This is cross-posted by West Bank to West End. (I wasn’t going to post this today, but in light of the terrorist attacks near Hebron, reading about this Israeli (from Maale Adumim) talking about his encounter with the foreign media, and having to confront their preconceived notions about such “Settlers”, seems especially relevant.)
The paradox is that some people only seem to like you once you become mean. A good case in point is the groups of German journalists, politicians and lecturers who are brought to Israel by their government and after having met a wide range of Israeli leaders and experts, come to Maale Adumim to meet settler Judah Ben-Yosef.
The comfortable air conditioned tour bus stops outside our city mall and I jump on with a sprightly step that belies my years. There always seems to be some short-haired woman who wants to shake my hand, something I generally try not to do, and each time anew I contemplate the dilemma, but end off shaking to avoid us both embarrassment.
Of late I’ve been politely asked to avoid sarcasm or other forms of humor as these two traits are clearly not in fitting with the CNN/BBC image of what a settler is supposed to be. We are supposed to be either naïve, starry eyed Bible wielding, bearded cowboys or Brooklyn-born, cruel, uncaring warmongers. The bad guys in old movies never have a good sense of humor. However, I can’t control myself and I begin with a joke.
“Welcome to Maale Adumim the second largest city in Judea and Samaria. My name is Judah Ben-Yosef, I’ve lived here for 25 years and we’re always excited to receive guests (looks of skepticism). I know that none of you have any preconceived notions as to what a settlement or a settler look like..” (I see smiles appear) “..I know that you are all wholly objective and have come with open minds to listen and learn.” That is too much. The bus seems to shake with laughter as the Western journalists hysterically contemplate the absurd thought that they might actually be arriving with open minds. Open mouths always – open minds, hardly ever.
In their eyes, long before we’ve met, long before they’ve seen anything they are aware of certain undeniable, irrefutable truths. We are all “obstacles to peace” “part of the problem” “living on stolen Palestinian land”, but I’m feeling fine. The sun is shining over the hills of Judea and my home looks more beautiful than ever. My guests appear to understand my English and most importantly they appreciate a good gag when they hear one.
I began working for the German government (occasionally) about four years ago. I had no illusions that after two weeks of careful brain-washing by Arab spokesmen and far worse the Israeli Left wing, my two hours wouldn’t go a long way towards changing many minds. I am a chess player, so I defined for myself what I considered to be three realistic, realizable goals:
- To physically show them the size of a 40,000 man strong city. I hoped this would go some way to denting the stereotype of the two tents, a goat and a flag Jewish settlement.
- To demonstrate that historically Maale Adumim has never been part of any kind of Palestinian or Arab state, that nobody besides us and a few 13th century monks have ever lived here and that geographically there are plenty of other barren mountaintops.
- To demonstrate that we are not all religious Right-wing fanatics (like me) but that the population of Maale Adumim contains a cross-section of Israeli citizens Religious, Secular and others; new immigrants and old-timers, Right, Center and even some Left-wingers.
My main objective is to try to dent stereotypes. I believe that when an intelligent person realizes that many of the stereotypes he’s been sold are incorrect, he or she may begin to question them all. This might lead to researching the subject more thoroughly, which in turn even affect some change in opinions.
In many ways it’s the first few minutes that will determine to what extent the tour influences each person. They all look out the windows and see a picturesque, peaceful, modern, well-run Western city. This sight is invariably the exact antithesis of everything they’ve been taught to expect. When stereotyping clashes with reality there is an immediate state of shock, or even crises. In very broad terms one can talk about three characteristic responses:
- Some choose to look in the directions of the surrounding mountains rather than at the city. They will henceforth prefer to focus on the “bigger picture” having understood that they know precious little about the “details”
- There are those who honestly seem to believe that Maale Adumim is some kind of clever scam that the Israeli government is running to trick visitors like themselves. “Everything here looks fine, but what about the real settlers? Why aren’t you all carrying guns? Is that a Bible?”
- Occasionally I come across intellectually honest individuals who absorb what they are being told and ask questions not to try to catch me out, but because they really want to know. Surprisingly, two groups that stand out in this category are journalists from former East Germany and a group of German, Moslem journalists and lecturers.
The tour is really just the prelude. After about an hour we finally sit down to talk. I give a lecture and then they ask questions. Over the years I’ve shortened the lecture as it seems that they have so many questions and we never have enough time anyway. Topics range from Theology to Education, Zionism, Islam, my vision for the future. As is the way of things, some questions arise every time and others stagger me by their originality. Some reveal enormous ignorance while others surprising knowledge. As a personal challenge I try to never give the same answer twice. Among the questions I’m always asked:
Why would someone like you choose to leave London in order to come and live here?
Do any non-Jews live in Maale Adumim?
What would you do if your government chose to evacuate Maale Adumim? Would you resist?
Do you have any Palestinian friends?
Do you accept the idea of a Two-State Solution?
However, one decision I made from the outset was never to mention the Holocaust. That would be my Nuclear Option. I’d save that one for the day that I get stumped. Thank G-d that day never came.
I must admit I was tempted. When a tall blond male with blue eyes so cold that they might turn water to ice badgered me as to how I would maintain a Jewish State with the demographic challenges posed by the Palestinian birth-rate I was tempted to answer that if his ancestors hadn’t killed 6,000,000 of mine, there might be less of a demographic problem today – but I held my peace. There are plenty of other, more rational replies.
Then, guess what. Last time I finally lost it. A not unattractive lady journalist asked me how I feel when I read the kind of things that are written about Israel. The question was not especially provocative, but maybe I was just in a bad mood. Maybe my advancing years had made me lose my patience. For whatever reason, on that day, I didn’t feel like playing games. For once I’d say what I really felt.
“It reminds me of the story of the man who comes home unexpectedly one day to find his wife in bed with the neighbor. He was shocked! He was shocked….. but he wasn’t surprised. (laughter – timing the punch line is everything.)
Am I shocked? Am I shocked when I read the reports? Of course I am. Who could read such lies and not be shocked?
Am I surprised? Am I surprised that the grandchildren of the monsters who dragged by great-grandfather into a gas chamber or buried him alive write articles that are critical of Israel? How surprised should I be?” (uncomfortable silence)
More questions follow then, after the bizarre ceremony of exchanging visiting cards with people who live in a country that I have no intention of ever visiting in this life or the next, their group leader thanks me, polite applause follows and soon my guests are back on their bus. Within minutes they’ll be merrily making their way to the Dead Sea.
I guess I really have reached the age when what people think matters less. It’s been a long time coming, like my newly-acquired appreciation of unsweetened mint tea, but I always knew the day would catch up with me, eventually.
Two days later I receive a mail:
again, thank you very much for agreeing to meet the group.
Your tour of Ma’ale Adumim received great feedback from the participants.
Like I said, the paradox is that some people only seem to like you once you become mean, and I’m one mean Jewish settler.