Thursday, May 08, 2008

The difficult seventh decade

Israel turned 60 this week. I was thinking about the place. I often do, but I don't often get very far. This delightfully badly composed photo was taken just after it (she? are countries female? or is that just France?) turned 40, outside my grandmother's flat on David Pinsky Street in Haifa.

David Pinsky Street, Haifa, 1988

I was there doing the kibbutz thing. She lived there for about half her life: as a child and adolescent after leaving Germany before the war; as the new wife of a British soldier stationed in (what was then) Palestine; and again, later, as a widow. She lived lots of other places in between, but this flat is the only place I remember her living.

She came to visit us every summer for six weeks, and we went there twice when I was a kid, but this was the first time I went to see her by myself. She was an excellent host: she bought me a carton of Marlboro and got a crate of Goldstar in, and we got drunk together in her little living room and smoked a lot. It felt delightfully transgressive.

And while I'm sure I was significantly more politically naive in those days, it felt that the future was bright. I challenged a few of my cousins on their alarmingly dogmatic view of the world, but generally the sun shone, the swimming pools sparkled and the beer flowed. There was a sense of optimism, that problems could be solved.

This was even more prevalent the last (in both senses) time I visited, in the summer of 1992. We were there for the election of Yitzhak Rabin, and a shockwave of liberal elation swept across the land. Remember the morning of May 2 1997? It was a bit like that.

Then of course he got shot for signing the Oslo Peace Accords, and the rest is increasingly messy history. Life goes on, but if you want an argument against national service for teenagers, check out the dead eyes of the stoned young Israelis who have taken over Asia's less salubrious beach hangouts. They don't just hate Arabs, they hate everyone.

I don't have any answers, of course. Nobody does. The status quo is unsustainable, yet it sustains. Memories are long and wounds are deep, and they get longer and deeper.

I remember listening to Robert Fisk on Desert Island Discs a couple of years ago, who has spent most of his working life as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East. He said something like "I just wish everyone in Western Europe would appreciate the fact that theirs is a cutting-edge way to live".

Some of us do.




Blogger Eddie said...

top post jo

10:32 pm  
Blogger tomato said...

i've been coming back to this post all week hoping i will have found what i wanted to say.......but i think the only thing i've found is:

what he said.

thanks for another one that sat with me for days.

10:19 pm  
Blogger Jo said...

Ah, thank you E & T. There are some posts that have to be teased out gently, and this was one of them.

12:56 pm  

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