When all words fail she speaks
Her mix tape’s a masterpiece
Walks through the garden
so the roses can see
Oh I…have you got nothing to say
– ben folds
Today’s title was a question first raised by British Sea Kayaker extraordinaire, Jeff Allen. When I first read it over on the Sea Kayaking Cornwall website I supposed the sentence was deserving of a comma, something like, “Where would you most like to paddle, Hadas?” One way or the other, it’s always about the punctuation. You can read more about how that question (which ever way it went) lead to a 6500 kilometer paddling adventure here. That of course brings me to this…
Hadas Feldman of Israel will be a featured speaker at the Ladies of the Lake Sea Kayaking Symposium held Aug 12-15th in Marquette, MI. Hadas has an amazing paddling resume. Along with the the 2004 circumnavigation of the 4 main islands of Japan with Jeff Allen, she & Jeff joined Nigel Dennis and Pete Bray Continue reading
You put your hands in
And rip their hearts out
Like a pomegranate
– kate bush
Jewish tradition teaches that the pomegranate is a symbol of righteousness. This is because the pomegranate is said to have 613 seeds which corresponds with the 613 commandments of the Torah. That may be true about pomegranates grown in Isreal, but the ones here in the states are a tad diminutive, that is to say, “small”.
I came back from Israel with all sorts of little treasures; An olive branch from the Garden of Gethsemane, salt crystals from the Dead Sea, Roman artifacts, a funky hat, Bedouin and Druze hand crafts, and more. But of all the little bits and bobs I brought home, this was the real treasure, a little red kayak made by Limor’s daughters.
Never Stop Learning!
In the end we always get back to the paddling! I have just posted my 2008 Optimist Sea Kayak Symposium Photo Gallery here. By the way it’s really hard to sort images down to something manageable! Even then I still had 74 pictures which I thought at least sort of captured the event. Later I’ll post images from our off the water adventures.
* In the galleries you may just watch the slide show as is, or you can click the link above the slideshow to see thumbnails and click those for larger images. Also in the slideshow menu there is a button (far right) that will open the slideshow to your full screen. It’s a nice feature but some of the images may get fuzzy.
Now I’m not exactly sure why this struck me, but I think it’s got something to do with the way some of us perceive Israel. Thing is even in the Holy Land sometimes you need a nice pair of knickers. And who can complain about that!?
There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
- buffalo springfield
“It’s fine. Very safe.”, she said. Of course I think we were on different subjects. She told me anyone could feel comfortable walking down the streets in most parts of Israel. Yeah, I agree. I saw this. But the concept of safety and peace take on a whole other meaning when you are having the conversation in Israel. The trick is finding the borderline between truth and paranoia.
When I first began to tell people here at home that I was planning to go to a sea kayaking symposium in Israel, I was enviably asked at safety. People here in the states mostly see only one Israel, the one on CNN. During the election we were swamped by the “Israeli Situation”. Having a large and powerful Jewish population, our president must of course have a stance. I mean, that one guy was a Muslim right!!? In addition the coming election also had some ethereal relationship to Iran. There were reports that Israel was contemplating air strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities on or near the elections, even to the point of seeking approval from our current president. You certainly can understand why some would question taking this trip simply to paddle. Still, people are often filled with reasons not to do something.
I was sitting in Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris waiting for my flight to Tel Aviv. A man in traditional Jewish dress walked up to me and asked, “Are you Jewish?”. “No”, I said. Without pause he walked away leaving me feeling as if I just said I was a leper. In truth he was gathering men together for a prayer for the flight. For this traditional Jewish sect a certain number of men are needed to give power to their prayer. Soon there was a group of some dozen men standing just a few feet from our gate bowing and praying. I watched this quietly for a time, then went to grab another coffee.
Our plane circled in on the orange lights of Tel Aviv. Looking out of the window I could see the city lights spreading far into the distance and disappearing into a black horizon. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a bright flash of white light that startled me out of my thoughts. I watched more attentively. Flash! I caught it that time. It was lighting. A storm was moving in from the sea. I continued to watch the storm light up the darkness until the chime tone signaled that we should all replace our seat belts and the plane began to make it’s quick descent. Touching the ground, the jet engines let out a roar as they pushed back against the momentum of the heavy passenger jet. Many people on the plane erupted with a loud cheer. I could’nt help but notice this. It’s not often people cheer when you land.
Ben Gurion Airport in Isreal is not an overt military encampment. You don’t get the impression you are walking into a war zone as I had been told. In fact this is probably one of the most impressive airports I’ve been in so far. The beautiful concourse is spread out in a circle around a fairly large pool of water. Every few minutes artificial rain fails from the 2 story ceiling filling the room with a sense of a calm summer day. Security exists only for the observant, and even then it sort of sneaks up on you like ghosts who appear only in the mirrors as you walk by. Eventually you become aware of the immense security. There are plain clothed agents everywhere, with only a small radio at their sides to give them away. You do not see military figures draped in automatic weapons, yet you sense that simply with the click of a button one of these plain clothed individuals could call in a ninja like shot out of nowhere. Later when I had a chance to talk about this with someone they mused that in the States we use showy display to ward off danger. We bare our teeth and dare the enemy to make a move. In Israel they make no show of force, they simply take you out and move on.
In asking later about safety in Isreal it’s understandable that the discussion took the form of law and order. There is a distinction. There is crime, and there is war and terrorism. Two different subjects. Lawlessness in not apparent, however like anywhere you don’t leave your camera gear in a car. Yet the average person cannot take simple steps to protect themselves from bombs and missiles. This is be left to the military. The average person has to find their own little blind spot when it comes to such things. One would go crazy if they spent too much time focused on the terrorism. So questions about safety are often viewed through the lens of civil law, and not through the wider angle lens of the “Palestinian Issue”. There are simply places you can go, places you can’t and the rest is left up to God and the powers that be. Some things in life are beyond your control.
Coming from the outside your first glimpse of the what the Palestinian dilemma means in real terms is a bit surprising. Palestinian and Israeli are often separated simply by a single highway and miles of fence. Sitting at a gas station along the highway, I could look west into a unremarkable cityscape and the other into a Palestinian settlement filled with flat white buildings centered around a Mosque. Each culture lives side by side, shoulder to shoulder. Still one could not simply take an exit to drive in the Arab neighborhoods. In fact those highway exits do not exist. One cannot get into or out of these areas without a pass and by moving through limited military check points. The separation is absolute. Yet, it’s also much more complicated than that. In places Arab and Israeli neighborhoods are intertwined in ways that one can’t imagine how they could stay apart. Neighborhoods sit upon neighborhoods in an apparent jumble, however somehow the separation is maintained. Again the casual observer would not notice at all but for the occasional high walls, barbed wire and armed checkpoints. The signs are there, but not always so obvious.
To further complicate things one cannot easily identify who is who or what is what. Isreal has many Arab and Muslim populations. Simply being Arab or Muslim as those sane among us know, does not imply an enemy. Race and religion are not precursors to violence among most. There are of course Arab areas that are gems of Israel and should be on anyone’s Itinerary. In fact we spent and evening in a Druze village on Mt. Carmel and while it was certainly a different cultural atmosphere, you felt very welcome. Israel has spent decades learning a lesson we in the states are just really starting to take to heart. Muslims are not the enemy, intolerance and violence are, and while they may have hijacked some loose identity, they are not representative of most people. You cannot look at someone on the street and say, “He is the enemy.” Simple prejudice does not work. Even in an area where conflict is sometimes palpable one cannot make such simple judgments.
Certainly all the news we get here sparks a sense of fear. There were times when I felt a bit of apprehension, especially the first couple days. Times when I heard gun shots in the distance or low rumbling compressions from somewhere over the horizon. In the end the shots were from a nearby firing range. I saw smoke rising from Arab villages on two occasions, both times in a big black “whoosh” that quickly disappated. Probably just garbage but you could’nt help but note the imagery.
As you can see from this post I can choose the images that produce a certain impression, certainly real, even if not wholly accurate. That’s the problem with the way Israel is presented to us. I remember a moment driving through Jerusalem. We were slightly off track in the Arab part of the city. My mind wandered into how easily one could be dragged from a blocked in car and disappeared down some dark street. These dark images force fed by the media can permeate your consciousness. I shook off the image by starting a conversation and getting on with playing tourist. The reality is of course that thousands of tourists and thousands of people are just moving through their daily lives and if you’d never seen a TV you’d probably not realize there was a shadow of strife lingering out there in the rocky deserts beyond the holy land. For my part, I’d return again in a heartbeat. The reality is I felt safer traveling the highways of Israel than I have driving down some murky streets right here at home.
“It was a breathless wind – and, as the day went on and the sun rose in the sky it grew stronger – By noon it blew a half gale, so-dry that our shriveled lips cracked open, and the skin of our faces chapped; while our eyelids, gone granular, seemed to creep back and bare our shrinking eyes. “The Arabs drew their head-cloths tightly across their noses, and pulled the brow folds forward like visors with only a narrow, loose flapping slit of vision.” – T. E. Lawrence , july 1917
Just as some would like to hold on to the romantic visions of Native Americans roaming the endless west hunting great heard of buffalo, I’d also like to hold onto the image of the Bedouin crossing the Negev on ornately covered camels protected from the sun by flowing white tunics under traditional “kufiyya”. Time of course has turned the page many times on such romantic imagery.
There are some 170,000 Bedouin living in Israel today and their population has increased tenfold since the state of Israel was established in 1948. This growth has been attributed to better heath care and lower infant mortality rates. However many of the once nomadic Bedouin are unfortunately suffering from unemployment and poverty.
A Bedouin encampment along the highway
Similar to our own history here in the US with our native cultures, the Bedouin’s nomadic existence does not fit in with the ways of the modern world. In Israel they were also settled into permanent towns and encampments, sometimes willingly and sometimes not. The government of Israel admits that urbanization of the Bedouin has not been simple. Removed from their traditional way of life many Bedouin have had difficulty adapting. In Israel the Bedouin are considered citizens but are a minority within an Arab minority. As citizens the Bedouin have access to government services and are afforded land ownership rights. They also serve in Israel’s Defense Forces and are widely respected for their service to the country.
Today about 30% of Bedouin are employed in permanent jobs such as factory work and government services, yet the rest are either unemployed or struggling to maintain some form of their traditional lifestyle by raising livestock and dry farming.
I have to admit the Bedouin situation strikes a familiar cord in my mind. Living here in Wisconsin we are very familiar with the struggles of our own native peoples. For many years the Ho-Chunk nation eked out a meager existence on reservations just a few miles north of where I live. Poverty, despair and alcoholism were rampant. It was only recently that the advent of tourism and the introduction of casino gambling have vastly improved their situation. Their new found wealth allows the Ho-Chunk to provide a vast array of services to their people and gives them a powerful voice within the state. While poverty and the issues that come with it still exist, for the most part the Ho-Chunk have found their niche. (Much to the chagrin of some local residents I may add.)
“Camel at Sea Level”
My first exposure to the Bedouin in Israel was through the window of our Isuzu as we passed by tin shacks and ramshackle encampments on the dry rocky land. Certainly it was not an image I’d imagined or frankly even though about. There are of course many things in life that often pass by us without conscious realization. Later however we had an opportunity see another side as we met a Bedouin man who has set up a nice little roadside business at the sea level marker as you drive down into the rift valley toward the Dead Sea. Here tourists can have their picture taken with a camel and purchase small mementos including hand carved wooden camels and jewelry. He could’nt have been doing too badly as he had post cards made; “Camel at Sea Level”. He was certainly surprised to see a kayak in this dry land!
We took time to chat and take pictures. I purchased a few goodies to take home. To some extent I felt a bit uncomfortable taking pictures and playing tourist yet tourism is one place where some Bedouin are finding a way to make a living. In time one hopes that they too will find their niche in this modern world. Still, the experience was quite an awaking from those romantic “Lawrence of Arabia” images I had once held.
Ref – Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, A Bedouin Welcome (Ynet), Desert Survival, PBS, The Bedouin in Israel, by Dr. Yosef Ben-David, Wikipedia