When we thing about the Middle East how often do we merely think of the violence and the bloodshed?
A while ago I had the fortune of seeing the amazing Hidden Treasures from the National Museum Kabul exibition. You learn in school, of course, that ancient “mesopotamia” and all the other places that sound to the student more like fairy tales than actual locations were the cradde of civilisation during a time when Europeans were basically still living in caves. But it is easy to forget that all these marvels, Assur and Sumer and the Persian Empire, are the very geographic places we still see in the TV news all the time. I, too, forgot. Until some years ago I was at a UNESCO / Blue Shield conference and upon the long stream of presenters was an archaeologist almost in tears about the fashion in which Allied troops would trample throgh the very ruins of Babylon without even realising. Ulitmately she had a deck of playing cards, similar to the one featuring the US’ most wanted terrorists, printed showing the most important heritage sites of Iraq hoping someone would remember to thread lightly in these ancient lands.
These days I have been considering travel destinations for later this year and to my own surprise I found myself lay eyes on places I knew I cannot go: The ancient sites of Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan; the cradle of civilisation where every rock tells a story or two or three. I want to see how the ancient Silk Road winds through the ranges of northern Afghanistan and Iran; I want to see the marvellous Persian gardens and the ruins of all those places we learnt about in history class much like they were from another world. But of course I cannot go there for they are drenched in blood and chaos that can re-errupt at any moment. There are still, and that is for a reason, travel warnings for Iraq and Afghanistan and the boycott of Iran means you cannot even withdraw money from an ATM or use a credit card there – leaving you stranded without cash in an emergency.
So as I looked longingly upon those fairy tale places it dawned on me with new strength how much more there is to the Middle East than terrorism and war and IEDs blowing up everyone that comes too close. I wonder how long it will take until I can travel there and feel welcome and secure and all of a sudden I just cannot wait for the time when the conflict is nothing but a memory and heritage sites are being given a new lease of life.
Five years ago I went on an extended field trip to Croatia. I had been there as a child, before the civil war, and I still remembered the place nobody ever thought would descend into chaos; a place with people much as we were where we would go to unwind and enjoy the sea and the hospitality and great cuisine of her people. And then the war came and all we ever got to see again of Croatia were endless streams of traumatised refugees. For ten or so years Croatia, too, was one of these places you just could not go.
So going there again after the debris had been cleared and an emancipated Croatia was on its way of becomming an European Union member had something magic. Visiting Dubrovnik, that medieval gem that was almost destroyed by the ferocity of civil war but had been rebuilt to its fully glory was special. Yes, there were still the traces of shelled houses never rebuilt as soon as you left the main road; a reminder of just how little time had passed; but seeing Croatia again after the war was a pointer how there is always a time after. Eventually.
And now looking upon the Mesopotamian high cultures I wonder and hope whether in another ten years these, too, might just awake from their uncomfortable rest and once again become sites to be marvelled at by generations to come with the war but a chapter of a very, very long and glorious history.
when I went through my blog roll yesterday I noticed with delight that a lot of the old sites are still going strong. The other thing I noted, however, was how all of my former Iranian links have now gone private and password-protected (not that there were ever too many in the first place).
Frankly, it sent a little bit of a shiver down my spine and acted as a reminder, much as Yana did to the Pagan community in regards to Syria early last year, that nothing is well in Iran.
Last time I was in Israel was last May and I remember it being a particularly tense time in the ongoing conflict, really almost a cold war, with Iran. I was travelling north on my own this time and I remember vividly how vulnerable I felt. It is a completely different story whether you are surrounded by well-informed Israeli friends discussing the latest at the dinner table on a daily basis or whether you have just been out of touch with everyone and everything for years and are stuck in a bed-and-breakfast led by and filled with clueless tourists in a town you don’t know. You don’t know whether the helicopters patrolling the beach are just the normal drill or whether it’s a more short interval patrol. They say knowledge is power and last May that definitely prove to be quite true for me; without the knowledge that used to shield me when I was living in Israel full time I felt very vulnerable to the situation completely out of my control.
Anyway, Iran. It’s a country that has started to fascinate me increasingly over the years, so rich in culture and history yet with such a tragic past. It seems to be, in the end, one of a long succession of states driven into ongoing chaos by US “world supremacy” diplomacy of the 20th Century and is now in what seems to be a headlock of extremism. It’s so easy to see them just as “the enemy” willing to bomb the people and places you love with nukes just because … well, because they can, I guess. It’s easy to see Ahmadinejad (who was in charge back in my day when I was following Middle East politics more closely) as some kind of Persian Adolf Hitler too. The truth, however is never quite that easy or easy to grasp.
It was around the time of the Obama elections that I had a little conversation with one of the Tehran-based bloggers now gone private blog about Ahmadinejad and how people would possibly vote for him. She made a point of comparing his charisma to that of Obama, especially to a people desperate by years of sanctions, oppression and poverty. And in doing so she opened a tiny window for me into what people in Tehran are thinking and why they are acting the way the do. Unfortunately, as much as I enjoyed our conversations, some via our blogs and some via email, she never deviated from Ahmadinejad’s line when it came to the Evil Zionists of Israel. I never found out whether that was for fear or her truly buying into it.
So what about that new guy, Hassan Rohani, people that know I keep an eye on Middle East politics keep asking me. I know for most of the folks with a strong connection to Israel the question is easy to answer and most see Rohani as not much but a new face of the same old story, more fine-lined to confuse the West this time so they can eventually duck out of their sanctions. Me, I am not always certain about it. Maybe he is, I wouldn’t rule it out. But then I think if something is to be learnt from the now nearing-its-end presidency of Barak Obama (and here again I know people will disagree with me) it is how hard it is even for a man that entered presidency with the noblest of plans to achieve anything at all if he finds himself in a nation-sized political deadlock. I cannot help but think that if Rohani was who he claims to be and if the extremist-induced political deadlock is only half that of the United States of America the situation would probably be looking exactly like what we have been seeing since he took up presidency. So yes, I think there is a chance he may be sincere and there is a chance that things may go up stream for Iran and, eventually, the relationship to Israel.
On the other hand, though, this has not diminished that lingering fear in the back of my head that one day, without much of a warning, someone in Iran will push a button and the aftermath will see places and people I love reduced to ashes, a mushroom cloud for a monument. Not just because I am all but certain about the intentions of Hassan Rohani to create a more peaceful Iran but even more for knowing that even if he is sincere there is not much stopping the ultra-religious would-be martyrs that obviously cover high political functions with lots of power from taking over over at the blink of an eye.
It really is a mess of a situation to be in for all involved parties. Even if politics weren’t as corrupted as they are, even if I had any trust whatsoever left in the doings of the United Nations it would be. How do you offer a nation that may be willing to change a hand in peace when you have to be aware of the possibility that someone else is pushing the button just as you sit and negotiate? On the other hand if you do not reach out to them now that there is willingness to talk you will inadvertently give fuel to the ultra-extremists in confirming everything they have been preaching about the West for decades. It seems like either way you can only loose. And that is if we were living in a perfect world, which we are most definitely not. In the real world there is nobody sincerely interested in the fate of Iran or Israel or any other of the Middle Eastern countries at those negotiating tables; You are lucky if their interest is limited to polishing their respective country and party’s image as peace doves rather than more personal economic intentions.
If you ever try to understand what is happening in the Middle East imagine your own country’s political parties and how they would be inconsolable on whatever is a politically charged matter in your country at the moment. Now add the temperament and the high stakes of Middle Eastern politics to that. Voilá, there is your very own home-brewed Middle Eastern mess.
this morning my long-standing friend Aracuron dragged out one of my old posts from 2010. In this context I also may want to link to my latest article from my active (Pagan themed) blog on freedom of speech that Aracuron too was referring to in his post. Really I probably could have posted it here instead of over there content wise. At times it feels almost schizophrenic to be dealing with two different blogs – which is probably why for simplicity’s sake I leave even the more political content over at Migdalit Or these days.
In the aftermath the usual conversation just had to start: why aren’t you blogging in that other blog any more? It has been almost a year after all and that’s your normal blogging interval in that one after all he teased me.
So why don’t I?
It’s not that Israel, my time there and the people I had to leave behind aren’t dear to me any more. Certainly not. I still visit there any chance I get (which is way too rarely for my taste) and though I may not count Quassamim and Katjushas any more I still do keep an eye out on the news. I also still have much of the same discussions with people around me as I have been having for the last half decade; I am still hearing much of the same old song about evil, occupying and human rights violating Jews that really ought to have learnt from their own history but didn’t. While I am sick and tired of these conversations it turns out the rest of the world isn’t. “The Conflict” (TM) still is the same kind of global circus maximus it used to be five and even fifty years ago.
Luckily as of today buses still haven’t gone back to blowing up on Sheinkin road on a daily basis. Whether that is because nobody tries any more or because security now has a more tight lock on it I will leave to the experts – and self-declared experts – to decide. For the time being it means that, besides from the regular rocket scares that seem to happen on an almost predetermined interval much like the holidays come and go, people in Tel Aviv and the rest of Israel have their lifes mostly back. The novelty of going to the beach and gathering in crowds larger than three has now worn off and in many ways Tel Aviv is becoming a lot more like other Mediterranean metropoles with much of the same kind of problems. I sometimes wonder whether, if I went there today rather than 2007 it would change me as much as it did; I still thoroughly enjoy Tel Aviv as a place that seems to bring out the best in me but it is not quite the same any more.
So really I gather I don’t write more than I do on this blog because not much is changed since 2007. Truth be told I could probably dig up some of my posts from five years ago and just change a few names before re-posting and most readers would never be the wiser. I may as well just leave the blog as is as an archive for anyone interested to look up the same old information, help yourself to the search field if you are looking for something in specific.
What I have done today, though, is found a new theme. I really couldn’t bear the old one any more so I hope you don’t mind. I am also going to go through the blog roll and weed inactive links. I know it frustrates the crap out of myself if other pages have more dead than active links.
To celebrate the occasion I have gone through my other blog and found you links to some of the somewhat Israel-relating articles. Bear in mind, though, that the other blog mostly is a Pagan one so these are somewhat of a different style.
If Aracuron keeps being his usual pain in the neck I may even think of cross-posting anything relevant in the future
explaining to the uninitiated why I keep babbling about Israel sometimes
about PTSD albeit mostly in the American context. Includes a very good video.
on Warrior Paganism
some of this is inspired by my time in Israel and the time immediately after, also some Israel anecdotes mentioned
mostly general definitions but, again, some Israel anecdotes mixed in
Yana, a Syrian Pagan that got caught up in the civil war in March 2013 caused quite a stir in the Pagan community. It sometimes are single people getting caught up in a picture too big to understand that make us appreciate the human dimension.
honouring the wonderful lady I lived with in Tel Aviv. She has passed away in the meantime but I will never forget her.
So, yep, that’s it for this year, I guess. I have a story from my last visit in the back of my head that I may or may not come back to tell some of these days.
Otherwise … enjoy the blog archives.
This goes to show that I am still alive. And though my life may now be happening on a different continent I still appreciate some good old-fashioned Israeli humour.
As a friend said the other day: “Try humour when you are stressed. It helps us get through wars.”
Hard to beat Israeli Technology!
TEL AVIV, Israel – The Israelis are developing an airport security device that eliminates the privacy concerns that come with full-body scanners.
It’s an armored booth you step into that will not X-ray you, but will detonate any explosive device you may have on your person.
Israel sees this as a win-win situation for everyone, with none of this crap about racial profiling. It will also eliminate the costs of long and expensive trials.
You’re in the airport terminal and you hear a muffled explosion. Shortly thereafter, an announcement:
“Attention to all standby passengers, El Al is pleased to announce a seat available on flight 670 to London. Shalom!”
I know it’s been a while .. well … a fair while.
Israel and me … it’s still quite a relationship even though life has kept me too busy to return since 2009. My best friend, my adopted sister I’m tempted to say, got a gorgeous little son now though, so I figure I really have to hop that plane again if I want to see him off-skype before he is too old for a cuddle.
Anyway, I found a copy of this letter at the Middle East blog of an Austrian newspaper today and it really cracked me up. Maybe some Israeli official has figured out that he’s gonna be ripped apart by a certain group of people no matter what so he can at least have some fun while they are busy with it.
According to Austrian Newspaper der Standard this document has been handed to Syrian Politologist Radwan Ziadeh of George Washington University by unknown sources from the Syrian Government.
It basically details how for the current Syrian Government on how to avoid a politican situation that is sliding more and more towards what we have been seeing in Egypt and Tunisia lately. No matter what its real source might be – I have no means of confirming this with other sources – it certainly makes brilliant, and also rather horrifying reading, especially if you take into account developments in Syria.
Pessakh Sameakh from Australia