Wednesday, January 05, 2005

I've been in Israel for about a week and a half, and on this very rainy day I visited the Israel Museum with a friend. We went to the Shrine of the Book (dedicated, for the most part, to the Dead Sea Scrolls) and saw the Aleppo Codex - a very important 10th century codex of the entire Tanakh (although unfortunately some of it has been lost, including most of the Torah). It was quite moving to see this very finely written Bible that had been consulted by Maimonides when he wrote his own Torah scroll. I went through the Judaica section of the museum and visited the Cochin synagogue - an entire synagogue that was transported from Cochin, Kerala, India, and reconstructed inside the museum - very beautiful, with a particularly finely-carved Torah ark. I also walked through the historical section of the museum and saw some of my favorite exhibits, including several mosaics from synagogue floors (one, from a Samaritan synagogue, is the most detailed mosaic of a Torah ark that I've seen).

Before I went into the museum, however, I took a look at the demonstration across the street. The Knesset (Israel Parliament) and other government buildings are across the street from the museum, and in front of the Knesset, settlers and others opposed to the government's evacuation of Israeli settlements from the Gaza Street have set up protest tents. Hundreds of people arrived today from various settlements to protest the proposed evacuation, which is supposed to happen next summer. They put up signs with slogans like: "The transfer will not succeed," or "Jews don't expel Jews." (The term "transfer" is usually applied in Israeli politics to the idea of expelling all Arabs either from the state of Israel or from all of Palestine - it's politically provocative to use it to refer to the Israeli government uprooting Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip or the West Bank). On the one hand, I can understand why people don't want to leave homes that they might have lived in for up to 30 years - but on the other hand, I don't think that there should be Israeli settlements in Gaza. If Israel completely withdraws from Gaza, it means that Israeli soldiers will no longer risk their lives defending the settlements.

On Monday the Israeli army took down two caravans at a settlement on the West Bank, Yizhar, that had been put up without government approval. Many settlers from Yizhar opposed the soldiers and fought with them, but in the end the army brought in bulldozers and destroyed the caravans. Below is a photo from Yizhar. Such scenes when trying to remove only two caravans definitely raise the fear that the removal of settlements with 8,000 people living in them will bring pitched battles.

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