Porquerolles Day 6

July 19, 2015

The last day of the conference. Before 11 a.m. the lectures were all over. I wasn’t sure if I paid attention to them well. During the coffee break, I found out everybody I know was to leave the island immediately except for Ernst Jan. We went to see them off at the port in the middle of the day under the blazing hot sun. It was that laid-back kind of atmosphere that made my eyes half closed. All of a sudden, Ougustine came to hug us and went to join the line. Then I noticed the line moving and that signified the departure of my friends. I only managed to locate Elektra who called out to me, and Julie beside her. We hugged and kissed and bid farewell. It was so brief and there wasn’t any chance to say goodbye to anyone else that I hung out with. The next moment the port was empty, leaving me a bit bewildered- a feeling I had long time ago. I always find it hard to digest that friends who created and shared fond memories can just disappear from my life this easily. But I also realize for truly sociable people, it happens all the time and they don’t lament it.

Two hours later, Ernst Jan and I were sitting at Le Pelagos. After the Delft native introduced me to their rowing culture and their enormous civil engineering revolving around dikes, somehow we came to the topic of Israel’s conflict. I looked up at him when he used the word “aggression”, albeit in a careful tone as if that would irritate me. I did find it offensive as Israel never acts unprovoked (okay, minus that 1956 war). So far I had seen myself as a little ambassador of Israel to the world, ready to discuss any complex problems in an educated manner. But before I could make a statement, he said in the gentlest possible way – in a mosquito’s volume – that Farah was a refugee from Lebanon. I gasped and my mind went blank. But that was not all. Her house was destroyed when Israel invaded southern Lebanon. The whole family fled to Egypt where soon afterwards there was unrest and again they had to run away. Eventually they settled down in France. And now Farah lives in Australia where she did her research. For years she could not speak to an Israeli. When she met Israelis she got so angry that she felt like punching them in the face. Only a year ago she gradually overcame this.

As the story unfolded, the images of my limited interaction with Farah came rushing through my mind. I always introduce myself first and foremost as a student from Israel because I never like to present myself as being from China. Like most, Farah verified that this most-definitely Chinese looking person is not Israeli. But why in the world did I add, in the face of a Lebanese, that I like to pretend to be Israeli, only falling short of declaring myself as a self-appointed Israeli ambassador? I somewhat perceived a tip of the iceberg of my silliness when she naturally pursued: “Why do you like to pretend to be Israeli?” There was apparent underlying meaning pointing to her distaste towards Israel. But I chose to ignore her being uncomfortable and clumsily shrugged it off by saying “It’s just fun.” Now that I came to know what kind of bitter personal history she had had, I totally regret my insensitivity. Perhaps later on we got along well: the next day she told me how her nervousness before the presentation could be manifested in her shivering voice; in the afternoons we went to beaches together; during a coffee break I offered my condolence for her stolen bikini; the last morning I think she came to sit right in front of me at breakfast. But all this is perhaps due to me not being Israeli, and/or her being more mature.

I remember that miss universe incidence where the Israeli girl still in the army service cheerfully insisted in taking a selfie together with the Lebanese girl. I sneered at the narrow-mindedness of the Lebanese when it was reported that Miss Lebanon was harshly criticized for that photo. Back then, it again proved for me that only the Arab states perceive us as the enemy, refuse to accept coexistence and perpetrate the century long hostility, whereas we don’t hate anyone and just want to make peace. So when we come across someone from the other side, we lightly go up to them believing we should make friends with them and they should NOT have a problem in making friends with us. But for them, they could not take it lightly. No matter how legitimate a reason Israel has for launching the offensive, what happened on the ground were massive destruction of civilian infrastructure and large-scale displacement of the Lebanese population. Displacement, what a neutral sounding word! But now I suddenly see the substance in this word by relating it to a real person, whom I spoke with and respect. Sometimes our simple-mindedness, innocence, mixed with insensitivity can become stupidity. How can I blame those people for not ready to befriend us?

Ernst Jan asked me to imagine myself being in Farah’s situation. But I could not. I was already saddened and I knew I could not take it to place myself in her shoes. That would be too agonizing. For all these years, I have refused to see the real pictures of any human misfortune, be it the suffering of Gazans, the stories of our fallen soldiers, or the Holocaust. Therefore I love to read history books written by serious scholars. Largely devoid of emotion, I can stand reading numbers, which I forget in a millisecond, or words like displacement, casualty and death. And after reading the books, I believe I know what happened without having to undergo mental depression. But real pictures are indeed there. Sometimes they are just suddenly before your eyes without warning. In the future, I will still hide behind the texts. But this shock lesson indeed significantly influenced me towards giving more weight to the ordinary civilian on the other side when thinking about the conflict. read more …

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A General Launches a War for Wildlife

July 22, 2014

Chapter Six of Alon Tal’s book Pollution in a Promised Land: An Environmental History of Israel. This chapter talks about the activities of the Nature Reserves Authority, mainly when Avraham Yoffe was in charge. I’m left with an impression that under his command, the new born authority secured an astounding fraction of Israeli land for reservation, albeit small and scattered. His successful campaign to stop the dirty habit of wildflower-picking remains the single legend that never repeats. Along with the anecdotes, for instance

walking into the kitchen of his host, opening the refrigerator, and pulling a leg off of a chicken without being invited,

or another, he hired two female scientists and threw out the grumbling male staffs saying

he had ‘enough balls’ already and wanted some brains,

Linked to Alon Tal's Pollution in a Promised Land in UC Press online libraryas well as Figure 13 which depicts a Yoffe in full army uniform, feeding a cute little baby herbivore (I’m guessing gazelle?) with a milk bottle, which easily reminds me of that famous picture of Ariel Sharon with a lamb slung over his shoulders – all these make me take a great liking to him.

However now, many weeks past, Claude Lanzmann’s Pourquoi Israël that I watched much earlier somehow surfaced again. And I remember there was an interview with a retired military man who turned to wildlife advocacy. I opened the DVD package and found indeed the name Abraham Yoffe there. In the film, aside from telling us about his dream of rehabilitating the biblical animals in the land of Israel [1], he also offered his opinion on the political conflicts, in which he clearly aligned himself with the school of “Greater Israel”. For Egypt, he said the Sinai

is not important to them, but important for us… It can act as a buffer zone, which is good for us, good for them and good for the world.

I can’t decide if to say he was naive or if he was intentionally blind. As regard to the Palestinian problem, he said

We should learn to live together. and I’m ready to give them all rights as Israelis.

This is of course one basic underlying belief for any one-state solution advocate. But when questioned by the director “what about the Jewish state”, pointing to the demographic problem, Yoffe said

I’m not afraid… You see when I was born in this country, the percentage between Jews and Arabs was 1 to 10… Today it’s 3 Jews to 1 Arab. So why should I be afraid?

Well I don’t really want to give an analytical comment on this bizarre statement. The point is, it is really interesting to get accounts of things and people from different places. Just as reading the Israeli environmental history gives me a unique perspective when looking at these less known but no less inspiring, exciting, heroic or heartbreaking deeds against the most familiar Israeli modern history, the association of different depictions of this person evokes a similar curious sentiment. As a result, Yoffe’s image is now more complicated in my mind than before.


 

[1]. This biodiversification effort – the Hai Bar project – is also documented in the book. It is quite a subject of controversy. On one hand it collected a lot of endangered animals, opened up a safari as a tourist attraction, on the other hand some predators were confined in small areas, and the indigenousness of some of the species were questionable.

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More Sea Turtle Days

June 30, 2014

I went to the sea turtle center twice more over the past two weeks. And new experiences.

Linked to the video

For week 2 I went on Thursday and met some regular volunteers there. Among the four coworkers, I spoke with Shir the most. She is a high school graduate and has been working here for a year now as her national service. On that day I realized the toughest work wasn’t touched at all during my first visit. Lettuce!

… I was happy to be invited to go on a trip to collect lettuce for our green turtles. Sat in the car, watching the fields, groves and clean handsome village houses of the nearby moshavim, we arrived at a vegetable company – but it was a big warehouse sort of, waste plastic bags and other materials piled randomly on a sandy ground. In front of the warehouse was a shady working area for their employees. There were two groups of workers, on one side were Muslim women and on the other were Asians. It seemed the two sides didn’t communicate at all. One curious Asian girl came up to me and asked me in English where I’m from and if I work or study here. I explained my turtle mission and learned these people are from Vietnam. Indeed, look at the conical Asian hat!

They cut the bad leaves away from the lettuce and washed it. And it is our mission to take in the bad leaves – bad in human eyes – and fill as many plastic bags as possible. It’s a piece of cake to bring a handful of leaves from right to left. But a hundred pieces of cake is quite a big thing. All the time I bent down and lifted up. The plastic bag was like a black hole, whenever I thought I finally fill it up, Shir would shake her head and violently give it a push – what power of compression that the bag was half empty again. Although dismayed, I kept going. I guess the efficiency ratio between Shir and I was 2 to 1. I was truly happy we didn’t have to continue after I collected three bags. But that was too early for celebration. What comes after loading the giant lettuce babies unto the car is of course, unloading them. Then we teared these bags open and released the lettuce into a metal cart, from there we had to transfer the lettuce again but into another white numbered bag and weigh according to the data on the daily sheet. I am going insane just by writing all these down. In short, everything about lettuce is labor intensive. read more …

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First Day Helping The Sea Turtles

June 18, 2014

A bit history first. On the last day of the summer Ulpan, everyone was asked to go in front and make a small speech in Hebrew about oneself and the future plan here. I remember saying אני רוצה לעזור לחיות בים among other things. The seed of green Zionism was already there even in the earliest days. As the second semester was just begun, I heard from Reuven that he had a friend who helped the sea turtles near Caesarea and it was a once-a-week thing. I carefully remembered this information since. In a recent trip along the seashore from Akko’s Argaman beach with Roy, we found two very big sea turtles on the sand, but dead for long. One of them was entangled in fishing net. I was saddened by the scene and made up my mind to volunteer for this good-natured animal soon. Now that I finally finished the paper draft, caught a break between the stages of research, I have to seize this chance to make the seed grow.

The early Zionist pioneers saw returning to the soil not only through a pragmatic perspective, but also as a means to rebuild, strengthen themselves in body, characteristics and identity. Parallelly, I think practicing green Zionism both does good to our nature and liberates myself from the unhealthy state of office-sitting and computer-staring. So much for the ideological babbling, here is my first day helping the sea turtles.

Israel Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center is in Michmoret. It isn’t as easy to reach the exact spot by bus as with nearby places like Caesarea or Netanya. After a constant fear of getting late for the bus or missing the stop to get off since 5 a.m, I got off at Yannay interchange and walked for half an hour to the center. Along the way I passed the Alexander Stream National Park. I should walk inside of its more pleasant and shadier wood in the future, as I was later told that it’s straightforward to reach the center along the beach.

Dotan, a heavily tanned guy in clothes that rejoice to  be untidy, received me with warmth and I walked with delightful curiosity among many sea turtles – all in various water tanks. Each water tank has inflow and outflow of fresh underground sea water, underground for stable temperature. One turtle is very uneasy. it constantly splashed the surface with its fins and tried to get out. But I learned this one is blind because of a collision accident and can no longer be released back to the sea. In the same tank is another one, a quieter one. It doesn’t really surface so I could only vaguely see some plate attached to it. This one is called חופש, it lost two left fins due to lack of blood circulation when entangled in fish net. They attached a flipper to help it balance when it surfaces to breathe. This is actually widely reported in the news. I was also impressed by the messy staff office. But that only makes sense for people dealing with wildlife and work often in the sea. Shortly, another new volunteer Avi came to join us. He looked around 50 and was tall and fit. We gathered in the main working place, a space with a dozen water tanks. read more …

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A Night Sky In Beer Sheva

November 16, 2012

Since Operation Pillar of Defense, I’ve been watching and watching the news, but could only remain silent.

It is not in Haifa, but my heart is heavy. I’m not afraid for myself, but for people in the south and the innocent people in Gaza. It saddens me so much to see the empty streets and ghostly towns after the sirens. We need to stop all this but there’s only one bitter option. It couldn’t be helped and so I’m speechless.

But the ashes start to flare again. The warmth of the music is constantly injected to the artery, and dissolves the coldness of the sirens, filling the air with calm. Suddenly there are shooting stars rising to the arena of the night sky. They blossom in splendor and they die with a gleam.

iron_dome

To think the sirens are mother’s voice in panic; these flowers are actually rockets intercepted by Iron Dome… The contrast fills me with amazement and leaves me still. One can find vibrant beauty in humanity even in moments like these.

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