ISRAEL: The Watchman

  • Share
  • Read Later

(5 of 6)

"Buses Will Run." Hebrew will help hold the new nation together. The world outside Israel (including many U.S. Zionists) expected the main cement of the new state to be the Jewish religion, preserved through centuries of vicissitudes. In Israel this seems to have lost its validity. When the Promised Land was the unpaid balance of a divine I.O.U., when they lived among more or less hostile Gentiles, religion was a far more vital force than it is today in Israel. The Jew is supposed to wear a hat; in Tel Aviv, young men risk sunstroke to go hatless. Waiters at the Armon Hotel in Tel Aviv have no qualms about offering guests bacon. Throughout the country dietary laws are widely breached.

The constitution to be written next fall will make a point of separating church and state. Ben-Gurion and other leaders rarely turn up at synagogues. Jews are not supposed to travel in vehicles on the Sabbath but they do today in Israel. Foreign Minister Moshe Shertok, a brisk, urbane statesman, did not even wait for a reporter to ask him about it. Said Shertok: "And if you're going to ask whether the trains and buses are going to run on the Sabbath, I can tell you right now—they are."

The old Jews of Europe had to wear long curls; many young Israelis of Tel Aviv favor crew cuts in the American—or Prussian—style. Israeli girls, who run to the buxom bucolic type, stride the streets in slacks or shorts. Many have gone into the CHEN, Israeli version of the WAC. The young people turn their backs on sentimental, nostalgic, masochistic traditional Jewish art. Such plays as the great Yiddish drama, The Dybbuk, draw an almost unanimous "it stinks" from the sabras. Their strong, bronzed young hands have no tendency to rend their open-necked sport shirts in grief.

Victims of History. If not religion, what will hold Israel together? Today fear of the Arabs performs for the Israelis the same unifying function that Gentile persecution and discrimination performed during the Dispersion. The Arabs, as Ben-Gurion noted, are 40 to one Israeli. But the Jewish superiority over the Arabs is not just a figment of Israeli imagination; it is a fact. Israel has probably the highest percentage of skilled labor and executive experience of any people in the world; by comparison, the Arabs are near the bottom of the scale.

The Western world tends to think of the Arab as a falcon-eyed warrior on a white horse. That Arab is still around, but he is far less numerous than the disease-ridden wretches who lie in the hot streets, too weak, sick and purposeless to roll over into the shade.

The Arabs, no less than the Jews, are victims of history. Four centuries of Turkish rule hurt them at least as badly as a decade of Naziism hurt the Jews. Now, in their morning of independence, the Arabs have suffered defeat at the hands of a small, despised people. It rankles.

Yet only in peace between Jews and Arabs is there much hope for either. If the Israelis are forced into many years of war they may indeed become "an ugly little Spartan state." Their wiser leaders know this. Such men as Ben-Gurion see the Israel of tomorrow as an industrial, trading and organizing nation leading the whole Middle East to new levels of productivity.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6