Jerusalem, different perspectives

“What did you do when you were in the army?”

Elick smiles and says Amit was an Engineer. Amit is terrified.

“I worked as an engineer because there is no theoretical part to the army! Everything is applied.. but I was NEVER an engineer. I worked temporarily as one”

He says it with disgust. I laugh. I am in Jerusalem. I stay with Elick who I traveled Kashmir and Mc Leod in India with. Elick, for those who remember, had been raised in a Yeshiva in a very religious family. He had quit religion through literature to study physics, and in physics he discovered math.

I stay with Elick and his girlfriend Tali now. Tali has her last exams while I am there. She who also comes from a family of mathematicians. She however, grew up in the  secular world in Haifa a city where Palestinians and Jews live together.

Amit is apparently a mathematics genius. Someone who does not sleep, and thinks the whole time of geometry. He loves mathematics to the point that anything else seems to not exist for him. He finds physicists are liars as they are always making approximation about everything. He makes jokes about physicists. So calling him an engineer was nothing short of an offense.

He despises applied use of mathematics, he cares about the abstractions.

I laugh. Listening to this highly educated men talking about abstractions of abstractions. I left the West Bank and all my partial fasting ( I drank water) to cross Jerusalem in a festival day. Mahane yehuda, the main market is packed with artists … and I went from hearing the love stories and practical reality of the occupied territories to now listen to music and have very philosophical conversations which I can barely grasps about religion and math.

How can I do it? Sometimes I wonder. What kind of cognitive dissonance do I need to be able to cross the wall and have everything change so much in minutes?. How is it that now I go out with Elicks ex-religious friends to the Muslim quarter when the fasting has been broken to see it. They ask me about the west bank, How is it that I ended up knowing more about human lives there in few months then they have in all of their lives? I am surrounded by the ex-religious friends of Elick. Some are mathematicians, others doctors, and one, in special was a settler.

I never met a settler before. And now I went out with one. A settler who lived in a Palestinian neighborhood in the Westbank. He takes me there to see it. He speaks fluently Arabic. He is a beautiful man. He has never believed. He can’t explain me very well how is it that he quit the Yeshiva. He seems to have no politicalopinions though he is a journalist and studies the middle east.

He has Palestinian friends, though when he explains to me about these relationships he can see the details that my left wing friends in Israel can’t. He explains me the intricacies of the languages. I am confused. I never thought I d be in the Occupied Territories with a settler… and now I swim in the springs among religious Jews, while I am accompained by an ex-religious who was raised in the occupied territories..not exactly a settlement, but a Palestinian neighbourhood where there are only 4 Jewish families living.

I dont know what to think about it. It is definitively a first.

I ask him about it. And I am not sure I can reproduce what he told me. He lived in an area where Jews had always lived. during the 48 war jews had no water and were saved by these Palestinians who brought water for them to survive. He says he grew up knowing that. That he was taught they had to respect the Palestinians because they had saved them. I listen without knowing what to think. I don’t even know very well what the word “respect” here means. He talks of a Palestinian  girl he would marry if it would not mean to loose both all of his family and for her to loose all of hers. We listen to the Lebanese band Mashrou Leila. A highly politicized Lebanese band and he can sing all the lyrics in Arabic while it plays. He learned about them through the Palestinian friend. I, as well, heard them for the first time,  when I first arrived in the west bank a bit more than one year ago.

“Jules, you dont understand. These hollywood stories cannot happen here!”

I hear. I  pay attention to his linguistic explanations. I am confused. I ask him about how did his very religious family react to him quitting the Yeshiva. They never talk about it. It is not the first time I am with the ex-religious and I am always intrigued by them.

I am in fact always so intrigued about the people who quit their lives, all that was familiar. Elik though nonreligious finds his friends who went to the Yeshiva more inteligent than his mathematician secular friends. My secular friends who do not know the ex-religious have despise to  the yeshiva people. It all goes back to an economical ( and ideological?) situation. And again I cant do justice to explain this properly here. It suffixes to say that through the years the right and the left have conceded more and more rights to the religious to get their political support.

They are now in a situation where the religious population grows exponentially. They pay less taxes, are paid by the state once they have more than 4 children ( which most of them do). Their Yeshivas is  fully financed. They usually ( but not all) are very right wing and were exempted from going to the army. Now, as the law has expired there is lots of discussion on the matter. Whether it is fair or not for the religious to not go to the army. What modifications would the IDF ( Israeli defense Force) have to do to accommodate for young religious  boys who already are married with lots of children and are not supposed to have contact with women. And of course, this whole discourse on “fairness” also rises the question whether Palestinian Citizens of Israel ( also know as as Arab Israelis- who are the Palestinians who are citizens in Israel and  not leaving in the occupied territories) should not be required as well. This is a moot discussion of course. They do not want the the Palestinians Citizens of Israel in the IDF but those are the kinds of debates that are happening here right now.

I dont know what to think. As the improbable bridge that I have become I learn from all sides…challenging always my certainties. I end up as the bridge of a  Facebook conversation between my friend from Nablus Ihab and my Jewish Israeli friend Michal in Tel Aviv. She is curious to know what they think, She wished she could also visit Nablus and meet them. He thinks she can. According to the law she can’t. He understands her fear to come as an Israeli. Though he wished she could just come speaking English. It is sad to be that bridge.

I also meet an UN manager here. He is cool. He came from South Sudan. He loves the life in Jerusalem. He also lived before in Togo. He is from Belgium and thought he seems to be a problem solver I feel he does not really understand anything about the middle east. He is kind. He wants to help the project. But the coldness and the mechanic way he looks at things both shock me and surprise me.

Who knows…maybe it is what they need in the middle east.. to be more practical… more clear….but at the same time, this idea alone, seems soooooooo foreign here…

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