False Dichotomies


Archive for June, 2011

How to Solve Israel’s Demographic Problem (1)

Israel’s need to get out of the West Bank is no longer a matter of ideological conviction. Rather, it is a strategic imperative. The longer we stay in there, the greater the chance that the Palestinians will simply request Israeli citizenship, including the right to vote. This will allow them to replace Israel with a Palestinian-Arab state merely by turning up to the polling booths.

This is Israel’s demographic dilemma: A Jewish state without the West Bank ,or the West Bank without a Jewish state. The only way out of this dilemma would be through massive ethnic cleansing, which would be morally reprehensible and would guarantee Israel’s isolation. So the preferable option would be for Israel to get out of the West Back as quickly and as comprehensively as possible. That Israel’s current government continues to procrastinate on this is a cause of deep concern.

But withdrawal from the West Bank will not solve Israel’s demographic problem. Israel’s apocalyptically-inclined human geographers like to warn us that Israeli-Palestinians are out-breeding Israeli-Jews, and that before long Israel will face a similar dilemma in its internationally recognized territory as it does in the West Bank. (Some argue, that, contrary to popular belief, Jews are actually out-breeding Arabs from the river to the sea, but this remains a controversial assertion.) Another demographic threat comes from the Ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose values are arguably even more alien to those of Zionism than Israeli-Palestinian nationalism at its most radical. Everywhere it turns, mainstream Israel is faced with the demographic threat.

But the main reason Israel faces a demographic threat is because it continues to understand itself in primarily demographic terms. The radical promise of Zionism was that it would fundamentally alter the nature of Jewish existence, that by achieving national sovereignty we would become like the other nations, but this has not been realized. Israeli society is still divided between Jews and non-Jews (not to mention the equally virulent division between Jews), and assimilating into the Jewish mainstream remains difficult, with the possible exception of non-Jewish westerners who have Israeli partners, and non-Jewish, non-Arab children who have been born in Israel. Read more


First Date

I was told by a Kashmiri friend to exercise caution in Srinagar. “You’re from London,” he told me. “Not Israel.” I was disappointed. Despite the ongoing conflict with India, Kashmir  has always had a reputation as a tolerant place. True, there have been atrocities, some of which have been targeted at foreign tourists, but my understanding has always been that these were perpetrated by non-Kashmiris. In any case, since arriving I’ve exercised caution, judging each situation on its own merits, saying Israel where possible, and London when wanting to play it safe.

As I walked around the grounds of the magnificent Jamia Masjid, built in 1400 years ago by Sultan Sikandar, I was approached by a thin old man in a black sherwani. He asked me where I was from. I said London, to which he responded that he had an uncle in Manchester, before inviting me over to his house to talk some more. I politely took his number, but I didn’t give him mine, sensing that there was something not quite right about him.

As I crossed to the grass quad, a serious-looking young man in a white shirt came up to me, his head down and his voice muffled.”Don’t listen to him,” he said. “He’s a psycho.” He then invited me to sit with two of his friends. Each of them were students in their early twenties: Abdul, Rahman, and Showkat (I have changed their names). Showkat, the only one wearing traditional clothes, was their unofficial spokesman. “Where are you from?” he asked. “London,” I replied, without hesitation. Read more


The Return

Second time’s a charm, huh? But travelers speak like sexual predators, always concerned with finding new places “to do”, and return is viewed with suspicion. After all, life is short, and we are constantly exhorted to look to the future. Why would we go back to somewhere we have already been?

I am back in India, three years after my last visit. That first journey, narrated at wanderingsatlan.com, as a three month post-army whirlwind during the monsoon months, through that most difficult of jump-of points, north India. Now I’m back. Back in the apocalyptic summer heat of Delhi, back at the Golden Temple, and back on the Jammu-Srinagar road, where a driver must go about his business with the same intensity as a formula one driver, despite the narrow bends and the vertical drops. And right now I’m back on the stoop of a Dal Lake houseboat, in Srinagar, the capital of arguably India’s most troubled state (and arguably not even India’s at all), Kashmir. Read more

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Na Zdravje!

Gottfried* is outside history. His place is his balcony on a side-street in Ohrid. The lake is fifteen minutes walk away but there is no hint of its ancient splendour here; just a queue of roses and an impressive June stillness disturbed only by kids playing football opposite despite the fading light.

Gottfried appeared unexpectedly soon after I arrived. He produced a bottle of rakia, two thumbnail glasses, and insisted I drink. “Na Zdravje!” he says. To health. But Gottfried’s health is not good. He suffered a stroke ten years ago, leaving his left side paralysed. Now he carries himself around his home, a chubby bundle clambering in perpetual slow motion from the television to the computer to the balcony. Read more


Farewell Yaacov

Sadly, Yaacov Lozowick is ending his ruminations. We didn’t always see eye to eye, but who needs people to agree with them? Good luck at the state archives, and hopefully one of these days we’ll meet in person.

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