The rest of Thursday was learning about some of the history of Zionism and Likud specifically. The first stop was the Menachem Begin Centre. Begin, who signed the peace treaty with Egypt, was effectively the third leader of the revisionist zionism movement. The modern founder of zionism was Theodor Herzl, and then Vladimir “Ze’ev” Jabotinsky led the revisionist faction, which Begin then led.
Begin died in 1992, and usually tops the polls of most admired former prime ministers. However for most of his career he was a terrorist/freedom fighter (depending on point of view) and was very much a political outcast until the 1970s.
The centre in his name, obviously is very favourable to him. They have a very nice set of displays, and audio-visual effects. The tour guide, who works for the centre, was a young Canadian girl who emigrated to Israel just two years ago, leaving her family behind.
Begin was a leader within the Irgun, and there is no doubt by today’s standards some of what they did would be called terrorism – especially the murder of the Sergeants. The British response was not much better.
There was also the infamous bombing of the King David Hotel, and to this day, there are bitter different points of views between the UK and Israel on it.
Not once in my time in Israel did I hear any demonisation of the Palestinian Authority. The two countries that were always criticised were in fact Britain (for former acts) and Iran (for current support of Hamas, Hizbollah etc). Britain was as much the enemy in the mid 1940s, as was the Arab states.
After the war of independence, tensions between the Ben-Gurion Government and Begin’s Irgun were massive, and in fact led to some bloodshed. Begin’s decision not to retaliate is said by his supporters to have prevented a civil war. Ben-Gurion seemed to despise Begin and would not even mention his name for several decades.
In 1977 Begin broke the 30 year monopoly of the Labour Party on power and became Prime Minister. His entire career had been as a hard liner who was against turning over any of the occupied territories to its neighbours. Yet he signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, which set the precedent of land for peace, handing over the entire Sinai peninsula. He won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Anwar Sadat and Shimon Peres. His peace treaty was bitterly opposed my many in his own party.
The signatures on the final page of the peace treaty.
He also bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, and in 1986 approved the invasion fo Lebanon, which eventually led to him retiring in 1983. He was a recluse until his death in 1992. One of the reasons for his popularity is he was seen as a simple man of the people – and refused to be buried on Mount Herzl, but instead on the Mount of Olives next to two young Irgun fighters who killed themselves in jail to avoid execution by the British.
A view of old Jerusalem from the Begin Centre.
After the centre, we went to the West Bank. It was fascinating to see first hand parts of the occupied territories. Two things struck me. The first is how big the West Bank is, and how much room there. It is not some crowded area like Gaza. The second is how close many Palestinian and Israeli cities and settlements are to each other. Don’t think there is some nice straight line you can draw between the two.
Much of the West Bank will form a future Palestinian state. But it is not as simple as just going back to the 1967 boundaries. Even the Palestinians say they are not expecting Israel to abandon major cities in the area. What is likely to happen is that any area Israel keeps, might be replaced with some territory elsewhere from sovereign Israel. This can be made into a win-win but the devil is in the details.
A typical shot of the West Bank.
This is at the top of a strategically important hill in the 1967 war. The military are very reluctant to give up this area, as they say they could not prevent an invasion from reaching major cities without it. That is of course their point of view.
Below is a Palestinian town.
A photo of the group, in the West Bank. Regardless of the politics of the area, it was a fascinating place to view.
Then we headed to Tel Aviv where we visited the Jabotinsky Institute. This was the only part I did not enjoy much. It mainly consisted of a lecture on Jabotinsky, and the presentation was too zealous – mainly about how all the other Zionists turned out wrong and Jabotinsky was right. Was interesting to learn about him (I had never heard of him before), but what should have taken one hour took two and a half.
We then checked into out hotel in Tel Aviv. Now the hotels generally in Israel had been three star ones to keep costs down. The total cost for the six days was only 500 Euros, and that included hotels, food, travel, driver, and entry tickets.
Now the hotel in Jerusalem was very basic (probably a 2 to 2.5 star in reality) but okay to sleep in. But the hotel in Tel Aviv was a 0 star. You opened the door and immediately saw a cockroach. Not in just one room, and the first three rooms we opened. We gave up after that. Also I noticed the beds had just sheets on them, no sleeping covers. We eventually worked out based on the neighbourhood that this is one of those hotels that you normally rent by the hour.
We staged a walkout and found a much nicer one down the road. The owner actually got offended we were leaving. She was lucky we did not report it to the health authorities for demolition. Yuck. On the plus side it allowed us to hassle our host greatly about how he tried to book us into a prostitute hotel.
Then Thursday night was night clubbing until around 2 am in Tel Aviv. It has a active party scene. I had to cut out early to write my NBR column
What I gained most from the day is understanding that the issues around Israel did not start in 1948 or 1967. The zionist movement grew out of the late 1800s, as a response to the discrimination and worse of the Jewish populations in almost every country on Earth. People will disagree on whether or not the response was the correct one, but it is simplistic to see it as merely to provide a homeland after the events of the Holocaust – the move for a homeland had been steadily underway for some decades. Most of the planning happened when there was no Palestine – when the area was part of the Ottoman Empire.
Today Israel is an established fact, and there is little doubt there will be a Palestinian state at some stage. But under what conditions, and what boundaries is a long way from being resolved.