Go Holyland is the name of my new Project and – God willing – my future job. Basically it is a free online travel magazine with tourist information, providing articles on the history and historical sites of the land, on the society and culture, and columns and recommendations.
Sure, it is still relatively new, but it is a work in progress. We began work in May, with the first planning on what to do and how to attack it. We did it wrong, basically, trying to make our own website from scratch, which didn’t work so well. We soon hired a programmer and designer, who could help us with the basics. What we did was to go from a “do-it-all-yourself-easy-designing”-program, basically making it very easy for us to make a very heavy and unorganized website, to using a WordPress theme on a web-hotel. It’s a learning progress, but it’s knowledge much needed and which I really appreciate so far. How much will be used on this blog, which in the future won’t be so active, I still don’t know, but on my Danish blog, Kaltoft.me (which you probably won’t get so much out of, if you don’t speak Danish), I’ve already used several features. And many of them are so simple that I simply don’t understand that I didn’t learn it earlier.
So what is Go Holyland about? Well, as the name says, it is about the Holy Land, Israel and the Palestinian territories, and though it covers an area, which has heavy political implications, the site itself is not political. We relate – of course – to the situation as it is, but without trying to insist on a certain narrative. The site is mostly dealing with Israel and Israelis, but is generally dealing with whoever lives in the Land, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druzes and so on. When we talk about society and culture, true, it is mainly Israel. When/if there will be a future Palestinian state, there will probably be a “Go Holyland – Palestine”, but even though there are talks it doesn’t seem to be a reality in the near future. But let’s see, maybe things will actually happen this time, we can only hope.
Back on track. One of our goals is to let the people of the Land present and represent themselves as much as possible. We prefer to have articles on society and culture written by people living in the land, expressing themselves and how they understand the reality they live in. One reason for doing this, is that we are a little tired of how the foreign media always attempt to be the voice of the area, not letting people who live here express themselves. Everything has to be presented through the narrative of the conflict, while reality is so much more, and we want people outside to see this. We live here, meet the people every day, we are part of the lives here, and we understand that there is so much more to the Land, than just conflict, which really isn’t that total in the everyday picture, as it is made as. Of course, a conflict always has implications on all parts, but people do live, they are not only sitting and relating to that. So, Go Holyland is an attempt – among other things – to present the outside world for reality here in a positive way.
Go Holyland is also about helping the tourist visiting us. What is there to do here? Where to stay? Where and what to eat? Where to go and how? What to bring and what to expect? All this we attempt to help with. The site is in three parts, a practical information – where you can find information on the weather, the currency, important links and contact information, and what to pack.
There is the Index part, where you so far can find a virtual map, which shows you a number of different objects, which helps you find what you would like to see and where. The good thing about the map is that you can search on a number of categories, for example if you want to find a restaurant, then you enter the dining section (and here you can find different kinds of restaurants, for example Japanese, Italian and so on), or if you’re into nature and you want to find out what nature sites there are to see, then you simply search on that. You can both search and enter index categories. You can also search according to location, so if you’re going to Israel and you know that you’re staying in for example Tel Aviv, then you can simply search on things in Tel Aviv, rather than on categories. That is what makes the map good. What makes it great is the geolocation option. Sure, we’re not the first ones to use this feat, but mostly it has been for locals and I still have to see it in travel e-zines (I actually don’t know if there are any such, which have the map-feature at all). In short, you are situated on Zion square in Jerusalem, you want to eat, and you want to eat Yemenite food, you just don’t want to chase around for it. You want something near you, but you don’t know of any place or if there even is anything near you. No prob, you enter the map, enter the geo-location option, decides to look for items up to two kms from you, search on Yemenite restaurants, and there you are, you see all the Yemenite restaurants within two kms from you. At least those registered.
Then there is the magazine itself, which has four sections, the Editor’s Corner (yup, that’s mine), where the editor writes recommendations and monthly letters. Not much to say about that part besides that. The Columns is for our columnists, where they write columns based on their particular field of expertise in combination with the monthly theme. For example, the theme is food, the columnist is writing as an Israeli Arab, hence the column will focus on the Arab cuisine in Israel (thought example). So far we have Haim Cohen, pretty darn known chef here, having made television shows and written books about food, as well as owning leading restaurants in Israel. We have Miriam Toukan, Israeli Arab Christian, who was the first Arab contestant in the Israeli version of American Idol (Nolad Kochav – A Star is Born), who performs and otherwise work as a lawyer, representing the Christians in Israel. And we have Shosh Friedman, the Oriental Rose, stage artist, dance instructor, and actress. She is an expert in Middle Eastern dance and music, having initiated her own academic course for dance teachers, and herself taught at the David Yeilin College. Let’s just say that she knows what she’s talking about, when it comes to dance and music of the Middle East.
The Culture & Society section deals with the society as today, as well as articles on historical events, which had an impact on the society of today, so it’s basically about lives then and now. It concerns all part of society, music, sport, art, and so on and so on. We are not totally up to par when it comes to writers, but hopefully we soon have the team in place. The Sightseeing section deals with the static, sort of speaking, about the sites that you need to see. For example, we have articles on the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, al-Aqsa Mosque, the Holy Sepulcher, and the Hurva Synagogue, but those articles are articles about the sites, not the people or the events (well, to a certain extent) taking place around them. Those articles would be found in the Culture & Society section.
That’s what we have so far. What is coming up? Well, in the Index section we plan to add an event page, where we will publish upcoming events, as well as a travel agency and tourist guide page, where people can find travel agencies and – surprise – tourist guides. That is being worked on as I write this, so hopefully that will be ready soon. We already have some events to publish, and they will be found on the front page until further notice, but until we have travel agencies and tourist guides interested in publishing, we won’t publish those pages (it simply doesn’t give sense).
In the future we are planning on establishing an online shop as well. Not selling our products, but rather to give a stand to people we want to partner with, whether it be selling books dealing with subjects connected to the Holy Land, Dead Sea products, or Judaica. We are still working on the planning in this respect, so let’s see how it progresses.
So, there it is, Go Holyland Travel Magazine and Tourist Information!
On thursday the 25th of april a decision was taken by the Jerusalem District Court on whether women will be allowed to or prohibited from praying at the Kotel (the Wailing Wall) in the Old City of Jerusalem, wearing prayer shawls and tefillin, which traditionally has been considered man garb, and thus prohibited for women (though there definitely are a number of varying opinions on this issue).
The court decided that it indeed is allowed for women to pray wearing prayer shawls and Tefillin, and that the recent arrest of a group of women, from the organization “Women of the Wall,” was unjustified, the former since they do not go against the law on praying according to local customs, since that can be interpreted rather broad, and the latter since the women did not cause a public disturbance, which otherwise was the reason behind the arrest.
This ruling is the culmination on a number if incidents, leading to a conflict between the (ultra)-Orthodox establishment and the female activists, as well as to a greater discussion on women’s right to pray as they please at the Kotel, which should be seen both as part of the wider debate on the role of religion in Israel, as well as the debate between the Israeli Orthodox community and its role as authority on Jewish religion in Israel and the American (and in second instance global) non-Orthodox community. Both are discussions concerned with power and freedom of worship, and it is a blow to Orthodox monopoly on defining correct Jewish religious behavior in Israel, which most likely has been struck as a reaction, to what many would consider as being an arrogant Orthodox attitude towards those, who understand and practice Judaism differently than the general orthodox norm.
Also within the Orthodox world, compromising both the ultra-Orthodox, the National-Religious, and other Modern-Orthodox groups, have there been discussions on the subject, with the majority viewing the women as provocateurs, but also as the decision against allowing women to pray as they wish, combined with the behavior of an extremist ultra-Orthodox minority, as being inherently wrong.
This is most likely part of a trend of reacting against the ultra-Orthodox authority on religious matters in Israel, as well as a reaction against their attitude to those not being part of the ultra-Orthodox world, which was also seen during the last Israeli election. The question is how far the ultra-Orthodox leaders will take this conflict, before they accept that they have to either change their practice of governing the religious affairs, or changing their approach to those not being part of their world and world view. This depends both on how much or little support they will have internally from the general ultra-Orthodox Jew (who isn’t as isolated as he has been from the wider Israeli-Jewish community) as well as the degree of stubbornness found among the ultra-Orthodox leaders.
I have added a number of assignments in the Box.Net, which you can find on the right side of the blog, now numbering five articles in total (one of them in Danish), being:
- Maimonides’ Letter on Martyrdom (an analysis meant to be published in a magazine, but was rejected because of too many contributions, and me not having finished my graduate program).
- Abraham as an Early Monotheist, final assignment in one of my graduate courses at Hebrew U, focusing on the comparative study of Islamic and Jewish account on Abraham.
- Det Israelske Shari’a-system i det Overordnede Israelske Lovsystem (Danish).
- Laws of Shabbat in the Damascus Document, final assignment in one of my graduate courses at Hebrew U, focusing on the laws of Sabbath in the Damascus Document (from the Dead Sea Scrolls), attempting to categorize them and trace their Biblical sources.
- The Bible According to the Quran, final assignment in one of my graduate courses at Hebrew U, focusing on the etymology of the Quranic terms on the Bible, and attempting to reach a better understanding of the Quran’s definition of the Biblical texts.
Feel free to use and download them, but in any use of them I expect to be quoted and credited for them.
Amira Hass, columnist at HaAretz, recently wrote a column where she not only defended rock-throwing Palestinians, but encouraged them to continue it. I know that Hass doesn’t harbor any warm feelings for Israel or the Israeli society, even less for the settlers, which are an expression of colonialism according to her opinion, as well as I know that she sympathizes strongly with the Palestinian cause, so much that she now lives in Ramallah. That I don’t have a problem with, I actually sympathize with the Palestinians as well, though not so much that I hate Israel and the Israeli society (true, there are elements I would love to be without, but no society is perfect).
Hass is entitled to her opinions on Israel and the conflict, and I can understand some of them, though agreeing with her in general is hard. When she objects to, and criticizes Israeli violence I agree, and I believe it should be condemned. So, for example, when Israeli soldiers are beating up Palestinian children (how often or not it might happen), or when settlers attack innocent Palestinians, on their way to their fields or just passing by. But her condemnations and criticism just underscore the amazing hypocrisy of hers. How in the world can you on one hand condemn violence and on the other hand encourage it? Particularly after the incidents that have passed lately, where we have seen a three-year old girl surviving only by a miracle, after stone-throwers caused the girl’s mother to crash with a truck!
I know what Hass would say; that it’s tragic and unfortunate, but that it’s the parents fault for bringing her there, being in the West Bank is cause of danger for Jews (or should be according to her opinion apparently), and to bring a girl there is the fault of those bringing her. Her flawed logic screams to heaven, here are some reasons why:
First, how did the stone-throwers know that there were Jews in the car? True, you can see whether the car is Israeli or Palestinian, based on the color of the number plates, but Palestinians with Israeli citizenship drive in Israeli cars, and as such can also be targeted. If this had been a Palestinian girl, rather than a Jewish, what would her explanation and reaction be? No need to guess, Israel would have been blamed for this, since the stone-throwers only throw stones as a reaction against Israeli occupation, leaving the stone-throwers as beings without any ability to reflect and think independently.
Second, that she finds it okay to target Jews, is in itself disgusting. If I can find some reason to justify the means, is it then okay to target Palestinians, women, Buddhist, or whatever I can think of, only based on my dislike towards a certain group, making all members of this group responsible for the actions of the few? Or is it up to Hass to decide when it is moral and when not?
Let us turn it around for a moment. Is it really a wise advice she gives the Palestinians? Is it something which will improve their situation? No, not really. Here are some reasons for that:
First, we already have enough violence, the last intifada should be proof enough for anyone that violence is not the answer, that violence only hardens the attitude of the Israelis, who need to be part of a stable agreement ending the conflict, making it harder for any Israeli political attempts to improve the situation.
Or let us say, for the sake of argument, that the Israeli politicians don’t want peace. Still, these actions of violence juts gives them excuses for not doing anything to improve the situation. Whether the one or the other, these actions of violence will backfire.
Second, the youth (and yes, we are talking mostly about youngsters, who most likely are bored and think that they actually are doing a great deed for the Palestinian cause) are endangering themselves. Make no mistake, some settlers are armed, and very ready to use their weapons in self-defense. Note; self-defense. Hass is encouraging young people to put their life at risk, for her confused sense of justice, knowing very well that stone-throwers most likely won’t make any changes, besides worsen the situation for the Palestinians. How I can know that? You don’t see her with the Palestinians throwing stones, she knows very well the dangers connected to doing this.
But here is the worst reason why Hass’ encouragement is despicable. She could be a bridge, she could connect the two sides, be an intermediate partner for peace, taking advantage of her knowledge and status in order to promote actions, where people from both sides could create something together and improve relations. Instead of that she chooses to encourage to violence and by that saw hatred on both side.
Hass is not among the “disciples of Aharon”, those striving for peace, ready to put themselves out there, risking themselves, in order to connect striving parties, creating communications and establishing friendship on the two sides, such as for example the late R. Froman, z”l, was. She is rather among the followers of Korach, who rebelled against the establishment of the Jewish people, not in order to promote justice, but in order to gain prestige and honor not deserved.
And why a newspaper like HaAretz wants to take part in this, is above me to understand.
Okay, so this has been sitting in my ‘to post’ folder for a while, so now it feels a bit dated, but I’m posting it anyways because... well, because it’s my blog and I’ll do as I like, really. But for the datedness - mea culpa.
So continuing my desire to post cool stuff before I delve into horrible ridiculousness, Nahida has…
It has been some time – as usual – and I am as always terrible sorry for it.
The war is on break for now, people are back to normal, or at least as close you can come to normal here.
The studies are going on as usual as well, stressing me and leaving me with a lot of pressure, as well as a son soon to be born, BE”H. But I am grateful, very grateful.
I have been thinking about the comparative study, and how we teach about religions. One thing that has struck me is that we often teach about the religions for themselves, that is, instead of comparing some interrelated fields, we study them unrelated to each other. Take for example philosophy in religion (or religious philosophy). When we study Jewish philosophy, most often it is only rarely related to Islamic or Christian philosophy, but in order to get a good understanding of Jewish philosophy we need to relate it to other players in the field. Maimonides, for example, is influenced by a number of Islamic philosophers (as well as Greek), and has himself influenced both Christian and Muslim philosophers.
Another example is the role of central figures and how to understand them. Often we are told that Muhammad is to Islam what Moses is to Judaism, but is that really so? I have more and more thought about this issue, that we need to have the comparative element integrated into the general study and teaching of religions, in order both to understand the religions in and of themselves, as well as in their relation to other religions. I will try to give a small example on how this can be done in the following:
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all three religions based on one or more central figures. In all of them one person stands out of centrality compared to other central figures. In Judaism Moses is of great central importance, in Christianity Jesus has the same centrality, and in Islam it is Muhammad. What is interesting in this respect, is not so much how these characters are viewed and understand in the other respective religions – though that certainly also is of importance – but how they are central in comparison of other central figures in the respective religions, as well as how they are understood in comparison to how the central characters are understood in the other religions.
Moses, for example, is far from the only central character in Judaism, we can easily mention both Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Isaiah, David, and Salomon as examples on other very central characters. And that is just in the Bible itself, would we expand our focus to other Jewish materials, then we would find Hillel and Shamai, Yehudah haNasi, Maimonides, and so on. And furthermore, though I believe that Moses is the most central character in Judaism (except God Himself, of course), I am not sure of how strong his centrality is compared to the centrality of the other characters. For example, where Moses is very central and of crucial importance when it comes to the implementation of law in Judaism, he doesn’t hold the same level of importance when it comes to the establishment of Israel as a people. There Abraham might be of greater centrality. Or Moses compared to David in the establishment of the kingdom of Israel. And so on. Yet, I still believe that Moses overall is of greater central importance than other characters are.
We see the same with Christianity, where Jesus is far from the only central figure. Take characters like Paul, Peter, and John. Or the various church fathers. Or even Luther. In both these cases, though there would be no Judaism without Moses, and no Christianity without Jesus, their central importance is to some degree matched by other characters, though the two religions might have existed in some form or another without them.
It seems to me that Muhammad enjoys a much greater centrality and importance when it comes to Islam. Though references are abundant to other characters in the Qur’ân, Muhammad is still the receiver of the Qur’ân, and in the early times he was the leading figure when spreading Islam, at least till his death. In this context we don’t see Moses or Jesus spreading their respective religions, which can be part of the reason that Muhammad is more central in Islam than the two in their respective religions. Of course there are other important characters, the four righteous caliphs, the founders of the legal schools, the philosophers, and so on, but put notice on how Muhammad is in focus, both when it comes to the role as the receiver of the Qur’ân as well as when it comes to the Hadith-literature. In comparison, the Mishnah is not ascribed to Moses, and the letters in the New Testament is not ascribed to Jesus. Where Moses mostly is of crucial central importance to the written Torah in Judaism, and Jesus plays somewhat the same role in Christianity, neither of them are ascribed to the “oral tradition” (the Mishnah/Tosefta in Judaism, and the letters in Christianity), while this is the case for Muhammad in Islam.
This is one aspect. Another aspect is how we view them, how we describe them. This can teach us a lot about how the followers of the respective religions understand their religion and their role as followers of the religion in question. I am not going to too much into how followers are relating to them, just use the most used examples.
Moses is – by Jews – described as “teacher”, Moshe Rabenu. This is very crucial for the Jewish conception. He teaches us and we learn from him. He has a role not unlike the rabbis, as the chief rabbi, and this – I believe – has left its mark on Jews, who generally have been very occupied by the focus on study.
Jesus, on the other hand, is described as savior. This is something we often see in how Christians describe themselves, as being saved.
Again we see Islam somewhat differ here. Muslims see themselves as submitted to God, not so much describing Muhammad as God’s submitter, but rather in describing themselves as such. Where Jews today are named after a tribe, Yehudah – earlier named as a people, Israel – Christians are named as followers of Jesus, the Christ, and Muslims are named after their relation to God, as people submitted to God. But Muslims are neither taking their name after a role perceived in relation to Muhammad, nor after a role described him. Nevertheless, in one incident we do see Muslim self-perceiving based on Muhammad, namely as the final group of believers. Muhammad is the final prophet, therefore those who are following him are the right group of believers. In Judaism as such Moses wasn’t the last prophet to come, and it wasn’t unperceivable that other religions would form, though they wouldn’t have importance for Israel as such, and in Christianity we also see the spokesman, the holy spirit, would come after Jesus.
All this more or less describes an idea I’m working on, which could be interesting to follow in the future. I don’t know if anything will come of this or what it will end with, but if any of you out there have any suggestions, then please share with me, I would be very interested in hearing about what you have on mind.
I also know that there are many conceptions and thoughts, which could have been explained better, for example when I talk about strength of centrality and the like, but again, this is mostly sharing thoughts.
Looking forward to hear from you.
All the best and Hanukkah Sameah!
Most of you probably already know, Israel and Hamas (and helpers) have again engaged in a round of escalated violence. Yet again the escalated attempts at killing each other of will begin, and yet again the discussions about who is to blame, with direct reporting from here and there, and experts sitting in the studio (who often aren’t experts) will tell us all how wrong the one side is, and how much the other side suffers.
I still remember January 2009 and its aftermath. Too many people were killed, and all over Europe there was an outcry for justice, which apparently for some involved the killing of all Jews. It will come again, in the same level, this time though – at least for the aware person – in the background of the killing of more than 30,000 civilians in Syria, without any greater demonstrations taking place.
Yet again we will here blame directed at the Palestinians or at Israel, attempting to portray either of them as terrorists and murderers. Yet again people will be blind to the faults of their own side, only seeing the faults of the other side. I’ve already witnessed it to great extant in less than 24 hours.
Last time I took active part in the discussions, this time I most likely won’t. People are dying on both sides, mostly innocent civilians, children. This morning three Israeli civilians died as well as the baby child of a Palestinian journalist. Being a soon-to-be-father I can imagine the pain, just the thought of seeing my own unborn son, has v’halilah, makes me cry. This won’t bring any good with it, just as last time we won’t see this lead to the end of fightings and the killing of people. On the contrary this will expose a lot of hypocrisies, particularly the double standards being exposed in way of criticism.
At work I have two colleagues being personally involved in this round of fightings. Well, all of us living here are, all of us have friends or family being within range of fire. But these two have close family in Gaza and Beer Sheva, the one being a Palestinian the other a Jew. When they meet today at work they can talk about the safety of their loved ones, or rather, the chances that they won’t see them again. Who is to blame? Forget about that, just let them be able to meet after this is over and be able to say, Alhamdulillah, my family is in good health.
So who is to blame? Let’s just have a couple of words or three about that. And who will benefit from this? The Israeli right wing and the extremist religious fanatics among the Palestinians, they will benefit from this. Some people have expressed thoughts on how curious it is, that this always happens before Israeli elections. I don’t know about “always”, but it does happens, and yes, it is curious. These people present it as a plan from the Israeli right wing, a scheme in order to make them seem strong and protective in the eyes of the Israeli public. Is this true? Yes and no. The Israeli right wing cannot just start a war, just because they want to. It is true that Likud and other right wing parties are gaining much more from this, politically, than the left wing, and that this certainly is a good time (if any) for the escalation of violence. But what these critical people fail to acknowledge (of some reason or another) is that this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Israel doesn’t just begin to bomb, just to do it. These people are totally ignoring the rockets being shot into Israel for a longer period or trying to excuse it. I’m sorry to say, I don’t accept any excuses for the conscious and deliberate targeting of civilians, no matter what. These critics – who blame Israel for breaking the ceasefire – also ignore the four rockets fired into Israel earlier yesterday before Israel targeted Ahmad Ja’abari, one of the top leaders in Hamas. This is ignoring facts, in order to make your understanding of what is going on fit into your bigger picture of things. And it is dishonest.
But here’s the deal. Even if Israel – per se – is only defending herself after the recent attacks on her civilians – and yes, I do believe that Israel has an obligation to do that, as any government in the world has, rather than killing them – the Israeli government, or Israel at large, does hold responsibility itself. Not necessarily for this particular escalation of violence, but for the overall situation we’re having. For making a mockery of the Palestinian side, though the Palestinian leaders also do that well. For not really wanting to give the Palestinian leadership something to bring their people, some acknowledgement of sort. Mahmoud Abbas lately stated in an interview, that he refused to hold the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel as a holy principle, acknowledging that it wouldn’t happen and Palestinians shouldn’t expect it to happen. For that he received a great deal of criticism among his own, while some Israeli politicians and opinion makers ridiculed him, refusing to take him serious. The same, of sorts, happened to Salem Fayyed when he tried to be productive, both among his own, but also among Israeli leaders. Fayyed is one person among the Palestinian leaders, which Israel really could trust, who was struggling (and still is) for honest and open relations, as well as attempting to fight corruption. He is today a shadow of what he was, after attempts to crush him both from Israelis and Palestinian leaders.
But also ordinary people are to blame. When we relate to each other as pure trash or bugs, then no wonder there is hatred and will for war, rather than attempts to create a future coexistence of some sort. Already now I have read statements like “make Gaza into a parking lot”, “bomb the fucking Arabs”, “a good Arab is a dead Arab”, “I won’t cry a single tear for any dead Palestinian, civilian or terrorist, since they all are terrorists”, as well as “Hitler lived for a purpose”, “I long to crush the Jew under my foot”, “a good Jew is a dead Jew”, and so on.
As related to earlier, also the one sided, black and white criticism is a cause for this. Just as critics of Israel is ignoring the faults of Hamas and other extremist groups, so do critics of the Palestinians ignore the faults of Israel, as already mention, but particularly the needs and suffering of the other side. Just as it should be acknowledged that Israeli children have to be near shelters at all times, also in schools, and that they didn’t choose this for themselves, neither did their parents, so it should be acknowledged that the Palestinians in Gaza didn’t accept this existence for themselves. Forget the “they voted for Hamas”. That is just ignorant. They didn’t vote for Hamas, they voted against Fatah and the corruption, and they really didn’t have an alternative.
There is a lot to be said, and many things probably will be said. The world will go crazy and fight about who is the sinner here, but the truth is that most of us are, and that the world are only helping to keep this conflict going with the ideologist or material interest there might be here, while refusing to relate pragmatically to what is going on.
In the meantime innocent will suffer and be killed, on both sides. Israelis and Palestinians are not two sides fighting each other, we are one side suffering from the same source. And we will continue to suffer until we realize this and relate to our situation pragmatically.
Happy New Year to all my Muslim brothers. I hope this latest escalation may be the last, inshallah, and that this new year will be a more peaceful one for all the children in ash-Sham, as well as in the rest of the world, inshallah.