Category Archives: Israel and Gaza

Israel Report Final Days: Then they came for the Jews?

Our last days in Israel have been spent in Jerusalem.

During this time our idyllic location and relaxed and extremely enjoyable socialising has been marred by the thought that soon we shall be returning to blighted Blighty.

Returning home after a vacation has its compensations: seeing family and friends and reconnecting with communal life.

This time it’s not just the awful Manchester weather that gives me a sinking feeling in my gut, but the sense that I am returning from a war zone, where I feel safe, to one where I feel threatened.

War zone? UK a war zone? What is the man talking about!

Well, I happen to be a Jewish man, and the news from the UK for Jews is ever spiralling downward from inconvenience, through trepidation, past intolerable into fear.

Exaggeration? I’m sorry, but my parents, and grandparents were witness to this in the 1930s when blackshirts strode arrogantly behind a British aristocrat, Sir Oswald Mosely.

The unthinkable is becoming reality and ‘overreaction’ is not paranoia but a deep understanding, knowledge, analysis and experience of history which, for most Jews, is engrained in their genes throughout the millenia.

So, whence comes this fear?

The reaction to Israel’s response to continuing rocket fire from Hamas in Gaza has torn the thinly-disguised veil from the face of antisemitism in the UK.

Whilst the mainstream and social media stoke anti-Israel sentiments, even among the most fair-minded British citizen, with hostile, misinformed and downright viciously biased reporting, on the streets, those already inclined to use anything Israel does in self-defence as a trigger for violent protest have been empowered to expose the real motivation behind their obsession.

Antisemitic banners and chanting go unchallenged at protests across Britain; Israel and its supporters, and all Zionists, are called and labelled ‘Nazis’.

Enter the emboldened BDS (Boycott Sanctions and Divestment) brigade, and those too cowardly, just as in the 1930s, to stand up to them.

In Manchester, for over a month, a rag-bag of ‘protestors’ have picketed the Kedem store on King Street in Manchester. The  Jewish community, and other supporters of Israel, soon established a counter-protest.  The owner of the store is Israeli. The company he owns is wholly British, provides employment for British people, pays British taxes, and all its products are completely sourced from Israel behind the ‘Green Line’.

So why picket it?  Why block a popular thoroughfare, jostle and bully anyone who is making the free choice to enter the shop?  What has this to do with Gaza? Or settlements?

This Satruday eight protestors were arrested. As far as I could see from videos of the event posted on social media, none of those arrested were of an appearance which might suggest they were Muslim. The violence and the refusal to obey the police came from Left-wing agitators for whom anything associated with Israel is anathema.

The owner of Kedem produced evidence to show that produce was not from settlements, and there was no connection to any settlement whatsoever. He presented this to the leader of the protest group, but it made no difference. The shop-owner, in his desperation to save his legitimate business, made a fundamental error: that error is the belief that ideologically inspired prejudice is subject to reason, logic or facts. History tells us otherwise.

But how soon anti-Israelism descends into its close associate anti-Zionism, which, in turn morphs into its alter ego antisemitism. Many of the counter-demonstrators have reported antisemitic abuse, antisemitic chanting, the ubiquitous Nazi analogies. The Kedem protests are merely an extension of the frequent ‘Free Gaza’ demos, and, indeed, banners and slogans at Kedem are witness to this.

Previous protests outside shops selling Israeli goods have had the pretence that they were only targetting ‘settlement’ goods. The next stage was anything Israeli.

The Tricycle theatre in Kilburn in North West London recently decided to give in to the potential threat of demonstrations outside its premises by attempting to blackmail the London Jewish Film Festival (held at the theatre for the last eight years) into traducing the State of Israel by refusing their £1400 of funding as a prerequisite for continued hosting.

After a storm of protest, and much more damagingly, a number of patrons withdrawing funding, they withdrew their ultimatum. No doubt, this will result in accusations of the power of Jewish money.

So a lose-lose situation for British Jews who, like Israel itself, are damned if they roll over and die and damned if they fight back. And if you think I just created a strawman, a casual stroll through the hashtags on Twitter will disabuse you.

So, as we descend through anti-settlement to anti-Israel, what do we see in Birmingham but a kind of retail pogrom where about 100 people – yes 100 – entered a Tesco store and proceeded to trash not only any Israeli goods they could find, but also anything their deep research and understanding of the conflict indicated was complicit in Israel baby-killing, like a stack of Coca Cola cans.

Terrorised shoppers cowered in disbelief.

Then, on Saturday, the farce of Sainsbury in Holborn, London where, purportedly, although it is far from clear, as a precaution, an employee, maybe the manager, decided to remove all kosher goods – read that again, kosher, not necessarily Israeli, not settlement but, yes, Jewish goods. The precaution was deemed necessary as a nearby ‘Gaza protest’ provoked fear that a Tesco Birmingham retail pogrom would descend upon the good shoppers of Holborn and nearby Gray’s Inn.

There is even an unsubstantiated report that the shelves were cleared by an employee who told a shopper that it was in sympathy with Gaza.

However, this defensive action, which included closing the store, has illicited a storm of protests from angry Jews who, rightly, have identified a new low in the UK where Jews are denied access to kosher produce because protestors, including a local MP, are promoting BDS.

On social media, a recorded phone conversation between Jonathan Sacerdoti, a prominent Jewish Middle East analyst and a delegate to the Board of Deputies, has gone viral.

In this phone call Sacerdoti asks the store’s representative whether, if he were to threaten halal goods, would they be removed from the shelves? The answer was not clear, but the poorly-briefed and defensive employee appears at first to say, ‘no’.

Thus we have descended all the way from protests succesfully closing shops associated with ‘settlements’ to the clearing, albeit reflexively and only briefly, of Jewish goods, per se.

What next for the UK? Targetting kosher restaurants? Kosher grocery stores?

This tweet of mine found resonance with a number of people in the last 24 hours:

‘First they came for the West Bank goods then they came for the Israeli goods then they came for the Jewish goods then they came for the Jews’

 

 

Israel Report Days 10 and 11: Life is good here

In Netanya, a popular seaside town a few miles North of Tel Aviv, where I am currently spending a few days, life is pretty good, life carries on as normal.

The streets are full of traffic, the shops are full of punters. Recent ceasefires and the distance from Gaza mean that the events in the South seem like a distant conflict in another country.

Yet, it is not forgotten by any means: flags fly, the odd soldier saunters through public squares, newspapers and television reports are keenly followed.

We did some shopping again today and took in the atmosphere of sidewalk restaurants and cafés. A small group of be-jeaned and hijabed Arab girls mixed with Ashkenazi Jews, Russian Jews and Ethiopian shop assistants in a dress shop.

As I previously wrote: So much for Apartheid. This is an accusation persistently peddled by Israel-haters. The same accusation is rebutted easily. Yet it persists. Accusers point to refugee camps, the separation wall, the blockade, purported Jews-only roads in Judea and Samaria.

Let’s not get into Oslo, settlements, PA autonomy or the 2005 evacuation of Gaza.

What I have often felt as I walk around Netanya, where the atmosphere is relaxed and without any sense of danger or threat, is how very different it is from Gaza.

There is a brief sense of guilt; I and everyone here is safe, people seem to have a very nice life, different races and religions mix without enmity. Everyone accepts everyone else: religious and non-religious, Jew and Arab, African and European.

In Gaza, there are no Jews. There are no synagogues. Gaza is Judenrein. If there is ever a Palestinian state, that too would be Judenrein. Many areas are smashed. There is fear and insecurity. Life is not easy.

I have frequently thought of these people, a few kilometres away, living such a different life.

But, despite my concern and my wish that one day they will live like the young Arab girls I saw in town, I remember why they live like they do, and that reason is Hamas, culturally engrained victimhood, decades of Jew-hate, rejection of Israel, abysmal leadership.

The answer to Gaza’s and Palestinians’ woes? Simple. Make peace. Stop hate. Then nothing is impossible.

Israel Report Day 9: How the West was Lost

Sitting here in central Israel, I have been thinking that it was time to enumerate the snowballing and often hysterical, often cowardly, anti-Israel events, actions and stories that are now part of a runaway narrative of lies, misrepresentations, human rights travesties and double standards, laced with a cocktail of old-school and Islamist antisemitism.

In no particular order, as they say, these include:

The Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, London has seen fit to put an ultimatum to the London Jewish Film Festival (which has used that theatre for 8 years): either refuse funding from the Israeli Embassy (£1400) or we won’t stage the festival. The theatre generously offered to ensure that the shortfall in funding would be met.

The LJFF’s reply was basically Churchillian (in the finger department).

The theatre was not the only organisation to cite the excuse that they did not want to be seen taking sides – which really means that they are cowards who fear damaging demos outside their building and/or a Muslim-Leftlist backlash. I would remind them and everyone else who put profit before principles that, in the immortal words of Basil Fawlty, ‘This is exactly how Nazi Germany started.’

In Manchester, UK, the Kedem store which is owned by an Israeli and sells Israeli produce, some of which is packaged in Judea/Samaria, has for weeks been the subject of a politically motivated picket. Initially, entrance to and exit from the shop was curtailed by an intimidating bunch of Free Gaza people. The Jewish community responded and now face off against each other regularly. The Jewish community is even providing a kiddush on shabbat to ensure that their opponents do net get a free ride even for one day.

Local police are praising the peaceful and well-mannered nature of the counter-demo.

Nevertheless, in the past, similar demos at Ahava in Covent Garden, London and Sodastream in Brighton have forced closure. In Manchester, the effect on other businesses, and Kedem itself, will mean that the shop will inevitably close.

This is intolerable. Freedom to protest is one thing, but freedom to harrass and put precious jobs on the line is redolent of 1930s Germany.

In one of my more mischievous moments I suggested that, maybe, the pro-Israel camp should shower the antis with paper rockets, a bit like the English bowmen at Agincourt against the French. These paper rockets would not carry much of a payload but the reaction of the other side to a barrage of paper would be instructive. Would they just stand there and take it. Would they have no right to defend themselves?

I can’t imagine that they would not want to retaliate ‘disproportionately’. Sadly, such an act would probably be considered incitement by the police. But I can only dream.

Meanwhile, in Belfast, where the synagogue was subject to a double stoning recently, an Asda store had its shelves cleared of Israeli produce. Surely an arrestable offence?

In that same city, the blue plaque marking the birthplace of Israeli President Chaim Herzog has had to be removed due to continuous attempts to vandalise it.

In other news, the UK government has issued a completely nonsensical policy statement to the effect that should ‘significant’ hostilities between Israel and Hamas restart, ig would not issue twelve arms export licenses. This is gesture politics writ large by business secretary Vince Cable (LibDem).

Firstly, as I and several others have pointed out on Twitter and elsewhere, this actively encourages Hamas to commence hostilities to gain a political ‘win’. Secondly, what does ‘significant’ mean in practice and who judges? Clearly, this is the result of an internal Coalition power struggle where the Lib Dem Business Secretary has legal power to make such judgements and the Conservative Prime Minister would have attempted to nix it.

Meanwhile, at the UN, yet another kangaroo court in the form of ‘Goldstone II’ is about to convene with, at its head, William Schabas.

This man has a track record of anti-Israel activity and refused to describe Hamas as a terrorist group in a recent interview where he reiterated his view that his favourite person to be tried for war crimes would not be Assad or Putin but Netanyahu. And why? Well, because of Cast Lead where he was actually the opposition leader not the Prime Minister.

When challenged on double-standards he admitted that the UN is full of them, but that should not allow us to desist from pursuing them even further with yet another show trial for Israel where the only unknown is which anti-Israel mouthpieces are going to sit in pre-judgement.

It seems that Free Gaza, pro-Pal, anti-Israel demonstrations in London and the provinces are now an almost weekly phenomenon, disrupting traffic and business and requiring expensive policing. Of particular concern is the display of lsis, Hamas and Hizbollah flags. How can any Western society allow anyone to  show support for terror groups, especially one which it is itself fighting.

In Oxford Street Isis have openly been handing out redruitment flyers enjoining British Muslims to become jihadists in Iraq and build the ‘caliphate’.

There appears to be a growing movement of terrorist chic with the black flags of ISIS flying in Tower Hamlets, for example.

Flag flying is also popular withthe Palestinian flag flying from a couple of Northern England Town Halls and Glasgow.

This avalanche of hate, antisemitism and virulent anti-Israelism, which no other minority or country has to endure, represents a watershed for Europe.

Some have called Israel the canary in the coalmine. The war on Israel and the Jews is a war on Western civilisation, culture and mores. Only the West does not realise it yet. Its blindspot, latent antsemitism along with the cult of human rights and an undue sensitivity to antithetical cultural values spell its gradual demise.

What to do?

In the UK get the Lib Dems out of government. How can any Jew who supports Israel vote for this shower.

As a lifelong Labour party supporter, I cannot see how I can continue to be so. It is also very difficult for me to vote Tory, but they are now the only option other than not to vote at all.

I suggest the following steps:

1. Make political picketing of shops and businesses illegal. Boycotts should not be imposed by active minorities.
2. Make foreign flag flying illegal except for state occasions
3. Make Isis, Hamas and Hizbollah flags illegal with stiff fines and custodial sentences
4. Crackdown on antisemitic or Islamophobic banners at demos and punish with stiff fines or custodial sentences
5. There should be better tracking of funds to terror organisations through UK banks and charities
6. Classify Isis as a terror organisation
7. Turkey should be thrown out of NATO – they are working with and for NATO’s enemies
8. Limit demos for any particular cause

If the West continues to appease and cannot see Israel as the frontline in the battle against neo-Nazi terror in the form of depraved Islamism and its apologists on the Left the results will be disastrous.

This is how the West is being lost.

Israel Report Day 8: Home Thoughts From Abroad

Today, Israel and Gaza enjoyed the first day of the new three-day truce. As the stuttering talks and posturing in Cairo continues everyone is hoping for a more long-term cessation of hostilities.

George Galloway’s (yimach sh’mo) declaring Bradford an Israeli-free zone has caught the British-Israelis attention here. A suitable response by Israelis in the UK and British Jewish supporters posting images on Facebook and Twitter of their raising the Israeli flag in central Bradford caused some pride and amusement.

The positive response to this from many Bradfordians demonstrates, perhaps, more frustration with Galloway’s track record of supporting dictators and Islamists rather than concentrating on his duties as an MP.

I have a suspicion that many of those giving thumbs up to the Israeli flag do so for Islamphobic reasons rather than philosemitic. However, the Yorkshire Post op-ed slammed Galloway and said that everyone is welcome to Bradford. Galloway is not good for tourism. Other reports say that there has been a huge demand by Israelis and Jews for Bradford Tourist Board information.

Sitting here in Israel, we definitely feel safer, less stressed and more relaxed than in the UK where we are fed a rising tide of latent antisemitism and unbelievable pro-Islamist chic masquerading as support for Gaza. Coupled with this a virulently one-sided press reporting of the Gaza conflict is making life increasingly uneasy for British Jews.

In the UK Jews can no longer feel comfortable walking around with overtly Jewish dress, walking to and from synagogue, wearing – Magen David (Star of David), expressing support for Israel.

Board of Deputies vice-President, Laura Marks, with whom I had the honour of sharing a platform at Manchester Limmud in February, is also here in Israel and in a recent article also describes how much more relaxed she feels here than in the UK, and this from someone who is peerless in her involvement in interfaith work and promoting Jewish values in the UK.

Other prominent Jews also express this sense of unease, including Jewish Chronicle editor, Stephen Pollard.

Jews in the UK and Europe have coped for decades with casual antisemitism and anti-Zionism. Although unpleasant, it rarely affects whole communities.

Unfortunately, it has to be said that the current fears come for a steep rise in an apparent tolerance of Islamist and even mainstream Muslim antisemitism, which is almost always indistinguishable from anti-Zionism.

Jews feel outnumbered. They feel accused and victimised for the policies of a foreign government in a way that Muslims rarely are and Christians never.

They feel that when the Isis, Hamas and Hizbollah flags can be flown and displayed with impunity on the streets of Britain, when ‘political’ demonstrations against Israel’s actions against Hamas in Gaza are peppered with banners comparing Israel to Nazis and overt antisemitism, when these same rallies are supported by mainstream politicians from all parties, then, maybe, their time in the UK and Europe is approaching its end.

Jews are great students of history. They need to be. Down the centuries they have been a settled minority in many civilisations, all of which have, eventually, murdered, expelled, forcibly converted, economically attacked or curtailed their human and civil rights.

We have been labouring under an illusion, it seems. That illusion is that we have been accepted, our contribution honoured, our rights guaranteed, and if we wish to support Israel, that support will not be seen as disloyalty but a natural affinity, and part of our religious and cultural identity.

For some time that identity has been attacked: all over Europe the fundamental tenets of our faith and cultural foundations such as Shechita (animal slaughter) and Brit Milah (circumcision) are subject to legal challenge; areas where we find common cause with Muslims.

But the greatest attack of all is reserved for Israel and Zionism.

It seems that the world forgets why Israel was so necessary in the first place. Antisemitism in Europe is driving thousands of Jews out of the countries of their birth to make ‘aliyah’  to Israel, the very place that is the excuse for and focus of those attacks.

It is a splendid irony that the safe haven of Europe is regarded as less safe than a country surrounded by enemies, or unstable regimes, most of whose citizens would consider Jew-murder a religious imperative.

So whilst in Israel I can enjoy an alternative perspective. I can see the UK and Europe with Israeli eyes and it is not an edifying experience.

Soon I shall be returning to the maelstrom that is Europe. There is a war there for hearts and minds and the Jews are at the epicentre as they were 80 years ago.

Israel Report Day 7: Wandering Jews

Sunday, a working day in Israel, was spent on a shopping trip into Netanya where we bought absolutely nothing.

Forgetting previous warnings of my wife’s cousins, I ordered lunch which would have served 6 people.

Netanya, surprisingly, perhaps, for what I call Bournemouth-in-Israel, is very cosmopolitan. Languages heard yesterday: Hebrew, English,French, Russian, Arabic and Amharic.

Walking around the Kenyon HaSharon mall once again gives the lie to accusations of Apartheid. I actually saw Arab women go into the same restroom as their Jewish compatriots, and in the restaurant there were no sign for Jews only or Arabs only seating; we all sat together. I know this will be something of a shock to European and American demo placard holders. Awful, isn’t it.

Arab women were very noticeable. They were all immaculately dressed in headscarves and flowing dresses, often beautifully decorated with colourful needlework. Some young Arab girls wore leggings and a hijab.

My wife wandered into a shop specifically catering to Oriental female fashion, whether it be Arab or oriental Jewish. Her Western dress stood out. No-one gave her a second look.

We had a bit of a logistical problem for Monday night: the relatives with whom we are staying are expecting their son and three of his children to arrive that day, and their other son arrived with his two today (Sunday). So no room at the inn, as it were, for us. We did not want to deprive anyone of a bed.

So we went into a couple of hotels to see if they could provide a room for one night. I’m not sure what they thought when they saw a middle-aged couple asking for a room for one night – didn’t really cross my mind, but the first hotel had one on the sixth floor which we were shown by a young Russian-Israeli who told us she came from that part of Russia near Alaska. Nice little room with balcony and panoramic views but it was $240.

The second hotel point-blank refused the middle-aged couple on an apparent tryst.
However, back home, we resolved the logistical problem after much discussion and a few phone-calls. We are staying.

Hopes of another 72 hour ceasefire increased throughout the day and came into effect at midnight. So far, as I write, this Monday morning, it is holding.

Footnote: my special Halifax credit card was rejected yet again! So I am giving up. It could even be it was charged without the restaurant realising it.

I received three more calls from the Sheraton (see day 2 blog) and my money has now been reimbursed although it hasn’t yet appeared on my account.

I shall be having words with the Halifax when I get back to Blighty.

The day ended with my wife and I looking at the ‘Super Moon’. It was very white and very bright. Our cousin’s daughter unimpressed: ‘Looks the same to me’.

Israel Report Days 5 and 6: On the Move

The last two days have been spent with more of our extensive family in Israel.

On Friday, we travelled to Elad, which is close to Petach Tikva.

There was a bit of a family get together with my wife’s cousin’s family. Their daughter, who is charedi, has a very small apartment with four children. It is quite high up and there were views across to Tel Aviv in the distance.

The kids don’t speak English. I was immediately roped in to a game which is a cross between Monopoly and Snakes and Ladders. The purpose of the game was to collect all you need for Shabbat. When landing on certain squares you have to pick a card which teaches you how to do mitzvot (good deeds) and sometimes has an instruction, like skip one round.

As it would have taken me several minutes to translate, I needed an interpreter. After a while, with about five words of Hebrew and some gesturing, I was communicating adequately with a six-year-old.

Over the very pleasant lunch we played more games which we could all join in. My wife’s cousin asked us all to be a biblical character we drew from my hat. We then had to ask others if they were David HaMelech or Avraham etc. Correct guesses forged teams. Not to sure how the winner was chosen but much fun was had. The second game was a form of charades where several words associated with Judaism, written in Hebrew script, were placed in my hat again! Luck I brought my hat.

When I was asked to explain what was on the paper slips I first had to decipher the Hebrew script which was a bit of a handicap. I scored 6!

At an early stage of our visit we were formally shown where the safe room was. My wife was reading to her 4-year-old cousin twice removed from a book about rabbits burrowing into ground. She turned to my wife and said ‘They are going into the shelters’.

In the afternoon we arrived in Netanya to stay with my wife’s aunt and uncle.
Today, I went to the synagogue where there was a barmitzvah. One of the congregants was a soldier returned from Gaza. He was called up to ‘bentsch gomel’ which is a blessing you make when surviving a life-threatening experience.

At the kiddush after the service, I thought I recognised my optician from Manchester. Maybe, with a different prescription, I would have been sure. We had to leave before I could get any closer.

Hamas are threatening to fire at Tel Aviv tomorrow. We spent some time as armchair politicians discussing how to solve the Gaza conflict. Having decided genocide and ethnic-cleansing are not acceptable options, we were left without an answer.

However, I was left wondering whether Hamas supporters had the same scruples.

Shavua Tov – a good week to all.

Israel Report Day 4: One Wedding and almost Three RTA’s

Yesterday, Thursday, was a day where normality was overshadowed by my expectation that rocket fire would recommence the following morning.

As I write, Friday morning, that fear has been realised with reports of rocket fire in the area in the immediate vicinity of Gaza. The Iron Dome is back to its work.

Yesterday, we returned to central Tel Aviv and visited Bialik Street. Here there are some fine old buildings and the atmosphere reminded me of Jerusalem.

Beit Bialik was the house of Israel’s national poet Haim Nachman Bialik. It is now a museum dedicated to his life and work. It is a very beautiful house both externally and internally. You can read about it here: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bialik_House

We also visited Beit Ha’Ir the former City Hall. So we learned a lot more about the first Mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff. There is little else of interest in the building. It has an imposing facade.

Outside, in the beautiful square, we saw a recently married couple and their friends posing for wedding photos. Life and love goes on. My wife wished them mazal tov.

We made our way to the beach. Not exactly heaving. It was like Brighton before the First World War.

We had dinner at the Sheraton with my son and watched the sun setting on the last day of the ceasefire.

I was rather annoyed that the credit card I had specifically got to avoid currency charges was not, apparently, accepted and I had to use a second card. The waiter was apologetic. I continued to be British and told them it was not their fault.

The taxi driver who took us home was determined to have an accident; driving in excess of the speed limit he almost rear-ended one car, just avoided a side impact with another car that pulled across him to park and had to brake hard to avoid another which pulled over leaving a few centimetre clearance.

Back home, I received a call from the manager of the restaurant. He apologised profusely for the earlier credit card incident and revealed that the first card had actually worked but did not produce a slip. In all, they had debited my cards four times! He said it would be reveresed on Sunday. We could have free coffee and cake next time we were passing by.

Sleep was hard in expectation of what the morning would bring.

Israel Report Day 3

Our third day in Israel and the second day of the three day ceasefire period. We decided to go into central Tel Aviv with our son to do a bit of tourism and take the opportunity for some shopping.

I thought I’d have little of any interest to write about, but in Israel, unless you spend your time hermetically sealed in a safe room, there is always a story.

Today was no exception.

I had never been to Beit Ha’Atzma’ut – Independence Hall, where Israel’s Declaration of Independence took place in 1948. So we decided to take a taxi to Rehov Rothschild and make our way there.

Outside, on the central pedestrian area, which divides this wide boulevard, stands a statue of Meir Dizengoff, the first mayor of Tel Aviv. I wondered why his statue stands here and not on Tel Aviv’s most famous street, which is named after him. I was about to find out.

Meanwhile, about that central pedestrian area. Well, it’s not just for pedestrians. You share with cyclists who pedal like car drivers drive in Israel. The best policy is to just ignore them, stick to the marked pedestrian areas, and let them cycle round you. This can be unnerving as they all seem to be participants in the Tour de France who have taken a wrong turn and are desperate to rejoin the peleton.

The central area is clearly demarcated with symbols of bicycles and people. It makes little difference to either group who, with typical Israeli anarchy, choose whichever lane best suits their immediate inclination.

Another typical Israeli touch of humour uses, for the pedestrian ‘lane’, the silhouetted symbol of a clearly orthodox Jewish man, complete with shtreiml and peyot, holding a child’s hand. That reminder of the religious element in the country appears somewhat forlorn, as female cyclists, in skimpy shorts and revealing tops, run over those same symbols in a demonstration of the secular-religious divide.

Back at Beit Ha’Atzma’ut, we enter. I see a group of four elderly people seated on the right. On the left, the desk, with a young lady behind it, and to her right, slouched in a low chair, a young man in a kippah appears to be reading from a religious text.

The young lady takes our money and explains that a ‘seniors’ group is currently in the Hall, and the next guided tour is not for some time. She will first take us into another room and play us a short film. The room which can accommodate about 100 people is completely empty. We sit near the front on hard plastic chairs. Being British, we don’t sit on the front row.

The young lady explains that this building was the house of Dizengoff, first mayor of the city, which he built on the plot of land that was allocated to him in the lottery which established the new town of Tel Aviv in 1909. Hence, his statue outside. On the death of his wife, he converted it to an art gallery in her memory.

In 1948 the building was chosen, and prepared hastily for the Declaration.

The twelve minute film begins. It tells the history of the house, the city and its role in Israel’s independence. Not expecting to be moved, we nevertheless are. My wife is weeping buckets and I wipe away a covert tear and exit back into the entrance, where the young lady informs us that the seniors are almost done. We are ushered through the glass doors and stand respectfully at the top of the small flight of stairs waiting for the guide in the hall to complete his presentation.

Almost as soon as we arrive in position the Hatikvah begins to play, Israel’s poignant national anthem. We stand to attention looking down at the scene of the birth of the State of Israel, listening to Hatikvah. It is a very emotional moment. The tears are not so covert this time.

The seniors make their way out. We smile as they pass and replace them in the now empty hall. Before us the famous portrait of Theodor Herzl, who began the modern political Zionist movement. Either side, four meter high vertical flags of Israel, just as it was in ’48.

Brass plaques sit on the desk behind which the founding fathers sat. Each plaque with the name of those who sat there on that day, and in front of the desk, a set of wooden chairs, also with the names of that day’s participants.

We move around, take photographs and imagine the scene in this place, so familar from the black and white newsreel that we have watched countless times since our youth.

As we leave, the young lady enquires where we are from. She seems surprised. This is the peak season. So many bookings have been cancelled. She thanks us for coming. We should come again in better times, we say. She places her hand on her heart in agreement.

We exit, blinking, into the heat and light of the day. It’s about 30c and humidity is high.

After some shopping and a light snack in the Dizengoff Centre, it’s time to return ‘home’.

Hailing a taxi in Israel you often wonder who you will get. There is a wide range of characters. This time our driver is one of the more garrulous types. He has little English, but engages my son in conversation in Ivrit. I listen and try to understand.

He learns we are English. This precipitates a demonstration of his skills in mimicry as he performs a cockney accent which Dick van Dyke would be proud of:

‘Ooh yeah, Ars’nal, Chelsea, don’t you know…’ moving from the East End to Kensington as Mr Bean.

I tell him that, although I am from London, we are from Manchester. Undeterred he continues:

‘Manchester United, Man City, Liverpool, ooh yeah, don’t you know’.

I attempt to correct his rather poor grasp of Northern English accents and inform him that I am a follower of Tottenham Hotspur.  I make several attempts to teach him how a Londoner would pronounce it as ‘Totn’m’. He gives it a go, but is more Ossie Ardiles than Glenn Hoddle.

In exasperation, and with a hint of mischief, I teach him to say ‘Come on you Spurs’ if ever he should find an Arsenal fan sitting in the back of his taxi.

The conversation soon shifts to the conflict in Gaza. We tell him the many places where our family lives, including those close to Gaza.

He tells us that he has a farm and rides horses. He is not far from Arik Sharon’s hacienda. He is from Netivot, a frequent target of rockets. Many people from the kibbutzim around Gaza come there to shop, he says.

As distracted drivers go, he is one of the most distracted. His hands frequently leave the wheel. with expansive gestures. He weaves in and out of the heavy rush hour traffic. He seems to notice the current status of traffic lights more my divination than observation, and the distance to the car in front is calculated by an uncanny sixth sense that operates even when his head is turned to me in the back.

He informs us, with gestures, that the Scots and their national culture bemuse him. He asks the English for ‘kilt’ and ‘bagpipes’. He suggests that anyone wearing a kilt in Israel would soon have an inquisitve local lifting it to see what lies below.

From comedy often comes tragedy. I am a little concerned that, as he drives at speeds which, to a Brit, would seem a little reckless, seeing that the stationary traffic ahead is only 10 metres away and the speedometer indicates 50. Added to this, he has produced a newspaper and is opening it, resting it on the steering-wheel, at the centrefold.

There, I can see pictures of the sixty-four Israeli soldiers who lost their lives in Operation Protective Edge. Our driver points to one of the boys:

‘I know his father. I went to the funeral. Twenty years old. From Netivot. My town.’

The mood has changed. He points to another native of his city. I know his story already as the driver informs us that his wife gave birth to their son two days after he was killed.

He rants about Gaza. We should never have left. Oslo, Shmoslo. Rabin. Sharon. You cannot trust foreigners to protect Israel. They stab you in the back as soon as look at you.

I am not comfortable with his xenophobia.

In the evening my wife’s second cousin comes to visit. She tells us that in the Soroka hospital in Beersheva there were 67 births this week, the highest since 1948: exactly the same number of Israelis killed in the conflict.

Coincidence?

Israel Report Day 2

As I reported in yesterday’s blog, posted this morning, I woke with the knowledge that the ceasefire was to begin at 8.00 am.

I woke some time before 8. Then I heard a boom which sounded 5-10 miles away and another more distant one. Apparently a major barrage across central Israel and the Negev. One rocket hit near Bethlehem seriously damaging a Palestinian house. Fortunately, no-one was injured.

This rather contradicts Hamas’s claim that thir rockets only target Jews. But what would the world have said if that rocket hit the Church of the Nativity?

So far, the ceasefire has held all day.

We decided to rest for most of the morning then set off for Tel Aviv. My main impression here was the number of flags hanging from buildings and flying from cars. Not huge flags, but small statements of patriotism and solidarity.

We visited the port of Tel Aviv and Hayaarkon Park where the river runs through and under a sequence of road and pedestrian bridges and widens into a park with a zoo and other facilities.

We watched people canoeing and rowing, and generally messing about in boats. In the distance the towering downtown skyline, so recently streaked with rocket trails and Iron Dome interceptions. I could not help but wonder what the people of Gaza would have made of that scene. I had thoughts of 1st and 3rd world countries butted up against each other and thought of the accusations of Apartheid. But the faces I met on my walk – black, brown, white, Asian, Oriental, Arab and Jew – gave the lie to that. What we have are two peoples living in disturbingly different worlds in the same small space.

One part of haYaarkon Park is given over to collections of black obelisks, flanking plantations of palm trees, each obelisk engraved with the names of Israelis who died in its various wars and from terror attacks.

On one, relatives of the deceased had stuck small ‘yizkor’ or annual remembrace notes attached to now dried and faded flowers, some flanked by the Israeli flag; very poignant in the early evening heat of a Tel Aviv summer rush hour.

Back ‘home’, Israel’s Channel 10 was presenting, as far as I could make out, my Hebrew being rather primitive, a balanced view of the Gaza aftermath; scenes of devastion in Gaza, interviews with Gazans, discussions in the studio, without the haranguing, sarcasm and naked partisan aggression of the British television interviewer whose default manner is to present a tone and facial expression which can only be described as revulsion, reserved exclusively for representatives of the Israeli government.

Other news stories from the UK shown today were the resignation of Baroness Warsi due to her disagreeing with her government’s policy on Gaza, David Miliband’s defence of her, and the Tricycle’s theatre’s hypocritical cancelling of its eight year hosting of the Jewish Film Festival because it is part-funded by the Israeli Embassy.

Being away from the UK certainly gives a different perspective on your own country’s news output. I feel calmer here, not being constantly bombarded by skewed news coverage of Gaza.

There’s no triumphalism in Israel. Too many died.

Israel Report Day 1

Over the next few days, depending on whether this war continues, I’ll be blogging my experiences here in Israel on what I see, hear, feel and discuss.

Maybe, if calm returns, I and my wife can actually have a holiday and not  spend our time as close to the nearest air raid shelter as possible.

Monday 4th August.

Manchester airport was relatively quiet. I was surprised. Maybe everyone is already on holiday.

I’m not sure why but our tickets indicated we had the privilege of rapid boarding. Maybe the fact that our original flight had been cancelled, or maybe just a mistake.

We sailed through security and into the maze which is the airport duty free area, designed to force you past every bottle of booze and every perfume sampler.

A very short wait and by no means a full planeload of passengers ensured we were sitting in our seats in record time. We were delayed for an hour due to air traffic control in Greece. Not a great start.

I was very impressed by EasyJet. To help with the kids’ boredom the captain opened the cabin door and invited them to come and look at the cockpit. An orderly queue formed. Brilliant PR.

The passengers were very calm and chatty. No indication that we were flying to a war zone. We found it inexplicable that anyone would want to take children on holiday to Israel at this time. I don’t think people understand what it is like. We don’t understand. But at least we have some idea, some sense of trepidation.

Well before the usual time, the pilot informed us that due to the security situation we should return to our seats and make ready to land. The request we should sit in our allocated seat was a reminder that if the unthinkable happened, we could be identified by seat number.

As we crossed the coastline, not the usual euphoria. I looked south toward Gaza trying to imagine the unimaginable suffering and mayhem just a few miles away. But there were no signs of warfare. Just some unexpected cloud cover.

The pot-faced immigration man – and usually they remain so – even managed a smile as he asked us if we had family in Israel and where they were as we reeled of a list of cities and kibbutzim.

My wife’s cousins picked us up from the airport , which was not empty, but certainly well below its usual bustle. It had taken us no more than 15 minutes from leaving the plane and walking through an eerily quiet airport.

Signs for shelters at every turn reminded us of the reality we had just entered.

I could immediately see the strain on our cousins’ faces. As we drove out of the airport, ‘Z’ turned to me and said he had to tell me something. ‘You are immature and irresponsible to come. There is a war. Everyone is in trauma.’

A typical forthright Israeli statement. ‘So you are pleased to see us, then’ I said. ‘Look, we haven’t seen our son for 18 months. We could not know if he would be called up for reserve duty. We had to see him’. The unspoken implication was ‘and what if then something were to happen to him, and we never saw him again’. But such thoughts remain floating in the air without articulation. But they are, nevertheless, understood.

We learned of a second serious incident in Jerusalem that morning, a shooting following the fatality of a man run over by a tractor which turned over a bus.

Later we discovered the driver of the bus was an Arab who wished his fellow Arab attacker should burn in Hell.

On arriving at our cousins’ home, their son told us that yet another truce was agreed starting tomorrow, Tuesday, morning, and this time Hamas had agreed to it and it could be permanent.

We soon found out what we already knew. Our cousins were not among the 90 something percent of Israelis that supported the government’s efforts in Gaza.

‘I don’t like what they are doing to Hamas’. This was a surprise. I was too tired to discuss. They thought that the way Hamas had been treated, the blockade and the economic pressure on Gaza was similar to how Arafat had been isolated in Ramallah. They should have negotiated.

Their son believed Hamas had shown signs of a gradual realisation that they had to make compromises and forgo their fanatical adherence to a genocidal policy. ‘They can see that they have gained nothing and the way they think is that Allah is not giving them any victory here. So they rationalise that to make concessions and convince themselves that it is His will.’

I had the distinct feeling that it was they who were rationalising their own beliefs that you can negotiate with an enemy that is ideologically hell bent on your annihilation.

‘The Egyptians will open up the border. They will be able to export via El Arish and not have to rely on Israel for their economic welfare. Fatah will come and supervise the crossing. Fatah have been doing a lot to stop terrorism in the Est Bank. But a 3rd Intifada is still possible .’

‘Gaza is like a prison. They need to be able to breathe’.

I write this Tuesday morning. It is 8.00 am. There is supposed to be a truce. I just heard my first explosion, I think. Some way off.  No sirens. Dogs barked. Was that a second even further off?

Internet is down. I’ll post this later.

It’s back.