The madness has officially begun. Yesterday was the first day that I felt like I could properly say that I was “in the field.” The morning began with a pleasant run around the neighborhood. I love the consistency, but I do not like that if I am not out and back by 8 am, it is already almost too hot to be outside.
Checking my email upon my return, I found that at least a few of my exploratory letters had gained traction. In particular, I heard back from a representative from Anarchists Against the Wall who sent me some literature about the Israeli anarchist movement and political activities. These folks seem to be very much on the fringes of the Israeli political left but from what I read, their underlying philosophies are not quite what I expected. Even as they reject nationalism and statism as a programme, They seem to embrace notions of peoplehood as “folk” and accept political boundaries administered by centralized states as a necessary evil in the interim. I am hopeful that he will agree to a meeting in the near future to probe these concepts further.
After this, I decided to take a tour of museums off the beaten path to see what I could see. My first stop, the Gush Katif Museum in Jerusalem. Located just off of Agripas about half-way between Mahane Yehuda and the Takhana Merkazit (Central Bus Station), the displays in the museum catalogue Jewish life in the former Gaza settlement bloc and local resistance to Israel’s unilateral disengagement from the territory in 2005. The museum is quite small, only four small rooms in all, but it leaves the poignant impression that the expulsion of Jews from this territory was a significant national trauma which few will soon forget.
Most of the displays are in Hebrew but some English translation is available. Most notably, at the entrance of the museum, there is a timeline of the history of Jewish residence in the Strip beginning with the Judean conquest of the territory in about 1200 BCE. This is provided in both Hebrew and English. It also catalogues some of the major archaeological finds demonstrating Jewish life such as the synagogue built in 508-9 BCE during the Roman Byzantine occupation. I was given a contact number for one of the museum administrators with whom I will be following up soon.
From here, I walked to the Old City to visit the Temple Institute museum. The Institute’s mission focuses on teaching the history, religious importance, and ritual associated with ancient practice in the Beit HaMikdash (Jewish Temple) thereby preparing for the 3rd Temple whenever it may be established. In the museum itself are numerous reproductions of the ritual objects necessary for the Temple service fashioned “according to exact Biblical requirements” with explanations provided as to their function and usage. The museum is also filled with model reproductions of the first and second Temples as well as oil paintings depicting different aspects of ritual and religious life associated with the Beit HaMikdash. I am in touch with the directors of the institute and hope to speak with them soon.
On the way home, I stopped by two additional museums in the Old City. The first is the “3rd Temple Model” museum, a much smaller space, a storefront really, which performs a similar function to the Temple Institute albeit with significantly fewer resources. At the moment, the museum is not open to the public but I did speak with someone who was just closing up for the day who said she would put me in touch with the curator. The second was the Old Yishuv Court Museum, a museum held in a complex of historic apartments in the heart of the Jewish Quarter. This museum catalogues a bit of the history and day-to-day life of religious Jewry residing in the Old City under Ottoman Rule. Explanations here were available in Hebrew, English, and French.
In the afternoon, made a number of phone calls setting up interviews for the week ahead and processing the information I have collected thus far. Then I made my way to the Gilad Shalit encampment in front of the Prime Minister’s residence, a mere 10 minute walk from my apartment.
For those of you who are not in the know, Gilad Shalit is an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped by Hamas-affiliated operatives while patrolling the Israeli-Gaza border on 25 June 2006. He has now been held for over four years, presumably somewhere in Gaza, with no independent confirmation that he is in fact still alive or the conditions of his imprisonment. Hamas has denied the International Committee of the Red Cross access to the soldier in contravention of international humanitarian law. They have also publically conditioned his release on Israel’s release of all female and young Palestinian prisoners as well as some 1000 additional male prisoners mainly convicted on terrorism related charges.
Whatever your stance on the conflict or your position on the demands of Hamas, educated and compassionate people can agree that the conditions of Shalit’s imprisonment are immoral and vastly disproportionate to Israel’s treatment of Palestinian prisoners. Palestinian prisoners in Israel jails are allowed full access to the ICRC, are allowed contact with the outside world, and have access to a legal system in which they are able to appeal and contest the terms of their imprisonment. Gilad Shalit enjoys no such rights or privileges.
In an effort to keep Gilad in the forefront of the public eye and to push the Israeli government to work more thoroughly for his release, the soldier’s parents, Noam and Aviva, began a 12-day march accompanied by thousands of Israelis from the family home in Mitzpe Hila in the North to the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem arriving on 8 July. Since then, people have been camped in front of the residence, handing out neon yellow streamers in solidarity with Gilad to people passing by, and holding occasional further public protests.
Yesterday marked the 1500th day of his captivity and a large, although not terribly well coordinated, protest was held. People were there from every walk of lie from the very young to the very old. Most participants were Israelis although at least a few American Taglit-Birthright groups were there as well. Participants were each given a mask of Gilad’s face and a number between 1 and 1500 to mark the number of days he has been held captive. Each paper had a number listed and the text: ביבי, עד מתי? גלעד עדיין חיmeaning “Bibi, until when? Gilad is still alive.”
The march, led by Noam and Aviva Shalit, wrapped around the block of the Prime Minister’s residence with participants holding hands in a chain, symbolically blocking the way in or out for Benyamin Netanyahu. After two circles around the block, Noam Shalit gave an impassioned speech over a loudspeaker in which he related his sadness at the absence of his son, appreciation for the solidarity of the Israeli people, and called for the Prime Minister to do more to secure his son’s release.
After the march, I went home to collect myself and make a few more phone calls. Later in the evening, I hiked across Emek HaMatzlemah to the Israel Museum where the first evening of the Israeli Wine Festival was being held. There I met up with a number of friends, ran into a few people I haven’t seen in many years, and drank a lot of great wine. For only 60 NIS, it was a fun evening.
Today will be a bit more slow, in part evidenced by the fact that I have not yet had an opportunity to do anything today but write this post. In the early afternoon, I have a meeting with my landlord to sign the lease and then I am going up to Hebrew University for a meeting with a professor in the Department of Political Science. Again, I will be making a few more follow-up phone calls to get a more interviews on the calendar for this week and next. In the evening, as part of the summer Jerusalem arts festival, I am going to a HaDag Nachash concert, an Israeli hip hop group I know nothing about. I am going down with a friend, so hopefully she’ll put me in the know.