dinsdag 22 januari 2013

On Warm Thoughts and Frigid Politics

The average temperature is -5° Celsius and the world has turned white. A pale grey mantle covers the sky for the better part of the week, leaving very little sun to lighten this gloomy world. The Netherlands aren`t looking very joyful, yet still I have something to lighten my heart. My application for the Kinneret Regional Project`s excavation season for 2013 has been shipped off successfully. Yes, that`s right: the Lost Dutchman will be going to Israel again this season, so true to style I hope to annoy you with fresh blog updates on a weekly basis. It`s open season. 
Not surprisingly given the cold weather, my thoughts soon drifted to the warm days of summer in Israel. Freezing up slowly on a railway platform makes 40-plus temperatures seem like heaven on earth soon enough. Then you slip back into reality and decide to look at the current state of affairs.

Israel is in the middle of its elections. As it stands now, ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu looks to be coming out on top again, supported by the more radical Bayit Yehudi party, led by Naftali Bennett. Quite the respectable résumé this character boasts. He served in the elite Sayaret Matkal, an army unit focusing on reconnaissance and counter-terrorism operations, as well as in Maglan, which does the stuff that the IDF wants nobody to know about. After his service he became a successful business man. Couple this with a healthy dose of charisma and a good measure of devout religiosity and you have a candidate who embodies that which the Israeli respects.

The main focus in European media is on how this will affect the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how the political left`s stances on the situation aren`t popular for being considered naïve. The discussion this could fuel is good food for other blogs more specialized on politics and since I don`t want mine to run the risk of degenerating into the battlefield of a flame war, I won`t touch that subject on a political level with a 20-foot pole. In my personal life I`m always open for discussion on that subject and those who know me personally are very welcome to it. Just not here and not now.

Here and now, I want to address some things which the above mentioned is sure to overlook. Prominent as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is and deserves to be, there are a few other problems of epic proportions which will I fear are not going to be addressed as they are constantly drowned out by the ever-looming specter of open conflict with the Palestinian territories.

The economy might be exhibiting a relative growth, but as it grows, so does the disparity inside Israel. Many people do not profit or see an increase in their standard of living, despite the numbers of the economy. Living costs are still expensive and whereas the economic crisis is finally driving down the prices of housing in many countries, this remains high in Israel. This tendency towards poverty and disuse was visible on quite a few buildings the past few years that I`ve been there.

But beyond financial disparity there is also something that could be classified as ‘societal disparity’.  This mainly revolves around conscription and service in the IDF. Orthodox Jews are still exempt from Military service in order to continue their religious studies. As the pool of orthodox Jews is growing, more and more people are starting to consider this exemption as unfair and a social injustice, seeing as service in the IDF is considered to be more a duty than a pleasure. There are orthodox Jews who choose to serve, but they do so mostly on voluntary basis. Social service has been mentioned as a possible midway-solution, but there is strong resistance to these ideas from the independent and vocal orthodox Jewish community.

Service in the IDF is nowadays not considered desirable. I mentioned already that most consider it a duty rather than a pleasure or an honor. Quite a few try to avoid have to do military service altogether and for good reason. Unlike armies in the Western world, the chances of dying are always larger and closer and most soldiers will end up in stressful situations. A documentary I saw recently about Hebron illustrated this perfectly. IDF troopers were heard saying that if it isn`t the Palestinians throwing rocks at the colonists, it`s the colonists throwing rocks at the Palestinians. It`s an ungrateful situation where you are constantly on the receiving end of someone`s verbal stick. Reports of drug use by conscripts during or after their service period are not that uncommon.  In fact, in a terrorism case right now in Israel, an IDF trooper is on trial for allegedly trading his ammunition to Bedouins for narcotics.

It saddens me that these problems are not going to be addressed in the coming four years. Israel is probably not going to change again. This summer it will be the same country with 18-year and 19-year olds lounging at bus stations, sporting combat fatigues, worn-out carbines and mobile phones; the same taxi drivers trying to charge far too much for a fare and getting a full tirade from those who know better; the same well-burnt people going along the broken-asphalt streets in their old and worn-out tank tops.

Fortunately it`s not all gloom and doom I see before me now when thinking of Israel. There`s still flying scorpions somewhere on the hills around the lake. The monks chant and sound the bells at Tabgha, there is still Taybeh (more on that later) and as it stands now, the rainy and cold winter is raising the Kinneret to its sharpest water level rise in 20 years. It will not be very nice having to swim among the flooded reeds again, but for a lake with a chronic shortage of it, more water is always very welcome news.
Coming soon to a blog near you...

This is the first of many blogposts that I will be putting out the coming year and I hope you`ve found it to be worth your time. I know that my blogposts tend to be quite long and this is something I will try to remedy in the coming year, especially as I want to give you all more frequent updates when I am in-country again. To whet your appetite for more of me yapping for no valid reason, here`s a list of things I aim to talk about in the future: mosaics, trowels, boots, why the best countries are the shitty ones, Taybeh beer, Tabgha, the development of field-memes and the various tasks of staff members and their importance to KRP. Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks

Signing off for now,

The Lost Dutchman.

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