Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Letter from Netanya: Multiple Seasons

I share this e-mail received today from Jan Gaines, TBE's official reporter from Israel. We thank Jan for giving us a taste of what it's like to be there during this week before the elections and Tu B'shevat

It’s a time of multiple seasons right now in Israel.

It’s the time of persimmons and pomegranates, of kiwi and strawberries and of course lots of citrus variations. The pomegranates are really beautiful this year and when you cut them open and suck out the red berries the juices roll down your chin full of anti-oxidents. The persimmons are in abundance; a basket of 10 or more costs about $2.00. The strawberries are fresh from the fields, large and juicy, for $1.50 a pound. All of this is grown within a 20-60 mile radius of Netanya so its almost like picking the fruit yourself.

It’s also the season of Israeli elections. This year there are 34 parties running, including Men’s Rights in the family party devoted to divorced men, Destruction of the Banking Authority part, 3 different Green parties, and the best one of all, a merger of the Holocaust Survivors party with the Legalize Marijuana party. Of course there’s the 4 big ones: Likud under Bibi which is supposed to win the most seats (30+), Labor which is trailing with about 20+ seats under Barak, Kadima under Tzipi Livni which is falling further behind, and finally the rightist party of Lieberman, Israeli Beitenu, which is moving up fast to perhaps overtake either Kadima or Labor.
The country is turning right and every missile that lands in the south buys more votes for either Lieberman or further right than that. Israelis are fed up. They know that Oslo was a failure, Annapolis and Wye was a failure and of course Gaza was a failure. They are tired of giving land all the time only to see it turn into Hamastan or Hizbollahstam. They feel that giving more of the West Bank in the so-called “land for peace”formula is foolhardy, just enabling Hamas to take over the West Bank from Fatah in the future with even more missiles pointed our way.

But it is also the season of the Birthday of the Trees. Next week is Tu Bishvat when Israel marches out to the forests and plants more trees. It could be in memory of, or celebration of, or just a school program. There are Tu Bishvat Seders in synagogue everywhere. It is a season of renewal, even before Pesach, because spring starts early here, and everyone feels happy putting a new seedling into the ground to grow another day.

At the same time, it is the season of the worst drought in 10 years in the country. We had zero rain in the month of January. Public watering is forbidden but home rationing hasn’t happened yet. It should This is a crisis, maybe even a catastrophe waiting to happen. There are only two desalinization plants on line; two others were held up by Treasury which didn’t want to spend the money. Bringing water from Turkey has now become a joke., Israelis seems to wait until a crisis happens, but it’s right here, right now!

And finally, it’s the season of rampant anti-semitism all over the world. We see it from Venezuela to Bali to Norway and much of Europe and now to Turkey as well. This latter was a shock. Even tho Erdogan was elected several years ago on an Islamist party ticket, he’s kept a low Islamist profile until now. All that is finished. His outburst and follow up statements since Davos, his huge welcoming rallies and his one-sided condemnation of Israel have stopped relations in their tracks.; Over half a million Israelis yearly travel to Turkey for vacations. Over 70% have cancelled. Many people fly Turkish airlines cause it’s cheap but they are also canceling. Only the military are keeping contact and many feel this will blow over but the damage is done on both sides.

And so Israelis are circling the wagons as they see that once again we are alone in the world. With only the U.S. to rely on, even that looks shaky to some who wonder what friendly overtures will be made to Islamic countries at our expense.

So I’m eating more pomegranates and persimmons, taking advantage of beautiful sunny days to be outside, planting a tree somewhere if I can, and going down to Eilat for a chamber music festival this weekend. I’m trying to put myself into an Israeli state of mind. LIVE FOR THE DAY BECAUSE YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT TOMORROW BRINGS. Maybe in the end that’s not such a bad idea. With an abundance of pomegranates, persimmons and 34 parties, what could be so troubling. After all.

Love, Jan

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