The Star of David might be on the flag and the menorah and olive branch on the crest but the crane is the real emblem of Israel. Everywhere you go, giant steel jibs signpost a country under permanent development.
There are cranes over Tel Aviv, over Jerusalem, over Sderot — where they’re putting up houses at a rate that must tempt the odd Hamas rocket technician to throw in the towel.
There’s even one stretching over the Western Wall plaza right now. If the moshiach turns up any time soon looking to rebuild a temple, he’ll be spoiled for choice on contractors.
Earlier this month, I visited Israel for the first time as a guest of the government, mostly because I could no longer justify writing so extensively about a country I’d never set foot in.
As a Zionist of the non-Jewish variety, I worried that going would break the spell. They say you should never meet your heroes and maybe that rule applied to countries too.
But there are two Israels — the Israel that’s developing, innovating and inventing and another country, Bibination, the Israel that has grown sluggish about a resolution to the Palestinian conflict and testy towards those who point it out.
The first Israel is the Eretz Nehederet of the song. It truly is an old-new land, where four thousand years of history bumps up against the latest app. Every kind of person, every ethnicity and lifestyle and story is here.
Around the corner from the Kotel, I bought a Coke from a Palestinian vendor with Israeli shekels. As I passed from the Jewish Quarter of the Old City into the Muslim Quarter, the number of decorative kippot and Israeli flags on sale, only seemed to increase.
I visited the Peres Centre for Peace and Innovation and saw the first Israeli lunar craft, which will launch for the moon next March. There is no peace but Israel is innovating at interplanetary pace.
And it works. Israel works and, yes, Bibination works too.
That is what frustrates the left inside and outside the country. Israel is supposed to be isolated, shunned by its friends and out-manoeuvred by its enemies, and yet 2018 has been pretty sababa, as they say in Israel. The US Embassy was moved to Jerusalem, Arab leaders seeking allies against Iran are bombarding Bibi with friend requests, and — biggest deal of all — Israel won the Eurovision Song Contest.
The Israeli peace camp has been on its tuches electorally for a generation now but its worldview was still embedded in the national psyche. No longer. The dream of peace has given way to a default co-existence that is unromantic and yet not evidently practical in the long term.
Yitzhak Rabin’s plan was the hard-headed ‘us here, them there’ — a separation that would secure Israel but leave much of Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians. The unspoken proposal of Bibination is ‘us here, them too’, in which Israel retains the territories without political or security consequences while policing a national struggle as if it were a neighbour dispute.
It holds together — better than you might think — but for how long? Democracy and demography are spoiling for a fight and they’re going to go at it one of these days. Israel does not feel like a country prepared for that day. Israelis have been lulled into a soothing torpor. The construction industry may be hyperactive but the Bibi era is one marked by political inertia.
Of course, we all know why this is so. Israel’s every overture is rebuffed, its ‘partners for peace’ nurture their children on hatred, and the best-paying gig in the Palestinian labour market is killing Israelis.
Israelis stopped talking about peace because they have no one to talk to. They keep building their homeland hoping that one day the Palestinians will decide to do the same.