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.
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. 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’, 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.
Today, I find myself back in the UK, researching antisemitism inside anti-Zionist activity. This work clearly does have an impact. In 2017 I was named by the Algemeiner in the J100 as one of the ‘top 100 people positively influencing Jewish life’. In 2022 the media watchdog CAMERA gave me a ‘Potrait of Courage’ award. All somewhat of an exaggeration methinks, but nevertheless important recognition of the difference one man exposing Jew hate can make.
I hope you find something here that helps you understand. As always, I hope I can learn something too.
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