* von Hedwig Seyr-Glatz *
Travel to could-have-been neighbours, to real friends, to people who refuse ennmity
We had 8 days at our disposal: May 2nd to 10th
We had found 4 Servas families who were prepared to put us up.
We met 3 former habitants from our region, the Bucklige Welt; a lady who had escaped from Wiesmath when the Nazis came to power, her son and his wife and an Arabian family on the Westbank who tries to farm the land.
Everywhere we went we talked to attentive, friendly, sensitive, educated people who were happy to tell us about the difficult history of their families and their country.
The first were Iris and Sharon with their little son Zohar, who for 2 days shared their life in their home in Oranit, a settlement bordering on the Westbank, with us.
There we had the opportunity to get to know many local people at a village party. After Lorenz explained to them the reason for our visit, the search for survivors of the Holocaust from his home village, they told us their stories of encounters which reconnected them with their roots in different parts of the world. It was the first evening and it touched us deeply.
The next morning we were shocked to see the high barbed wire fence behind which we saw nothing more than an olive grove. Another shock in the evening: our GPS refused to show us the way to Oranit: a risky zone! We had no map and no idea how to get there from Tel Aviv. Then we put another place nearby Oranit from where the GPS worked. We arrived late at Iris‘ and Sharon’s but we arrived.
The conversations with Iris were about health, Yoga, Ayurveda, her land of birth Syria, her veterinary studies in Kosice, Slovakia, subjects like at home. Sharon had to go to work, he is a policeman, a bomb disposal expert!
Israel’s settlement policy was not discussed. It apparently doesn’t seem to be a problem.
The second two evenings we spent with Jana Maria, who came from Argentina, and Avri, who came from Wiesbaden, in Kiryat Ono. We enjoyed their beautiful house and the garden as well as delicious food, conversations about their large patchwork family, about Avri’s job as a chief social worker in Israel’s prisons. He said that Arab and Jewish prisoners get along well with each other while being prepared for a job and for life in freedom. He wondered why it is so difficult to live together outside prison.
From Kiryat Ono we went to Tel Aviv for a visit to the Winklers, Judith, who came from Wiener Neustadt, and Kurt from Hochwolkersdorf, the neighbouring village to Wiesmath. Their families were expelled by the Nazis in 1938 just after the Anschluss. They told us about their dangerous escape to Palestine in 1940 and their settlement under difficult conditions in Tel Aviv. It was a touching conversation.
On the way to Haifa we met Itzig, Lili Argov´s son, and his wife Nurit in a big shopping centre near Haifa where they have a shop for art things. We spoke about his mother and his grandmother who was a wonderful cook. He specially loved her Marillenknödel (Apricot dumplings). Another subject was their children. 2 of them have to do military service now, 3 years for boys, 2 for girls! And it’s difficult to find a job before and after.
In Haifa, Haim and Rolly put us up for the next 2 days. We had the opportunity to get to know a part of the large patchwork family. Haim was the cook and his sister Pnina, her husband Samuel and their little daughter Stav came for dinner. They are experienced Servas travellers and told us about their travels around the world. Haim spoke about Israel’s difficult situation and sharply critizised the government; he had time to think about it, because he was very sick and is now in early retirement. Rolly told us about the changes in their life because of Haim´s sickness. And when Gal, their 12 year old daughter showed her little shy smile, we were very happy to know that people far away from our home have a different life but similar problems we could understand deeply. This made us feel close to them and maybe we could take a little bit away from their burden.
The first day in Haifa we visited Lili Argov in her elegant residence for retired people. I think she was happy to meet us, because there are no other people with whom she can talk about her childhood and her origin in Wiesmath. Lorenz has known her for some years and visited her in 2008. Then she came to Vienna and to Wiesmath in 2010 with her son Itzig. Lorenz had a lot of questions about her life in Austria under the Nazis and her escape to Palestine in 1940. She was very patient and answered everything. We went to the restaurant for lunch and than she offered us a big cake in real Wiesmathian style self made with 8 eggs.
The meeting with Lili was the main emphasis of our visit in Israel.
Mrs. Lilli Argov who was expelled from Lorenz‘ native village Wiesmath in 1938
The last two days we spent in Jerusalem with Nurit and Amitai, speaking German. Nurit’s parents came in the thirties from Nürnberg to Palestine and Amitai’s also from Germany. Both are teachers, Amitai of Hebrew, an expert in Jewish religion and culture. He loved to explain to us the tradition, but they are also very interested in politics. After dinner Amitai went to his choir and we joined him just for seeing how they sing in a reformed synagogue; for me it looks a little bit like a reformed church in Europe. And the choir had a talented young leader who is able to produce a wonderful sound.
The next day we had our meeting with Amal, an Arabic woman from an olive grove where they have a peace project called Tent of Nations, near Bethlehem, on the Westbank behind the wall. We took the bus, we had a good map and an excellent explanation of where to go. When we got out of the bus, 3 men supposed to be taxi drivers followed us, they didn’t understand that we were waiting for somebody. Real taxi drivers or …? It was a bit uncanny. Amal, which means hope in Arabic, who is working in an hospital as physiotherapist, came and took us 10 km by taxi to her ground. The road was small and after 200 meters was blocked by rocks, so they cannot go directly to the town with their products. Amal told us that her family had lived on this ground since 1916 and that for 20 years they have had a court case as the Israeli settler are trying to make them leave the ground. But they have papers proving that they are the owners. Most of the others Palestinians don’t have any papers and so it’s easy to expel them. There are 4 settlements around with water, electricity and all comfort. But Amal´s family is not allowed to have fresh water or electricity. At the entrance to their ground we could see a stone with the following sentence in German, Hebrew and English: We refuse to be enemies.
Sometimes soldiers or settlers come with weapons in their hands. Amal’s family don´t have weapons and they don´t need them. They invite them to have a tea or a coffee and conversations. Once Amal was successful: a woman from the nearest settlement who at first was very aggressive because she didn’t know that there were people living there, came on the ground and they had a good conversation.
They try to stay, to farm their land and to live there without violence.
Their program is to invite people from around the world for having peace workshops on the ground, they work with the people from the nearby Arabic village for the education of their children.
And they hope that because of their international contacts – among them also jewish groups – they can stay and farm the earth.
„We refuse to be enemies“
Tent of Nations – People Building Bridges – P.O. Box 28, Bethlehem – Palestine
Tel: +9722274 3071
When we told our experience to Nurit and Amitai, they were very sceptical and wondered that Arabic people would do peace work.
We also had touristic highlights:
we saw Old Jaffa, the Bauhaus and the real modern Tel Aviv, the beach; a wonderful small natural park on the coast with beautiful flowers; Caesarea, a historic city with a big harbour, Akko, an Arabic city with many Christian churches, where we took a boat trip with young Arabic girls who danced and were so touching to see in their happiness and last but not least Jerusalem with its wall around the old city, the Wailing Wall, an Arabic cemetary below the Temple Mount, the oriental basar. And we were impressed by the beautyful landscape.
At the Roman ruins of Caesarea Philippi
Girls dancing with Hedwig on a boat in the harbour of Acre
On the walls of the Old Citiy of Jerusalem
Hedwig Seyr-Glatz, Juni 2012