Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

Am I really home?

It’s not 24 hours since I landed EL AL from England.

Oh yes,  I flew El Al “the most “homely airline in the world” and today the Channel that I use more than any “in the world” to get my news and information about our day to day life in Israel is not delivering the goods. Instead, they are playing nostalgic music from a time gone by music which does not even fall comfortably on the ears of many who either were not born here or have not yet identified with all that I as a child had expected to find in my country of choice. The Promised Land.

I had a glorious three weeks in my birthplace. I visited London briefly but long enough to see a profound play “Occupational Hazard” about the futility of the Iraq invasion by the democratic powers.

I also saw “An American in Paris ” although primarily a love story and production of the highest quality including a ballet sequence so beautiful that it brought tears to my eyes.The story also a reminder of a time of hope in the aftermath of WW2.

The first time I landed in Lod airport it was in a Sabena plane. The British were still in 1949, licking their wounds, having given up the occupation of Palestine. To provide flights immediately to that fledgling “State of Israel” was inconceivable.

Now after my 67 years of citizenship(although I did not receive that immediately) of the land that I love and revere with all of my heart, I am not only beginning to doubt myself but everything which I as a child from a mildly religious background but profoundly Jewish one, imbibed.

I quote the prominent journalist and political commentator on all that is connected to the Middle East, Tony Klug, when he addressed the J Street conference which took place in Washington in February 2017.

“I was not I must confess the greatest student of Jewish Studies but very taken by some of the passages that we were taught from the Bible and Torah”.

“Justice justice shalt thou pursue”

“Let my people go”

“God has created mankind in his own image”

Seek peace and pursue it. love thy

“Love thy neighbour as thyself.”

The legendary Rabbi Hillel is said to have summed up the Torah on one leg, with these words:”What is hateful to you, do not do to another” unquote.

My feelings exactly.

During WW2 we London kids were evacuated all over and I stayed mostly with non-Jews who were sweet to me and acceded to my request that I light candles very Friday eve and not eat pork.

Then at age 13 in 1943 the Blitz behind us and the Buzz Bombs yet to come, I attended a youth rally organised by Hashomer Hatzair in a Central London hotel.

On entering the vast ballroom I witnessed over a thousand young people many of whom were refugees from Nazi-held Europe, dancing the Hora and singing songs of Eretz Israel.

The slogans on the walls read “I am going to Eretz Israel”

That was my epiphany and I vowed that should there be the State of Israel, that’s where I would make my life.

Within a few hours of being back… Resht Bet is now dead we are on a diet of music and advertisements.The end of the open and free discussion. Karen Neubach whose very presence gave those ordinary and already oppressed people in our society whose whole life revolves around the ineptitude of those government institutions set up to help them, a place to express themselves, is no longer there.

“Control,control”!  I remember the slogan when the first Russian-speaking party was set up. The old timers were quick to voice these pejoratives of distaste.

Time honoured Jewish ideals, freedom (of expression), justice, equality, peace and mutual respect are eroding from our society. There is no place for moral discourse.

Why this morning(already too late) did not the whole media establishment strike??? Do they not feel threatened or is the “money” talking? Or in fact, do they agree with the move?.

The polarisation is at every level.

I  had dashed into my makolet (local grocery)on my return.I live in a neighbourhood where everyone knows everyone.Even newcomers soon get a greeting from those they pass on the street or meet in the “square”. Two customers were discussing our Minister of Sport and Culture (is there a connection?) They expressed delight about her support for football. Not a mention of any other sphere for example why our sportsmen and women are not given more support or why our local playwrights in many cases are unable to present their plays here?

Then they talked about Likud, their party of preference at which point I had to intervene. I asked since we were in a place where food is the main interest, why are there so many hungry children if there’s money for football?

“There are not many.” they said.

“Excuse me, I said.”I even saw a video for fundraising overseas where Bibi himself requested that they support the charities feeding hungry children”

I then went on and in no uncertain terms insisted since  I had lived during both Tsena and Mitun when food was scarce and we had the minimum income,  that our children did not go to bed on empty stomachs and always had a fat sandwich filled with peanut butter and tomato for school.

Since I had so recently returned from England I regaled in describing how amazing the supermarkets were there and how cheap compared to Israel, including all of the produce  which comes from Europe

As for England!  Indeed all is not rosy. An election is only weeks away.  I did manage to influence one of the taxi drivers I travelled with,that Theresa May was a better bet than Jeremy Corbin. I ate my words later when it was explained to me why she had called a  lightning election.

I was at the House of Commons where a friend had invited me to join him at the Parliamentary lobby group for Palestine. I was surprised that he wanted me to attend but he assured me that my name was on the list explaining that I was a guest from Israel and that it would be OK.

After a security check equal to that of Israel, we passed into the large entrance lobby and there I bumped into a group of young Israelis some of whom I knew who were there as part of the exchange of parliamentary aides.

We were all pleased to see each other in fact we were all members of the same party.They were surprised when I told them where I was going and I, of course introduced them to my friend, a great supporter of the movement of Israelis and Palestinians working for peace.

On entering the committee room which was up four flights of stone steps I collapsed exhausted into a side seat upon which my friend said “Don’t sit there you must be at the table and speak at the end of the meeting”

The guest speaker was from the West Bank and I knew of the town where he lived. The meeting was chaired by Tom Brake a Lib-Dem member who heads the caucus.

After the presentation which included a video of actual scenes during demonstrations in which the speaker had declared were nonviolent in nature but were pretty horrific viewing for an Israeli mother, there were questions.

I sat quietly trying to control my mixed emotions but my friend kept prodding me to speak.

The audience were middle class mostly white Christian and typical of those who come to see the holy sites. Their questions were to be expected. BDS was mentioned and some had said that they had been refused visas but really wanted to go to visit Israel and Palestine.

I raised my hand. I looked at the speaker from the West Bank and said “I am from the land”

Only he understood the implication. I then explained that I was an Israeli who originated from the United Kingdom and that I was involved in the “peace movement”. That we were women from Israel and Palestine who were meeting each other on a regular basis. We have a common goal: an end to the conflict  which has  resulted in so much death, destruction and despair for both of our peoples That we who live in the most unique place on earth centre of the monotheistic faiths, are seeking ways to change attitudes.To find the way so that we can live in peace,security, and respect, in two states. At the close of the meeting, many people came up to me. I invited them to Tel Aviv and the guest speaker gave me his card. WE agreed to meet “in the land”.

Now I understand that the Arabic language, that of the people who were on this land when we arrived during the last century and before, is no longer the second language.

Three weeks away and what will happen in the coming three weeks?

It’s all too hard to comprehend after the serene Cornwall countryside where my daughter in law, widow of my second son has decided to live in the meantime.There I just inhaled the absolute beauty of the ocean, the verdant space, grazing sheep and cows, the cock crowing which woke me up. and the lack of friction. There as opposed to the big cities of the North and Central Britain there are little or no immigrants. It is for me almost being in a time warp.

After my guided tour of the impressive almost magical Bodleian Library the main research library of the University of  Oxford one of the oldest libraries in Europe  I was invited to see the list of donors from the 16th century onwards. To my amazement,  I recognised the name of an Israeli family whom I know. To my knowledge, they are not vocal on local issues, but I may be wrong.

I gasped and the guide asked me if I knew them? Her comment was they must have given at least a million.

So today feeling sad and confused I am writing.

About the Author
Zelda Harris first came to Israel 1949, aged 18. After living through the hardships of the nascent state, she returned to England in 1966. She was a founding member of the Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry. In 1978, she returned with her family to Israel and has been active in various spheres of Israeli Society since. Together with the late Chaim Herzog, she founded CCC for Electoral Reform, was the Director of BIPAC in Israel, and a co-founder of Metuna, the Organisation for Road Safety, which received the Speaker of Knesset Quality of Life Award for saving lives on the roads and prevention of serious injury. She is now a peace activist, blogger for Times of Israel and is writing her life story.