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Newsletter 66: Israel and Arab cultural exchange

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Shalom everyone,

The Volvo could easily get away from the police, but there wasn't any hot pursuit through Tiberias, down the Jordan Valley, guns blazing, instead I stopped to face the music.

The telepathic Israeli police woman had divined that my rear seat passenger was without a safety belt and demanded to see her "lesson". I pointed out to her that she should be addressing me, the driver, not the passenger and the word she needed was license not lesson. After all that she fined me IS250.

With that settled we headed straight for El Ranchero, a great Steak House in Tiberias.

As you know Tiberias is the only town on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. In spite of the dynamic growth there are still many unspoiled places in Israel. The area around the Sea of Galilee is one of them. Unlike busy places like Tel Aviv here you can still see the stars while sitting on the beach. The lights twinkling on the Golan Heights and a few kibbutzim around the sea are the only sign of human interference in nature. For the rest one is surrounded by darkness which is very conducive to meditation.

It was just a few days before New Year which also made it a good time for meditation. Naturally the question of what I'd achieved in the past year and what I hope for in the New Year arose in my mind.

For me 2007 was the year when I became more convinced than ever that growing physically one year older, fatter or thinner wasn't an achievement and I'd better hope for more than that in the coming year or else I was going downhill on a very steep decline.

My achievement in 2007 was to grow in my feeling of love for all creatures. It's amazing how one grows by increasing the number of creatures on which we bestow our love and honor. This growth through love even diminishes fear; fear of old age, fear of death and especially fear of our own weaknesses. I realized that loving doesn't mean loving my strengths and the strengths of others but loving means loving their weaknesses and mine. Through loving my weaknesses I can face them without fear, deal with them and reach new strength..

I spent practically each day of the week before New Year driving to a different border of Israel. Some of these borders separated us from the Palestinians, like the border at Atarot, on the northern outskirts of Jerusalem, or the wall at El Azariah on the eastern side, Bethlehem on the southern side, Mukeble, between the Israeli town of Afula and Jenin, the Karni junction between Ashkelon and Gaza. Other borders separate us from Arab countries, like the border at Kuneitre, separating us on the Golan Heights from Syria, or Metulla, separating us from Lebanon, or the Allenby Bridge separating us from Jordan.

Most people in Israel are extremely ambivalent about having all these borders; on the one hand most people would agree that the borders prevent terrorist attacks, but they also prevent vital cultural contacts between Israelis and Palestinians.

The restaurants in Israeli Arab villages like Abu Ghosh, on the road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, packed with Israelis or the Arab music festival, held annually in Jerusalem or the Palestinian theater in Acre and Haifa, the Hebrew classes attended by Palestinian students in Gaza speak loudly of the eagerness of Israelis and Arabs to experience each other's culture.

Previously, before the Israeli Palestinian conflicts of October 2000 Israelis used to flock to Jericho, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Nablus and many other towns now closed to them because of Palestinian attacks.

Extremist Moslem groups rejoice in the separation their attacks have achieved. Unfortunately they seem oblivious to the fact that purist isolationism is closing out any form of cultural exchange between Israeli and Arab culture bringing stagnation to cultural development which will eventually lead to death. A culture cannot survive in isolation. Cultural mixing and stimulus is the breath of life to culture. So it works out that extremist movements eventually defeat their own objective of preserving their culture. They kill the very culture they want to preserve.

Being cut off from Arab culture Israel is turning evermore westwards to satiate its thirst for cultural contacts and stimuli. All we need do is compare the western nature and style of Israeli art today with the eastern style of artists in the early years of the Jewish return to Israel, like Nahum Gutman and Ruben Rubin to understand that culturally we're mixing with the West not the East.

Last week, while visiting the art galleries of Old Jaffa with a couple of tourists from the US we went into Frank Meisler's gallery. His greatness as an artist is his ability to be a typical Israeli sculptor, dealing with typically Jewish subject matter; he manages to achieve a universal message. He has sculptures depicting the Torah, the sacrificial ram of Abraham, the Jewish festivals like Passover and Hanukkah, but the most striking piece in his gallery is a new sculpture of a horse's head. This is a revolutionary theme for Jewish sculpture because the last time Jews were famous horsemen was in the days of Solomon. This is saying that the Jewish People in Israel today have recovered the pride they felt in the glorious days of Solomon's kingship.

It may be of interest to note that one of Rubin Rubin's most famous paintings is of a horse. The original of that painting hangs in the home of a wealthy Arab family

As in the days of Solomon and like the horse the Jewish people are galloping forward not looking backward anymore in an effort to gain acceptance in the Arab environment of the Middle East.

Wishing you a great no news day

Yours truly.


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