“The Last Falafel”: Broadway in Israel 2011, Day 5

30 06 2011

Saturday, June 18: Our itinerary for Saturday morning read: “Visit Lebanese border. View military situation and life on the border with Eitan of Kibbutz Malkiya.” That afternoon, we would also visit the Syrian border.

Several people committed to our Broadway in Israel tour had canceled after seeing recent news of violence on the Lebanese and Syrian borders. (Read about the May 15 attempts to breach the borders.) Manny joked that I should call my parents from the border – but actually, I knew my family trusted Manny and wouldn’t be (too) concerned. They would be happy to hear I was safe and sound at the end of the day, of course. But even my grandparents, who had tried to stop me from traveling to London after the 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot, knew that this was an important trip to make.

At Kibbutz Malkiya, Eitan greeted us with delicious, freshly picked cherries. Malkiya means “God is my king.” This is not a religious kibbutz – but the name is not a contradiction to its members; the Old Testament still shapes Jewish cultural life and grounds their principles for ethical living. Interesting. We drove from the kibbutz to the fenced-off Lebanese border, where we met with a group of young Israeli soldiers. All of them were around 20 years old; the youngest was 18. At their age, I was in college with a great deal of learning and maturing to do. I can’t imagine taking on so much weight and responsibility at their age. But this is a job for them, a duty to their country, a mandatory and largely uncontested part of life. It is a very different reality from our own. As a recent college grad in our tour group pointed out, teenagers in the US play the video game version of these Israeli teens’ reality. Thankfully, they see very little action on this part of the border. They stand watch in the scorching sun, swatting gnats off their heavy uniforms, waiting. Just in case. “I’d sing for them if I didn’t think my belt would cause an international incident,” Sherie said.

We followed the soldiers’ tanks to the site of the most recent clash: a Hezbollah attempt to breach the border. According to the Israeli troops, the Palestinian soldiers threw rocks and shoes, then shot to kill. The Israelis shot back “to wound,” although – as the NY Times article tells – several Palestinians were killed. Five or six Israeli soldiers were also killed in the scuffle, never mentioned in the article. The Hezbollah erected a monument afterwards with the Palestinian flag and the message, “We will return.”

Eitan used to have friends in Lebanon, Christians who would wave to him from across the fence. But after 2000, he has had no contact with them; even their phone lines have been cut off. “Home is all that you see on the left side,” Eitan explained. The orchards. But the right side, barred by a tall wire fence, he called a world apart: poppy fields for producing opium. Lebanon. On the border, we planted a kiwi tree for peace.

We next took the Road of Damascus to the Golan Heights for an incredible lunch hosted by a Druze family. These Arabs’ allegiance is torn between Israel (the country that currently lays claim to the Golan Heights) and Syria (which held the land until 1967). Our hosts said they appreciated the Israeli takeover and the way of life ushered in by this shift in rule. Perhaps more typical, though, are the sentiments of 28-year-old entrepreneur Hamad Awidat, who considers himself staunchly Syrian. After studying in Damascus and Tel Aviv, Hamad started making documentaries and soon turned his attention to the Golan Heights’ visibility; his production company (Viewfinder Productions) now provides most of the media for world news about the Golan Heights. While most of our tour group did not agree with Hamad’s views, no one could deny the legitimacy of his argument – a well-considered, passionate opinion coming from a talented and articulate young man.

That afternoon, we visited a friend’s hookah bar and cafe – the closest to a Damascan coffeehouse as you can get on the Golan Heights – and continued discussing politics. Just before leaving, we visited the Syrian border where hundreds of Palestinians recently tried to cross over. For decades, the Palestinians thought landmines dotted this valley; only within the past month did they discover that the land was clear, and on May 15, hundreds attempted to breach the border. Dirt footpaths are now worn into the once-green valley. The Israelis shot down many of those who tried to cross. Hamad says that it still smells of death. He and his crew were there to document the event, which raises an interesting ethical question unto itself. Can you take pictures without being implicated in the violence? (Can you visit without being implicated in the politics?)

We returned to Ramot to clean up for dinner, and I had a wonderful conversation with a fellow PhD and writer en route to another incredible outdoor feast. Our guests that evening were Israelis from another nearby kibbutz. I chatted with a man named Tom, who “wears many hats” as a father, a sculptor, a volunteer with teenagers in his kibbutz, and more. He works with wood, making tables and chests and practical crafts for a living, but he also exhibits at galleries and sells his art. For many Israelis that we met on our tour, art is an integral part of education and life: much more than a hobby. Israelis may not make a career from their art, but they still recognize it as an indispensable part of life. In the US, on the other hand, arts are often viewed as frivolous and self-indulgent – as evidenced by the continuing government cuts to arts education programs, state arts commissions, etc.

With this tour group, though, the arts are central. On the bus ride back to Ramot that night, a few friends and I started rewriting lyrics to “You’re the Top” as a surprise tribute to our fantastic tour guide. If the piano in the bar hadn’t been locked … and if the front desk hadn’t lost the key … we would have had a nice, old-fashioned sing-along before retiring to our cabins for the night.




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