Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Israeli Optimist a la BBC

I asked Heller whether he was still the optimist that he had described himself as being, three months before.

After all, on Tuesday, a missile fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza, had hit the neighbouring kibbutz.

"Today, I'm even more optimistic than I was in December," Heller told me. "Israel's having contacts - albeit indirect - with Hamas, I'm sure of it. They were elected democratically, after all.

"Yes, I'm disappointed with what happened once Israel moved out of Gaza. I had hoped the Palestinians wouldn't engage in hostile activities. But this is a process which will take years."

Heller claims not to be a political animal. But before Israel evacuated its 7,000-plus settlers out of Gaza in 2005, he used to organise a small group from the kibbutz, which, every Friday, between two and four in the afternoon, would go to the nearby border crossing to talk to the settlers as they returned to their homes for the Shabbat.

"We would invite them to a friendly discussion. We said they shouldn't stay there. It couldn't end well."

The kibbutzniks may have been neighbours of the settlers, but that was as far as the closeness went. "Our talks didn't meet with success. The settlers were often very hostile."

I suggested to Heller that his left-wing, kibbutz-inspired politics may once have been a mainstream in Israel, perhaps most strikingly before the establishment of the state. But now his was an isolated voice.

And Heller is...?

Each Mayday, he hosts an exhibition of 60 to 70 artists, in a converted cowshed on the kibbutz. The artists contribute one print each.

Every picture is red. Heller's politics come from his communist father.

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