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A wave of revivalism is sweeping Israel

It has been a gut-wrenching, soul-searching existence in Israel, writes Vandana Ketkar.

india Updated: Jan 28, 2007 17:08 IST

It has been a gut-wrenching, soul-searching existence. The last few weeks have been very depressing. A wave of revivalism is sweeping Israel. The Lord rested on the Shabbat (Saturday), and pious Jews insist Israel must follow suit. To do anything else is distinctly non-kosher.

So we now have kosher electricity, which means no Jew will attend to any problem which may arise at a power plant or transmission line in this country from Friday evening to Sunday morning. Ditto with our kosher Railway service: it is only the handful of non-Jews employed who are allowed to work, and who keep the system going. 

Kosher El Al (the Israeli national airline) will not fly on the Shabbat. Kosher clothing stores have sprung up which sell only loose-fiting apparel to women, and where the colour red is banned. A new underground movement called the Bleach Underground has arisen which sprays bleach on the clothes of ‘inappropriately dressed’ women in orthodox neighborhoods.

A Canadian orthodox woman, on her way to pray at the Western Wall, was beaten up for sitting on the front of the bus in Jerusalem. There are even rumours of young men demanding that their brides parents buy them expensive apartments and give them a monthly allowance. (Dowry is hardly unique to Indian culture, one realises.) The list is endless. Then of course came The Halutz Effect.

It all began with a sort of collective wish to sweep the Lebanon War of last summer under the carpet, erase the scars of a none too emphatic engagement to recover Eldad Regev, Ehud Goldwasser and Gilad Shalit. (These are household names in Israel: the three soldiers whose abduction by the Hezbollah sparked off the war.)

The sound and fury has abated, but there is still no joy on the kidnapped soldier front. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) that till the war believed itself to be the finest fighting force in the region seems paralysed and confused. Every journalist and talk show host has, over the autumn and winter, become an expert in military strategy.

Superannuated generals and Members of the Knesset with limited standing and influence have all jumped onto the bandwagon, giving in depth interviews. They were all screaming for the chief of the Israeli army, Dan Halutz’s head. After Halutz's long demanded resignation finally came through, each word of his letter of resignation was used to pillory him still further. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t! You can never please the ‘experts’ in Israel.

So many opinions. He is irresponsible, accountable, not-accountable, cynical, ambitious, insensitive, has created history, deserves the dustbin of history, on and on it goes. Whatever Halutz’s motives in resigning, so completely soul destroying are the commentaries, he certainly will not sleep well at night if he takes the papers seriously and is a sensitive sort of guy.

If that was not enough muck-raking, there was the whole Hebron settlers violence against Arab neighbours that added fuel to the sensational headlines. Videos were freely available, accusations and counter-accusations flew; human rights groups were glorified/vilified according to the political leanings of the media group discussing them.

A whole media jamboree goes on. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is under a cloud, as is chief of the opposition Labour party, Amir Peretz. Both are being urged to follow Halutz’s example. Some in the media seem to be suggesting that everyone in the country should resign and go into a soul-searching retreat, and only then get back to their daily life.

Women seem to be playing the only stabilising role globally in all the chaos created by men and their petty bickering and back-stabbing. In Israel, after Golda Meir, the comely Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni is being projected by some, again in the media, as the next PM. Perhaps this is a sign of the times to come; numbed audiences wish to see more telegenic personalities on their television screens, and canny producers are calculating TRP’s in decimals by cynically pushing the most aesthetically pleasing.

The incomparable peace of Capernaum beckons. I am too far from my mother to go and hide myself in her pallu with the implicit faith that she would make everything better. Yes, I think I need to sit by the Sea of Galilee, and let some calm soak into my bones.

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