Israel was introduced to me in 1955 by Edith Coliver, the Asia Foundation representative who was posted in many Asian countries including the Philippines. I met her at the Asia Foundation office in San Francisco during my six-month visit to the United States sponsored by the US Department of State.
Edith was originally from Germany, born to a Jewish family. She escaped the Hitler anti-Jewish campaign and fled to London. From there, she went to the United States and enrolled at the University of California in Berkeley.
When the Nazi war criminals were brought to trial in Nurnberg at the end of World War II, she was an interpreter. When she learned that I was very interested in agrarian reform, she said that I should visit Israel on the way back to Manila and look at the agrarian reform program in that country.
Israel in 1955 was just starting its life as a nation. It was, of course, a seat of an ancient civilization. And Jerusalem, which Israel claims as their capital, is a city revered not only by Jews but also by Muslims as well as Christians as the seat of their religions.
Edith told me about the social experiments, the kibbutz in Israel, and I visited one close to Tel Aviv. Ein Hakorish is an agricultural kibbutz. The kibbutz is a very radical social experiment, almost communist but without the rigid communist repression. The workers have no property other than their personal belongings. They live in dormitories and are given work assignments; the children live in nurseries.
When I first went to Israel, the main products of the kibbutz were peanuts and cucumbers. A less demanding agrarian social arrangement is the Moshal, and these are in the settlements in the Negev desert where families live together.
Social life in the kibbutz is as vibrant as any in the whole of Israel. I remember us going to a concert given by a famous violinist at the Tel Aviv auditorium. We proceeded there directly from the kibbutz without changing our working clothes.
Water is a great need in Israel; its main source is desalinated sea water; the Jordan River isn’t much. The river itself is very narrow, in certain portions one can simply jump across it. The irrigation system in Israel is highly calibrated. Once the water reaches the roots, it stops automatically. Since land is in short supply, even the land that sticks to stones is scraped and added to the soil.
The settlers in Israel were not farmers. They were mostly from Europe, professionals, businessmen and many idealistic young people who were anxious to build a homeland. There is among the Jews that ancient dream that someday, they will be able to go back to the land of their ancestors. They have been persecuted all over the world since the Middle Ages. There has never been anti-Semitism in the Philippines. In the first place there were not that many Jews here.
President Quezon opened the country to them. Nazi persecution of the Jews is known worldwide; the fact that they had finally found a homeland has not ended their problems as they are now surrounded by Arab nations, among them the Palestinians, who were in the same land for generations as well.
When Israel was created in 1948 by the United Nations, it was carved out of that territory that was then ruled by Britain. Half of that territory went to the Palestinians but within the last 50 years, Palestine was occupied slowly by Jewish settlers, and today that occupation is almost complete with the narrow strip called Gaza as the only remaining Palestinian territory.
The Arab-Israeli conflict that erupted almost immediately after Israel’s birth has continued in a series of wars, some between armies, and some more isolated skirmishes such as what is happening now.
May I reiterate my appreciation of the Jews and what they have done for Israel to make it bloom. As a people, they have contributed so much to the sciences and the arts. I am not anti-Semitic, and it is not anti-Semitic to condemn Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people and the occupation of their country. It is simple defense of sovereignty and of human rights, which the United Nations itself recognizes with so many resolutions that Israel had ignored.
Today, the Israeli army is one of the most powerful armies in the world – disciplined and combat efficient. Israel is also very industrialized and is now engaged in the manufacturing of armaments. We are buying billions worth of sophisticated Israeli military hardware from Israel; the machine pistol, the Uzi is perhaps the best example of Israeli innovative craftsmanship.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is now on its second week has already resulted in so many deaths in Gaza. The Israelis are claiming they are only retaliating by bombing Gaza. As Noam Chomsky, an American Jewish academic, says, “Israel has tanks, jets, artillery, navy. Palestine does not have these. What is happening is murder.”
Israel could not have survived and flourished if it was not supported by the United States and international Jewry. The United States has poured billions not only into Israel but into its Arab neighbors to convince them to have relations with Israel; some of them have done this.
As of May 21, the powerful Israeli army is massed on the borders of Gaza. A ceasefire is temporarily in place. Israel wants Gaza to surrender and if it does, that will be the end of the Palestinian state. Perhaps it is time to recall that one of the outstanding myths that underlines anti-Semitism through the centuries is this: when the Jews finally get their homeland, Armageddon is at hand. Those who believe in anti-Semitism will point out that this pandemic is the first precursor of that prophesy, and the next is nuclear war. It must be noted that Israel now has nuclear weapons.
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