Some of the most memorable conversations I have had here in Israel Palestine, have been at times when I really didn’t expect them. One of them was today.
I had arranged a meeting at a certain prominent museum in Jerusalem, (excuse me avoiding names – I don’t want to embarrass anyone). Many years ago I had conducted a funeral and been asked by the chief mourner to look after a bible he didn’t know what to do with – but felt it should be preserved. It was the bible General Allenby carried into Jerusalem in 1917. I said I would look after it and try to find a suitable place for it. In addition a friend of Mary’s when clearing out her home before moving into a smaller property had come across two old photo albums – taken by her husband while serving in the Roayal Air Force in Palestine in 1926 and 1927. The photos were fascinating- not the least those of the earthquake in 1927.
So this morning I took them to an Israeli museum in Jerusalem that I thought would value them. They were very enthusiastic and delighted with them. So much so that the person I first met with called another person to come and examine these items. We were left waiting for a quarter of an hour for the second person to come and we got talking. “What are you doing here?” So I described my work and where I lived and she was very interested. She indicated how the museum recieves funding from a British supporter that enables it to remain indipendent. She began to speak about how difficult archaeology is in Jerusalem – as a result of the right wing in Israel wanting to describe a history of Jerusalem that is entirely focused upon its Jewish history. I spoke about a lecture I had attended about the politicisation of archaeology in Israel. We discussed the issue and found total agreement between us, I hadn’t expected that! She then made the comment about the Israeli flag that flew over the museum, and how many of the staff were very unhappy about it, they wanted either a number of flags, or none at all!
Once again I was reminded of how easy it is for those of us working closely with Palestinians to forget that many people in Israel are very unhappy with the direction the right wing governments of Israel have been taking the country now for some twenty years. I remember Mary and I encountering a person at another Israeli museum who within a few moments of meeting us was saying “many of us in Israel despair at what our government is doing.”
I am left feeling very conflicted. On one side it was a great encouragement to hear an Israeli in a respected position being so candid about her views. On the other it leaves me feeling – if there are so many in Israel who are unhappy about the direction the country is going in – why doesn’t an effective opposition materialise in Israeli politics? As they would say in Palestine Inshalla!