Senior Vice President of the Board of Deputies Laura Marks gives her second instalment of reflections on Israel, where she is currently on holiday. Read the first part here
What is a trip to Tel Aviv without the beach?
So this week, Dan and I headed off to Gordon Beach, him with boogie board in hand (yes honestly!) and me with Ari Shavit ‘s My Promised Land – my holiday read. Sitting in the refurbished LaLa Land, we were struck not just by our ability to get a seat, by the feeling that maybe we weren’t in Israel after all, but in the South of France.
Tel Aviv is teaming with French tourists but the English voices, including our own friends, are conspicuous by their absence. Young and old, apparently oozing self assurance, often in big groups, the French are here, and clearly at home. For me this raises two issues as I sit with my over-priced iced Americano, what does this say about us and what does it tell us about them?
During the ten days we have been here I have been inundated with emails asking “is it safe?” and “should we come?” I have seen similar messages all over Facebook, with people, including prominent leaders of our community, looking for reassurance and grappling with their booked holidays, their sense of duty, their desire to support Israel and on the other hand, their fears about security and, particularly, their anxiety about frightening their children.
The bizarre reality is that we feel safer here than we do at home right now. For sure we have taken refuge from the rockets, but there is a sense here that we, personally, are safe. We feel most afraid when we watch the British news or read the papers and this has been the most startling change this week, from our perspective.
We have have read about mass demonstrations, the resignation and subsequent statements by Baroness Warsi, the Tricycle Theatre debacle, George Galloway’s Israel-Free Bradford, and we have noted the British Jewish community feeling increasingly that the rhetoric is moving towards barely veiled anti Semitism. It’s hard to know what the reality is, but for sure British Jews are feeling uneasy despite the government’s supportive hard line on Hamas.
This week we had dinner with my cousin and her family, with an MK and her husband, with a friend who studied here 40 years ago with my husband and stayed – her son is now in the IDF – and with an Israeli comedy writer and his wife. We have talked to them all about the conflict. We have also talked to taxi drivers (of course), restaurant owners and anyone else we have met.
In all cases, regardless of their political affiliation, the thing that struck me most was the Israeli recognition that they are on their own. Faced with the threat from Hamas, an extremist violent terrorist fighting force, people have told us there is little choice but to defend Israeli citizens and to try to remove the ongoing threat to the lives of their families and friends.
We have personally heard no hatred towards the Palestinian people caught in the crossfire between their own ferocious leadership and the IDF, but rather more of a sense of resignation and despondency. The need for a political solution is clear, but we have heard no confidence in any of the current initiatives to deliver it.
All are aware of the foreign press and all shrug it off. They may feel alone, they may feel abandoned and for sure they feel frustrated, but they seem to be resigned to the responsibility that comes with living in Israel – though one is now seriously considering a move to the USA.
So, as we prepare for our next trip to the beach, and as we polish our rusty French, this week has been a time for reflection on the politics rather than the security. Presumably, given the hoards of French tourists, they are feeling far more uneasy at home than their absent British cousins – or maybe they simply love Gordon beach too much to miss their summer holiday.
Last night we stood and watched the Super Moon phenomenon; watched by billions of people around the world.
As we end our second week here in Tel Aviv, we watched its bright glow and hoped that all around the region its glow and bright optimism will illuminate some new and forward thinking to bring this conflict to an end.