Two Months in the Middle East #5

Kibbutz Degania Bet – June 28th, 2000
Kibbutzim were first set up in the twenties when ‘pioneering’ Jews settled in Palestine, working the land in an aim to create a Zionist state. As that aim has been achieved (some fifty years ago), the number of Kibbutzim is dwindling and some fear they will eventually die out altogether. However with over 250 still left in Israel, that day is still a long way off.

Basically a self sufficient settlement where everyone works for the kibbutz, and the Kibbutz owns everything, there is an underlying socialist ethos to these settlements. Furthering the Zionist cause, however, is the last thing on the minds of the thousands of young people who descend on Israel every year.

Kibbutz pub

Bombshelter pub at the Kibbutz

No, cheap drink, sunshine, and the opportunity of ‘interactions’ with the opposite sex are the real reasons that a summer volunteering in Israel has become so popular. The best way to describe a Kibbutz is relaxed. You are shut off from the outside world and it’s a great place to recharge the batteries.

We stay in Kibbutz Degania Bet, Israel’s first, which is located on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Residents of the Kibbutz are all secular and many tell me of their hatred towards the Orthodox right wing Jews. Most also agree that Israel had no right to be in Lebanon. Politics soon fade into the memory though as our bodies are plied with drink and drugs. That and meaningless sex are the main reasons why most return year after year.

Jerusalem – July 24th, 2000
“They are weak people, they can’t seem to govern themselves”. This was the reply of one Israeli woman when I told her I had been to Lebanon. It is a typical reaction among Jerusalemites whom seem to feel that Israel were saving the Lebanese from themselves. Most feel the occupation was justified in order to protect their Northern borders.

The Israeli press were certain that when the ‘security zone’ collapsed dozens of various extremist groups ranging from Syrian communists to Iranian fundamentalists would use Southern Lebanon as a launch pad for attacks into Israel. The absence of any violence has shown the hollowness of this argument and the Israeli media is now beginning to understand the true reasons for the ‘security zone’. New weapons were tested out which could be then sold overseas with a ‘combat proven’ stamp. Elite army units were trained in the zone, thereby giving them real combat experience. In effect South Lebanon was in effect a five mile wide training ground for the army. As usual, Israel’s regard for the local population was zero.


Overlooking Jerusalem

Jerusalem itself is crazy. A microcosm of Israeli society, it’s narrow cobbled streets have been fought over for centuries. The Wailing Wall at sundown on Shabbat is something else. Hundreds of ultra orthodox Jews scamper around, hunched over, deep in prayer. A few hundred yards away and Moslems run through the narrow passageways in order to reach the Al Aska mosque in time for evening prayer. So similar yet so far apart, the absurdity of religion is something Jerusalem illustrates perfectly.

The Old City is incredible. History and religion are everywhere, it is a true assault on the senses. Tabasco hostel is the travellers favourite, with cheap beds and beer and a few nutters hanging around. Be careful at night as the streets of the Old City are not safe to walk alone, particularly if female. Elsewhere the Holocaust museum is a must. As is Mea Shearim, an orthodox Jewish ghetto, which is identical to the pre war east European ghetto’s. Fascinating, just be sure to dress conservatively.