I am in Israel. A place where my knowledge of history and religious upbringing shape what I know about this place. Catholicism, the Bible, and our modern media have created a picture in my mind of what this place, Israel, the Holy Land is. And yet now that I am here I feel totally unknowledgeable faced with a patina of history that is complex and bewildering.
On the plane on the way here, there was an announcement of prayer at sunset and the men went to the back of the plane. The men were dressed in black, most orthodox wearing brimmed hats and Yamahas. As I watched them assemble, I wondered at the ties and culture this ceremony is an expression of- and what a sense of belonging. What draws people to maintain ‘odd’ customs in the face of our homogeneous industrial growth system culture? This is one way of responding. Those of us building a permaculture/ Transition culture have other customs no doubt equally odd to those who don’t belong. There is something about belonging and community that is so powerful.
Sophy and headed to the desert, next to the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth (at least on dry land). The Dead Sea is so salty virtually nothing lives in it. And it is surrounded by a desert landscape that is barren, harsh even (to someone used to the lush green of Devon). And yet there is no admonition to be careful with water. Nothing has been said, not here and nor in Tel Aviv. Gardens are everywhere, beautiful and fragrant. It’s spring and the early morning blossom is sweet. And the irrigation pumps in the pre dawn are working hard. But where is any sense that water is a precious resource and should be used carefully? Even in less water stressed parts of the world hotels ask people to reuse towels. Nothing. Not a compost toilet to be found. How curious.
I grew up with stories of how the Israelis ‘made the desert bloom’. Is it some feeling of defiance that in the Israeli settler (despite paradoxically inhabiting the region for thousands of years) culture that leads them also to defy natural limits? It is one of the stories of our time, not only in this part of the world of course. Many colonised parts of the world, USA Australia, Canada, have this attitude. It is an attitude that on its positive side is ‘can do’ attitude, but its shadow is often ecological recklessness. I don’t know.
I will take my ‘not knowing’ into our Transition trainings. The first of which is in the West bank in Bethlehem with Palestinian activists. I have no idea no idea at all what this will be like. Do I or the Transition movement have anything to tell them that will be any use at all? In the long, and sometimes tortuous, discussions with the Israelis (and subsequently Palestinians) that we planned this training tour with we knew we wanted to have a Transition Training with Palestinians. And one of the questions that kept coming up was ‘Should we do two separate trainings or use our visit to bring Israelis and Palestinians together?’ Even thinking that we could use the workshops to build bridges now strikes me now as hopelessly naive. Because of the walls and check points that lie between Israel and Palestinian occupied lands the trainings had to be separate. Israelis wouldn’t travel to a Palestinian place, and Palestinians would have lots of difficulty travelling into Israel. So we are doing separate trainings for these reasons, but also for other reasons, rooted in power and rank. It’s complicated, everything in this land seems to be complicated, and Sophy and I have let ourselves be guided by the folks here who have helped to make this happen. There is a fledgling Transition hub in Israel and two Transition Initiatives. The training in Bethlehem for Palestinians in two days time is finally confirmed. And the one in two weeks in Haifa is completely full, 50 people with many more on the waiting list. We could have filled 3 trainings. There is plenty more to discover as I explore this place and its history. My preconceived ideas (and even deeper than that, my consciousness) have been constantly over turned, scrambled and remade. I expect the process to continue.