As I always boast to people, I visit Israel very frequently. My entire family lives there, and as tends to be the case with Jewish families, I am obliged to visit them often – lest be faced with the dire case of a disappointed Jewish grandmother, or even worse, the hysterical Israeli aunt.
This winter, I decided to do something different with my trip. Travelling with my friend Sami Steinbock, I set out on a mini ‘fact-finding mission,’ attempting to uncover the lesser known aspects of Israeli political culture. From Kahanists in East Jerusalem to Peace Now activists in North Tel Aviv, we plan to meet some very interesting, weird, wonderful, whacky and relatively unknown characters from a plethora of political subcultures which form Israel’s colourful national discourse.
My mission began right on the plane, talking to Arie Kiselstein of globallyjewish.com. Kiselstein is the son of a survivor of the 1929 Hebron massacres. Aged five years old, his father barely escaped with his life in what was one of the worst pogroms of the twentieth century. While Palestinian activists tend to scream ‘ethnic cleansing’ when describing the State of Israel’s creation, they are clearly ignorant of real cases of terror and expulsion. Kiselstein’s great-aunt was raped – his uncle was brutally stabbed in the heart. What about their human rights? The Kiselstein family were driven from the homes they had lived in for generations (because they were Jews). Until this day they have neither received compensation nor even an official apology.
Arie’s family history epitomises the hypocrisy which dominates debate regarding the Middle East. For me, this family tragedy also reinforced the driving force behind our mission – i.e. to uncover aspects of Israel’s historical and cultural identity otherwise not known to people. It also underpinned the urgency to demolish standard myths of the conflict from an alternative angle.
I will be blogging about our experiences over the next two weeks. But I am merely the Watson to Samuel Steinbock’s Holmes. Without him, this trip would not be nearly as interesting as I would have hoped – he is credited as a co-author throughout.
We hope to reclaim the word ‘Zionism’ – and what it means for people across all sectors of Israeli society.
You can follow our trip here on the Times of Israel. Stay tuned…
Jonathan Hunter is the UK Campus Director of StandWithUs UK and serves on the Union of Jewish Students’ National Council. He has been described by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign as a Mossad Operative – when he actually struggles to complete his degree at Brasenose College, Oxford.
Samuel Philip Steinbock serves as a representative for the Union of Jewish Students on the Board of Deputies. He is affectionately known as The Bock and leader of the #BockNation. In his spare time he is a student at King’s College London.