WAYNE MYERS

While I was at Balliol, Ariel Sharon was invited to speak at the Oxford Union; this resulted in an extremely busy time for me. I was involved in organising the pro-Zionist counter-demonstration to the anti-Zionist demonstration outside the Union; as a Zionist critical of Israel, I was also involved in ensuring that strong criticisms of Israel in general and Sharon in particular were made during the debate. Later that evening, as a guest of the L’Chaim Society, an alternative Jewish student organisation then run by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, I ended up having dinner with Sharon, along with thirty or forty other people, and was astonished at how charming he seemed in person, for all that I strongly disagreed with all aspects of his politics.

I was also pleasantly shocked by Sharon’s stories of how his closest friends were not other Israelis at all but were rather Palestinians living in the West Bank for whom - he explained - hospitality and personal relationships trumped any notion of tribal hostility.

By 1993, when I left Oxford, things in my personal life had changed. Ayelet, quite reasonably unwilling to spend three years of her early twenties in a long-distance relationship with a complete lunatic, had left me, and I was now romantically involved with Abigail, a rather posh Jewish girl from one of the old established Anglo-Jewish families from before the wave of immigration from Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 20th century that had brought my own great-grandparents to London. Abigail was about as likely to move to Israel as she was to grow feathers and a beak, and I found myself strongly reconsidering my decision to move there myself.

My political position, however, did not change. As a Zionist I felt passionately that it was of prime importance that Israel’s moral transgressions - especially those in the Lebanon war of 1982 and the ongoing indefensible occupation of the West Bank and Gaza - be censured. I felt that the Occupation had to end, and end now, and that the Two State Solution was the only way forward. Since the idea of the right of national self-determination was at the core of my support for Zionism, I found it hard to understand how any Zionist could be against the two state solution.

If the Jews should have self-determination in Israel, I argued, surely it is only logical that the Palestinians should also have self-determination in Palestine. I simply could not understand how those Zionists to my right - which was basically all of them - could not see this.

On Jerusalem, I also could not understand the mainstream Zionist position. Having lived there for some time, and being well aware that the city was effectively divided into Jewish West Jerusalem, where you could safely go, and Palestinian East Jerusalem, which was dangerous and to be avoided at all costs, I simply could not grasp any of the stuff about the ‘unification’ of Jerusalem that I had been taught.

It might have been unified legally as far as a Zionist was concerned but it certainly wasn’t unified in any way in practice, and it seemed to me only right that a repartitioned East Jerusalem should be the capital of the forthcoming Palestinian state just as much as West Jerusalem should remain the capital of the Israeli state. I was sure that Palestinians felt just as passionately about Jerusalem as I did myself, and repartition seemed to me to be the just and reasonable answer to this question.

DRINK

In 1994/5 I spent a further year in Jerusalem on the One Year Graduate Program at the Hebrew University. This was supposed to be my year to ‘check out’ whether or not I really wanted to go and live in Israel, before I made a final decision. Jerusalem is and was a miserable and tedious place for a young secular man in his early twenties; it soon became clear to me that I did not wish to live there after all, and I began drinking heavily.

Mostly this went on at a bar called ‘Mike’s Place’ run by a burned out Canadian ex-photo-journalist called Mike, and populated almost exclusively by Israeli leftists and members of the international press corps who were old friends of Mike’s. Abigail came to visit, and hated it all even more than I did. I began to make arrangements to go home early.

Before I left, however, I was befriended at Mike’s Place by a member of the press corps, an American called Stefan Ellis, who considered his time in Jerusalem to be basically R&R away from the really hideous places in the world he had worked before, like Cambodia. Stefan was horrified by my youthful ideological support of Israel. Life as a photo-journalist specialising in war-zones had inoculated him against all forms of ideology. As far as he was concerned, all sides committing atrocities, everywhere, were all as bad as each other.

t was his job as a journalist to get close to those atrocities in order to document them so that the rest of the world could see. Of course they wouldn’t - he was all too aware of this - but it was his job nonetheless.

I did not, at the time, remotely understand him.

FAST-FORWARD TO 2008

I’d long split up with Abigail. I was still in London. I’d had two failed careers, first as a freelance journalist, and then as a computer programmer. Both had gone wrong as I’d also been trying to pursue music in a serious way; there are only so many hours in a day and as a result of pursuing multiple career goals I’d made myself seriously ill twice and (just) survived a complete nervous breakdown. I was at last pursuing music full-time and, as part of this, had finally received my London Underground busking licence. I’d finally recorded and released an album of original music, not that anyone had noticed. At least, I felt, I was now on the right path.

My position on Israel had not changed.

I had by this time met Daphna Baram, an Israeli journalist and Guardian contributor effectively in exile in London for her anti-Zionist views. Despite our differences of opinion over Israel we had become close friends, and spent many nights staying up late arguing in a mixture of English and Hebrew over the fine points of whether or not Achad Ha-am, the founder of Cultural Zionism, would have supported the actions of the current Israeli state, or whether the 1947 position of the Zionist youth movement Hashomer HaTzair, that British Mandate Palestine should be formed into a bi-national state for both Jews and Palestinians, had any relevance today.

Daphna was the first to put to me directly the astonishing proposition that the best solution for the Israel-Palestine problem was a single genuinely democratic state in which all citizens were treated equally regardless of ethnic origin. Currently, that is not the case. While the state of Israel makes just as reasonable a claim to be a democracy as, say, Belarus or Russia, the fact is that Jewish and non-Jewish citizens are not treated equally. (continued)

               –The Independent