma'or thinks that like privatization everywhere, a few people in the kibbutz have profited off others, but that whether or not this is true is a very contentious issue.
Ma'or told me about a hike I could take up the hill near the center of the kibbutz. I got some water and began hiking. The view was nice. It was really, really hot - over 105 degrees. I eventually had to come down because I felt like I was going to pass out. I doubt that Jesus walked on the Sea of Galilee in the summer, because if so he would have only taken a few steps before he jumped in the water to cool himself off.
I hitched a ride from Ein Gev to Tiberias together with an young orthodox Jew who was also leaving Ein Gev. The older man who picked us up had a heated conversation with the young man I was with. When both of us left the car, the young man told me that the guy who gave us a ride was mad that the young man wore a yarmulke (kipa) on his head. He said the man said that people like him were a problem and then blamed him for killing Yitzach Rabin.
"Politics," the young man told me. "I just want to live. This is how people think on the kibbutz."