Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Column: Round Two

Tonight begins the second round of protests and attempts to enter Gush Katif. I pray there will be no violence but I fear there will be.

On Shabbat I was in Betar, the hareidi or “ultra orthodox” southern suburb of Jerusalem. I was visiting with a friend who has lived there for eight years more or less. He and I were among a group of students from Machon Meir that twenty years ago walked on Independence Day (most of the day) through the hills from the southern edge of Jerusalem and placed a flag on a lonely hill. There we established the settlement of Betar that has now grown into a city of 30,000 people.

On the bus from Jerusalem to Betar I was witness to something that disturbed me greatly.

There were not enough seats available on the bus and a few of the passengers were standing. The bus driver, a secular Jew, became insulting and nasty to not only those standing passengers (who he wanted to sit on the floor or get off the bus) but to everyone on the bus – disparaging the learning of Talmud and those that learn it.

I looked around and I saw and smelled fear. Nobody, except one young man sitting next to me, uttered a word and his remark was barely audible. In silence, the bus rolled south with its bullet proof windows and sidings and failing air conditioning and bolted windows through the streets of Jerusalem and down the road towards Hebron – through the tunnels and then west towards Betar – a busload of insulted and fearful hareidi Jews silently being transported by a driver that clearly bore a seething hatred in his heart.

My friend explained to me later that the private bus company that is under contract is about to be replaced because of their poor service and that the drivers have become openly hostile.

Another old friend, who I saw in shul, told me about what he thinks is spiritually behind the expulsion plan. He said he was just down in Gush Katif and saw the miraculous agriculture there on land that the few Arabs that had lived there 30 years ago – at the start of the Jewish settlement and agricultural project – had called a “cursed land” where nothing could grow. He said that the miracle of growing vegetables out of sand was offensive to the secular Jews who wanted to uproot the miracle because it was a miracle.

His explanation of the underlying anti-religious motivation behind the expulsion plan is interesting in that it shows the extent to which some hareidi Jews feel besieged and under attack and how they see the battle lines drawn – over their faith.

Many believe that the Jewish people remain in exile under an oppressive secular government that seeks to destroy them spiritually. Sharp cuts in benefits that have resulted in increased poverty and hardship as well as increasing threats to a system of army deferments for yeshiva and kolel students have heightened the sense of siege.
Sharon’s tyrannical expulsion push and the arrests of minors and court attempts to place those minors in anti-religious kibbutzim – all these things confirm the perception that this is indeed exile – the last and most bitter one. That perception will keep nearly all of the hareidi community away from the demonstrations. There is a sense of futility in going head to head with a tyrannical regime and resignation to a reality that only a miracle will change.

The national-religious camp on the other hand is hopeful that the whole nation will join them and that peaceful demonstrations will swell to such numbers that the political reality will be forced to shift – bringing the inevitable (to them) falling in of Israeli politics behind spiritual truth. The great majority of the protesters fall into this category and will mostly docilely follow police and army orders and rabbinical leadership to keep the demonstrations peaceful – as we saw in Kfar Maimon.

The clash, if there is one, will most likely be between the extreme elements within the police and border patrol and those Jews who see it as their religious duty not to rely solely on prayer and miracles and are therefore determined to reach Gush Katif. Push may come to shove and once the violence starts it may quickly escalate into an ugly scene which the media will use to demonize all those who oppose the expulsion. That demonization would then be leveraged by Sharon in various ways to attempt to crush any and all opposition. Any opposition which follows will then be leveraged again twice over by the media and so on and so on.

We really do need a miracle.


Blogger Cosmic X said...

"He and I were among a group of students from Machon Meir that twenty years ago walked on Independence Day (most of the day) through the hills from the southern edge of Jerusalem and placed a flag on a lonely hill."


I remember that year the actual "aliyah lekarka" which included pitching tents. It was on Lag Be'Omer. I did not know that there was a flag-placing ceremony earlier.

8:48 AM  
Blogger Barry Freedman said...

Hey CX!

You were there too! That's right, of course. Was it Lag Be'Omer? It was a long time ago. Thanks for refreshing my memory and for the post on Cosmic X.


11:45 AM  
Blogger Cosmic X said...

It could be that we are talking about two different events.

1) the flag placing on Independence Day

2) aliyah lekarka on Lag B'omer

I arrived at Beitar that day by car (or bus).

If you come over and visit I can show you pics!

12:05 PM  
Blogger Barry Freedman said...

Could be.

I'll take you up on that invitation when in town. Would be fun to see those pics. Maybe we can figure it out together.

12:31 PM  

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