Things I learnt about Israel

I’ve been travelling regularly to Bangladesh for 10 years, but I still have only a limited knowledge of the country and culture. I’ve spent only seven days in Israel (apart from five days about 20 years ago), so my knowledge of Israel is even less than that of Bangladesh. Nevertheless, I learnt some things I want to share. I’m not sure that all of them are accurate, and I’d welcome corrections as comments to the blog.

  • Several Israelis told us proudly that Israel is the craziest country in the world.
  • A major cause of the craziness is the way of life of Orthodox Jews. As everybody knows and as you can see in London, they dress like 16th century Ukrainians. Their hats made from mink tails might cost $6000. What I didn’t know is that they do not have paid employment. They are supported by the State and supplements from Orthodox Jews overseas. What they do work at is reading the Torah, making it more likely that the Messiah will come soon. They do not join the Israeli Army, and most surprising of all they oppose the state of Israel. They believe that Israel can be created only by the Messiah. Some are so opposed to Israel that they travel to Iran, which wants to destroy the State of Israel. The State continues to support them financially because governments depend on their political support.
  • We have benefited from their religious views in that an Orthodox Jew would not sit next to Lin, a woman, on our Easy Jet flight. So we have an empty seat beside us, perhaps the only one on the plane.
  • I thought that almost every boy and girl would join the Israeli Army, and that was the case in the early days. Now only about half go to the Army; the others find excuses.
  • A house in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem overlooking the Western Wall costs $6m-$10m. A house in the Muslim Quarter would be perhaps $600 000.
  • A grave on the Mount of Olives costs $80 000 to $100 000. It’s a desirable spot because it looks over the Dome on the Rock, which is built on the rock where Jews believe God began creating the world and where the Messiah will come to create the new city and resurrect the dead. The dead on the Mount of Olives will be the first in line to be resurrected and are buried with their feet facing the rock so that they can sit up and see the Messiah and the new city.
  • Jerusalem, as everybody knows, is sacred to three religions, and many of the revered sites have four stories explaining them: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and archeological.
  • The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection ( except to Protestants), is such an (admittedly inspiring) mess because the church has multiple sections: Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, and to a lesser degree Coptic Orthodox, Syriacs Orthodox and Ethiopian Tewahedo. They find it hard to agree on any repairs, but luckily King Hussein of Jordan, a Muslim, has given $30m for repairs.
  • Our guide told us that Israel is divided into three parts: in one the State of Israel collects taxes and provides security; in another Israel provides security but Arabs collect taxes; and in a third Arabs collect taxes and provide security. These areas can be scattered closely together, making it hard for travellers to know which they are in.
  • A favourite game of Israelis is to ask how wide you think the country is at its narrowest point. You know it’s not much. I guessed 40 miles, but the right answer is seven miles.



One thought on “Things I learnt about Israel

  1. Dear Richard

    Not all Orthodox Jewish sects reject the idea and fact of the Israeli State. In fact, I believe it is a small minority, among which, Naturei Karta is the best known.

    If, instead of asking you about the width of Israel, your questioner had asked you if you could define the Eastern border of the state it would have been a more instructive exchange. As a settler-colonial state, Israel has never defined its borders. What do you think they are? And was Israel’s illegal occupation and settlement of territories conquered in 1967 not worth a passing mention?




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