I was born in the UK in the 1960’s and I spent 19 years in Israel between 1987 and 2006. My journey in Israel was sandwiched between the first ‘Intifada’ and the 2006 Lebanon war. Having originally arrived to do the ‘kibbutz thing’, I ended up with my own business, working on tourism related projects with both Israelis and Palestinians as well as providing services to NGO’s. By the time the new millennium arrived, if a foreign tourist was detained by the authorities in Israel, their embassy would have had me on speed dial.
I also edited and published an English Language tourist / satirical newspaper designed for non-residents that was distributed nationally and was printed at the offices of the Palestinian Al-Ayam newspaper. Up until the start of the second ‘Intifada’, I was as likely to be in Jericho or Ramallah as in Tel Aviv or Haifa. In September 2000 I was there on the ground, in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho and Nablus, as the entire process collapsed in violence.
Since 2000, I have been an active participant in a few of the forums where the Israeli / Palestinian conflict is hotly discussed, and it was here that my opinions and knowledge of the region and conflict were thoroughly tested and refined. I admit freely that the quality of my early posts was highly questionable, but I started to double-check everything – even the points being made by those I agree with.
I have a firm belief that simply by outnumbering the opponent on a forum, shouting him down or selling propaganda, people are able to reinforce the belief systems they hold precious. This is more true now that ever with the advent of social media, as online accounts, groups, likes, follows and trends help create the virtual impression to the user that most everyone is of the same mind. This has never been my style. If questioned, I will retreat, research and then return, either confident in my position or willing to cede the point, but either way I would be a little bit wiser.
No source would be too one-sided to check, no opinion to extreme to debate. I have even meticulously argued against Holocaust deniers, using sites such as Stormfront as a hunting ground. In my opinion, there is never anything to fear whilst searching for the truth, nor any stone that should remain uncovered. And as Tolstoy wrote “wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it.” (Confessions).
Little by little I began to find the ground beneath my feet was being shaken. That is not to say everything I had learnt was a falsehood, but I discovered that history had been embellished, stories had been romanticised and disagreeable information swept aside. I also found the same type of arguments existed from those I would stand against. It isn’t accurate to say that the truth lay somewhere in the middle, but perhaps more reasonable to suggest that the discussions on both sides contained truth and fiction together. I owe much to all those I have debated and argued with for helping in my journey.
My own experiences have also helped my perspective. At a time in 2000 when the Jericho Casino could not find anywhere in Israel through which to advertise, I was eager to offer my paper as an outlet. We struck a lucrative deal, one I was overjoyed to close, only to see the Casino bombed before the first issue of the ad was published.
A couple of years later, I had just sorted out the return flight from Paris of a good friend of mine, Dominique. She had been in my offices to say thanks, brought cakes and began to tell me how she was going into business for herself. The cakes were an example of the goods she would sell. Dominique had been a waitress in a few tourist bars in the years I had known her and wanted to spread her own wings a little. She left our chat to go and work in Mike’s Place, ‘our local’ live music pub on the Tel Aviv beachfront. About 2am that night I received a call. A suicide bomber had blown up the pub Dominique was working in, choosing to strike in a central tourist spot. Dominique never stood a chance. That suicide bomber wasn’t an oppressed Palestinian from Gaza or Jenin, but a British lad from London or Derby, I am not sure which one killed Dominique because there were two of them.
I sat on the beach and heard the explosion that hit the disco at the Dolphinarium, was walking towards Allenby St as Café Bialik was hit and was watching Crocodile Dundee 2 on Israeli TV when the newsflash came to say Rabin had been shot just a few hundred meters from were I was. A few years before that, I had sat with a gas mask on, alone, and not speaking the language, as Saddam tried pot luck with his Scud missiles. During the second Intifada, I would still cross into Palestinian areas, British passport in hand, as I refused to let go of the contacts I had made. I am aware the above is not in chronological order, nor extremely detailed, nor an exhaustive list, nor need it be, our minds tend to categorise in an order they find more significant than simply organising by the marks on a calendar.
I had issues within Israel too. Many Palestinians would contact me for travel services, as would embassies and NGO’s. Since the Palestinians were barred from entering Israel, there had been an influx of foreign workers. These people were mainly East Europeans, waiting for the EU to open the doors to them, or South Africans looking for anywhere a visa was not required. I had great contacts within the charter companies and helped many a traveller spend a night or two less in the deportation centres than they had to.
I got to know the police too. Illegal casinos (no gambling in Israel) would employ foreign workers and be ‘busted’ whenever it was politically expedient to do so. It was a game they all played and soon, following an early morning ‘bust’, the police would allow the croupiers a call from their van to ‘wake me up’, then drive buy and give them a chance to buy a ticket before taking them to the station. With a stock of blank tickets from the charter companies, many of the tickets I issued at the time did no more than act as a ‘get out of jail free’ card. The following evening the ‘arrested’ croupiers were back operating for the same casino at a different address and no doubt the police would pretend they didn’t know it was there for a while.
Through all this my opinions of the conflict changed and my understanding of what was going on grew. As someone who fought Pan- Arabists, pro-Palestinians, staunch Zionists, antisemites and anti-Zionists alike, I found myself a man without many friends. It doesn’t mean I do not have bias, I do. I am 100% a Zionist ( ‘Zionism’, such a loaded word, a different meaning to every ear, but a discussion for another day). The perspective of some that believe Israel is a European colonial enterprise and everything since is a continuation of that original sin is both absurd and alien to me. I understand its origin, I appreciate the enormous divide it creates when discussing Israel, but I think it is an argument devoid of factual content, realism and context.
Please if you can, consider making a donation. I believe that attacking the lies and distortion for what they are is important. We need to be there to expose it. Mine is an dependent action and research is expensive and time consuming. Even producing just one of these piece does take days, sometimes weeks, and whilst I do what I can, there are serious constraints that impact on what is possible. Your assistance can and does make a difference. Every contribution is greatly appreciated.
I have now tired of the repetitive style of forum discussion. I choose to take my opinions and thoughts and turn it into action. Welcome to ‘beyond the great divide’. I hope you find something here that helps you understand. As always, I hope I can learn something too.