Continuing up Israel’s main artery, we pass my old stamping ground of Tulkarem. It is right beside the road but hidden behind the Wall. Except you don’t see the Wall. In my last journals four years ago I wrote about being fascinated by the idea of landscape gardeners being contracted to think up creative ways of helping the Israeli population shut out all thought of the Occupation. I talked of how I came through the checkpoint into Israel to see the earth piled up in front of the Wall being planted with grass and bushes to make it look like a small hill. Now some of these bushes are fully grown trees and the Wall is completely hidden. Who cares that on the other side is a 9 metre drop, a buffer zone of rubble and razor wire, followed by a derelict zone of closed garages where Israelis used to get their cars fixed before the Wall shut the mechanics in and their clients out.

And so to Haifa. It’s a great place. So is Acre on the other side of the bay where we even have time for a quick tourist visit and a swim. Like Jaffa, they still retain some of that feeling other Mediterranean ports have, with fantastic histories of mixed populations even now they are part of the Jewish state. As a backdrop to the port, the extraordinary gardens of the B’hai religion add to this pot pourri. And so does the Stella Maris guest house on the top of the cliff, which is run by Italian nuns, full of icons and religious paintings.

We have a morning session with Ruth Hiller from New Profile, an Israeli NGO that works to promote the demilitarization of Israeli society. She shares her concern about the glorification of the military in education, cultural activities, advertisements and public spaces. She describes Israel as ‘an army with a state, not a state with an army,’ and criticises ‘the culture of fear promoted by the government, and propagated by the media, which feeds on suspicion, mistrust, misunderstanding, nationalism and victimhood.’

New Profile is one of the organisations currently most harassed (along with the ex-soldiers group Breaking the Silence and Rabbis for Human Rights.) Earlier this year they had their offices broken into and their hard drives stolen. They are being taken to the High Court for incitement by an organisation called Forum for Equal Sharing of the Burden. But Ruth says they don’t incite, merely provide services to refusers, reservists who don’t want to return to duty, and soldiers who want to leave. The harassment reflects the political shift to the right, she says. They have always come in for criticism but Israel has always been an open and free society for Jews and she has never before felt there would be attempts to silence them in this way.

It was good talking to Ruth because she cleared up some of the misconceptions I had. Soldiers at checkpoints tell you they have no choice but serve in the IDF. But Ruth says 25% of high school graduates are classified ‘medically unsuitable’ to serve, and still keep their benefits. Avoiding service is apparently not too hard, it’s only if you refuse to serve on moral grounds that you are punished. Also 30% of soldiers drop out during their first year of military service. When asked whether the settlers could be referred to as the paramilitary wing of the IDF, she said ‘absolutely.’

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